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DESTINY – BUNGIE JUMPED THE SHARK

JackChapman Blog

September 27, 2014

I’m a huge Bungie fan. I played Halo: Combat Evolved back in 2001, and was instantly hooked on the world that Bungie had created and the story they were telling. I played every entry after that, following each and every one of them from announcement to release, clamming on any kind of information, whether that was a teaser trailer, a Vidoc or some concept art. They made me want to get into the video game industry.

As you can imagine when I heard about a little game called Destiny, I completed lost my shit. The more information that started to dribble out just made it sound like the ultimate sci-fi game. E3 came around, and they showed a kickass live demo of Destiny in action. It looked so ambitious.

Fast forward a year and I get access to the alpha of the game. I make a character and jump straight into it. So far, so good. They were no story details or anything in the alpha, its literally just a few missions and the PvP (Multiplayer). The alpha ends and I come away feeling pretty good about it. If they keep this going Destiny will be a blast.

Skip another month or so… the beta has arrived. I download and immediately jump straight into it. I enjoyed my time in the alpha, so more time on Destiny couldn’t do any harm right? The beta was more of a glorified demo (to be honest, the alpha was as well), starting with the game’s opening credits and cutscene. It suddenly came apparent, that this is how the game is going to start come Day 1. I get greeted by a “343 Guilty Spark”-like device called “Ghost”, who has revived me and brought me back into the fight. “You’re going to see a lot of things you won’t understand” says Ghost. My character doesn’t react at all. No questions are asked, not even the slightest interest in “how I ended up here” or “how am I back” etc. At this point my first worry starts creeping up on me; are Bungie going to make us play as another silent protagonist? I get why developers occasionally leave the main characters silent, as it’s supposed to be the player using the character as an avatar or blank canvas to paint their own feelings/reactions on, but I didn’t want to explore the universe and have my character completely indifferent about everything she or he sees and experiences.

I see enemies in the distance and I am told to get moving by my Ghost. I enter an abandoned facility (my character is still completely silent I should add), and find a weapon. Slurries of enemies start advancing toward me so naturally, I fire some rounds there way taking them out with relative ease. This continues for the rest of the mission as I start to explore more of this facility until I find an abandoned ship that thankfully my companion can fix to get me the hell out of this infested hole.

At this point I’ve learnt a handful of things; I was dead and now I’m back, and that Peter Dinklage is going to be with me for the rest of this game. Hmm.

After a cutscene or two, I arrive at the last city on Earth; which strangely has no name? Quite strange but either way it’s the last safe refuge on the planet and The Traveller (big all-powerful alien sphere) is “sitting” right above it, seemingly protecting it. I’m in the Tower which is Destiny’s “hub” in which players can interact with other players and buy/upgrade gear and spend loot from missions. I explore the Tower a little bit, but can’t find anything really of interest. Take away other players from the game space and it doesn’t really feel like a real, breathing space. I am told by my objectives that I need to see “The Speaker”.

A short cutscene plays with The Speaker in which I thought he would begin to start a long exposition of the entire lore and background of the game-world. Nope. I get nothing. “I could tell you of the great battle centuries ago” “I could tell you of the power of the Darkness”. Hang on wait, you COULD tell me? About an hour ago, I was just brought back from the dead by a floating robot to see that the world I once knew gone, with aliens running rampant and a giant ball in the sky protecting us all from certain damnation. Yeah ok don’t tell me then? I guess if I shoot enough aliens one of them will tell me what’s gone on right? This really got to me. Bungie are responsible for creating one of the most beloved and well known game universes in the entire history of games, and this is all they’re giving us?

I needed to see how much more story the Beta would give me, so I dove right back into the missions to carry on with the campaign. I started up another mission, (which took place in the same wide-open game space as before) I began my onslaught of the aliens who were littered around the area. Shoot. Shoot. Bang. Boom. Loot. Shoot. Bang. Level Up! Shoot. Ok I’m being extremely facetious, but come on. A giant space opera set in a fantastical, sci-fi universe with alien races and magic light powers, and all I can do is shoot respawning enemies? Stealth isn’t really an option either; which is a shame as it may have helped the standard run and gun gameplay from getting stale.

By this point I have fought against two enemy races, which aren’t all too similar apart from one enemy type from the zombie-like race called The Hive. I couldn’t help but think of what the other races would be like to fight, if two radically different creature types had almost the same fighting tactics and strategies.

One thing I really must mention is what outstanding job the game’s artists have done on this game. Bungie have always created high fidelity environments and game-spaces but the sheer scope and detail in the skyboxes and landscapes made me feel like I was walking around in concept art. I wanted to explore the world, see every nook and cranny that the world had to offer. Unfortunately the game doesn’t offer much of that at all. It’s plagued with invisible walls and kill-barriers that really kill that sense of exploratory immersion.

As you can tell I quickly discovered so many flaws with just the basic design and flow of the game and “level” structure. Without any kind of companions or mission givers, I don’t know how long I will be interested in playing a full game of this type of shoot + loot gameplay. But here’s the real kicker. I love Borderlands. Borderlands is easily the most comparable product with its co-op, open-world shooter focused style of gameplay. But Borderlands gets way more right than Destiny. Borderlands feels like a real place, admittedly it’s a fairly desolate place at times filled with psychopaths and wild beasts but it still feels like its inhabited; something that is a huge problem in Destiny. Why are there no animals on Earth anymore? Did the aliens kill them all? Are they being hunted by these aliens? A hint of an ecosystem would be great, and would add so much more believability and immersion to the game.

My impressions from the beta?

Pros:

  • Gunplay and gameplay is fantastic. An almost perfect midway between the more arena shooter Halo and the more fast paced Call of Duty.
  • Visually stunning. The game is incredible to look at. I only saw the Earth (Old Russia) and The Moon, so I can imagine the other planets will look even more crazy.

Cons

  • World is lifeless. Game spaces are chock full of bullet sponges and things waiting to be slaughtered. Most interactions leave you feeling like a butcher at an abattoir.
  • Limited interaction. There is no way to interact with the world apart from shoot things or whizz around on a speeder bike, both are good, but some basic exploration missions/challenges would be greatly appreciated.

Now that the game is out, it sits on a 77/78 on Metacritic, which is a very good score for any game. But it frustrates me that a lot of people are blindly buying into this game, and giving it really positive reviews despite being abundantly flawed. I haven’t played the full final game, but judging from what I’ve seen of videos on the internet, from what friends have told me and my own experience partaking in the “alpha” and “beta”, I do not wish to invest £40-£50 into a game that is fundamentally broken and missing a lot of basic game design techniques that games have been using for over 10 years now.

In conclusion, I firmly believe that once upon a time, Destiny was a huge ambitious title, populated with vast amounts of creativity and incredible game design, until Activision dug there claws in a little too deep, and it ended up warping and ultimately damaging the product. I would love to go behind the scenes a few years ago at Bungie and see how different it could and should have been.

Bungie have said from the start that Destiny is going to be a 10 year long franchise, assumedly spanning multiple games and possibly consoles. The only saving grace in this scenario is that whatever Activision made Bungie carve out of their game, will come to light in DLC and expansions, and hopefully make the game a better experience.

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