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This Game is your Destiny
A Unique Experience - Sort Of
Even if you haven't played Destiny, by now you've probably at least heard about it. With an alleged budget of $500 million (according to Bobby Kotick, take that for what it's worth) and endless launch coverage, even non-gamers are aware it exists. The nerdgasmic voice cast alone must have cost a pretty penny, with actors such as Peter Dinklage, Lauren Cohan, and Nathan Fillion making appearances. Even Bill Nighy took a break from debating climate change to lend his talents to Destiny.
So, does Destiny live up to the hype? Bungie promised to bring us something new, a first-person shooter taking place in a "universe with a life of its own." "Emergent gameplay" is the buzz word for this generation of console hardware, and Destiny was supposed to deliver in spades. "A story behind [how you got] every gun" was one of the catch phrases leading up to its release.
The results are a mixed bag. In so far as emergent gameplay is genuine player created moments within a story, Destiny largely fails. In fact, it doesn't really bring anything new to the table at all. However, by bringing together several tried and true gameplay elements into one package, Destiny does create a unique and fun experience. It's triumph lies in uniting these usually disparate elements into one game that can be enjoyed by a variety of gamers.
Whether you enjoy the twitch gaming of first person shooters, the loot fest of games like Diablo and Borderlands, or the addictive gear grind of World of Warcraft and other MMO's, Destiny has something for you. Putting them together feels new, even if the constituent elements are not.
I have put quite a few hours into Destiny, and my reactions to the game have run the gamut from giddily excited to disappointed to content. Two months after release, here are my impressions.
The first person shooter, refined.
Bungie made its name by adapting first person shooters to consoles with the ground breaking XBOX title, Halo. Before Halo, FPS's were strictly the domain of PC's which could make use of a mouse and keyboards. Bungie demonstrated that not only could an FPS be done adequately on consoles, but it could also be done well.
Through four subsequent Halo titles, Bungie continued to hone their skills, and the shooting mechanics in Destiny are definitely evidence of a developer at the peak of their skills. Mowing down waves of alien aggressors provides a visceral thrill, and precision aiming is challenging and rewarding. The controls are responsive, snappy, and well balanced. Leveling equipment and abilities occurs at just the right pace, without feeling too weak at the beginning or too overpowered at the end.
For those who remember Halo, PvP feels like a more polished version of that game. In the standard competitive matches, increased damage based on level doesn't count, but players can use the weapons they have earned or unlocked in the main game. This makes PvP more accessible for inexperienced players while still providing some benefit for advanced participants. For more serious FPS veterans, the regular Iron Banner event provides more stringent conditions by allowing level based offensive and defensive ratings. Throughout the game, the best players rise to the top, but casual players can still feel like valuable contributors. The hardcore bros from Call of Duty who enjoy "pwning noobs" won't like this fact, but for everyone else it is a fun and well rounded experience.
The weapons themselves, while well executed, are somewhat lacking in variety. At any given time a player can have one primary, special, and heavy weapon equipped. There are only three weapon types for each category, and the reasons for using each one are based on preference more than advantages in any given situation. Most of the guns have a damage type associated with them; unlike the weapon type, these do matter, especially in later game content.
All in all, Destiny is a well designed first person shooter that stacks up well against the other major titles in the genre in terms of mechanics. While it lacks all the features of a Call of Duty or Battlefield, its real draw lies in what it brings to the table that those games do not.
Let the loot rain like Diablo.
Is there anything more addicting in gaming than loot? The feeling you get when you put hours into a game and that piece of legendary loot finally drops is unmatched outside of gaming (and maybe archaeology and geocaching). Then you get to show off that item to your friends and use it to kick their butt.
The loot system in Destiny is reminiscent of Borderlands, in that weapons and gear can be found in chests scattered around the world and as drops from enemies. The gear is mostly variations of the same types with different elemental damage and abilities added depending on the specific piece. Unlike borderlands, many loot drops are unidentified "engrams" that must be decoded at the social hub of the game, The Tower. This Diablo-type loot drives some people crazy, but for many, myself included, it only adds to the excitement. I love flying to the Tower after a mission, imagining what will be in my engram. The game follows a standard MMO color pattern for loot - green for uncommon, blue for rare, and purple for legendary - but a green engram has a chance of producing a blue item, and a blue engram has a chance of producing a purple item, so the anticipation is even higher.
After some initial bugs and breaks (Google "loot caves" if you're curious), the loot system works well. Drop rates are enough to keep you going, but not enough to get you there too fast. The player is always upgrading, but it always seems there is another step to go.
