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.