Top 9 Worries about Destiny (Pre-Beta Thoughts)
Destiny is on almost everyone's most anticipated games for 2014 list and no-one can be blamed after seeing the terrific gameplay videos, previews at conventions and the hype that has surrounded the game since an alleged Halo 3: ODST reveal of the title. I've grown cynical of MMOs and shooters in recent years, promised change and revolution only to receive the same things time and time again, but Destiny has proven that it is capable of taking elements from different kinds of genre yet still being a fantastic game.
Or has it?
Developer Bungie (makers of Oni and Halo) and the publisher that brought us Call of Duty Activision worry me not with what they talk about, but what they don't talk about. Fans have bayed for information regarding the size of the worlds we go to, how vehicles will work, how each class plays and just what we do in the game, but Bungie often dance around the questions with silly, rhetorical and even snarky remarks which may excite some, but this is bothersome to me. While we've seen much we know little and too much speculation has been made on what the game will entail. I'm not going to ramp up my expectations too far, and to keep it that way I'm going to make this article to remind myself as to why.
Now keep in mind that just because this is a negative article doesn't mean I want the game to fail. This isn't my "Top 9 reasons why Destiny is going to wrap its lips around a Glock". This isn't my "Top 9 reasons why Destiny is not going to kill WoW and CoD because that's obviously who it's trying to compete with". These are my top nine worries about the upcoming shooter before the beta, and I hope that my concerns are washed away by a tidal wave of awesome.
Number 9: Pre-Order Bonus
At Gamestop and Game if you choose to pre-order this title, you can get an upgraded version of the Spectre mount called the Sparrow, with a bright red paint job, increased handling and top speed. The Spectre is the standard mount which all players have access to but how we obtain one has yet to be determined. I've also heard that you can obtain the Sparrow in the game later on, but I've yet to see this to believe it.
"What's the issue then?" you might be asking. Skins for characters, weapons and vehicles are fine so long as they don't affect the game itself; what's to say that these Sparrows don't dominate the competitive PvP scene early on, and encourage foul play in the community? We're not certain that Sparrows are already in the game, or how much they'll cost. The Imperial Edition version of The Elder Scrolls online caused an uproar with its Imperial White Horse, available for only 1 gold piece when you saw the vendor. The cheapest mount for those who didn't have that edition of the game had to pay 17 thousand gold pieces. I won't delve into this issue too much as it's still on going, but I hope the lesson has been learnt: this kind of marketing scheme can have catastrophic effects on your audience.
Supposing that this is purely out of combat and can't be abused, I might let it slide.
Number 8: Montesation
Both Bungie and Activision have claimed they want to keep Destiny from having micro-transactions and a subscription fee which is honourable, but it's almost certain someone, somewhere will quote them when they use one of two of those methods in future. Yes, it's going to happen. A game like this which plans to stick around for around a decade will need financial support outside of box sales alone, and no amount of collector's, limited, Guardian's or special editions are going to change that. Bungie keep digging themselves into a hole by claiming how they're going to have people work 24/7, constantly working.... I know it's an exaggeration, but the cynic in me says that it's going to be a horrible place to work at, and their progress will only get sloppy over time. This game needs monetising some how, and it needs to do it well.
Few will know this title, but I believe Defiance did it well by selling easy to download DLC packs, which came out every 2-4 months. It delivered lots of replayable content with plenty to keep you occupied over time. You might call it a patch, but patches were done regularly and when I played I encountered very few issues, so they must've done something right. The expansions were around £10/15 and you'd get things like a new race, class, location, raids, instances, quests, etc. until the next one. I believe Destiny will do something like this, but it has to achieve two things. The first has to be optional. With a game like World of Warcraft expansions are almost compulsory due to there being little to no content added to expansions before the latest, so if you want something fresh you have to pay up. That includes patch content also. This is on top of a subscription fee and the base game, so to get the most out of the game you have to own all of the expansions and be at the highest level. If you're not caught up, guess who can't play with friends at higher levels. Destiny has to give content for those at endgame otherwise they'll stop playing period, and it doesn't come in the quantity but the quality. They need to give reasons to explore, group up, try new things, tackle long instances like their raids and do repeated Strikes (the game's equivalent of dungeons).
Season passes in my opinion are a no-go. It means that developers are encouraged to get content out quickly instead of troubleshooting the game's issues, and a title like this is bound to have loads on its launch. A season pass doesn't just guarantee content; it promises a fixed number of expansions at a discount. What happen when all the content is delivered? Does another season pass come out? The season pass cannot take form over 10 years because few will be playing for that long.
It seems as though the three ways of monetising are going to be inevitable to maintain a game with such detail, vastness and complexity. It's either micro-transactions, a subscription fee or expansion packs. If the choice came around to prevent the game going bust, what would you choose?
