Destiny: A Job You Pay For!

Destiny is among the weirdest games I’ve ever played.

I’ll get the obvious and repetitive stuff out of the way first.

The minute-to-minute gameplay is excellent. Bungie clearly knows how to craft a tight first person shooter. The abilities of the player character and smart use of level geometry provides a welcome departure from the pop up shooting galleries that are the default in the FPS genre. It’s enormously satisfying to fly around a room tossing grenades/meleeing and swapping between weapons. The guns themselves are far less interesting though, besides increasing or decreasing the numbers popping out of enemies when you shoot them, after a few hours they all feel the same. You’ll quickly stop caring about what a gun does and simply look at the numbers and colour; the game borrows the coloured gear system from WoW so Yellow > Purple > Blue > Green >White.

The missions themselves are very by the numbers unfortunately, typically consisting of “Go here, shoot the bad guys around this computer, deploy your robot buddy at the computer, your robot buddy will say something sounding like Tyrion Lannister on Ambien, mission complete, now wait 30 seconds for no reason”. And because the missions will take you through the same environments several times, the issue of repetition becomes even more egregious.

The story is abysmal. It is among the worst stories I’ve ever experienced in a video game. It introduces concepts, characters and races strangely casually as if you should already understand everything and they’re just filling in details. Nearly all of the exposition comes from your robot companion voiced by Peter Dinklage which sounded great on paper. Unfortunately, the game can’t seem to decide if your “Ghost” is supposed to be witty and sarcastic or simply an emotionless robot. The result is that Dinklage sounds so disinterested its a wonder he was able to stay awake to read his lines. Combined with the barely there story, cutscenes are an exercise in endurance.

With regards to setting, the promise of an epic adventure through the solar system is never really fulfilled. The worlds feel more like palette swaps than anything; Brown for Earth (of course), White and Black on the moon, Red for Mars and Green for Venus. And while I’m not asking for an entire planet to explore, it feels strange to be told “we’re going to a new world” and then being placed a relatively sparse environment. Destiny attempts to make the world seem big by giving you your own spaceship and providing long glamour shots of light-speed travel, but those are merely their method of hiding loading screens; which are among the longest I’ve seen in recent memory.

The enemies reflect this barely there story, you’ll fight the Fallen: 4 armed aliens with several eyes, the Hive: a kind of insectoid species, the Vex: requisite generic robots and the Cabal: who are essentially humanoid but bigger. The races do fight slightly differently but I found it impossible to care who I was fighting because I had no idea who they were or why I don’t like them. The most you’re ever given is that they are “creatures of the darkness” and “the darkness” is bad. If they had decided to make one species the enemy, maybe they could have had more time to develop the story; instead of telling you; “you like this big white orb thing, its good. Out there is the darkness, its bad. Now shoot some aliens”.

The game does look beautiful, but rightly so. In the past when next generation took us from papercraft figures in Goldeneye to characters who could actually make facial expressions it was important to mention graphics. Now with increasingly minute improvement, graphics only really matter when the game looks sub-par based on current technology. So yes, Destiny looks great but when the production budget was roughly the GDP of a small country, it better.

Now that I’ve got the boring “regular review” stuff out of the way I want to talk about what makes Destiny so strange for a console shooter.

If you ask Bungie. Destiny is not an MMO. It’s a shooter with an online component, its an FPS with large RPG elements, it’s a new kind of game that defies genre, etc. Those are lies, it’s an MMO.

Sure it doesn’t play like WoW, you don’t need to learn a circumscribed “rotation” to properly play the game but it has all the features of an MMO. There is a hub town with vendors, you match up with other players randomly to do missions independent of where you are in the game that are only tangentially related to the plot, in WoW it’s dungeons, here it’s strike missions and your primary means of communicating with players you meet is dancing. However, the most MMO-like feature is the end game content.

In Destiny, to buy the best gear you need to earn currency via cooperative Strike Missions or online multiplayer. These “Vanguard Marks” and “Crucible Marks” are capped, so you can only earn 100 per week. Obviously this system greatly resembles the currency system in WoW.

(By the way, sorry to keep referencing WoW, its the only MMO I ever played long enough to know what the hell I’m talking about.)

Similarly again, you need to grind reputation with in-game factions to have access to their best gear as well. None of this happens quickly, so getting the best/coolest stuff will take a long, long time.

This is no accident. MMOs are designed to be played to the exclusion of almost every other game. This is what Bungie wants from Destiny, to have you coming back every week to grind for gear, reputation and currency. They want the player to feel obligated to reach these caps every week, because that is what makes players ignore other games in favour of theirs.

This is why I find Destiny so incredibly strange. It is the first console release to attempt to control the market in this way. We’ve heard about Bungie’s 10 year plan for the game; I like many was skeptical of how the hell that would work, especially considering console generations average about 7-8 years. After seeing how the game operates though, I can see how that plan would shape out. By creating obligation in the player, its not unfeasible that through expansions and patches players will stick around for years at a time.

That is my major issue with Destiny. I played it for a few weeks, but it got to the point that when I sat down to play it I wasn’t excited for anything that was happening. I would dismantle all the green and blue loot I had accumulated, decode any engrams I had lying around and go back to what I was doing the night before. It wasn’t an escape, it wasn’t fun, it felt like a job. I was doing things, PvP, strike missions because that was how you get new gear, not because I was having a good time. This sense of obligation is best demonstrated by the Loot Cave; a way of getting gear quicker by shooting enemies at a conveniently placed spawn point.

When addressing the exploit Bungie stated that “shooting at a black hole for hours on end isn’t our dream for how Destiny is played” But they failed to realize that by using this exploit their players were telling the developers “shooting at this cave for 2 hours straight is preferable to actually playing your game.”

That is the issue with the MMO style emphasis on gearing up. People are more concerned with  having the best stuff than they are with the fun of the game. It’s great if your game has these sort of RPG elements that can enhance an already fun experience, but when the RPG gearing and stat building are the reason you are still playing, something is definitely wrong.

To conclude,

I’m possessed of a radical notion that games are supposed to be fun. But while there were fun moments, exciting firefights, I wouldn’t have described the overall experience of Destiny as fun. I was told the game came alive at level 20, so I grinded until level 20. I was told that I could get better, cooler gear if I kept playing; so I kept playing. I was told that if I spent 3 weeks playing the multiplayer, I’d be able to buy the best gear, so I played multiplayer for 3 weeks. All the while I was thinking about going back to play the original Mass Effect again or looking forward to Shadow of Mordor or Dragon Age Inquisition. So I figured, if this game isn’t fun and it isn’t holding my attention, why am I still playing it? There’s no question it’s addictive, but addictive and fun aren’t the same thing.

It’s a shame too, Bungie obviously had the tools to make a great game. The gameplay is tight, the graphics are excellent but their desire to keep the gamers glued to their game seemed to supersede everything that makes a game fun. It’s an excellent move from a business perspective, but as a gamer, I can’t help but feel let down.