Peter G (sinetimore) wrote,
Peter G
sinetimore

And, In Conclusion -- Destiny

When I first getting serious about learning to write, I tried an experiment.  I wanted the reader to identify with the character, to live the adventure through them.  Before long, I realized this was a bad idea.  It restricted what you could do in the story and made things generic because, for me to reach my goal, I needed events that people could only react to in a certain way.  A bad point of view beat no point of view.  This is relevant, I'll explain why anon.

Bungie is at it again.  You have to keep in mind I have never been overly impressed with Bungie's output.  The early days of the studio had some stuff that was okay, but no big deal.  Then, they grafted a bunch of things from other sci-fi franchises together into one package called Halo, and they became rock stars of the video game world (in case you haven't guessed, I was never that impressed with Halo).  Bungie, however, didn't want to be locked into Halo, and negotiated a deal for independence from M$ in exchange for developing more Halo games.  They finished the deal, linked up with Activision, and set upon their quest for the ultimate realized video game world, Destiny.

Destiny has set itself up to be the biggest thing in gaming since color graphics.  Although there is no PC support (as of yet), it is on the PS3, PS4, XBox 360, and XBox One.  It tries to keep things accessible, and it has to.  A projected development cost of $500 mil (that's half a BILLION DOLLARS) and a projected life cycle of ten years thanks to DLC, Destiny intends to return Activision's investment (given this is the company that killed both music games and skateboard games at the same time because of their hubris, I'm not so sure this is going to work out so well).  And now, it's been a little over a month since the game's release, and I've been able to sit down and give it a somewhat serious go.  And while Destiny has huge ambitions, it wears its motivations on its sleeve.  It is trying to create a cult following of loyal consumers, not a place for gamers to congregate and have fun.

The worlds of Destiny are basically the world's prettiest paintball arenas.  The environments are absolutely beautiful, and the music is fantastic.  For the first time, I have seen aesthetics that can actually stand toe to toe with Square.  The battle environments are very well designed, as well.  But they do emphasize a feeling of phoniness, as you are aware these structures are located for a specific reason -- natural environments that provide basic strategic values like choke points are largely absent.  You start looking at other places and going, "I want to try playing over there!"

And this is where Destiny falls apart.  The game is created to be modified with DLC.  So all points of interest are hard coded.  Those beautiful, stunning vistas and scenes I mentioned?  They are ultimately just window dressing.  You can splash through pools of liquid without it having any effect on either yourself or the environment around you.  You can't go to those amazing places.  Even other players online you see don't really interact without outside of patrol missions.  You are basically playing in a glass box.  To maximize the space they have, you wind up with pointless mission objectives, such as heading to a point, then returning by another fortified with enemies instead of the easy way you've just cleared out.  Lots of fetch quests and repeating missions with upped stats instead of something new.  You go into an area, let your robotic helper hack the hardware, provide cover, then do it all over again.  Oh, goodie!  I can go on yet another patrol mission!  A new paint job doesn't change the fact that you drive an AMC Gremlin.  Regular campaign can be completed in 12-15 hours.  Without the encore performances, its length would be closer to Activision/High Moon's Deadpool, which wasn't open world but was far more entertaining.

Destiny is intended for the fan community to make it great, not to be great on its own.  Remember what I said about keeping things nonspecific so that the audience could live through the characters?  That's this in a nutshell.  There are three classes to choose from, and there really is no difference between them other than what they can equip -- other than some piddling little differences, they are pretty much the same.  If you logged time on Battlefield 4 or Borderlands 2, you are going to feel cheated.  Weapons don't really improve much -- you might get faster reload, for example, or one that does more splash damage, but there's no "Push button, get awesome" like in, say, id's Quake, or even Team 17's immortal Worms (at one point, I yelled, "Where's a Concrete Donkey when you really need one?!?").  You can unlock lore-rich stories and such, but they only expand the mythos and get fans theorizing and creating their own suppliments to the world (basically turning the gamers into a volunteer writing and R&D staff).  And the lack of lore when you first start off actually hurts you.  Unlike the massive amount of resources for Pokemon, where you not only got explanations of what items like the Lure Ball did as you went through and had access to everything from IRL web sites to podcasts to prepare you for what was coming, you pretty much come in to Destiny cold.  This makes it very easy to make a mistake on the upgrade tree and lock your character into talents and abilities that are counter to your gaming instincts.  I'm a melee player, I suck at ranged combat.  I was miserable.  The attempt to graft RPG elements on top of what is basically an FPS is poorly done and never should have gone out the door like this.

And now, time to bitch about the loot!  As longtime readers know, I hate the concept of loot because it turns the game into a slot machine.  Progression, planning, and the resulting sense of accomplishment are replaced with the thrill of possibly getting something you want/need or the crush of getting diddly squat.  I feel this is runs counter to game progression. Destiny is entirely loot based, and it's all.  Fucking.  Random.  If you do a strike mission, it doesn't matter how much you contribute.  Hell, it doesn't matter how much you participate!  The loot drops are completely random, so you could be point and pretty much take the mission on your own, and you could get shit while your squad mates who hung back talking about their dicks get upgrades.  I started wondering why I was bothering.  It doesn't help that the loot drops are pretty stingy.  You won't get dick until you hit about level 11 or 12, and the really cool shit doesn't start appearing until level 20.  The regular campaign also doesn't provide you with any kind of satisfying ending or closure.  After all, gamers can't leave the game now, they need to cough up for the next ten years.  But they don't really tell you where to go to find post-story content and things to do.  You just sort of stumble across them or wander around with nothing to do.  The mothership in Sonic Team's Phantasy Star Online may have been compressed, but at least you knew where to go to do what.  Destiny leaves it to the player to learn about the world around them instead of Bungie feeding it to you, but they don't give you a reason to care enough to do so.  You grind grind grind your way through the game, a dungeon crawler with a nice suit on.

If you want deathmatch play (and given this is Bungie, so you're going to get Halo fanboys), you head to the crucible, which gives you six players or two teams of three.  The layout reminded me of Unreal with winding corridors off of a central hub (equip shotgun...thank you).

I'll never forget the first time I played Titanfall.  As I start, I get updates about when my Titan will be ready, and my heart is beating faster.  I get the message it is prepped for launch just as I come around the corner and see one of my squadmates in his Titan in a firefight with an enemy Titan.  I summon my Titan, and my breath gets faster.  I offer what fire I can when I hear my Titan touch down.  I dash up to it, it grabs me, puts me inside, and the HUD comes to life.  I jump around the corner to assist my squadmate against what are now three Titans.  And the entire time, all I can think is how awesome this is and how much fun I'm having.  And it didn't go away with time -- hearing the countdown and seeing those giant machines and racing through that environment remains absolutely incredible.

The same can't be said of Destiny.  There just isn't enough there there for the game to stop being a game in your mind and become an immersive experience.  With the talent at Bungie's disposal, they could have easily made the next darling of always-online gaming.  But rather than follow their set-up through its evolution and logical conclusion (much as I didn't like Halo, it did know what it was doing and did it well), it tries to keep things generic so no one has a reason to turn away.  That's only true at first.  Once the blandness sets in, lots of people will leave for games that have energy and character, like Titanfall or Gears Of War. Destiny's ambitions are writing checks the game itself can't cash.

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