Spoilers for the Taken King ahead.
I get the feeling I should start all of my Destiny columns with a warning as to if I am mad at something Bungie have done this week. A color scale for anger if you will. Today started off as a firm “Shouty Orange” but has since descended into a “Stewing Dandelion Yellow”. This week originally started with me wanted to spend this column talking in depth about Laura K Buzz’s recent article on The Taken King and also how even after vast improvements to the story its still about 20 years behind where it needs to be. But then Bungie went and posted information on the Eververse Trading Company, now now I need to talk about Jim Sterling’s favorite Topic, Microtransactions. I’m a catchy rock song and some scatilogical humor from being a poor tribute act to the Podquisition at this rate.
The Grimoire of Sorrows
The Taken King Oryx was born female. Born one of three sisters, she was granted great power in exchange for hosting a race of ancient worm parasites that would grant them immortality and extended life, when the sister Aurash was offered the power, she chose to become the king type, transforming her and changing her forever. When the transformation was done, she switched from referring to herself as “her” and changed to “he”. The sister had become a brother. Oryx was born.
Needless to say, this is somewhat of a revelation for many. While not a perfect analog, to a large chunk of people including writer Laura K Buzz, this marks the first time in gaming history wherein a major triple A title has a transgendered character in the titular role. There is debate about this of course, there is always a bloody debate about everything. The proto Hive are it seems somewhat of a hermaphrodite race, similar to clown fish. But because comparing a race of all powerful space monsters to Nemo is 20 times as far of a stretch as comparing them to transgendered men and women, I am personally siding Trans camp. This was going to be a something big. A major and defining moment in gaming for an oppressed and still for no apparent reason feared segment of gamers. The main villain, the galactic threat, the God king of the hive is a trans-man.
But in the wake of this, no one reported it. Why? Because no one knew.
And I am willing to bet 90% of the people reading this had no idea it existed, and the scant few that did only do because of people talking about it on social media. I am not going to talk about the impact of this to the trans community or even if it truly is impactful because it is not an area I have any real idea about, and with something this delicate it’s better to look for experts in the area (the aforementioned Mrs Buzz being one) rather than someone like myself who would more than likely just trample the flower bed trying to tend too the roses, so instead I will focus on the other slightly less important problem with this. Why did noone know?
I have mentioned and bemoaned the Grimoire system countless times, but this is the straw that broke the space camel’s back. The Grimoire system is a failure.
One of the largest compliments given to Taken King is that it has “finally added” a worthwhile story to the game. from the opening cinematic and your first footsteps on Phobos, it’s heads and shoulders above the first year. The first year was a thimble of water to a thirsty man, Taken King is a full gallon jug of water. The problem with this? The full reservoir blocked off from view. The Story presented in TTK is, while better, still nothing compared to the possibilities being wasted. The archive of lore sat wasted on Bungie.net are extensive and in most cases, excellent.
The Book Of Sorrows is a demi-masterpiece, in chronicles the rise of not only Oryx but the Darkness and the Hive, it spans billions of years of genocide and destruction that has finally turned up on your doorstep. After reading the book, Oryx took a new light, Before he was just another evil space demon thing, bad, but no worse than Crota or Skolas. But now? There is no analogue to his evil in human words or deeds. Even history’s greatest monsters are but mice compared to him. To feed his own power, his crushing fear of his own death, he will destroy anything and everything, all life in the universe is but a way to gain more power, to remain. He is afraid, and the players and earth’s destruction is the only real cure to his fear. Until he fears again, then more will perish.
But, ingame? Well, he’s bad sure, the opening cutscene proved that. But there is no context past that. Eris saying he is evil is you primary motivation. The ghost and cast constantly remind you how bad he is, but apart from that there is no real skeleton. We fear Bahamut in FFXIV because he is on the minds of nearly everyone, they dread his return, we are reminded and told constantly, his deeds and power explained, we live in his ruins. The same applies to Arthus in Warcraft, sure we were told his evils during the campaign, but to add to it we were always aware of just how far reaching his powers went. Never did a zone or quest go on too long before his power and corruption was mentioned. His evil was always hanging over you. He was always in the back of your mind, so when finally you beat him, you dethroned the king, it had an extra meaning past even the rush of beating a raid boss. You had beaten the evil, you had won. With Oryx? Well my new Scout rifle was pretty nice.
If this was simply down to awful writing, it would be forgiveable, but with the book of sorrows and countless other Grimoires are top notch and riveting. The writing needed to bridge these gaps is in Bungie’s possession, but its seemingly amputated and stuck on a website outside of most players reaches, they make no attempt to add the fountain of lore, explanation, mystery and greater universe in the main game. The result is everything feels, false. Like cheap sets on a cheaply made sitcom, everything feels hollow.
