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(Activision for Xbox One)
By Mike Delano
Just like a space shuttle doesn't shoot up into the sky instantly, Destiny - the super-hyped new original game from Halo-makers Bungie - takes a little while to get going. After your character is rescued by a floating robot ally in the opening moments, there's a little bit of awkwardness as you come to grips with the game's rhythm. Between the deluge of bizarre new terminology that defines this sci-fi world, missions that don't feel like they have a lot of impetus behind them and the dizzying complexity of the Tower - a home base where myriad weapon and upgrades and customization options are bought and traded - it all feels a little sluggish in these early hours.
You persevere, though, for many reasons, not the least of which are the gorgeous environments that you'll explore. The planets you visit and the surface and underground structures on them are consistently captivating. Sometimes they have an understated beauty, like the craggy surface of the Moon, and other times they're intentionally dramatic but never fail to deliver on their potential. It's certainly a memorable moment when you're ascending the enormous staircase of an Aztec-like alien structure at sunset while weaving through the smoke and debris that sprouts from a battle of attrition with a menacing army of killer robots.
Moments like that are just as dependent on striking visuals as they are on the lynchpin of the whole experience - the classic Bungie gameplay that was honed to perfection across the Halo series. Everything feels right when you're playing Destiny, from the height of a double jump to the impact of a shotgun blast to the addictive POW of a melee attack. The combat is tuned so tightly that it's fun to start from zero and explore the different attributes of the three character classes - Titan, Hunter and Warlock - to see how they change up the scenarios in the story missions and competitive multiplayer.
Destiny's art direction and combat are easily enough to warrant a high recommendation, but it definitely helps that the game is strong in those crucial areas, since many of the problems that exist in the early game aren't resolved as you delve deeper in. The story and characters never become compelling, and the most common mission structure - get to the waypoint and fight off waves of enemies until the mission ends - is overused to the point of exhaustion.
Of course, those concerns don't matter much when you're teaming up with fellow adventurers to take on the large-scale Strikes and Raids against high-level enemies. These coordinated efforts to take down big targets and survive against tough odds are where the game shines brightest and, along with the solid competitive multiplayer, is where the real staying power lies, since updates to these modes with new content are already popping up at a steady pace. So while Destiny may not deliver on all of the world-beating hype that paved the road to its launch, it's still a massively entertaining first step into its fascinating and rapidly expanding universe.