Destiny isn’t perfect… but it’s brilliant enough to be GOTY

This week, we're highlighting the top five titles in our Game of the Year 2014 list. Destiny ranks at #1 - and here's Andy Hartup's take on what makes it so important.

Destiny is not a perfect game. Its plot is vague, partly the result of a grand ambition to have a narrative that evolves over the next ten years, throughout the course of an entire console generation (and partly because, yeah, Bungie messed up). There are bugs, although most have been squashed by post-release patches. Some of the systems are poorly explained, perhaps the result of Bungie's desire to keep players learning and discovering. And right now, there are only four environments, which has led many to dismiss the game as 'limited and boring'. Yet, in spite of all these perceived faults, Destiny stands head-and-shoulders above any other game in 2014.

I'll tell you why I think this in a minute but first, here's a number: 1064. That's the total hours the GamesRadar editorial team spent playing Destiny, before The Dark Below expansion released. That's a lot of play time for a relatively small staff. Some played for 100+ hours, and a guilty couple admit to 200+ hours. There are only a handful of games ever released that have hoovered up so much of our time as a team. And while this piece is about why I personally love Destiny, I know my sentiments are shared by many other people at GamesRadar because... well, 1064 hours! 

Sure, time spent inside a game isn't necessarily a measure of quality. I know so many people who have sunk hundreds of hours into Farmville and Candy Crush, and these are hardly GOTY contenders. In Destiny, the vast amount of time spent in-game doesn’t stem from resources grinding, or cynically addicting systems, as the nay-sayers would have you believe. It comes from collaboration, communication, and community. I’ve spoken to so many people within Destiny, and they all give different reasons why they’re so committed (besides just enjoying the game). They play to keep up with friends, they play because it fits their daily routine in between putting children to bed and slumping unconscious on the sofa, they play as clans to meet new people, they even play for therapy. And damn it, the community can be a truly amazing, truly generous bunch of people.

This social aspect elevates Destiny far beyond ‘just another shooter’. Combined with that sweet feedback loop that comes with playing the game to snag better gear and delve deeper into the game's refined levelling system, it’s the reason why myself - and so many of my PSN friends - play for hundreds of hours. Indeed, gameplay elements like this are exactly what made legendary MMOs like World of Warcraft huge, and now Bungie has helped to open up this persistent, hyper-replayable, sociable experience to the console audience by wrapping it up in a game that’s accessible, yet great fun to play. It's incredibly bold and forward-thinking.

And Destiny is an exceptional shooter. From level one to level 30 (and beyond), the action is wonderfully balanced, and a joy to play. The weapons each have a unique feel, and require different skill sets to master, while the abilities of each class combine with your loadout to make each character feel subtly unique. Being a Titan with a Pulse rifle is surprisingly different to being a Warlock with a Hand Cannon. What's more, sub-classes strike a fine balance between offensive and defensive play, while superbly complimenting the abilities found in other classes. In other words, everything’s built on a bedrock of player cooperation and awesome shooting.

However, this doesn't come at the expense of the solo experience. Whenever I speak to friends who don't play online, they say “Eh, Destiny is an online game, and I'm not into that.” But really, unless you venture into Raids or the Crucible, you never feel like you're playing a traditional online game. There's no “Damn it, do I really have to put up with all this abuse from 12-year-olds. Again!” One of Destiny's greatest accomplishments is fusing solo and multiplayer for a console audience; removing much of the grief, and focusing on the more positive aspects of human interaction. No, it isn't the first to do it, but it's one of the most elegant examples. Sure, I've played for hours on my own, but my most memorable moments have come from these more human encounters, rather than any epic set-piece or slice of individual skill on my part.

There are a couple of things that really stand out for me, as 'defining moments'. Firstly, it's when I started playing the Strike playlist with total strangers. This was before Fireteam chat was patched in. My ragtag team of fellow Guardians just knew exactly what the game wanted from them, and it was amazing to see such cooperation fostered with precisely zero words spoken between us. And I'm not just talking about responding to the set-pieces in each strike: I'm talking about three total strangers reacting and adapting to a firefight as it happens, because the game's systems and missions are so smartly designed that actual human-to-human talking is unnecessary. In the Strikes at least...