Number 7: Alt Unfriendliness
"Alt" is short for "alternative character", an avatar you choose to play as when you're a bit bored of your "main" for the time being. With Destiny it seems the alt unfriendliness meter can drop to either side; it can make alt players rejoice at not having to manage loads of characters, or make them angry that they can get bored too easily with just three characters. However the latter hasn't been confirmed.
Alt unfriendliness is when a game makes it a chore to gear up, get reputations for or level up an alternative character. If doing something on your main character was hard and/or mundane, and you're expected to do the same on your alternative without any kind of buff, that's alt unfriendly. Some games actively discourage alts by reducing the amount of characters you can have on a particular server space, or some will require you to pay for additional character slots. The case with Destiny is unknown.
Destiny only offers three classes: the Warlock, the Hunter and the Titan. They can all use the same weapons but have different special abilities, preferences and exclusive armour. With only nine playable combinations of class and race (also only three races), the gameplay will almost always be the same. Plus because you're in first person nearly all of the time you won't notice different animations or emoticons. While I'm not a big alt player I do like to tinker every now and then when I'm burnt out, and hope to find a new joy. If the starter zones and quest hubs are identical for all characters, where is the lasting appeal and the friendliness for those who play multiple characters?
Not one of my biggest concerns but it is one Bungie ought to consider, as well as those who can't stick to one character for long durations of a game's lifespan.
Number 6: Homogenisation
It sounds like a great idea to have only three classes in terms of balance, and everyone can relate to each other fairly easily. In many games where there's classes with radical differences, it's hard to know what ability a player has just used, its cooldown and other tricks in their arsenal, especially when you're new. In World of Warcraft I have played every class to endgame and some barring the Warrior, yet I still have trouble recalling abilities from the class I previously played at times. And I've been a member of its community for four or so years.... yeah, it can get pretty overwhelming.
So am I asking for homogenisation? Absolutely not. While every class uses different armour to distinguish themselves - and it's very easy to tell who's what -, they can still use the same weapons. I fear this might become a problem when people are doing strikes and raids, all looking the same and waiting for the next patch. This is what is going on in WoW and if it weren't for transmogrification so many people would be miserable. Abilities don't have to be big and flashy for everyone to see in order to break up a Titan from a Warlock or a Hunter, but their effects need to be noticeable. I don't want to debuff a player's move speed only to find everyone else can do it; I want my enemies to know I'm a Warlock and my space wizardry is the cause of his upcoming demise. I want my allies to say "thanks Hunter for throwing that knife!", and so on. Wouldn't you?
Thankfully what we've seen from gameplay shows players using awesome buffs and means of getting around, as opposed to their role in the Holy Trinity. If we can expect more of this in the beta and the full release, I welcome more class/race diversity.
Number 5: AI Sophistication
After seeing how well Ubisoft programmed their artificial intelligence in Watch Dogs, the bar has now been set for how enemies should react to your presence and how to deal with you. Or at least in my reviews it has. Doesn't matter if it's a first person, third person, open word or linear shooter - this is how I judge the AI, because we've seen it can be done. In Watch Dogs enemies will attempt to flank you, provide covering fire, change their path based on your position and certainly not rush your position through tunnel vision. But because that game had a cover mechanic and - based on what we've seen - Destiny doesn't, so how will the AI work out here?
What worries me is that the developers will lazily programme the AI to simply charge you, occasionally side-stepping or rolling out of the way, but almost always fall to your own tunnel vision. I want to see enemies leap and bound, use jetpacks, shields and cloaking devices much like what they did with Halo. With considerably more enemies in this game, and facing them more regularly, we should brace ourselves for the worst. I can appreciate that many will want an experience where they can turn off their brain and have a bit of fun on occasion, but for next gen I believe it's time for change. There are plenty of games that allow for that kind of play, and it can completely destroy people's first impressions because it's practically encouraged. I hope there's a few moments like this in Destiny, but not fill the entire levelling experience with mindless drones.
The developers said that they had taken 45 minutes just to clear the entrance of a particular raid instance, but why was that? Was it wave after wave of mobs? Did the guards just have health and damage ramped up? Were there perhaps two bouncer-like characters who just took ages to bring down because they hadn't worn a tie and tried to get in with sneakers? This was not elaborated on, and keeps me skeptical about how Bungie will treat the NPCs.
Number 4: The openness of the world
Size and scale matter not to me so long as I enjoy what I'm looking at as well as the feel of travelling. The only MMO game I've played that did travel better than 'decent' was Defiance, and few console games have made travel quite as attractive as Watch Dogs has. So what does Destiny have to offer? We have some kind of land-speeder but that won't mean much to me if I want to ride it because it's fun but because travel is a chore. So when the developers say the game is open, do they actually mean open or linear, but with pretty things to look at?
The gameplay footage looks so on rails you'd swear it was Time Crisis, and not being able to play further cements my cynicism on not being able to travel far without falling to my death, or meeting an invisible wall. I'm aware a lot of it is instanced, but that's my concern - where do quests take place, and how much of the game takes place inside a dungeon environment? Is this going to be another Warframe? I sure hope not.
