Last week we saw an X-Men game arrive that doesn’t actually have you playing as one of the X-Men. X-Men: Destiny has you playing as a ‘no-name’ mutant in the world with powers that you get to pick. An interesting concept, and one I’ve certainly been excited to see in action since I first saw it.
What’s goin’ on?
At the start of X-Men: Destiny you are at a peace rally where someone named Luis Reyes is making a speech about how mutants and humans should live in peace with Cyclops and Emma Frost at his side. This game takes place in a variant X-Men timeline in which Charles Xavier and Magneto fight Bastion. They triumph, but not before Xavier’s death. Shortly after that, an organization called the ‘MRD’ or Mutant Response Division, steps in to try to help integrate mutants into society and help support peace between humans and mutants. Magneto has been largely silent since Bastion’s defeat. The X-Men have mostly fallen apart, without Xavier’s leadership and with many original members dead. Now the stage is set.
Immediately upon the game’s opening, things predictably fall apart with an attack upon the peace rally that appears to be Magneto and Pyro’s doing. The story then unfolds in an incredibly predictable manner with very little that is actually surprising occuring. One of the game’s promises was choice, and while you do have choice, it doesn’t seem to effect much except the end cinematic, a select few cutscenes, and which characters are fighting alongside you at certain points. The dialog and the overall story remain largely unchanged.
The dialog itself is another sticking point. Despite some very solid voice actors, such as Fred Tatasciore, Nolan North, Yuri Lowenthal, and Kari Wahlgren – the conversations never really feel fluid. You can absolutely tell that these were recorded piecemeal and just stuck together based off of what you choose, especially when you start a second playthrough and start seeing the same conversation lines from the npcs despite you picking completely different options and even playing as completely different characters. The different characters themselves do have distinct backstories, and they do react very different to certain things. However, it just doesn’t seem to make much of a difference to the story or even the other dialogs. Even worse is when you read the subtitles and the lines aren’t even close to matching – sometimes entire sentences are missing. If it was a game being translated from another language, I could maybe understand that, but for an English game having anything more than a word or two off here and there is just unacceptable.
The gameplay of X-Men Destiny involves the gradual evolution of one of 3 powers chosen for your hero: Density Control, Energy Projection, or Shadow Matter. Each power plays dramatically different from the others, allowing you different strengths, weaknesses, and options in combat. I played through once with Shadow Matter and a second time with Energy Projection – and both are quite strong, with me having few difficulties in completing the game on hard mode with either skillset. The controls, for the most part, are fairly responsive with the exception of blocking and jumping which felt a little awkward and sluggish – especially when trying to jump to climb. The combat is fairly smooth aside from those two problems, although a lot of abilities animations are very inaccurate as to the area they effect which causes some problems in knowing whether you’re going to hit. Another minor concern is that sometimes the game would misinterpret the direction I intended to attack and leave me aiming completely away from what I wanted.
The game’s difficulty is overall very low, even on hard mode, with only a few challenges and bosses even posing any threat at all. The enemy AI is incredibly dull and easy to predict, which just serves to make an easy game even easier; and most of the bosses followed pretty direct patterns – even the final boss had a very easy to read pattern to each phase of his fight.
The game is basically a series of hallways and rooms for combat, with occasional sidepaths leading to challenge arenas. Challenge arenas are basically the same things as the combat rooms except that if you die you just appear at the entrance to the arena unconscious for a few seconds. Over the course of the game you’ll get various pre-existing members of the X-Men universe coming in to help you briefly or just to offer you another mission or challenge arena, such as Cyclops, Emma Frost, Toad, and Nightcrawler to name a few.
The other aspect of the character building and combat are ‘X-Genes’ and ‘Suits’. Over the course of the game you’ll find powerups called X-Genes. These X-Genes allow you to adapt your abilities by taking aspects of other characters powers to apply to 3 areas – Offense, Defense, and Utility. This allows you tremendous customization that is a lot more than skin deep.
