I spent some time this week playing Destiny, supposedly the Next Big Thing in gaming, if you listen to their ad campaigns.
When I first started playing it, I was a little unimpressed, to tell the truth. But now that I’ve reached the end of it, I can safely say that I am now thoroughly unimpressed.
There’s philosophical stuff at the end of the post, but for now I want to rant, so if you want to skip the vitriol, scroll down till you see boldface type again. [RANT BEGIN]
If I were going off just the game itself, I would consider Destiny to be merely a meh game. But additional circumstances coincide to make the game truly awful:
- The game’s budget and development team is grossly oversized compared to the amount of actual content
- The marketing campaign has been a non-stop flood of hype billing the game as something it simply isn’t
- The developers have a history of more-or-less competent game design before Destiny
But all those factors are external. What about the game itself? Well, when you start playing, you realize Destiny has…
1. No Story
Destiny was supposed to have a huge sprawling story throughout a deep lore-driven universe, and the fact is that it doesn’t. The story is as generic as it gets, and there is no lore in the game. Oh, there’s lore about the game. It’s probably very good lore. But if you want to find out about it, you have to log on to Bungie’s website and read it on your phone or computer. If Bungie wants to pull this forced-integration on us, that’s their choice, but the consequence of that is that this lore is no longer part of your game.
Destiny has no lore, no real narrative arc beyond “Chase this MacGuffin now!”, no emotion, no mystery, no excitement. It has some great vocal talents, but they’re wasted on the blandest dialogue possible. Destiny has no story.
2. No Variety
A game doesn’t have to have an engaging story to maintain a good structural flow, but it does need to have variety to keep things fresh. A friend and I were comparing Destiny and Halo, and came to the conclusion that the Halo series had a good flow because the gameplay had regular variety. New enemy types appeared throughout, and the missions all had a different feel to them: Now you’re flying a Banshee, now you’re fighting a giant crab tank, now you’re armed with only a plasma pistol.
Destiny, however, has only one mission. Run from one end of this field to the other and shoot the same enemies you shot in the last level…which took place in the same field. The one exception is that level where you get to go on a brief sword rampage, but aside from that, it’s all the same. Most of the levels end in a “boss fight”, but the bosses are just the same enemies turned into bullet sponges.
Even though most of the enemies are blatant copies of those from Halo, they’ve somehow been stripped of any individuality they once had. Everything is the same humanoid model, and attacks in the same mindless way because Destiny also has…
3. Poor Enemy AI
Games have made great strides lately in giving the computer enemies better responses and strategies…but you wouldn’t know it from playing Destiny. It feels like the American revolutionaries must have felt when facing the British redcoats–the enemies walk dumbly toward you, rarely trying to avoid fire, use cover, or flank. Rather than make any genuine attempt to make more challenging levels, Bungie chose the lazy option of just increasing the enemies’ health bars.
This is most clearly seen in the boss fights. These battles could have been made challenging, but the bosses barely even move. They just soak up thousands of bullets in drawn-out, tedious fights. But that’s not the only tedious part of the game…
4. Bad Reward Systems
People tell me that the fun of Destiny isn’t from the campaign, but from relentlessly replaying those old missions in the hope of getting rare loot. But even if that’s true, the loot system is a total crapshoot. You could replay old missions on maximized difficulty…for no reward. Or you could go on strikes and fight the toughest enemies in the game…but they don’t drop anything. Or you could buy new gear from shopkeepers…but you need to be a certain level, and also have reached a certain Vanguard or Crucible reputation, and also you need to have eight different kinds of currency…
If you’re looking for loot, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to do anything but farm the lowest-levelled areas for quick kills…there’s no motivation to pursue battles that might actually be a fair fight. And of course, even if you find loot, you might not be able to pick it up because of the…
5. Network Issues
I don’t know why, and I don’t know how, but somewhere between Halo and Destiny, Bungie’s ability to maintain servers has plummeted. I tried for about an hour to play a game of PVP multiplayer, each time getting dropped about three or four minutes into the match. These same problems plagued the cooperative play, which is to be expected, but even when I wasn’t playing with other people, the game would periodically drop me from what was essentially serving as a single-player campaign. If you’re going to force players to be always-online, you need to be able to support it.
Also, parts of the sound mix would randomly disappear at inopportune moments (like the final cutscene). I don’t know if that was a network issue or just a glitch in the game, but either way, it was irritating.
Okay, I think I’m done now.
After playing through the game, I looked around online to try and figure out why people enjoy playing it. Players seem to admit that the story is weak, but it’s really only there to get you to level 20. And you need to be level 20 so you can grind for legendary gear. And you need to grind for legendary gear so you can level up past 20. And you need to level up past 20 so you can farm strikes and raids. And you need to farm strikes and raids so you can get exotic gear. And you need to get exotic gear so you can…I don’t know. The motivation gets a little fuzzy around there.
The whole thing reminds me of a quote from this Alan Watts video: “You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is, to go on doing things you don’t like doing.”
I suppose the general opinion is that the point of Destiny is not to beat the game or experience something new or be in any way affected by the game. The point of the game is to continue playing the game. It’s a job, but one that you pay to work at, rather than the other way around. And to me, that adds up to the conclusion that Destiny is an awful game.
But I’m clearly in the minority with this opinion. Online, the general consensus is that Destiny is the BEST GAME EVAR even as they complain about the lousy loot drops, the relentless grinding, and being screwed over by the Cryptarch. As much as they complain about it, they still love it.
So maybe I’ve been looking at it all wrong.
Maybe everything I’ve valued in video games is not what video games are about. Maybe video games aren’t supposed to have good stories. Maybe video games aren’t about having a novel, immersive experience. Maybe video games are really just ways to pass the time, to keep us from straying too near to introspection or self-discovery. And if this is the case, then I suppose Destiny is a good game–a great game, even, for the hundreds of hours you can sink into it for negligible reward.
But if this is the case, then I have to accept the fact that I am not, nor will ever be, a gamer. A game for game’s sake isn’t enough for me. I can’t play 5000 levels of Candy Crush. I can’t play the same Call of Duty deathmatch round over and over again. I will never help Leeroy get his Devout Shoulders from the rookery.
Video games are not the end goal for me, only a vehicle for the things I value: the gripping storytelling of Bioshock and The Last of Us, the emotional decision making of The Walking Dead and Mass Effect 2, the off-kilter humor of Borderlands 2 and Psychonauts, the conceptual mind-bendery of Antichamber and Braid, the terror of Outlast and Dead Space, the strategic stealth of Gunpoint and Arkham Asylum.
So perhaps I owe Destiny a thank you for helping me realize that I will never be a gamer. Perhaps I should thank it…but it’s so much easier to hate.
If anyone needs me, I’ll be in my bunker hiding from the fanboys.
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