A large section of the gaming community and press considered Destiny a failure when it launched. They hounded it for its poor story, bland worlds, weak voice acting and that bloody Cryptarch. Yet still, a few weeks into its launch the strangest thing happened: people were still playing, and 8 months on people are still playing. With recent reports that it has roughly 20 million users and, alongside Hearthstone, has made over $1 billion, it would seem to be a huge success. So why is this game considered a failure by some and a marvel by others? To answer that, you need to look both at what Destiny does right and what it does terribly wrong.
“I don’t have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain.” – The Stranger
Never before has a quote more perfectly summed up a game’s problems more than this one. Uttered to the player about half way through the main story mode, it personifies what – for me at least – was the real issue with Destiny. Destiny, for all its development time, feels rushed. Rushed to the point that it feels like a game that was pumped out for a yearly release. For many players, the biggest glaring weakness of the game, and by far its most controversial piece of game design, is its story. Contrary to popular belief, Destiny has a fantastic story and a rich and developed world. From the mystery of the darkness to the political hierarchy of the fallen, the plot has more than enough twists and turns to carry a game of this scope but for reasons unknown to science Destiny decided to make it so that its ongoing lore and story is not brought up or accessible at any point in the retail game itself. Instead of simply reading a journal entry, listening to an audio log or having it subtlety explained to you in the well written narrative, Destiny opts rather madly to demand that you make an account with their own website, play the game until you unlock the necessary Grimoire card (the game’s collectible card system) and then stop playing long enough to read about why you had to murder these guys who look suspiciously like the Flood and Elites from Halo. When I say that there is no way to access this information in game, I do not mean it is hard or over complicated, I mean that the game literally has no archive of lore.
As if to compound this, the small cut scenes (which to appease the dark lord of tedium are made unskippable) try their hardest to not explain anything at all. Several times throughout the main story quest, characters are introduced to you as if you knew exactly who they are and why they are here. At one point you make the grave decision to visit the Reef – home of the mysterious Awoken – but the problem with this lies when you realize you have no idea about anything that is happening; Why is this a risky idea? Who are the Awoken? What is the Reef? Why does the Queen have Fallen guards? What’s happening?! You are left with questions. Questions with answers that are never revealed.
Answers that you will have to unlock via game play then log on to another website to read. Mystery is a good thing in story telling, just look at the Souls games that make you uncover the story as you play rather than simply telling it. Destiny is not like this, Destiny just never bothers. You are expected just to know. Lore figures talk to you as if you know everything, making the game feel like an expanded universe book expanding on pre-existing lore without actually ever explaining it in the first place. It feels sloppy and slap dash with instance after instance of being told that they don’t need to explain anything so well known. And with no real reason, the lore itself exists. It is scribbled on a website with only a registration and not playing the game between you and its sweet knowledge. But rather than spending time time explaining anything your Dinklebot charges on ahead, dragging you bemused behind it eroding the immersion with every step.
The names of the enemies feel ripped from the most shovelware of 90’s Playstation games. Peter Dinklage’s voice work – especially in a world wherein the likes of Jennifer Hale, Troy Baker and Nolan North exist – feels stilted and monotone. Little care seems to have been put into anything connected with telling the tale that is Destiny.
Destiny doesn’t have time to tell you why it doesn’t have time to tell you.
This extends to the game’s overworld as well. There are 4 combat worlds you visit: Earth’s Old Russia, The Moon, Venus, and Mars. The problems begin when you realize that apart from the lush world of Venus, everything ends up looking the same. Barren wastelands dotted with crumbling human architecture, spans of areas that look the same with only different muted color pallets to differentiate one from another, and the repetition of what’s used. Missions are done in the same areas as the open area questing as the strikes. The same maps are re-used again and again leaving less of a feeling of a sprawling open world of an MMO and more the tightly designed maps of an average FPS. Everything feels repeated, identical and most of all, without soul. When playing through the game, little feels new after the first introductory mission. The lands all merge into one. Even Venus – with its lush green overgrowth and crumbling cities juxtaposed with the clean and foreboding Vex structures – soon lose their appeal after the 10th or so grind quest.
Destiny doesn’t have ti…ok now I’m just annoying myself.
“A million deaths are not enough for Master Raoul.” A Pile of Remains
The loot system is also a stumbling block. The vast majority of loot is handled either by engrams, Color coordinated items that have a chance at spawning the more powerful items in the game. The engrams themselves are for the most part rare drops, so when this is combined with the knowledge that they not only could be items either you already own or are not even for your class, end up for the most part just being frustrating. At launch this was doubled when the rarer of the engrams, the purple legendary ones, had the highest chance to either not turn into an item at or or just become a much weaker blue ranked weapon, doubling and tripling the layers of RNG. While this Destiny’s loot system more than any others prays at the altar of RNG and find that it is an angry, Angry god.
