‘Destiny’ (2014) story review: What’s in a story?

Editor’s note: So, “Destiny” is an enormous game, far too expansive to review within a week’s time. So I decided to follow the lead of several other outlets and break it up into smaller periodic updates about the game with a comprehensive review when I’ve completed the main story line. Check back here for further updates.

‘Destiny’s’ story a major surprise — and not in a good way

When it comes to my taste in video games, I’m a storyline kind of guy. I can deal with sloppy controls, less than stellar graphics and even insane load times if, in return, I get a story worth remembering. I want drama, tension, action and adventure. Maybe even throw in a love story or tale of revenge that pushes the world to the brink of destruction. It doesn’t have to necessarily be realistic (I’m a “Final Fantasy” die-hard; I know about that stories that require you to suspend disbelief), but a well-written, logical, immersive plot can reel me in for far longer than any game mechanic.

Which is why, after completing the main storyline in “Destiny,” I find myself more than a touch disappointed.

Bungie’s magnum opus to the world of the next-generation consoles (I’m playing the game on the PlayStation 4) took five years and untold millions of dollars to bring to market. It was hyped as the next “Halo,” a beloved and critically acclaimed series by the same developer. So I wouldn’t say my expectations of an engaging story paired with an exciting first-person shooter were outlandish.

Instead, what we get is … well, I can’t really recall. I do remember Peter Dinklage’s voice constantly providing dialogue in the middle of intense battles, just about guaranteeing that I wouldn’t the time or focus to listen to him prattle on about this and that. His role as Ghost (a powerful A.I. robot that bears no resemblance to a ghost) otherwise merely serves as a male Cortana directing you to your next destination, all with the most bored inflection you’ve ever heard.

But I could deal with a boring A.I. character if what he was charging me with made some sense. Not every android character needs to be Bishop from “Alien.” But there’s little reason for him to begin with. Well, let me step back.

My character’s backstory involves being found in the rubble of what remains of a post-apocalyptic Earth. It seems I’m supposed to help save the galaxy from the encroaching Darkness from overwhelming everything. The planet’s last line of defense, a giant off-white alien ball in the sky, floats dormant. (It seems this Traveler was capable of granting humanity the ability to colonize other planets during a Golden Age for the species but more or less died in its successful, if temporary, effort to defend the planet from the Darkness.)

My goal is to find a way to revive the Traveler so humanity has a fighting chance against the Darkness. So I’m granted powers and get a neat traveler orb/buddy to show me the way.

You can see how this would good on paper, right? It brings together popular elements from seasoned franchises (“Halo,” “Call of Duty,” “Mass Effect”) and creates a lush world where we can mow down aliens in an effort to save the world.

But it doesn’t do any of that.

Our main character is nameless, the few other characters we do meet during the story’s progression are nearly instantly forgettable (no joke: One character’s return in the final cutscene left me asking out loud, “Wait, who is that?”), and no further background of any depth is provided. Ghost throws out a few nuggets from time to time, but nothing of real consequence.

Combine this lack of story with strikingly similar missions throughout the game, and you will find yourself wondering why you’re even bothering to finish the story missions at all. The scripts embedded in each mission are generic: Go here, shoot this, take that and don’t die.

I guess my major complaint isn’t that I expected so much more than I got, but that I don’t even know what I’m trying to do or why I’m going anywhere in this game. There’s nothing wrong with a mindless game that owns up to being mindless (I can play just as much “Super Meat Boy” or “Angry Birds” as anyone else), but I can’t forgive a game that prides itself on being the Next Big Thing and fails to even create a somewhat interesting story, leaving to drift in this dearth of imagination.

Because humanity fighting off aliens is nothing new, no matter how beautiful that chaos may be.

But maybe it’s me who’s missing the point. Maybe I did expect too much. Maybe I figured this FPS with some RPG elements would be the other way around, and now I’m stung by this revelation. Maybe trying to find a worthwhile story in a game where the most exciting elements are cooperative missions (no sarcasm; those are truly excellent) was a bridge too far.

In the end, it seems “Destiny” is going out of its way to leave us just about clueless when it comes to the story of this mechanically entertaining game. At this point, I’d be happy if one of two outcomes occurred: a much expanded storyline released alongside the expansion packs later this year, or the story more or less dropped in deference to the awesome gameplay. Pick your poison, Bungie, because right now it doesn’t seem as if you can have both.

Editor’s note: This limited-edition version of “Destiny” is being reviewed on the PS4 and will be completed cooperatively to the best of my ability. If you feel like joining the adventure, my PlayStation Network ID is domo0025.

This game will receive a rating once completed.

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Above, a scene from "Destiny." (Photo credit: Activision)

Above, a scene from “Destiny.” (Photo credit: Activision)

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