By Matt Peckham
September 11, 2014

I’ve just finished watching the credits roll after sewing up Destiny‘s story-related finale. The credits are optional, just an icon that lights up in the lower righthand corner of the game’s map screen. You can ignore it, and no one would blame you for doing so–I have no idea who 99.8% of those people are either–but I like to give credits sequences their due.

They’re a humbling reminder that a ridiculous number of people probably devoted an insane amount of time to build something unfathomably complex. As someone on Twitter put it after I called Activision’s $500 million early sales windfall surreal: “The whole enormous enterprise of video game production is surreal.” Indeed.

So before you wade into this “cons” list, know there’s a “pros” one in the offing and that I like Destiny more than I don’t.

It’s Bungie doing what Bungie still does better than just about anyone else. It’s a slicker, no-frills version of Halo, sure, only by way of more recent online exemplars like Guild Wars 2 and Diablo 3.

Some of the game’s vistas are gobsmacking, and the way Bungie dynamically folds other players into or out of your particular game instance while keeping areas from overcrowding verges on ingenious.

I’m thoroughly impressed with that stuff, and I’ve only scratched the surface of competitive multiplayer, which I’m pretty sure Bungie views as Destiny‘s heart and soul.

But the game has several unmissable problems. Here are eight that come to mind.

The writing’s pretty terrible…

I’m sorry, Bungie’s team of crack creative writers. I’m sure you lingered over every plot point and sentence and punctuation mark, but as someone who was surprised and inspired by your grand-ol-science-fiction trailer (up to about the 1:00 mark, anyway) wrapped across a gazillion Brobdingnagian screens at Sony’s E3 presser, I was expecting a story more on par with Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312.

Instead, Destiny feels like a paean to fictive mediocrity glommed onto shooting galleries wrapped in locales with meaningless gothic refrigerator-magnet names like “Shrine of Oryx” and “Temple of Crota” and “Rubicon Wastes.” It’s all visual sumptuousness backloaded with a boilerplate story so forgettable I probably couldn’t tell you what happened or why from memory with a gun to my head.

Halo was more ambitious (far from literary, but narratively bolder). The Library level alone was terrific. The series even inspired Hugo/Nebula-winning writer Greg Bear to write a bunch of books that play out in the Halo sandbox.

Destiny‘s story, by comparison, feels like something you get from the worst of the sorts of books you find shelved at the end of a bookstore’s sci-fi/fantasy section, the poorly written ones churned out every few months to placate franchise devotees.

Is that snobbery? Maybe, but it’s honesty from a guy still waiting for gaming’s Alan Moore or Gene Wolfe (that, and I’d argue Destiny‘s buildup promised more).

…as is the voice acting

Poor Peter Dinklage. The guy’s fantastic in Game of Thrones, no argument from me, but here he sounds like someone distractedly reading a bedtime story to a child while texting on his smartphone. My guess — knowing nothing about voice acting, mind you — is that since he plays a sentient robot-thingy, Bungie asked for a more neutral delivery, then forgot to apply the vocoder effect before shipping.

If Dinklage sounded less like bored-Dinklage and more like the computer in Wargames, we might not be having this conversation about wizards, moons and practically studied disinterest.

Carmina Burana wants its musical tropes back

Raise your hand if you’re as tired as I am of composers (in games or films) ripping off Carmina Burana‘s “O Fortuna” anytime they want to establish gravitas.

Some of the game’s music taken by itself is wonderful (I love the choral dissonances of the background music that plays while you’re in orbit, for instance), but marrying arcane-sounding lyrics and ethereal chanting/singing to climactic events for the umpteenth time is now the enemy. (As is not letting you turn the music down or off.)

It feels an awful lot like Halo

The way your health meter replenishes (and the sound it makes as it does), the fast-beeping klaxon that triggers when you’re down to a single health bar, the floating power jumps, the constant chatter of an A.I. companion you have to “deploy” to hack alien computers, the wave upon wave of enemies that storm from drop ships — Halo‘s fingerprints are all over this thing.

What’s wrong with a no-frills Halo and even better-finessed cooperative play? Nothing. Unless you’re burned out on Halo, because Destiny is strictly Bungie furiously tweaking and polishing a 13-year-old template, not subverting the genre, and certainly not tapping into whatever John Romero means (assuming he has the faintest idea what he’s talking about) when he says first-person shooters have “barely scratched the surface.”

Every mission is the same mission

Drop onto a planet’s surface, run down linear overland paths or underground corridors while taking out popup bad guys, deploy your tagalong robot at stations while fending off waves of more popup bad guys, then battle a boss. I’m not exaggerating: that’s every story mission in Destiny.

I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the execution, given how well-rounded everything else feels, but know that Destiny basically has one story-based mission that it trots out ad nauseam.

Where’s random matchmaking for story missions?

Every story mission in Destiny is hypothetically cooperative, but only the Strikes (abnormally difficult boss-surrounded-by-battalions takedown missions) grab other players at random. If you want to play story missions cooperatively, you can, but you have to manually invite friends or pull up your friends list and bother nearby strangers.

It’s sometimes hard to play tactically in first-person scrums

Destiny‘s environments are busy environments. They look terrific, but they’re also overflowing with nuanced geometry in the way of irregular crevices and protrusions, especially underground. It’s easy in cramped confines crosscut by one-shot-kill energy bolts to get stuck on objects, because there’s no depth awareness when everything’s squashed into a hybrid 3D-over-2D plane.

That’s an any-first-person-shooter conundrum, to be fair, but I noticed it more than I usually do in Destiny. That may also be because Bungie employs a third-person view whenever you visit the Tower (Destiny‘s social hub where you can buy stuff, decrypt found items, pick up bounties and collect rewards).

Would a third-person view outside the Tower area break the game? If not, I’d love to see it as optional (speaking as a guy who played the game as the profession designed to lay back and snipe from cover).

Boy, do I miss Legendary mode

I’m that guy who’ll fire up a Halo on Legendary and inch along, dying just to see how each tactical scenario re-rolls: in the Halo games, the tactical permutations are endless.

In Destiny, by contrast, I’m pretty sure my knife-to-the-face/bullet-to-the-head ratio’s been about 60/40 or 70/30. With rare exception, I’m able to sprint right up to throngs of stupid-slow enemies and do the deed without recourse to cover. Playing story missions at either Bungie’s recommended character levels or the optional ones (“normal” or “hard”), Destiny‘s enemies are tenpins, even when the game thinks its compensating by spawning waves in the dozens.

Halo gave you difficulty options to make that sort of tank-rush tactic punitive and often impossible. Destiny, in Bungie’s naked attempt to lubricate your journey toward its multiplayer-angled endgame, just winds up feeling tediously breezy as you roll through the story to hit the game’s level cap over its first dozen-plus hours.

Write to Matt Peckham at matt.peckham@time.com.

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