Then there's the Vault of Glass Raid (I'm writing this before I've played The Dark Below's Raid). It's a masterclass in game design; a beautiful, living puzzle that asks players to combine cooperation, puzzle-solving, and sharpshooting in a way that the rest of the game doesn't. You're simply fed the minimum of clues and dumped into a ferocious shootout that coughs up sweet loot as readily as it delights in crushing you utterly. For me it's a clear mark of respect from Bungie to its players, and an invitation to bond with people over adversity. The first time I ventured into the Vault of Glass (with a group comprised of fellow GR staff, other games writers from competitor sites, and a man from PC Gamer) I lost five hours in the blink of an eye. It's so relentlessly intense, and although it constantly kicks your ass at first, every replay brings new learning and a renewed hunger to succeed.

It's these examples, and so many more of the game's accomplishments, that make Destiny's inclusion as our GOTY a real no-brainer. It’s a living, evolving entity that improves with every update, embracing the philosophies of this current generation of always-online, always-upgrading consoles. It's a shining example of the grand ambitions of a world-class developer who wants to push the shooter genre into a new generation; to give its players more than 'just another FPS'. Destiny is not a perfect game... but for my money it’s by far the best game of 2014, and it's only going to improve.

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  • SiphoBosa - December 17, 2014 3:06 a.m.

    I'm going to be a douche right now. GamesRadar has to defend it's decision because more likely than not ActiBungie been doling out them cheques yall. Destiny has to be "Game of The Year" somewhere. Don't take this the wrong way. I love this site. I make most of my purchases based off of GR reviews primarily. This Destiny thing is something that has to be done. The money has already been spent. GR needs to keep its end of the bargain. Hehehehehe.
  • Jaguar8481 - December 16, 2014 12:59 p.m.

    This is the type of thing in gaming media that make me question the legitimacy of it all. In no way should this game enter into a conversation as a top 5 game of the year, let alone THE game of the year. I know 2014 hasn't been the most spectacular in terms of gaming, Destiny still falls short. I no longer can consider the opinions of this site valid.
  • Jonpeter - December 16, 2014 5:43 a.m.

    This is a joke right? I hope this isn't the same site that put Destiny in an early GOTY nomination article in the summer BEFORE the game even came out. There are more deserving polished games than this exceptional shooter, because that's all it is, an exceptional shooter. A sturdy, recycled shooter that performs well but nothing else. It's lifeless, the environments are mundane copy and pasted backgrounds, the majority of weapons are recycled from Halo (The Pulse rifle is the needled gun), Bosses are stupid, it's a mess. There is nothing revolutionary about this title and Patches and DLC won't help it be that. I can't believe your rewarding it because it's "bold" for pushing a genre when it fails in so many departments lol.
  • Honeymaid0 - December 15, 2014 11:03 a.m.

    Are you guys SERIOUS? This has been one of the biggest bait n switches in the history of games and you guys are GLOSSING OVER all the poor decisions Bungie has made since even before the release? How much are they paying you???
  • Talvari - December 13, 2014 10:46 a.m.

    Bungie should research how expansions work in MMOs before they start shoving in shallow amounts of content into a £20 DLC "expansion". I respect GRs opinion for choosing this but personally I would never be able to consider an unfinished game as "Game of the Year".
  • AJinFLA - December 17, 2014 2:04 p.m.

    $20.00. The price of a Pizza, with no monthly subscription is to expensive for you, LOL
  • Talvari - December 17, 2014 4:38 p.m.

    It's £20 in the UK, great conversion eh? :P That's several pizzas over here, plus a monthly subscription fee is required if you want to use any multiplayer activities so you can whack on an extra £5 per month for that! It's more about the content you get vs the price you pay as well, which i don't think many would argue is good!
  • normanpleasant - December 13, 2014 2:05 a.m.

