Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Destiny: Year One

"And we're all out of bubblegum."

The Gist
Let's be honest here - Destiny's first year was an extended beta.

The Story (So Far)
Far beyond humanity's Golden Age, we are left at the brink of extinction.

The remnants of humanity have gathered at the Last City beneath its sleeping Traveler, surrounded by nothing but their foes from beyond the stars and protected by the Guardians and their Ghosts.

The Fallen are space pirates who pillage and scavenge the very same resources that we're fighting for. The Hive are grotesque spawn who are driven by their gods' bidding in their efforts to capture Earth. The Cabal are massive brutes from a highly militarized civilization who have placed a blockade on Mars. And the Vex are mysterious ancient machines whose presence turns planets into machines whose purpose remain incomprehensible.

It has been a struggle, but the Guardians are starting to see the fruits of their labors.

The future is bleak, but not hopeless.

They have conquered Atheon in the Vault of Glass, a labyrinth beneath the acid-scoured surface of Venus that the Vex have turned into an impossible machine that can bend the laws of time, space and reality.

They have slain a god - Crota, Son of Oryx - beneath the depths of the Hellmouth on the Moon. In doing so they have avenged the deaths of countless Guardians who have fallen against his foul blade.

And they have captured Skolas, the self-titled Kell of Kells, who has vowed revenge on the Awoken and their Queen and has threatened to unite the Fallen houses into another costly war against humanity.

At the end of the saga's first chapter, another threat looms at the edge of the Saturn - a massive ship from the dark recesses of space whose master has come to avenge his son's demise.

Gameplay Impressions
Destiny, at the surface, is a first-person shooter.  Players create a character and choose between three character archetypes - the brutish Titan, the agile Hunter and the enigmatic Warlock - to do battle against enemies that seek the end of humanity. In terms of FPS mechanics, it doesn't stand out among most modern titles - the controls are sharp, the gameplay is fluid and the story leaves a lot to the imagination at times.

What it does well is how it uses those mechanics in terms of multiplayer collaboration, both in player-versus-environment and a player-versus-player settings.

Besides the usual sandbox modes, story missions and glorified firefights (called strikes), what sets Destiny apart was its introduction of raids. A raid is a multiplayer game mode that provides challenges and puzzles that heavily emphasize communication among a group of six players in real time. I'd like to think that it is the pinnacle of console gameplay to date - one that has developed an online community whose main purpose was collaboration in real time across the globe.

I remember the first times I finished the Vault of Glass and the Crota's End raids. It was frantic because I knew that the other members of the raid team depended on me to complete the multitude of challenges we faces, yet it was also deeply satisfying because everyone was working towards a common goal - a feat that is ridiculously rare in gaming. The fact that we were guided by a female player proves the point that heavier games such as this no longer have a demographic that is dominated by the stereotypical basement dwelling males that the media tirelessly portrays.

PVP is just as strong a point, if not better than PVE. There are a lot of game modes like Clash (which is what most people know as team deathmatch) and Control (which is reminiscent of the Battlefield games).

The sun shines upon The Lighthouse.

However, Destiny's second expansion - House of Wolves - introduced the Trials of Osiris and provided a new outlook on player-versus-player combat in general. The Trials consist of nine best-of-five matches against other players. What makes it special was the fact that winning streaks provided greater rewards (and losing three to four times kicked you out of the Trials) and getting a perfect scorecard provided access to an exclusive area called The Lighthouse. This meant that the Trials were haunted by both the game's best players as well as the common folk who sought to best them in the quest to set eyes upon the hidden outpost in the Vex-held Mercury.

Personally, I managed to visit The Lighthouse on my first attempt at the Trials. I must admit that my two companions did most of the legwork, but getting to The Lighthouse was no small feat - it required careful teamwork, coordination and communication because of the knowledge that the opposing team sought the same rewards as ourselves.

Following Osiris' footsteps requires serious self reflection.

I've never been to The Lighthouse again after that first time, but I must say that getting those nine wins were probably the most stressful hour and a half in my time as a gamer. It is definitely not for the faint of heart, nor is it for those who are angered easily, but the experience was certainly different from any that I've had in the many years that I've picked up a controller to play.

Verdict
Destiny has shown a lot of potential in its first year even if Bungie wasn't able to live up to a lot of their pre-release promises. The game lends a fresh coat of paint to a genre that has grown stale over the years of mindless sequels and re-releases that we had to comb through.

Buy it - as long as it won't break the wallet.

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