Number 3: Public Events
I have waited so long for a game to get these right and while RIFT's rift mechanic (otherwise known as Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning's public quest system) was good at first it quickly became stale and sometimes a burden to your quest experience. It's been a few years since that game released and I'd played, so I can't wait to see how much progress we've made.
But that's the problem: how much progress have we made? GW2 tried to make an entire quest model out of this, and WoW has experimented with it in the Timeless Isle, but in both cases it became stale fairly quickly. I suppose with those games it was in excess - GW2's is for the entire duration of the game, whereas with the Timeless Isle we're expected to put up with it for 8 months and more until there's word on the next expansion's beta. Here it's unconfirmed how long these quests will take, what rewards we get, how we achieve bronze/silver/gold tiers and how frequently we'll see them. The first video I saw had shown a public quest in action, and while it looked terrific I wonder how long we can be expected to play this content as we level and reach endgame?
So what can be done to amend my concerns? If WoW has taught me anything it's that the little things can have a much greater impact than the bigger features. Just by changing the amount of mobs, bosses, how much time we have to complete it, the loot tables, how the event appears and where it happens can vastly improve the experience. Minor tweaks like that can enhance public quests far more than just having a load more to do. If they turn out to be more of the same, expect me to hail that from the mountaintops.
Number 2: Endgame
FPS, MMO, RPG, whatever - a game with a levelling system and possibly linear progression path must have long lasting endgame, especially if it's tied to a subscription fee or season pass. Destiny might be great fun to level through on your own, with friends or with complete strangers but good memories aren't what makes a game that is still around great. What Destiny must absolutely do is have replay value and enough to keep more hardened players occupied; many jump a lot from franchises they love to competitors and rivals because they seek something different or a more appropriate challenge, and Destiny will be no different. Because there's no competitor other than Final Fantasy XIV on consoles, that doesn't mean people will put up with this title - they'll just play another MMO or FPS, and not buy any more Bungie bonds until something worthwhile comes up.
Endgame is easy to screw up and no developer has immunity from it, regardless of their genre. So long as there's a level up system, a level cap and/or a progression path the game can and will fail if it doesn't deliver more, as is expected from this genre or games in general nowadays. We've seen in the past enough games fail to deliver a lasting experience, and if alt unfriendliness in this game is going to be an issue, it's even riskier for Bungie when more and more people reach the final level and ask "now what?"
What do I want from endgame? I want everyone to be occupied and not through the means of artificial padding or the illusion of productivity. Daily quests and reputation grinds are not only cheap ways of keeping people occupied, but it also shows the developers don't seem to know what their audience wants. Randomness is key in my opinion. If the slightest thing is different each time I do a Strike mission, I will want to do them all the more. Why is Payday 2 so popular? It's not just because of its theme but because of the randomness, the slight tweaks to this and that which change the experience hugely each time. If daily quests and reputation grinds are in this game they had better be good, otherwise I have no hope for any of the genres this game puts itself in.
Number 1: A good quest model
You know what kinds of game I like? Good ones. Quests in video games aren't hard to design especially when we have people like Bioware and Bethesda who can make some intriguing and memorable moments in our travels. What I'm looking for is enemies that feel threatening to our ways of life, a means of destroying them and being shown (read: not told) what's at stake. The last safe place in the known universe is the City on Earth, beating back all kinds of alien creature and factions who want nothing more than our extinction. This has to be explained well, and I want to be reminded of how important it is I do the quest. If I'm collecting machine parts I want to see them being put to use for defences; if I'm collecting food, I want to see the vendors sell it and NPCs eat it; if I'm told to kill [x] amount of [y], I want to come back and be hailed by a few people nearby for my work. Like I said before this is next gen, and there are games two/three generations back that tell stories through quests better than most MMOs even today.
If quests are going to tell a story I'd like to be memorable. When someone asks me "remember that moment when", I want to say at least 80% of the time "Hell yeah!" while crushing a can of coke (preferably empty) with a freeze frame followed by an electric guitar solo. So far that only happened once to me in an MMO when I accidentally came across the "Zombies ate my grains" quest in WoW, whereas in loads of console games (mostly Oblivion) I can recall nearly every single quest to the finest detail. This is the impact I want to have as a Guardian, a member of the order who are the last best hopes for humanity. I do not want to be the janitor for HD-land until the endgame - I want Destiny to shock and awe me from the start.
Brace for Impact
With all that said I look forward to the release of Destiny's beta and I hope to give you my thoughts and impressions here on HubPages. For more news on my articles, upcoming game reviews, banter and other things feel free to follow me on Twitter for me. Thanks for reading, have a pleasant day and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below!
Pre-order Destiny to get access to the Closed Beta in early July 2014. Destiny on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One will release on the 9th September 2014 worldwide.