That said, Destiny certainly does not thumb its nose at the solitary player. While the expanding content of its ‘endgame’ (I’m loathe to use the term, as hitting the initial level cap really does feel like just the beginning) is certainly pitched for co-op, it would be feasible, if not entirely easy, for a solo player to break through a good proportion of the main story unaided. Indeed, for all the fun of knuckling through missions as part of a three or six-man squad, some of Destiny’s most epic, standout combat moments have come about through taking on a tough challenge alone. The increased threat and higher stakes reward the kind of creative and improvisational FPS play that few other shooters have the capacity to offer.
The quality of Destiny’s combat becomes even clearer in the Crucible, the in-world setting for the game’s competitive multiplayer component. Currently comprising four main modes--base control, team deathmatch, free-for-all, and a tight, tactical TDM mode for small teams, in which co-operation is vital--and 11 maps, Crucible is no standalone addition. It becomes an increasingly important part of Destiny’s overall make-up as you progress, but beyond that, it’s simply one of the most robust, well-developed FPS PvP servings in recent memory.
Again, obviously descended from Halo’s legendary multiplayer, it’s a slightly faster, more aggressive variant with more scope for fast kills, but no less varied or accessibly deep in its cat-and-mouse firefights. Played using the same persistent character and gear-set as everything else, it removes level advantages in the name of fairness, but keeps properties such as firing rate and stopping power. It’s sometimes possible for Destiny’s currently rather relaxed matchmaking approach to cause notable level disparities between players, but in practice, map knowledge and shooting skill largely trumps all else.
When Destiny’s wider world starts to reveal and explain itself--around about XP level 16--and when more complex and interesting perks begin to arrive with higher-level gear drops, it initially feels too late. What use is better stuff when the story is nearly over and the level-cap of 20 looms? But in truth, this is just a transitional period. It is Destiny’s, admittedly overdue, method of prepping you for the real meat of its content, in terms of challenge, creativity, and player-led potential. All of that stuff starts post-20. Now, the game and its world change all over again, and what appeared to be the end turns out to be really only the end of the prologue.
A new levelling system, based on a new statistic called Light--attached to advanced armour--replaces the traditional XP system. The Crucible PvP modes and the newly available, increasingly challenging, remixed and reworked PvE Vanguard missions become the source of Light armour, through loot drops and by providing the previously unexplained currencies for purchasing high-level gear. The seemingly unimportant bounties reveal themselves to be a major part of Destiny’s economic fuel.
Daily and weekly challenges start to appear on the map screen, offering greater rewards for those brave and strong enough to tackle them. The first part of Destiny’s future Raid roster unlocks, bringing with it a design philosophy previously unseen, made of oblique, enigmatic, combat-driven environmental puzzling, and demanding immense levels of team communication and coordination. The versatility and scalability of the core combat become even more apparent, as it services everything from traditional FPS scenarios to frantic, chaotic mob battles. Finally, all of Destiny’s seemingly disparate, parallel elements coalesce into one, cohesive form, building a robust, enticing framework for adventures yet to happen.
Is Destiny flawed in the way it explains itself ? Of course, but when it gets there, the pay-off is more than worth the wait. Is its story slight, skating only on the surface of its lore? Yes indeed, but once you get past it, you’ll realise that its real stories are the many you create with your assembled cast of co-op players, those of epic, emergent set-pieces and heroic, last-ditch Crucible victories. And does Destiny need more content? Eventually it will, but we know that it’s coming. In the meantime, I’m 45 hours in, and only becoming more engaged by the day. Hell, I still have a sub-set of support skills to unlock, and a second class to build.
The only problem with reviewing Destiny, with summing up my feelings and experiences so far, is that it will always be a case of ‘so far’. That’s why I’m leaving the extra point of breathing space on the score. It’s there for potential. To be filled. But with Destiny’s 10-year plan starting so strongly, and set to begin evolving over just the next few weeks, I feel very content that it eventually will be.