Plenty of gamers appear to be disappointed with Bungie’s new video game Destiny. That’s why it was bombed on Metacritic the day it launched, receiving about as close to zero out of ten as you can get from gamers on day one, though that number has come up quite a bit since the initial bombing, hovering in the 6 out of 10 range.
Many critics seem to agree that the game is by and large a lackluster effort.
The Escapist’s Jim Sterling gives the sci-fi shooter a 6/10, calling the game “overwhelmingly unimaginative” and noting that its gameplay is “a cocktail of ideas taken from other titles that specialized to create superior experiences.” Sterling, like many other critics, found himself underwhelmed by the story and the world.
“Destiny exists in the shadow of multiple games,” writes Sterling, “taking a little from each, and doing nothing truly remarkable with any of it. It’s a prime example of how the nebulous concept of “content” can be used to puff up a game without adding anything to it. There’s a ton of “stuff” in Destiny. You’ll never want for things to do … but it’s terrible at providing motivation to do any of it.”
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Polygon employed two critics to cooperatively review Destiny—Arthur Gies and Phil Kollar—and they collectively gave it a 6/10.
Gies is unimpressed with the game’s lack of things to do outside of shooting, and notes that even the shooting stuff gets old thanks to all the repetitive environments.
“Boiled down to its essence, Destiny isn’t like other MMOs, because shooting is all it does,” writes Gies. “There are no character relationships to explore, no crafting to speak of. There’s no monuments to build or spaces to make your mark on. In fact, there’s not even much variety to speak of — each environment in the game feels small, and playing just through the campaign missions, you’ll see the same parts of them multiple times. You’ll spend literal hours retreading the same ground, shooting the same mobs.”
Jeff Gerstmann at Giant Bomb also delivers a 6/10 (or three stars out of five) as does GameSpot’s Kevin VanOrd.
Some smaller sites gave higher scores, but by and large the consensus among major gaming sites with scored reviews published is a solid 6, which for all intents and purposes is a “D” letter grade.
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User scores on Metacritic average to 6.4, pretty in keeping with what critics are saying, though lower than the 75/100 average from critics.*
As Paul Tassi notes, this means that critics and gamers are pretty lined up on this one, which isn’t always the case.
But it’s also true that plenty of gamers really do like Destiny and are enjoying it quite a lot, and one interesting thing I’ve read in forums and comment sections is the notion that critics are giving the game a low score because they didn’t get early review copies and had to play the game pretty much right at launch.
This is a totally preposterous idea, of course. Lots of games have this problem, including many titles that are online only, including the very well-reviewed Diablo III (88/100 from critics, 3.9/10 from users on Metacritic.)
(On a side note: This reaction to low review scores for Destiny just helps prove a point: As a game writer, you’re pretty much doomed no matter what you do—even if you avoid social justice warfare in favor of just writing about games. With the whole #GamerGate thing swirling about, the notion that game journalists and critics are all corrupt and in bed with game makers has taken center stage. But just as quickly, readers will accuse critics and websites of petty retribution over a late review copy.)
For my part, as I’ve been reviewing Destiny, I can’t help but feel like it’s simply an incomplete effort. For all the talk of a vast and epic story, the game feels rather short. Multiplayer feels a little bare-boned. And the worlds get boring and repetitive quickly.
Read Part One and Part Two of my ongoing Destiny review. Also browse Forbes Games for other writers’ thoughts and impressions of the game.
The leveling and loot systems are pretty good, but without crafting and other systems in place outside of first-person shooter combat, the experience feels pretty featureless compared to a lot of other MMOs on the market.
While Bungie is running special events with special rewards in the PvP Crucible mode, and while end-game raids are on the near horizon, I’m mostly concerned with the game’s paid expansions. The first one, The Dark Below, launches in December for $19.99.
Now this is quite a lot of cash to lay down after already dropping $59.99. And while Bungie has confirmed that the expansion will include a new story and new content for each of the game’s modes—story, Patrol, Strike, Crucible—they’ve also confirmed that it will reuse some of the game’s areas.
Which makes me want to gnash my teeth and rend my garments. If the game were truly open world, this wouldn’t be an issue since retreading old ground is sort of the par for the course in game’s like Skyrim and most MMOs. But in a game delineated into very specific, instanced missions, reusing so much of the same territory is extremely frustrating. Playing through the same enemies in the same zones in several different game modes is irksome and tedious, and I can only imagine my frustration at this after spending another twenty dollars.
Perhaps even worse is the way the expansions will begin to fracture the game’s community. When certain maps or game modes are only available to gamers who purchase the DLC, this creates a segmented community. We see this with Call of Duty each year, but it’s almost more crucial to an MMO-like game for everyone to be able to play in the same arenas.
I think Guild Wars 2 still has one of the best models in this regard. New content and special events are always available to everyone who purchased the game. Everyone playing the game is involved in the same universe with the same features, and revenue streams are maintained through microtransactions that are largely either aesthetic or buffs.
Whatever controversy Destiny has stirred up based on its failure to deliver on the vision originally created by Bungie will only deepen as paid expansions set up new boundaries between players. And unless Bungie can work miracles and really make this game a living, breathing experience I’m not sure it’s going to have the sort of shelf-life it needs for the long haul.
Both Bungie and Activision should be looking at the long-term vision at this point, also. You can make a few dollars on selling an expansion, but if it ultimately hurts your game’s community you have a problem. Think of how long it took for Blizzard’s first World of Warcraft expansion to launch. The Burning Crusade launched three years after vanilla WoW and included two new races and their new starting zones, the enormous Outland area, an increase of the level cap from 60 to 70…essentially tons and tons of new content, years after the release of the original game.
Admittedly, all of this content came at a suggested retail price of $39.99 and you still had to pay that monthly subscription. Destiny doesn’t require a monthly subscription and its expansion is half the price. But does it come with half the content? Multiple high-level dungeons and raids? New races? Mounts/vehicles? A sprawling new story?
Not that I mean to compare Destiny directly to World of Warcraft, though in some ways it is the first MMO from publisher Activision-Blizzard since the release of WoW, whether or not Bungie is calling it an MMO.
And certainly looking to the success of World of Warcraft to glean lessons in running an MMO-ish community is a reasonable thing to do.
Either way, it will be interesting to see if the most pre-ordered game in history, and one of the most hyped, has the staying power to survive a poor critical reception and a dearth of content. Will a community fractured by DLC just three months after a game’s launch be able to survive?
And will Destiny become a game alive and vibrant enough to sustain long-term interest and loyalty?
We shall see. Whatever the case, while Destiny plays it safe in almost every regard, it’s somehow managed to be one of the most controversial games of the year, and quite possibly the most divisive video game release of 2014.
Stay tuned for my review of the game’s PvP system, The Crucible.
*As a side note, I don’t believe the game is ready to receive an official score yet—at least not until we’ve had some time with the special events and raids. Certainly it needs to be scored—if scoring is what you do—before the launch of the expansion, and likely within a week or two of the first raid.