With Destiny 2 now almost upon us, and the original Destiny having evolved a long, long way since its original 2014 release, we felt that it was time to update our review into a final, definitive retrospective of just what the last three years have given us. Read on, and enjoy, while you wait for the start of a whole new era on Wednesday.
It feels strange, that a game so long lambasted by its detractors for a supposed lack of content is now such an immediate and straightforward recommendation simply because of the vast swathe of experiences it offers. Because before you get into its long-term depth, before you start looking at the tens and hundreds of hours you’ll get out of its strategic character customisation, and higher-level RPG theorycraft, and the depths and nuances of its many, resonating gameplay systems, the fact is that in 2017, Destiny – the complete, final version of Destiny – is one of the most generous, eclectic, and heavily packed FPS offerings of the last generation or so.
What exists in The Collection is just staggering. Combined, the vanilla game, incremental add-ons The Dark Below and House of Wolves, full-sized semi-sequel Taken King expansion, and the final Rise of Iron expansion make a ludicrously weighty proposition.
It’s been a long and occasionally rocky road to this point, of course, Destiny’s growing content taking a few mis-steps along the route to where it is now. Mistakes have been made at various times, particularly in terms of the relationships between levelling systems, rewards, and player freedom. But all of that is well and truly in the past. Because since The Taken King expansion, and the bold changes it made to the game’s meta-structure in the name of accessibility and gratification, Destiny has truly become a game that can be recommended to everyone.
If you just want to play it as a straight FPS, you’ll find none better. On the simplest level of core shooting mechanics, Destiny is nothing short of a delight. Bungie’s long-honed expertise in control, AI, and ‘gunfeel’ result in some of the smoothest, most instinctive, most tactile, and just plain butteriest shooting you’ll find in any modern console game.
But the quality of Destiny’s shooting is the sum of more than just its immediate handling. The longer-term joy comes from the way that the solidity of the combat model facilitates such versatility and scalability. Destiny’s 40+ story missions and near 20 Strikes - while already a deeply satisfying blend of dynamic, high-flying strategy and kinetic, on-the-fly improvisation on first play - are immensely replayable thanks to the game’s uncanny ability to completely remix and refresh with each and every new weapon, ability and character class used. The architecture and enemy layout may repeat, but the experience never does.
And then there’s the competitive multiplayer which, whether you indulge in such things as a serious, regular pastime, or simply like to dip in from time to time for a quick blast of knockabout carnage, offers something meaty and meaningful for everyone. Taking in 16 game modes and 31 maps, the Crucible presents as handsome a suite of PvP possibilities as you could want.
The future is here
Into hardcore, co-operative, eSports-style strategy? Elimination's brutal, 3v3 proving ground is as demanding as it is rewarding. Those looking for smart tactics in a less punishing context will be very well catered for in the controlled frenzy of objective-based modes like Control and Salvage. Want big, dumb fun? The powered-up Mayhem is for you. And if you want to combine strategy and silliness, you'll find few giddier game modes that the crest-collecting rampage of Supremacy. Even in its most basic, team deathmatch set-ups, Destiny’s robust but malleable mechanics, and intricate yet accessible map design ensure that the experience is never less than a treat for brain and trigger finger in equal measure. If you’ve played Halo’s multiplayer, then this is a similar breed of organic, flowing, endlessly surprising cat-and-mouse firefight, formulated into a faster, more aggressive delivery. If you’re new to the ways of Bungie shooters, just know that you’re in for the most dynamic, energetic, and plain old fun experiences online.
Throw in the progressively spiralling challenge of the dedicated co-op horde modes found in Prison of Elders and Archon's Forge, and the staggering creative imagination of obtusely gratifying, puzzle-infused Raid challenges, and Destiny is an utterly complete and incredibly expansive FPS package, putting the breadth and longevity of its contemporaries very much in the shade. Should you simply choose to play it on like-for-like terms with the likes of a CoD, or even a Halo, Destiny is still one hell of an imposing force to be reckoned with.
But the thing is, if you get that far into it, you’re almost certain not to stop there.