Other methods are in the game to acquire loot, the first of two are your standard Token based grind system which is by far the safest way to earn gear on a regular basis. The second is Xur, master of rare items and for many king git who’s ever changing and random assortment of exotic items for sale every Friday have the ever so high chance of being either the same items as last week or No land Beyond again, A gun so useless it barely classifies as a gun at all. The PVP reward system also raises eyebrows. Guns and armor drop at random for either team regardless of how well you do. within weeks of launch the internet was filled with pictures of the human god of destruction and their 14.0 KD ratio being rewarded with nothing while the person with two left arms and more deaths than bullets fired (usually me) gets a shiny new exotic Monte Carlo for their ‘troubles’. This while likely done to balance the rewards handed out and make it so they rich don’t get richer, instead just added more and more to the feeling of disconnect with how well the player was doing.
At this risk of this coming across like a hit piece, I will stop before mentioning any more of the games problems, be that the terrible bait and switch when the new upgrade system for Exotics was added only for the next week them to reveal the items used and upgrades sought were pointless under the new expansion system, it the strange locking off of old content to players not on the current DLC tier or the awful timed exclusive with Sony that had even owners of the Playstation version angry for owners of the Xbox content.
But at its core, the problem is the two halves of the game clash. It is not an MMO yet it tries to be, it IS a solid FPS but with watered down aspects of its MMO design chained to its ankle. It feels incomplete, and misguided. But as I mentioned, the strangest thing happens when you play the game. The repetitive worlds and bland environments are chipped and weathered paint hiding perhaps Destiny’s greatest secret.
Destiny is not a failure. Destiny is a really good game.
“Even an ember still burns if it can be stoked.” The Speaker
The reason I called this ‘Was’ Destiny a failure, rather than say “Oh by the gods Destiny is bad” or something equally witty is that at its core, past the problems with story, voice acting or that bloody Cryptarch; Destiny is a fantastic game. This may shock many reading it but it will not shock fans of the game at all. Destiny is an enigma, but one that is easy to work out when enough time is spent with it. When you get past the problems listed above you are left with an immensely confident and solid game based on game play and control the likes of which have yet to be matched even with Bungie’s old games and new pretenders.
PVP has a strange ebb and flow to it fans of Halo will know all too well. The combat is crisp and reactively with the secondary moves given to the 3 main classes becoming second nature within hours of play. The areal movement, grenade types and melee, (Oh the good lord RNG the melee) all feel like other FPS games of its type are years behind. And that isn’t even the crown jewel in Destiny. The raids for many cemented Destiny’s place in the world of gaming and changed everything the game had to this point offered. Suddenly gone were the by the numbers follow the leader corridor shooters, now you had to think nothing was handed to you, nothing was given freely. Work it out from here guys the game seemed to shout before throwing you head long into a Vex base and telling to get get at it snappy. Vault of Glass was a masterpiece of game design and finally let Destiny be the game it wanted to be. And while Crota never quite lived up to its older brother, it is still heads and shoulders above the rest of the game.
Upon that is the improvements to the game that have been made in its short time in existence. Since launch many of the smaller quality of life issues have been sent to the great robot scrap heap in the sky. Match making was added to weekly strikes, Rep tabs are traceable anywhere, weapons ruining PVP with their shear power were balanced and improved (this is still up for debate for many I will add) Iron banner was made not the worst and they didn’t ask Peter Dinklage to come back for the expansions. A litany of tweaks and changes that, while being a touch too late, show Bungie listening to their community and willing to accept when they are wrong and also stand their ground when they believe in it.
You may wonder, having read this why I am being so harsh on a game I seem to like. The reason is a simple one I think. I love Destiny the game and want it to do better. The reason so many of even its most devoted . Its community from the Bungie site to its excellent sub-Reddit are far above many others of its type, The recent $400,000 donation sourced from its fans to the Nepal earthquake fund are more proof of this. Destiny is a world class game anchored by some world class mistakes, a wonderful first person shooter hurt by its failing understanding of what make a good MMO. And with House of Wolves seeming to focus more on the traditional FPS tropes rather than MMO ones, with raid replaced with a Gears of War styled horde mode, one has to wonder if Bungie is cutting their losses and focusing on making a new Halo as opposed to the Halo MMO they dreamed of. Personally I hope not. Destiny is not a broken mess, it is a flawed one. Flawed games can be fixed, flawed games can be improved upon and altered to suit needs.
Destiny is an MMO fighting with its FPS side, and Bungie are at a cross roads. Do they try and fix the MMO? making the Halo MMO they dreamed of. Or do they focus on what they know by heart, and make the Halo 4 WE always dreamed of (sorry 343). Time will have to tell. Will we trust in bungie? or simply look for new pastures.
Me? I’m still grinding for that damn Red Death I’ve wanted. Good luck out there guardians.Related: Console, Destiny, Editorial, Shooter