Destiny. O, Destiny! Destiny, Destiny, Destiny. Destiny. If you're not familiar with Density ... sorry ... Destiny, it's an online first-person shooter with RPG elements. But coming from Bungie, the creators of Halo, expectations were sky high. And yet, with a metascore of 77 for the PlayStation 4 version on Metacritic, the reviews have been underwhelming. Despite that, the game has had a hugely successful launch, achieving US$500 million in sales after its first day on sale.
I haven't clocked the hours I've put into Density ... sorry, Destiny ... in the few weeks it's been out, but I'd guess it's nearer to 80 than 40. And in that time I've noticed a few things, not all of which fit the prevailing critical narrative...
1. Massive, possibly; massively-multiplayer, no
Destiny isn't an MMO. MMO is short for MMOG, which stands for massively-multiplayer online game. But drop into any instance in any world in Destiny, and you'll see no more than a dozen players – usually significantly fewer. That works perfectly for the game's spare and dangerous environments, but massively-multiplayer this ain't.
Blimey, Halo 3's Big Team Battle with its 16 or so players per game was more massively multiplayer than this. Unless you're counting all the players playing all the instances of Destiny everywhere. In which case Yahoo! Chess is an MMO, and so is Words With Friends.
2. Mind the cap
You can't review it based on a couple of day's play. For me, the game only really gets going when you hit level 20, ditch the notion that the story matters a jot, and get on with hunting down the rare treasure you'll need to reach the true level cap of 30. And by rare, I mean that in the everyday sense, not the in-game sense. You'll need better than "rare" armor, legendary or exotic, that being the case.
And then there's all the stuff that's happened since launch. Most notably, the release of the Vault of Glass raid, but little additions like the Queen's Wrath give you another reason to revisit the story missions, of which there are plenty. How many of the free updates will bring meaningful new content, if any? Time will tell. How big and how different will the DLC expansions be? We'll find out. The big question for me is how sequels, if sequels there are, will dovetail with the existing game. It would be lovely if they behaved more like expansions than stand-alone games. Again, we'll see.
The difficult fact is that no one has much of a clue how good Destiny will ultimately prove to be.
3. The story doesn't matter
The story is meaningless – in more ways than one. It's been used as a stick to beat Destiny about its exotically-helmeted head with, but this is a video game. What did you expect? The plots and scripts of mainstream video games are almost universally abysmal.
Gamers have learned the hard way to pay absolutely no attention to what's going on plot-wise – and that goes double if your game has a science fiction setting. Halo? Not a clue. Cortana was a goodie, yes? Mass Effect? No idea. Ooh! Fish Tank! Destiny? The story is a mere footnote when playing level 24 Strike missions, testing your new hand cannon in Iron Banner in the Crucible (the one competitive multiplayer game mode where weapon stats aren't equalized), or braving Vault of Glass for the very first time.
More important is the quality of the world-building. Destiny's baddies may be cookie-cutter archetypes, but Bungie's vision of a post-collapse solar system is a compelling setting. Venus is particularly beautiful this time of year. I hope we see more of Earth in the future, but I for one wouldn't mind setting foot on Jupiter's moon Europa, or exploring some vast hulk out in the Oort cloud.
4. The comparison no one's making
Strike mission bosses do take forever to defeat ... and that's the point. Doing so takes teamwork, patience and care (if not strategy, though that helps). And I'll venture an opinion when I say that that's brilliant. Destiny's been compared to many an MMO and many a shooter, but the most useful comparison of all is when it comes to the Strike missions, think of Monster Hunter Tri. If you haven't played that, it's an online co-op game where a small team of friends do battle for lengthy sessions to bring down gigantic nasties. Sound familiar?
Besides that, Destiny is an out-out shooter, and criticizing it for that is slightly odd, given that this is a game by Bungie, the creators of Halo. Yes there are RPG tropes aplenty, but in terms of what you'll actually be doing for the vast majority of time? Well, if it moves...
5. What kind of day has it been?
Ultimately, my favorite thing about Destiny is that, no matter what sort of session you're in the mood for, or how much time you have available, there's always something to do. Last night I had a tired hour to spare, so popped down to Old Russia to gather some spinmetal, then nipped to Venus to harvest spirit bloom – both essential to upgrade various bits of my recently-acquired legendary armor. On my rounds I joined in with a few public events – impromptu battles with tricky NPCs in the game world which all players are free to chip in with. Miracle of miracles I received a rare engram which yielded a legendary weapon. And ding! My armor upgrades boosted me the remaining three quarters of a level I needed to reach level 27. A relaxed session, but a fruitful one.
Compare that to a wonderfully fraught 90 minutes I spent helping some strangers out with Vault of Glass on Saturday. I say helping. I was mostly baffled by the new vocabulary of shield-grabbing, cleansing, and keeping gates open. Mostly my headset was filled with disappointed awwwwws as my five comrades and I succumbed to the darkness yet again. We made absolutely no progress, and it was wonderful. Though not as fun as the impromptu disco we started before hand in the Tower, the game's sole safe haven, as we tried to entice players to join our merry band.