Google Stadia is out in the wild as of today, with everyone getting a chance to see how it works for them. I assume there will be some…variability. You may have caught my review of the streaming service yesterday, in which I detailed that my time testing it was rather disastrous. And yet for some people, it worked better, so keep that in mind when you read the following.
Bungie has hitched themselves to Stadia by allowing Destiny 2: The Collection to essentially be the lead game of the launch. You get the game for free if you subscribe to Stadia Pro for $9.99 a month, which also unlocks 4K 60 fps streaming for games. While most of Destiny 2 is free already, The Collection also comes with Forsaken (though not Shadowkeep).
So, is it worth subscribing to Stadia to play Destiny there? How does it work? How does it feel?
I’ll say up front that if there is any game that has some level of appeal on Stadia, it’s Destiny 2, given that it’s one of the very few titles that has cross save active. That means you can link your PS4, Xbox, PC and Stadia accounts all together so no matter where you’re playing you make progress (linking Stadia to the others took three seconds and worked perfectly). This is different than pretty much all other games on the service as if you want to play Red Dead 2 or Borderlands 3 on Stadia, you will not only have to re-buy the game, but you’re starting an entirely new save file.
With that said, even if you’re playing Stadia Destiny on PC, you are not playing with other PC players. Even if you’re playing it with a controller on your TV, you are not playing with other console players. Stadia is its own ecosystem, meaning you are only playing with other Stadia players. And for Destiny, that could be a problem.
I was not able to test the player population of Stadia during the early review phase. There simply weren’t enough reviewers playing to fully populate a game like Destiny, which I can understand. Instead, there were a few sessions where Google and Bungie employees would be playing either the EDZ (just random public events for new players) or Gambit (for veteran players) so you could get a sense of how it felt with other players. But once the game is live, I worry about matchmaking and group finding for activities given that Stadia is clearly going to be the smallest player pool out there. If you think it’s hard to find people to run Master Nightmare Hunts and raids now, I imagine it’s going to be a lot harder on Stadia.
I played solo a fair amount, just running random missions and such to see how it felt. And I did a few games in one of the Gambit sessions.
How did it go? As you might be able to guess from my review yesterday, not great.
The one clear advantage Stadia has over console and PC is the ability to pick up and play without any sort of installs, patches or PS4’s dreading “copying” which is nice to see. This is paired with drastically reduced load times that were faster than my SSD PS4 and probably close to on par with my SSD PC. That’s impressive.
That’s where the good news ends, however. While Destiny performed a little better than other games like Mortal Kombat or Tomb Raider, I did run into frequent stuttering issues that ground gameplay to a halt in many instances. There are also minor audio sync issues during cutscenes that are just a little bit noticeable, like you’re streaming a movie slightly out of sync.
The worst period of time was during Gambit, where in the Primeval phase especially I would experience hard frame drops. It was not enough to completely throw the game, but it was annoying and I credit a few deaths to it. To be fair, I won all my games and was top of the mote/damage charts for them, so it didn’t totally tank my performance. And yet I don’t know who I was playing against in this limited test so it’s probably not that impressive. One of the biggest problems is that when the stutters hit, it makes using Destiny’s all-purpose selection cursor for the inventory and maps skip around the screen, which is a nightmare to deal with. At times it was a challenge just to pick a planet or switch guns when the tremors kicked in.
When Stadia was working normally, as in no huge stuttering issues, which to be fair, was most of the time, it still just doesn’t feel…right. While I wasn’t really able to tell much of a difference with other games, I have 1200 hours into Destiny 2, so I could feel that even if we were talking about microseconds, you can feel the difference in gameplay, moving, jumping, shooting, which feels just a little bit worse than all other platforms. It’s passable, certainly, but preferable? Absolutely not. I did not experience input lag like this famous Gene Park GIF, but it wasn’t great, I’ll say that.
But even given that I had a worse Stadia experience than most, due to issues that I and Google are still investigating, fundamentally, the game does not perform how it was originally supposed to on Stadia. Google previously said that almost all games would run at 4K 60 FPS, a significant upgrade for console players, at the very least. At worst, it would be 4K 30 FPS if developers chose that. And yet Bungie has confirmed that Destiny 2 is locked to 1080p and upscales to 4K, which makes the game look worse than it does on say, Xbox One X. It’s supposedly running on the equivalent of Medium PC settings, and at least in my experience, I never had a framerate going that felt like 60 fps like how it’s silky smooth on PC, and Bungie confirmed that yes, it is supposed to be able to hit that.
I could see Stadia offering some appeal to hardcore Destiny players who could theoretically sign up to be able to play Destiny 2 on the go on more devices. It will almost certainly be a worse experience than on console or PC for various reasons, from player population to latency to resolution, but at least it can work, and you can complete X bounty or Y event on the go. Today I’m going to try to use it from my hotel room to see if I can beat the Undying Mind for today’s Final Assault event (fingers crossed).
And yet those who thought that they were going to pick up Stadia to be able to play Destiny in 4K 60 fps on their TVs are going to be out of luck. If Destiny can even hit that, it’s not going to do it consistently, and they’ve said outright that the 4K is just flat-out upscaled, and you’re actively getting a worse product than PS4 Pro, Xbox One X or PC versions. So manage those expectations.
With cross save and a lively fanbase, Destiny 2 did seem like a good fit for Stadia. And yet in practice, it feels like Stadia has too many issues for even a best-case-scenario game like Destiny to provide a good experience on it, or one that’s preferable to any other platform, despite Bungie doing everything it can to make it work. Destiny 2 on Stadia feels like a last resort if you absolutely cannot play on any other platform for whatever reason, but to do that, you need a subscription and to buy Shadowkeep separately and so on. Not great.
I don’t blame Bungie for doing a deal with Google, but the end result is something that is probably not going to attract all that many Destiny players to the platform. Again, I had kind of the worst possible experience during testing, so things may go better for you, but some of the issues seem universal and insurmountable. Good luck.