The character models are fantastic, and every piece of gear that you loot is visible. Shaders, which can be purchased or found in game, ensure that you never look like your armor came from the second hand store. All of this adds to the incentive for getting that next weapon or armor upgrade.
We love the grind - as long as it's virtual.
There is something about the grind of a daily routine that makes people hate work but love a video game. This is a generalization, I know, but at one point World of Warcraft had 20 million subscribers, so you know you’re out there.
As far back as Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, the grind has been part of role playing games. I can still remember travelling the world map and killing random enemies until I was high enough level to move to the next area. With the advent of Diablo and MMORPG’s, gear grinding became a thing. You can only have so many experience levels in a game, even an MMO, so when leveling ends, you need a reason to keep people running the same content. Better gear is the answer, and it keeps players invested once they've hit level cap.
The key to grinding is dressing it up and disguising it. Players must feel like they are advancing their character and the game world to justify the work. Grinding is a hamster wheel with window dressing. If the dressing fails, players will disengage. World of Warcraft perfected the grind, successfully encouraging players to run the same content millions of time and then sign up for more with the next expansion.
Destiny doesn’t dress it up. I don’t think they tried, but if they did it didn't work. The end-game content appeals most to hardcore grinders, unabashed fans of repetition who aren't afraid to admit they like the routine involved in maximizing a character. For everyone else, Destiny relies on its tight gameplay and the promise of future content to keep players going. Be warned: if you don’t like the grind (and you are not focuses on competitive multi-player), you will have to suffer through until patches and expansions are released. Whether or not it will be worth it remains to be seen. If, however, you love grinding like I do, then this game is nirvana.
It's not all sunshine and roses.
Destiny is an excellent gaming experience, but it certainly has its flaws. Here are some of the most common complaints:
- The servers still have some stability issues, especially around updates. This is to be expected in a new online game, but after two months they should be less regular than they are.
- Regular content updates have been absent, the only one so far being a weak “event” that simply added an additional faction for a couple of weeks. There was no new content to speak of.
- The environments are repetitive, which wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t feel so empty. There is almost no dynamic quality to the environment at all, and even the regular “public events” are hardly interactive and all involve killing multiple waves of enemies.
- There are only four regularly available competitive modes – Rumble (deathmatch), Skirmish (small-team deathmatch), Clash (large team deathmatch), and Control (king of the hill). Given the creativity Bungie showed with the large number of match types in Halo, it is reasonable to assume more will be patched in, but why more weren’t available from the start is something of a mystery.
- There is no matchmaking for end game content, including weekly heroic strikes. These strikes are the primary way to earn the currency necessary to purchase the highest level weapons. The lack of matchmaking is especially troublesome given that there is no way to communicate with other players in game that aren’t already in your fire team. This means that finding groups requires going to an out of game website or spamming invites.
- Strikes and raids are supposed to be the most challenging content in the game, but many times the bosses just come off as cheaply hard. Rather than require creative strategies, Bungie simply jacked up the hit points and increased the adds. This means that fights take longer with more deaths, but the battle itself is unchanged – shoot the boss in the weak spot until it is dead.
- Load times are be lengthy, which can be frustrating for players who are constantly travelling back to the Tower in between each mission to turn in bounties and decode engrams.
- The story is lacking or non-existent. What story there is must be unlocked through "grimoire cards" that can only be accessed outside the game on bungie.net. This really kills the immersive quality of the game.
Many of these issues can be corrected with patches, but it remains to be seen what Bungie will do since some of these “problems” are intentional design choices by the developer.
The final verdict...
In the end, Destiny is a good game with great potential. The game has elements that will appeal to fans of shooters and rpg’s alike, and for fans of the loot grind it is highly addictive. For others, they may find that they stop playing once they complete the story until the new content comes out. This is dangerous for Bungie, because once someone stops playing there is no guarantee they will come back.
Destiny’s gameplay is great, and all the core elements are there for a top tier experience. It just needs tweaked and rounded out through patches, which hopefully are coming sooner rather than later. The game has a slightly unfinished feel to it, and the question must be asked, was it intentional? Did they hold back so they would have something to release? When it comes to persistent online games there is a delicate balance between withholding content and releasing new content. Bungie will have to walk that line carefully in the coming months. They need compelling updates, but not by making players feel like they were cheated at the beginning.
For anyone there is easily $59.99 worth of entertainment here, even if you only play through the initial story. Whether you stick with it long term will depend on how much you like grinding and how patient you are waiting for new content. I, for one, have been sucked in completely.