Because by that point, Destiny’s wider RPG game will have got its hooks into you. And you should note at this point that when I say “wider” I do so in the same way that I would when comparing the Pacific Ocean to the Leeds-Liverpool canal. Because following The Taken King’s across-the-board changes to Destiny’s progression and character crafting systems, width really has been the game's primary focus. With pure XP levelling making the ride to the cap of 40 a relatively quick and painless process - at which point accruing cooler gear for more creative character builds becomes the new goal - Destiny is not a game fuelled by the pressure of grinding forward, but one invigorated by the freedom and potential of what you can do along every step of that journey and beyond.
It starts out innocuously enough. You’ll find a gun you like better than your current one – perhaps a Hand Cannon that fires more accurately and with a bit more punch, or a rocket launcher with faster ordnance and a bigger blast radius. You’ll find a piece of armour with a better defence rating, and that maybe, if you’re lucky, lets you throw grenades further. You’ll upgrade, and you’ll be happy. But before long, you’ll progress enough to be able to equip the more exciting Legendary and Exotic gear, the stuff with the really interesting perks. Ones that reduce the cooldown timer on your magic-substituting special melee attacks and grenades, or let you recharge one by causing damage with the other, or cause whole groups of enemies to explode when you score a headshot. And then you’ll start thinking.
You’ll start thinking about what you can really do with this stuff. You’ll start designing intricate, resonant systems within your character’s equipment. You’ll work out how to tweak your character’s passive class abilities to get even more power out of your combat engine. You’ll attain and equip set-ups that turn your standard issue Warlock into a nigh-permanently shielded grenade tank, or transform your hulking Titan into a walking buff-factory-cum-mobile-fortress for the whole team.
And you’ll start to delve into Destiny’s higher-level content remixes and challenges, and discover clever, esoteric puzzles and solutions to seemingly overwhelming odds, by realising the sheer power, importance, and reward of smart, deep, class-based team play. And then you'll hit Rise of Iron and, while enjoying its pitch-perfect (is slightly brief) story campaign, get hold of the new Iron Lord Artifact class items that free up and expand your passive abilities even further.
And you’ll have true freedom and agency throughout this vast exploration. Higher classes of gear don’t necessarily mean better, they just mean different. With Destiny's ultimate gear philosophy, it’s easy to be just as effective (or more) with a lowly Rare weapon you love as a ‘higher’ Legendary you feel like you should use. Again, this is progress without pressure. Player-driven character development without any implicit ‘right’ way.
This is final version is Destiny blown wide open, everything made free, friendly, rewarding, and more fun. Loot drops are fully geared toward character-specific relevance, and an absolute raft of new Quest lines deliver specific, pre-flagged rewards for experimenting with different play-styles and meta-challenges – now all tied to incredibly welcome, long-term narrative threads that fleshe out the world with genuine warmth. With level progress no longer tied to hard-to-acquire gear, and the game's later bosses conspicuously designed as creative, evolving challenges rather than bullet-sponge attrition, the gear-gated boundaries that once segregated players are gone. The possibilities to strive, acquire, experiment and express are dizzying. Destiny is now resolutely, more than ever before, a game designed not to be finished, or mastered, but to be played.
If you were one of the many who chose to hold off – perhaps unhappy with the way the game was initially doing things, or just standing back due to Destiny’s long-term nature, to ‘see how it goes’ – then know that Destiny evolved into the finest possible realisation of its early potential, and a game whose ambition and scope is unmatched by any other, apart from possibly its own incoming sequel. Ultimately, the Destiny journey has gone very well indeed for all concerned. In fact this final version of Destiny isn’t just the best version of Destiny. It’s a version far greater than most long-term players would have expected at the start, or even halfway through. It’s Destiny as it should be. It’s Destiny as it always should have been. Three years on, the MMOFPS opus has become one of the most vital games of a generation
So here’s to Destiny, and here's to Destiny 2, and another three year adventure, the final destination of which none of us - possibly not even Bungie - can yet imagine.