X-Men: Destiny is a story of missed opportunities. It's especially disappointing when considering its potential given the RPG elements, superpowered action and cameos by top-tier X-Men — a combination that was used to great effect in the X-Men Legends and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance titles. Even if you are playing a "rookie" and not one of the stars, there are some great possibilities. Alas, X-Men: Destiny seems content in delivering appetizers instead of full course meal.
The game takes place in a world where Professor X died while joining forces with Magneto to fight and defeat a supervillain named Bastion. Magneto has also disappeared, and antimutant sympathies are on the rise. Enter the MRD, an organization led by the charismatic Luis Reyes, which is determined to bridge peace between mutants and humans with the help of the X-Men, who are now led by Cyclops. Purifiers, who hate mutants, are also instigating riots, and in San Francisco, events are approaching a critical point at a peace rally held by Reyes. Immediately after the player picks from three "origin" characters, everything explodes.
You can choose from three origin characters: Grant Alexander, a good, Southern boy whose only dream is to play college and professional football; Adrian Luca, a soldier in the anti-mutant Purifier army; and Aimi Yoshida, whose parents have smuggled her out of Japan to avoid being jailed in a mutant camp. Then you choose from one of three core mutant powers: Density Control, Energy Projection and Shadow Matter. Density Control grants extra durability to the user by generating a protective external coating. The Energy Projection mutation includes a variety of area-of-effect and focused energy-based attacks, and it can also serve as a protective shield for the wielder. Shadow Matter allows the user to create durable blades out of thin air or move faster than the eye can see.
The story follows your chosen origin character, taking into account the choices you make at critical story points. It encourages you to try out the other choices, even though the main story remains relatively linear aside from the dialogue and faction changes. A few personal comments related to the main character are spoken on occasion, but the story doesn't radically change based on the selected protagonist. Hearing what a former Purifier (a human-only fanatic who hates mutants) says after his "change" can be interesting, but the lines can also feel forced as small reminders of your chosen rookie.
Overall, the exposition is thrifty enough to know that it's only there to explain certain things — don't expect anything deep from the two-dimensional characters — but decently scribbles a Cliff's Notes version of the stances that the X-Men and the Brotherhood have taken. There's even a gauge that measured how far I leaned in favor of either faction. Being too friendly with one side might close off one or two special "challenge" missions, for instance. Ultimately, this doesn't matter because later on, you can choose the side that you wish to join, rendering most of these decisions rather pointless.
The solid voice acting also helps in telling the story, aided by some young Hollywood talent such as Jamie Chung (The Hangover Part II, Sucker Punch), Scott Porter (Friday Night Lights, The Good Wife) and Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes, Rocky Balboa). The vocals show far more polish than the rough visuals, which are functional, but everything from the unskippable in-game cinematics to the numerous, recycled evildoers won't impress anyone.
To aid your battle, your character also earns powers that complement his/her core ability at specific points in the main story. At the beginning, picking one of the three disciplines kicks things off. This is their "awakening," a big event in their lives that determines how they fight — but it's glossed over like many other things.
To be fair, X-Men Legends treated the story in much the same way because the solid gameplay meant that only enough story details were trickled through to keep the player interested. If Destiny delivered as much excitement as the initial hours had promised, the sparse story could be forgiven.
But it doesn't.
Experience points are earned by taking out enemies and completing special challenges that can be used to purchase ability levels and add-ons. Improvements expand your X-Men rookie's abilities and open up new combos, though there isn't a lot of upgrade depth. I settled on only one or two basic moves that worked really well in clearing the field and used them ad nauseam through the end of the game. There was really no reason to experiment with any of the other powers after finding a few that are versatile enough to use in practically any situation.
This made combat fairly boring after a few hours, when I realized that was all I could do regardless of which power I'd chosen. By button-mashing the same combos throughout the game, I plowed through most every challenge and major boss battle. It doesn't have to be this repetitive, but it was — for most encounters, enemy mixes, and the incredibly predictable bosses and peons.
Most of the fighting involves meeting a generic quota for defeating a certain number of foes, and this continues through the final game credits, if you haven't had enough. Destiny shakes up things on occasion with flamethrowing tough guys, minigun-equipped robots, and pseudomutant pretenders, but it's relatively the same fight over and over again whether it's on a rooftop or in a secret, underground factory. It even recycles the same boss type a few times. I thought that the powered armor might do something different to change it up.
But I was wrong.
Extra costumes and special X-genes can also be found in the painfully linear levels or as rewards for successfully clearing hidden challenge arenas. Equipping these can graft new mutant powers into your X-Men, such as being able to randomly trigger Colossus' armor or regenerate your health like Wolverine. A number of these powers also tend to overlap, providing little incentive to use them at all and leaving lists littered with pointless add-ons.
The special "powers" focused on your core ability felt marginally useful. M-Power, the energy needed to launch some of these, is recharged by beating on bad guys and can be extended and improved through equipping specific genes. I rarely used abilities that required M-Power because most enemies can be beaten with the basic combos from my chosen core power. Later abilities are more useful, but only after button-mashing for a few hours to get there.
Respecs are handled by replaying missions up to when you reach a "power pick" moment, so if you find that you don't like a particular ability, you'll have to replay the mission up to the decision point to switch it. Saves are automatic, so it's not easy to skip back. On the surface, it's a consequence of the choice you make. On the other, it feels like a clumsy burden on the player to extend the game's replayability.
No matter how far I leveled up my chosen X-Men, s/he couldn't defend against the game's numerous technical issues. There are oddities, such as enemies spawning within walls and preventing me from finishing the quota of beaten bad guys so I can proceed. Fortunately, that was solved with area-of-effect attacks that clip through the wall to take them out.
Most games ask once for your save location, but Destiny will ask you every time you "start" the main menu. Loads take their time, cut scenes and dialogue can't be skipped, and a strange mix of invisible walls and teleportation keeps players safely boxed in each area. I felt as if I were in a theme park designed by Disney and populated with X-Men. Slowdown randomly hits the brakes on the action, and if you're hoping for co-op, especially three-way co-op, it isn't here.
Destiny pokes and prods at the importance of choice by forcing the player to pick between powers and sides throughout the main story. It's a great concept that it doesn't explore deeply enough. No two games may be alike, but there's not a lot of game here to stretch the legs of these ideas.
Fans of the comic may also be put off by Destiny's cavalier treatment of turning newbies into Sentinel-slaying prodigies by borrowing powers from other mutants — especially when it makes the game feel unbalanced. Other X-Men aficionados may not care as much, though the plethora of issues and the numbing repetition might test the resolve of their wallets and sense of fun. This is especially true when it only takes six or seven hours for a single playthrough. The short length could be a heavy-handed hint to try the other characters and powers, but given how boring it can be the first time through, there's little incentive to do so.
X-Men: Destiny feels like a demo for a bigger game that never was. Little of the excitement that could have followed in the booted footsteps of X-Men Legends or Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is buried within its too-short campaign and thin smattering of gameplay. It's Dynasty Warriors for mutants; it can be fun at the outset, even with all the button-mashing, but the boxed-in world is not enough to distract from the hollow feeling of this particular destiny.
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