Many of us who grew up with comic books used to love making up our own super heroes. We’d hash out the requisite origin stories, debate which powers suited our characters and consider the appropriate length of our capes. Every bit of the process was essential, and more importantly, it was fun, and that is exactly why games like City of Heroes and DC Universe Online have been successful. X-Men: Destiny does none of these things, and that is but the beginning of its shortcomings.
Rather than follow the footsteps of X-titles past, Silicon Knights’ foray into mutant melodrama casts you as one of three new mutants. As a character with no real history or allegiances, Silicon Knights’ narrative allows you to pick a side: the X-Men, or the Brotherhood; at least, theoretically. In practice, you have almost no control over your destiny because there isn’t any real substance to the choices you make.
When it was initially announced, people hoped Destiny might be a Mass Effect with mutants, a game which would allow us to make decisions and thus define our own unique X-man or woman. But Destiny is nothing more than a poor man’s third-person action game, one where you periodically talk to NPCs from both opposing factions. You make occasional choices in these conversations, deciding to aid one NPC or another, but other than accumulating faction allegiance, your decisions fail to alter the game in any meaningful way. At worst you’ll find yourself locked out of the occasional challenge mission when your allegiance swings too heavily in either direction, but more often you’ll listen to lectures from Cyclops or Mystique, reminding you that their side is just.
As a linear third-person action game, combat is the primary focus throughout Destiny’s campaign. Combat checks off most of the required genre tropes, with closed arena fights accounting for an alarming percentage of the game, each filled with dozens of mindless enemies – who of course die and turn into health, mutant power and experience orbs. Everything that Destiny is has been done before, and in almost every case has been done better. Combat feels flimsy, requiring little thought other than the occasional parry, which requires no precision whatsoever. Like most melee combat games, the experience accumulated from fallen foes is funneled into a skill tree which improves your mutant powers. However, it’s rare that you’ll ever feel like a super hero.
Effectively, Destiny serves as an origin story for your character, which makes it difficult to swallow the disconnect in your character’s combat prowess. It’s understandable that you won’t rival the likes of Magneto in terms of mutant powers initially, but perplexing that you’re a hand-to-hand fighting expect with no apparent combat background. Still, Destiny is a super hero game, and, as such, you want to feel powerful, and even a bit unhinged, considering the game begins with your character discovering his/her mutant abilities. One’s powers awakening should not only be a huge moment in terms of narrative, but it’s also an amazing opportunity for gameplay and it’s largely squandered, save for a few awkward lines of dialogue. Imagine a scenario where you have almost no control of your powers, then imagine being a danger to ordinary people or even just to yourself, and immediately you’ll see the potential consequences of being a mutant and the responsibility it entails.
Other than the previously mentioned skill tree, another way your mutant accumulates abilities is through the use of X-Genes and Suits, which can be found throughout the environments and for completing various challenge missions. Both genes and suits are based on pre-existing characters, which creates a paradoxical narrative scenario: Silicon Knights wants you to be the new hero, but they force you to use the iconic powers of the X-Men pantheon. While this system acts an interesting infusion of fan service, it undermines the entire point of having original characters, which ignores the fact that most people would have preferred to create their own mutant in the first place. It’s almost like Silicon Knights knew no one wanted to play as their half-baked characters and added suits to simulate the characters fans actually like. But, even then, there’s still a reasonable chance you won’t find the three matching genes, plus the matching suit in a single playthrough. And without all four pieces you won’t be able to use your favorite mutant’s powered-up X-Mode.
Honestly, I could go on and on about the myriad of reasons why X-Men: Destiny is a bad game, but it isn’t the inconsistent frame rate, poor writing or almost PlayStation 2-like visuals that make it such a dud. Silicon Knights set out to make an X-Men game where the power of choice is yours, but in the end, it’s a game where huge yellow and orange rotating Xs tell you exactly where to go at all times. X-Men: Destiny is a staggeringly mundane game and a disservice to the brand.