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Destiny (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, 360, PS3) review: My week with Destiny

The gameplay feels great, but Destiny falls short on almost every other level.

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Jeff Bakalar
JeffHSurban2012.jpg

Jeff Bakalar

Editor at Large

Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.

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6 min read

By now it's extremely possible you've been exposed to or have heard of a game called Destiny. It's made by a developer named Bungie, known for its creation of the iconic Halo series that debuted exclusively on the original Xbox. With Halo handed off to 343 Industries, Bungie got busy preparing a game that would turn into Destiny.

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Destiny (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, 360, PS3)

The Good

Destiny is a solid first-person shooter with great visuals and jaw-dropping backdrops. It's even better when played with a group of friends. Leveling up your character is addictive and will have you coming back for more.

The Bad

The story in Destiny isn't really worth paying attention to. Many of the game's missions are redundant and uninspired. Multiplayer matchmaking is also unfair on beginners.

The Bottom Line

Destiny is a victim of the hype machine created around it. It's a refined console shooter that feels great during the action, but goes stale during just about every other component of the game.

Destiny is a sci-fi first-person shooter set way, way in the future after a giant ball of goodness, known as "The Traveler" (no, not that Traveler), has arrived on Earth. The Traveler gave humans all kinds of awesome technology and made possible interplanetary space travel. A few centuries have passed and now an alien force wants to destroy mankind. You're a Guardian, part of a special faction of Earth protectors that must help save the world, or at least what's left of it.

That's the gist I can extract from the game, because if there's one thing Destiny struggles with -- well, there are a lot of struggles here -- it's with storytelling. Compared with some of the other narratively charged offerings these days, Destiny reads at a kindergarten level. There's just not much going on. It doesn't feel important. Consequently, the lack of exposition detached me from any kind of incentive as I marched through the campaign. Its failure to feel epic is a letdown. It wasn't long before I was skipping the cinematics. My only real driving force was wanting to level up my character, which is perhaps the game's only saving grace.

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Bungie

It's the character customization that I think most players will fall in love with, because there's a generous amount of self-expression baked into player creation. You decide your character's class, race, gender, hundreds of design details, color accents, and more. As you play on and level up, you'll unlock new perks, guns, and other rewards. Weapons and armor can also get upgrades, but because the rate of leveling up is about once per hour, you'll never spend much time with a specific weapon before a shiny new, more powerful alternative becomes available.

Check out GameSpot's coverage of Destiny

The interface for managing your character and inventory is a smartly designed menu system that's controlled with a cursor -- like using a mouse. It's a clever aesthetic choice and feels very natural, especially to someone with a bunch of RPG gaming on PC under his belt.

Destiny introduces some interesting co-op experiments by essentially forcing you to share your game world with other random players (or "randos" as some put it). You don't need to play with these people, though they'll occasionally show up in a mission. It's not until you team up with friends that the real co-op magic becomes clear. Sure, you can play alone, but Destiny -- especially deeper into the game -- is best experienced with buddies.

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Bungie

The always-connected nature of Destiny doesn't really do much if you're just trying to blast through the campaign. Most of your interactions with randos will come at the Tower -- a home base for buying weapons, accepting or collecting bounties, and doing other managerial tasks. After a few encounters, I never found it appealing to talk to a rando again.

My favorite parts of Destiny all involve the actual gameplay. It's a highly refined first-person shooter that feels like a matured version of Halo. It's not nearly as floaty as Halo's controls, but instead it plays more precisely and technically.

I make these comparisons to the Halo series, obviously because Bungie is behind both games, but also because there is a fair amount of similarity between the two. You've got a regenerative shield that protects you, waves of attacking alien races that reek of The Covenant, and the generally "chanty" orchestral presentation of the game (which is actually quite lovely, all things considered). Where the two franchises differ is what gives Destiny its unique personality, but it's one riddled with repetition and is sadly trite.

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Bungie

For your first 10 hours or so, you'll wander from the Moon to the Tower to Earth to Venus and back again, completing mission after mission of what's essentially the same thing over and over.

Your hovering ghost companion, a robot voiced by Peter Dinklage, will give you a general synopsis of what's involved at the start of each objective. The Dinklebot is just strange. He sounds like that sad robot from "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." At times I can't tell if they directed him to purposefully sound like a depressed robot, or if they just got a robot to sound like Peter Dinklage. When you hear it you'll know what I mean.

Anyway, in the end you're just going to follow an arrow on your map until you reach the final stretch of the quest, which is marked by a "no respawn" notification. Here's when you know you've entered the mission's final act, so you'd better not die or you'll respawn back at the entry gate. Contradictorily enough though, on a number of occasions I was able to continue from a checkpoint after passing through the "no respawn" gate. I guess it just means you can't respawn at the actual point you die like you can during the first part of a mission. All told, Destiny is more forgiving than you might think.

But where respawning might seem generous, there's a satisfying gradual pace of difficulty that escalates over time. It'll make you think twice about starting a level 11 story if you're still a level 10 Guardian. You can get away with that kind of carelessness earlier in the game, but once your character hits double digits, things get real.

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Bungie

I touched on the multiplayer aspects of Destiny earlier, but I didn't talk about the Crucible mode, the game's strictly multiplayer destination. A few hours in, the game guides you to an online match, but that first impression might scar some players. I was placed in a match with a handful of level 20-pluses, while I was a measly level 5. Suffice it to say, it wasn't pretty. It was a while before I tried a Crucible match again. If you do decide to brave Crucible mode after your first shellacking, there are a solid number of modes and maps to play in. But here's some free advice, don't head back until you're at least a level 10 -- and even then you'll likely take a beating.

If it weren't for the thrill of leveling up, I probably would not have sunken the more than 20 hours I have into the game. There's no real sense of exploration, and as gorgeously realized as they might be, the environments don't have much of a personality. They act as set dressing for what's really, at its core, a lot of fluff padding a great shooter.

Many elements feel as if they're just there for show. The game's currency is mostly useless and much of your time in the Tower is spent running back and forth between receiving messages and collecting bounties. In some ways, Destiny feels dated. There's almost no way to avoid that feeling of repetition.

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Bungie

Destiny represents the perfect example of insurmountable hype and a sobering reality check. A lot of this business is buildup -- whether it be at E3, in behind-closed-doors announcements, or what have you. All it shows us is that it's way easier to sell the dream than to make all of the complex pieces of an interactive experience come together.

Destiny is great for co-op with friends and its shooter fundamentals are top-notch. Its ambitious MMO aspirations are noble, but perhaps if it hadn't strayed away from the Halo formula there wouldn't be this overwhelming sense of inadequacy.

CNET verdict: Polished, but lacks in substance

Destiny is a victim of the hype machine created around it. It's a refined console shooter that feels great during the action, but goes stale during just about every other component of the game.

Check out GameSpot's coverage of Destiny
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