Destiny First Impressions (a not-first-day-review)

Feeling a little tired this fine Tuesday afternoon? Chances are good that’s because you were up at midnight (or much later) playing Bungie’s hotly-anticipated new shooter-slash-MMO, Destiny. After a very long wait that technically began all the way back in 2009 Destiny is finally live and officially available at retail wherever you may live in the world. It’s the most pre-ordered game in history, with figures surging up somewhere around five million copies (we haven’t seen official numbers in a while, so for now take that as an estimate). To be fair, whenever a product is this hyped it is a good idea to temper your expectations. After all, it is only a video game. It may be the latest and greatest now, but Bungie has already told us in no uncertain terms that Destiny 2 is on its way, and in only a few short years Destiny 1 will be obsolete (though no less fun for what it is, I might add). The thing is, when hype levels hit 100% it’s not necessarily about the hyped product anymore. Five million people is an event. Gamer culture hasn’t had a big holiday in a long time, and Destiny was the perfect subject to become one. Now, you’d practically have to be a monk not to know Destiny at least by reputation, but that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily on board. Well, it’s far too soon to crank out a full review, as Bungie itself has even admonished, but for those of you who are still on the fence or more likely just want to read about your new favorite topic, here’s a few first impressions from my opening moments of Destiny:

This thing plays like a feature film

…and not because it is on-rails, has quick time events, and is as linear as a hallway. In fact it is none of those things at all. There’s just a look about the entire composition of the screen at any given moment that feels like a very rich, premium experience. I’m not just talking about realism, as there are certainly better-looking games out there already. It’s about style, and Destiny is oozing with it. Wherever there is a script or cutscene you can expect it to stand with the best of Hollywood feature films, absolutely, but for once the quality of the experience doesn’t end there. It’s a bit hard to explain without seeing it firsthand. I could employ popular buzzwords like ‘immersive’ and ‘cinematic’ and all would be true, but the fact is we haven’t seen them all mixed together quite this well before. Destiny is, in a word, simply captivating.

The gunplay is rock-solid

“Destiny looks like just another shooter,” some have said. Well, looks can be deceiving, my friend. A lot more goes into a shooter than a gun on a screen with an enemy down the barrel. A thousand and more little variables go into creating the feel of a shooter, and even small variances between games can make big differences. Well, Bungie’s been at the shooter genre for 20 years now, and their experience shows in every squeeze of the trigger. Though you certainly can play Destiny as a twitch shooter, it’s abundantly clear that Bungie wants more thought than impulse to go into gamers’ time with this game. That means there’s a sense of weight to your weapons, and straight away they just feel good and well-balanced (in part thanks to day-one updates). I can’t wait to find and unlock more—my original arsenal is far from the best and most interesting Destiny has to offer, and that can only mean great things to come.

Last gen isn’t left out

In case you hadn’t noticed, Sony reeeeaally wants you to play Destiny on PS4. And considering roughly a third of those millions of preorders are for the PS4 platform it’s safe to say many of you out there are doing just that. But if you find yourself without new gaming hardware, rest assured your Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 can still do Destiny admirable justice. With recent cross-generation releases being almost universally bogged down by poor frame rates and lackluster visuals you’d be right to think twice about picking Destiny up for old platforms, but thankfully Bungie has gone the extra mile to ensure that the game maintains a cool 30 FPS and retains as much of the next-gen detail as possible. A lot of corners had to be cut to get there, but this is still one of the best-looking games on last-gen platforms. And before you go complaining about Destiny’s internal 600p resolution (versus full 1080p on PS4/One) just remember that Bungie’s last few games in the Halo series only managed 640p, and Destiny looks a sight better overall. It’s also worth mentioning that the last-gen versions of Destiny are totally safe investments considering the cost of upgrading to the PS4 or Xbox One version is $0 through January 15, 2015. Naturally that is an upgrade you will want to make eventually, but the good news is the game is plenty well enjoyable until then.

There IS room in this town for the two of us

There’s been a little controversy over Destiny only featuring a few planets and only one ‘area’ to explore on each. But trust me when I say putting it in those terms is selling the game short. Each area is divided into smaller areas, each of which is a fair chunk of real estate on its own. In typical Bungie fashion they are just all connected seamlessly. Each world feels like it’s begging to be explored in all directions, and you’ll be able to while away plenty of hours doing just that. Furthermore, you won’t mind revisiting familiar territory one bit—that richness and depth of style I mentioned earlier plays out well here. At this point I can’t really say more since I have so much more to see, so excuse me while I go exploring.

As I write these words Destiny has been on the market here in the states for a mere 14 hours. Though it’s always an ambitious thing to say you’re setting up an IP for a ten-year lifespan, I already get the feeling Destiny’s got what it takes to make it that far. I intentionally didn’t play the beta so that the final product could form my impressions, and now it has, in the short time it has been available. It’s not a score, it’s not an in-depth analysis, but the fact that I played Destiny for the first time and it left me impressed enough to write this stuff about it says something. Take that for what you will.