I was talking to several friends who occasionally and casually game and they all asked me my thoughts on Destiny, the latest shooter/mashup from Bungie. They had seen the marketing blitz and were wondering if the game was worth playing. The best analogy I could come up with (and after some deeper reflection, the one that still fits) was that Destiny is a good bowl of vanilla ice cream. Not just any vanilla ice cream, a really good kind. Ben & Jerry’s good. However, it’s the only thing in the bowl. The realization here is that for all the marketing hype about the greatness of Destiny, it’s incomplete. It’s ice cream without any sunday accoutrements. It has no chocolate sauce, no whipped cream, no jimmy’s and no cherry on top. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with good ice cream, it’s just that without it being made into a full dessert experience, you’re left wondering how good it could have been if only they had opted for the waffle cone.
First and foremost, it’s not a bad game. Its mediocre and it’s mediocrity has nothing to do with it’s core game play mechanics, visual style or anything of the things you would normally associate with “low budget” or “rushed” production. It doesn’t have too many bugs, things works as they should and it’s generally enjoyable. It’s essentially Halo. Halo nailed the shooter mechanics a decade ago. It wasn’t the first, but it distilled the shooter essence to purity and then never changed the formula. You can tell nearly instantly when starting Destiny that the play style is exactly like Halo. The games are made by the same people after all. Once you’ve nailed that recipe, there’s hardly reason to go changing it.
Destiny feels, in almost every way, like the Halo game Bungie always wanted to make. Almost as if the folks at Microsoft had been telling them to just focus on the Master Chief all these years and that they had these great ideas they never got to fully explore. I can easily see game designers at Bungie having entire sketch books of things for Halo that didn’t make the cut and they dusted them off for Destiny.
Instead of one nearly silent protagonist, now you can pick from 3 (6 if you’re counting male/female as different). The Hunter, the Warlock and the Titan. Or, as any other game would call them, the Ranger, the Mage and the Warrior. Sniper, Medic, Heavy if you’re playing TF2, or maybe Hunter, Siren, Soldier if you’re playing Borderlands. The staple 3 classes in just about any game in multiple genres. Add to that a ultra-basic loot system, several overly complicated in game currencies, and some generic Halo multiplayer and you’ve got Destiny.
The visuals are there, the game is gorgeous. The color pallet is a little forced but you’re visiting places like Mars and the Moon so that’s to be expected. Most of Mars is going to be red and sandy, no argument here. The gameplay is tight, we’ve covered that. The soundtrack is surprisingly good as well. So, you’ve got a good looking game that plays well. How could this go wrong?
Where to begin?
Let’s start with the story, or, lack thereof. I feel like I can criticize Destiny for the same faults as Halo and it’s lack of background detail. Both universes had incredible lore that they basically ignore. Halo’s was ignored because, well, there was a world that needed saving and Spartan 117 had a job to do. I read several of the Halo novels and was constantly impressed with the established background, lore, history and richness of a universe that the game designers chose to never fully explore. Some of it is excusable, they are games after all, not Ken Burns documentaries. Sometimes you don’t need a reason to shoot an alien in the face. Destiny, however, has seemingly taken that stance to an entirely new level. The story, in a nutshell, is this:
There was once great civilizations throughout the galaxy, there was light. Then the darkness came. Earth had light, now the darkness is here. You are an agent of light, shoot the bad guys in the face, please.
Deep enough for you? I wish that was an exaggeration, but that is LITERALLY the thrust of the story. The “Traveler” has light, the Darkness (capital D) is coming to put it out, you need to stop it. Done. You are a Guardian of Light. There’s no more basic a concept anywhere. That “good vs. evil” story is the basis for nearly all of literature. That’s ok, “good vs. evil” is also recognizable, surly they’ve jazzed it up a bit? They at least created interesting back stories about the bad guys, right? Maybe the gave them cool names, or they came from cool planets and galaxies?
Nope. Some of your enemies include: The Fallen, the Cabal, the Vex (as in Vexing – aka Troublesome) and the Hive. The good guys include the Humans (duh), the Awoken (you know, cause of the light) and the Exo (robots). Think that’s bad? Lets check out some of the enemy unit names: Dreg, Vandal, Thrall, Acolyte, Wizard, Ogre, Shrieker, Goblin, Hobgoblin, Minotaur, Cyclops, Hydra, Harpy, Legionary, Centurion, and Colossus. Oh, did I mention that this entire game is set IN SPACE! What the hell are they thinking by naming shit after myths, legends and fucking Halloween stories? Ogres, Goblins? Really? What the hell!
Protip for the developers: Anytime I’m shooting an ALIEN in the fucking face, I don’t want to be thinking about him dropping Halloween candy!!!
Hell, George Lucas asks his kids for silly names for alien races, you guys couldn’t have even done that? A three year old suggesting “Silly-poo-poo-faces” would have been better than “The Fallen”.
So, the story doesn’t EXIST and everything has a silly name, surly the loot system is ok right? Well, if by OK you mean ridiculous and aggravating, then yes, it’s merely OK.
One the the main staples of MMO’s and dungeon crawlers is a loot system. You fight waves of bad guys, they drop items, you pick up said item and use it, sell it, trade it, etc. That’s what makes games like Borderlands or Diablo, or Dungeon Defenders so fun. I don’t know how you could possible screw up something this basic, but they seemingly make every effort to in Destiny. First, basic gear is either white (non “magical” for lack of a better term), green (uncommon), blue (rare) and purple (legendary). The items have base stats, green are typically upgradable for small boosts, blue usually include “elemental” damage and purple/legendary are significantly better than anything else. You get random item drops from enemies, from completing quests and from rounds in multiplayer. The items you find on the ground are in the form of “engrams”, which they don’t bother explaining why, and they need to be decoded by the “Cryptarch”, which forces you to visit the Tower (aka town square) and see the merchant. Some items aren’t “encoded” and just appear. Gear drops are tied to your level, so a level 5 character is never going to find level 20 gear. You can’t actually find any legendary gear until you hit level 18, and you can’t use it until level 20.
