“Masterful game-making” – The Escapist
“Activision and Bungie have a massive new hit” – Variety
“A Thrilling new franchise” – USA Today
“A more ambitious game than anything that has come before it” – Forbes
All of these glowing endorsements come from Destiny‘s own launch trailer. Now that the game has been out for a little time now, it’s time I gave my thoughts on the game’s narrative and voice-over.
Before I begin, do note something. I am only talking about the voice-over and story aspects of the game. If you want reviews for the rest of the game and its mechanics, I’d advise checking out the myriad of other reviews including Angry Joe, IGN, etc. I found the game to be slightly above average, though kind of addicting simply because of the loot.
Now, onto the show!
For those unawares, Bungie (the developers) were the founders of the Halo series. They bought themselves back from Microsoft and were brought into Activision’s fold to make Destiny.
With Halo as your previous works, that sets a pretty high bar. Right? Sadly, Destiny disappoints.
First off, have you seen the list of voice-actors in this thing? Peter Dinklage (Tyrion in Game of Thrones), Bill Nighy (Viktor in Underworld, Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean), Lauren Cohan (Maggie in The Walking Dead TV show, Bela in Supernatural), Claudia Black (Aeryn in Farscape, Morrigan in Dragon Age), Nathan Fillion (Come on, do I really have to list his credits?), etc.
Awesome stuff, right? Too bad the vast majority of all the voice-acting feels soulless and void of life. That’s also just for what dialogue their characters actually speak, but I’ll get back to that.
The back-story is this…
Mankind has gone to Mars and made contact with this giant orbiting sphere that’s called “The Traveler.” Due to the things it teaches us, Mankind has a golden age in which Venus becomes a Garden-class world, Mars is settled, etc. AKA: Lots of good things happen.
Then, “The Darkness,” comes in and ends Mankind’s golden age and nearly destroys us. You are brought back from the dead to be a Guardian by your “Ghost” companion, an AI fragment of The Traveler voiced by Peter Dinklage. Upon your resurrection, you’re tasked with trying to push back against alien species fighting Mankind’s remnants.
And that’s the story as a whole.
No, seriously, that’s it. There’s a final boss, but there’s no real build-up as to even who or what it is. As I’m finishing the campaign, I’m feeling no more remarkable than when I started and, even worse, I’m left wondering what I even accomplished across this entire campaign.
This confusion is further expanded by questions that are left unanswered. Our Ghost tells us that we’ve been dead for a very long time and are going to see a lot of things we won’t understand. After that, we’re never actually told anything to bring us up to speed and get us informed. There are multiple moments like this throughout.
What doesn’t help this problem is the fact that, with what lore and background info that is actually there, over half of it isn’t actually even in the game.
As you play, you collect grimoire cards which give you snippets of lore and background info for the missions, the setting, and the universe’s history. Where do you view the lore from these cards? On Bungie’s website or phone app.
You read that right. Well over half the game’s background lore and even some mission briefings aren’t even in the game, they are on a website you won’t visit or a phone app you won’t want to install. You have to go ridiculously out of the way (and game) to get the big picture.
Even then the picture isn’t anything close to complete. There are holes in information all over the place, likely to be filled by expansion packs. Except, isn’t it a bit ludicrous that we’re hoping that we can buy expansion packs just so we can get an idea as to what is even going on or why we should care?
The voice-actors in that list above? They barely get a few minutes each with the exception of Dinklage. What’s worse, a number of grimoire lore entries have dialogue from their character in text-form that isn’t in the game. Worse yet, there’s more dialogue for those characters on those cards than there is in the actual game.
A nice example of this is a story that Nathan Fillion’s character tells as if he’s around a campfire. It was an interesting story, and when I was done reading it, I found myself craving the chance to have it in the game and actually voiced. You have a large list of good actors in your cast, squeeze some performances out of them and actually use them.
Bungie attempts to disguise their lack of story with subtle references in names and hinted concepts, leading you to think that the shallow pond is actually much deeper and you just don’t quite get it. Worse yet, to see it, you have to leave the game entirely in order to try and understand it.
Seriously, remember Mass Effect‘s codex? I wasted hours with the entries in that damn thing. You can’t tell me you couldn’t add a codex menu, an archive in your tower-base, or some bloody voiced comm-chatter.
In respect to the game’s narrative and delivery, Destiny is woefully lacking. It is a shallow experience that leaves me baffled at just how lifeless it feels.
From the people who brought us compelling adventures in the Halo series, filled with memorable characters who had more than their share to say, we’re left with Destiny. This new title is filled with no narrative substance that is left even emptier by soulless performances with only one or two exceptions (Lauren Cohan’s “Exo Stranger” stands out to me, though only from the two cutscenes she’s actually in).
Is Destiny the “massive new hit,” and “masterful game,” we’ve come to expect? No, it’s not. It had its sights set on a larger target, but it failed to suck me in and left me feeling like I could literally have grabbed any other shooter and played that.