To give two examples in how they differ – if you take the Surge offensive gene you’ll add lightning direct damage to your attacks while if you take the Pyro offensive you’ll get a fire damage over time effect to your attacks. However, it’s when you start to upgrade these genes that you really unlock the true customization. To continue the same examples – Surge offensive level 2 causes all of your finishers to fire off chain lightning effects to nearby enemies causing huge chains that deal the same damage as well as stuns while Pyro’s offensive level two causes your finishers to cause explosions burning enemies around the target for damage over time. Some of the genes can level up beyond two, making the effects even more dynamic. This also changes the colours of your attacks, of course – which can make for some really cool looking combos and attacks.
The suits are mostly skin-deep allowing you to don the attire of your favourite mutants. However, if you equip a suit and all 3 matching genes(offense defense and utility) you can unleash ‘X-Mode’ which gives you an incredibly powerful temporary boost making everything you do work a lot more like the mutant whose suit you’re wearing. This adds a lot of depth to the game, and a lot of very meaningful choice and customization to where you want to spend your experience and what genes you want to equip.
On the subject of ‘skin-deep’….
There’s no way to butter this up – the graphics are not good. This is one of the worst looking action rpg games I’ve seen in the past few years. The character animations are a bit clunky, and the character models definitely look dated. There are quite often clipping issues as well as invisible walls in places that don’t make much sense and just serve to make the ‘corridor’ feeling more apparent. The environments are, unfortunately, no better – with most of them being repetetive and bland tunnels, cityscapes, or facility rooms and hallways. Some of the bosses look quite cool, although even they get a bit repetetive. The skill graphics and ability effect animations are very interesting, though. I can remember several moments where I was quite wowed watching a skill in action. But aside from that, the graphics are a big letdown.
The audio effects are a step up – with the skill effects mostly sounding pretty cool and the ambient noise being quite suitable. The voice acting is decent quality, if a bit stiff – and as mentioned above, quite obviously recorded separately which doesn’t do the talented voice actors involved justice. Where the audio really becomes a let-down is the truly forgettable soundtrack. I can’t think of a single track from the game that made enough of an impact for me to recognize it.
The game also had a few glitches – such as one where my audio bugged after using a powerful area of effect ability that – I guess – hit too many opponents causing the audio to become very staticky and hard to listen to until I reloaded the game. Another thing worth noting for those achievement/trophy-hoarders out there – this game will get you about 70% of the trophies if you play through once on hard – that’s a lot of trophies/achievement points just for one 5-7 hour play-through. Which is another salient point, the game is very very short. I can’t imagine it taking more than 8 hours for a single playthrough, and possibly much less although the game doesn’t provide you with a ‘time played’ statistic anywhere. However the addition of 3 sets of powers, 3 characters, and 2 ‘story paths’ – despite them being very limited in distinction – does add some replayability to it.
This game has a lot of flaws – from poor graphics and forgettable audio to repetetive combat and a lack of meaningful story choice. But despite those flaws, the game is quite a bit of fun, I cannot say that I didn’t enjoy it. In fact, I enjoyed it a lot. And I think any X-Men fan will probably feel the same, getting joy out of the mutant power evolution and the combat alongside previously known characters. While it is not a good game from a technical standpoint, I still would recommend people at least give it a rent – although the short length and limited branching to the story do make it less likely to be worth a purchase for you.
- Interesting and diverse power options.
- Customizable appearance through costume options.
- Presence of known X-Men characters is cool.
- Fighting alongside known characters adds a lot of fun value to the combat.
- Combat controls are mostly responsive.
- Ability effect animations and sounds are really quite well done.
- Voice actors do a good job of portraying characters.
- Evolving powers are really cool to see.
- X-Gene customization is deep and extensive – and fun!
- Extremely repetetive environments.
- Repetetive combat scenarios.
- Missions and ‘Challenge Arenas’ are largely the same thing, just one you don’t actually die if you die.
- Jumping and blocking are very unresponsive.
- Some pretty noticable glitches were not caught in QA.
- Story doesn’t vary in any noticeable way other than the ending really regardless of what you choose.
- Graphics are really dated.
- Conversations between characters never really feel right – always feeling kind of segmented.
- Very short game.
- Forgettable soundtrack.
- Difficulty on hard mode too low.
- Story is fairly weak.
- Subtitles don’t match up with voice properly – often very far off.
Review Written by: Sean Engel