    In all seriousness though, I think this is the first GOTY winner's article I've ever seen with the words 'It isn't perfect' in the title. I guess we can't have a Skyrim or Arkham City every year, eh?
  • through.the.key.hole - December 13, 2014 9:15 p.m.

    I'm going to call it right now. Arkham Knight will be number 1 next year. That game looks just... INCREDIBLE. However Uncharted 4 is coming out too. Next year's pick probably won't create such a large argument in the comments section! Haha
  • normanpleasant - December 13, 2014 2:01 a.m.

    Fie to you all. Rambo: The Video Game for GOTY.
  • SiphoBosa - December 17, 2014 3:07 a.m.

    Man that part where ur crouched in the trench in the shooting the badguys. So awesome.
  • Jacko415 - December 12, 2014 11:20 p.m.

    Yeah, watering down everything the game does wrong into one paragraph, then going into intimate detail about the two, TWO, things it does right across 2 more paragraphs... The game is 75% shit and 25% awesome. Concentrating on the few plus sides and blatently dismissing all of its faults is not an true justification of why it's GOTY. I get it... You want it to be great, you REALLY do, but it's not. And just because the game promises that ONE DAY it MIGHT be great, doesn't actually make it great.
  • GOD - December 12, 2014 9:14 p.m.

    Honestly I don't think Destiny is a bad game. On my personal scale it's probably around an 8 or 8.5, but it has genuine problems that for whatever reason get overlooked because of the promise of "evolution" (spelled "purchaseable expansions"). Meanwhile it gets heaps of praise for things that not only is it not the first to do, it doesn't even do them especially well. What little story there is can not even be considered vague, because either it's utter nonsense that's just meant to sound cool the moment you think about it or whenever they do spell out things in the story they immediately get contradicted in the next loading screen dialogue sequence. One minute your ghost has no idea that there are enemies on Venus, the next he is fully aware of the Vex and an expert on their known history. They tried to be like Souls game and have descriptions on the items to expand the universe, but ultimately it's just more one liners and quotes from non existent people about things that are never mentioned again, so you've effectively learned nothing. If they used these bits of info to maybe expand on characters in the Tower and bosses you've fought, then it would definitely be something of note, but it couldn't be further from significant. The co-op strikes are something definitely done better in games like Uncharted's co-op adventure modes, and the raids are a step down from Resistance 2's 8 person MMO styled missions. Yes there are some high points here and there in Destiny's gameplay, but nothing here is groundbreaking and should be held high like the savior of console gameplay. It's good, sometimes great, but there has been better. To me personally Dark Souls 2 is a game that delivered in so many more ways, and better in any that may be compared. Maybe Destiny 2 will take the things from the current one, expand upon them, and then add somethings that make it stand out as a truely noteworthy game that everyone should play, but as it stands to me, Destiny 1 is a notable game for the year, not Game of the Year.
  • nick-stancato - December 12, 2014 8:45 p.m.

    No way in hell. Destiny is the most disappointed to game of the and gunplay is great. But its super boring, bland, and short. I was lucky to pull 6 or 7 hours out of it.
  • AJinFLA - December 17, 2014 2:05 p.m.

    3.5 million people playing every day disagree with you.
  • pl4y4h - December 12, 2014 8:18 p.m.

    As nice as this was to read, this reeks of damage control. The games average, nothing more (unless you pay), nothing less
  • GR_AndyHartup - December 13, 2014 12:30 a.m.

    We did editorials for every game in our top 5. These are the games we were most passionate about in 2015, and we wanted to say why. Sure, it was a tough call deciding these five games, but we don't regret our decisions, and we want our readers to know why we love these specific games.
  • Naugi - December 13, 2014 5:31 a.m.

    2014? ;)
  • pl4y4h - December 13, 2014 7:09 p.m.

    I get that and hey, you can't please everyone. But seeing that first paragraph right after the "riots" (and i'm only exaggerating a little bit too lol) in the GOTY announcement article, it seems a tad apologetic. Idk maybe that's me.