We don’t need Metal Gear Solid 4 levels of story, where hours can pass without a single ingame command, or even a FFXIV style of storytelling, which can suffer from the usual Final Fantasy long windedness after a while, but the current divorce of the bulk of the game’s story is, at this moment one of the game’s biggest and most crushing defects. In a time when improvements are bountiful, the old problems of story are still just below the surface. The surface of an accompanying website.
Eververse Trading Company.
Microtransactions are here! Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay! On October 13th, Tess will make her long awaited return to the tower to open the Eververse Trading Company. Players will be able to purchase up to 18 new emotes with the new currency ‘Silver’ which can be purchased from the requisite console store for real money. Well, to be fair to them, they did hold out 13 months.
This at first got me considerably angry. Whenever people accused Destiny of being a stilted cash grab, the last defense was that it was, for all its DLC woes, free of the usual BS freemium nonsense that plagues most $60 AAA games. Well that last defence lies crumpled on the ground shivering and crying. The usual gambit of the payments being to “Help cover costs of development” of which my immediate response usually being “I did that when I payed £40/$60 for the game”. Games such as the Witcher 3 and Splatoon (Amiibo rubbish aside) manage to somehow not only not have microtransactions but also strangely offer free updated DLC. A game such as Destiny just off the back of not only 2 $20 DLC packs, but also a full $40 DLC upgrade in the space of one year has already asked of us more than enough, bringing the full cost without collectors upgrades to a whopping $140 in year one alone, has seemingly charged us more than enough already.
But then, the next day, it was reported that rather than being an additional way to make money the ETC was replacing the smaller paid DLC expansions such as Dark below and house of wolves, meaning these will be added for free to anyone who owns the current major expansion. This is a system similar to many who play MMOs, with smaller content patches being added to extend the life of a major expansion, usually being called X.1 etc. This means if it is indeed true, that players who ignore the paid for cosmetic emotes (and a safe bet would also say eventual armor shaders and Banner icons) will actually end up saving money by not paying the $20 per smaller expansion. And in somewhat of a peace offering, a small amount of silver worth unlocking “one or two new emotes” will be given to all players currently registered. So there is that small thing going for us.
But this is not confirmed. The problem with this system is two fold. First, like in games like WoW which have a shop despite costing $10 a month to play, while the cosmetic items from the storefront are completely non essential to play the game, the fact that they exist does affect the game in other ways with the ingame unpaid mounts taking a massive backseat design wise, relying more on quick recolors and identical pallet swaps while the new designs and interesting styles are carved out for the store. This was noticeable especially in Warlords, where nearly every mount from ingame activity was a simple recolor of an already ingame model while the store was lavished with the kind of mounts that frequented the game until the past few years. While the store doesn’t affect gameplay in any major way, it does add a strange and frustrating disconnect to the game, a system where more affluent players are seen to be getting most of the nicer items while the poorer ones are stuck with yet another wolf recolor. While this doesn’t affect anyone DPS, its noticeable and can affect people’s enjoyment.
The second issue is the slippery slope argument. The idea being that the Cosmetic only store is the trojan horse for the gameplay affecting ‘Engram Bundles’ or even other ingame currencies like weapon parts or legendary marks. This can sound like conspiracy theorist ramblings from some, but it was in effect in the Call of Duty games, where micro transactions started as cosmetic, but now have ingame effects with packs for gun upgrades and armors. While this is a definite unknown at this point, and games such as Rift and World of Warcraft have managed to avoid this, but with the current state of the AAA market, its a worthwhile concern.
Personally, I will wait and see, I am not a fan at this stage, but if the free update stuff is sold and the earnable in game items are as good as the silver ones, the system might work. If not and you have to buy the DLC’s as well as the store, well, sorry to my editor for the deluge of jumbled British swear words in advance.
Punch Drunk Punching Club Clan
After Finally defeating Oryx for real this time and in between my frantic panicked gathering of calcified fragments for my touch of malice, I have turned my attention to my very own Bungie Clan. Players can join the Punch Drunk Punching Club at the Bungie.net portal, we are mostly just a cool name at the moment, but if it takes off we will extend into raids, grind partners and shenanigans. Also, its a pretty cool name, you can join Here. Non-Tians welcome.
Related: Column, Destiny, Dispatches from the Tower, Expansion, Gender, Microtransactions, The Taken King