The retardation begins in the “decoding” process. The orbs you find are colored in the game world (white, green, blue, purple). When you decode them, they “could” be that level, but 99.9% of the time, they are not. The forums and boards are filled with raging players asking why purple/legendary drops only get them a green gun. The purple and blue drops are incredibly rare, yet there’s usually no payoff at the time they are decoded. Legendary drops should yield legendary items, period, end of story. In typical MMO fashion, people want to farm this stuff, so they’re doing run after run on a mission, getting 5 blue drops, 20 green ones and walking away with nothing but common gear. That’s a basic mechanic of a loot driven game that they’ve somehow messed up.
The other problem is that items aren’t tradeable or transferable. Guns aren’t class specific, so they can be stored in your “vault” (large chest in a RPG) and used for another character, but armor is class specific. What am I going to do with 25 pairs of boot for a Hunter when I’m starting a Warlock for my next character? Everything is level locked anyway. So the entire “save your stuff” idea is completely worthless. You also can’t sell anything. You can’t sell ANYTHING to a merchant, that system doesn’t exist. Instead you can “dismantle” the item for “Glimmer”, one of the many in-game currencies. So, you either pointlessly save an item you can’t use again or you destroy it for pennies. Awesome system guys. It also doesn’t help that the inventory slots are only 9 per category. So, at any one time, you can only carry 9 guns, 9 helmets, 9 boots, etc. The concept of having “tons of loot” is kind of what a loot driven game is all about. This is one of those ultra basic ideas that sounded good on paper that doesn’t quite work in practice. Someone said “lets have a loot system!” and everyone at the conference room table agreed and then immediately tried to figure out ways to limit it.
Another good way of limiting things? Make them repetitive and such a ridiculous grind that people don’t enjoy don’t them. You know how you actually get good items in Destiny? You buy them, with crazy monies. First you have Glimmer, which is apparently the “spare change” in Destiny. Everything either drops it, is made of it, or can be converted into it. But Glimmer alone won’t buy you squat. You need marks. What are marks? I’m glad you asked! You get “marks” aka “XP” in certain things by grinding missions. Oh, and you have to be level 18 to even bother trying. Anyway, do some completely worthless throw-away mission, that’s a couple marks. 150 Marks AND Glimmer and you can buy some gear, but wait, you’re limited to 100 Marks PER WEEK. So, yeah, you need to literally grind out missions, get Marks and wait a WEEK. That’s not all! Some gear is specific to a “faction”, which is also not explained anywhere. To get that gear you need to buy (again with Marks/Glimmer) a “bond” to do work for that faction, which you then have to grind specific faction Marks for. So, you want a gun from a specific faction, you get Glimmer and Marks, but a Bond, grind more faction Marks, and once you have all three, again wait a week, then buy your ONE cool item.
That. Is. Dumb.
I’m sorry, that’s the most aggravating, bullshit, pain in the ass in-game currency system I’ve ever seen. Did I mention there’s a reputation system intertwined as well. Yeah, you’ve got to have a “good reputation” (XP level) doing work for said factions before you can try and go after buying anything in the first place.
It’s quite literally one of the worst intentional grinding loot systems I’ve ever seen. It’s nearly unplayable at that point.
Once you hit the level cap at 20, you need that higher level gear to get beyond 20 (gear adds levels of light, lol). A higher than level 20 character will be able to do raids you normally can’t, all for the grind for more gear, to rinse and repeat. All until you hit level 30 (20 + 10 levels of gear) and you realize you just wasted months of your life.
I haven’t mentioned the best part yet, you had better have some friends handy to do all this with. There’s NO VOICE CHAT unless you’re in a friends only “fire-team”. So, those random people you encounter in the world (remember, this is an open-world, MMO type situation), yeah, you can’t talk to them. You can get paired with complete random strangers on raids and never once discuss how you’re going to take down a boss. Communicate with your team in an objective based multiplayer mode? Nope. Enjoy that silence. They removed a pretty basic part of multiplayer gaming.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. I could go on and on about having to revisit the same levels over and over again, about a stunning lack of originality from one of the better gaming developers of our time, about really long loading times, about a multiplayer system that is missing several really basic game play styles and overly emphasizes PvP events. Then there are thing like how changing the difficulty level doesn’t actually change a mission, just the size of the enemies health bars, the AI problems, the “invisible fence” problems around areas, that raid bosses are just bullet sponges with no real difficulty or strategy.
Like I said at the beginning, Destiny isn’t bad, it’s perfectly playable, however the excuses I hear about how “it’ll get better with a patch” and “wait for the DLC” are perhaps more symptomatic of a broken gaming industry than a reason I should be forced to settle for plain vanilla ice cream. There are no excuses for why basic things like voice chat are missing, or for why PS3 and PS4 players can’t play together. I shouldn’t have to wait 4 months for DLC that will add nothing but sprinkles to my melting sunday. We live in a time when it’s apparently perfectly acceptable to deliver people the promise of world famous icecream sundays from a master dessert maker, and then hand out scoops of vanilla in styrofoam bowls. I am disappointed, in general, not in anything technical or practical about the game, but in a general sense of missed opportunity. I have no doubts that a considerable amount of the great ideas they had for this game were held back for sequels and DLCs, and that is truly tragic because I for one, will not be sticking with the franchise long enough to play any of them.
Final score, 5 out of 10, and a death sentence once the winter game releases start rolling out.