Destiny wants to be played a certain way.
Between 2006 and 2009 when the console co-op scene was blowing up —thanks in large part to the first Gears of War (2006)— the vision of the future seemed to be one where playing games on a console would be a uniquely community oriented experience. It was a time when achievements were still all the rage and chatting with your friend over the internet while playing the 1989 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade game was still a novel, almost fascinating experience. Just to remind you, in 2007 it was news that Halo 3 (2007) would have 4 player co-op. Exciting news.
With Destiny, Bungie has attempted to carve out a space where friends can hop online and always be able to play together. The game has been likened to an MMO —and in more ways than one it absolutely is— but where Destiny really captures the essence of a massively-multiplayer experience is in the way it fosters doing nothing and accomplishing everything. Friends, regardless of level, will be able to find something to do together — even if that something is finding the best dancing spot. The spread of activities is wide enough that players who just want an excuse to play together should be able to sync up for a few missions without any trouble at all. Blasting off on your own personal Star Wars-esque speeder bike, and hollering to a buddy as you maneuver the twisting and turning canyons of Mars is too much fun. These small friend-oriented moments are what multiplayer dreams are made of and it’s a feeling Bungie’s able to replicate with ease through its terrific controls and design. Not to mention Marty O’Donnell’s absolutely incredible soundtrack.
It’s a game that features loot prominently but doesn’t dangle it in your face like bread crumbs to a castle of wasted time; drops being few and far between allows them to decorate a gameplay session instead of being the sole purpose of one. The correct answer —in Destiny’s case—for why you should be repeating missions is because playing with your friends is a blast, not for the sake of theoretical loot. However, in an effort to create longevity, the game is filled with massively-multiplayer tropes that demand hours of repeating the same activities to earn gear that is ultimately required to unlock the game’s high-tier content. In effect, it turns something that could have existed for the fun of play into a grind.
On top of all that, a linear playthrough of Destiny is a very short experience. There are 4 large breathtaking landmasses to explore, but each one only has a handful of missions and nearly all of those have the exact same structure and pacing. This on its own isn’t especially problematic because of how tremendously fun the core shooting is, but it does highlight just how repetitive the game’s structure is on its face.
The trouble with Destiny is that Bungie’s bubble-vision of how their multiplayer shooter should be played is at odds with how lots of different people actually play games like this one. If you are looking for the climactic moments or story, there really isn’t anything to see here. If you’re in the market to play a game competitively online, then be warned there are clear concessions made to balance for the sake of keeping heavy RPG elements. Lastly, God forbid you try to play the game without any real world friends because the game launched without any reasonable means to communicate with the players around you. The result is a game that shines brightly when that perfect storm of people all show up in-game at the same place at the same time, but feels wanting when you’re forced to play by yourself.
That the game’s activities feel lacklustre when you are playing solo is especially problematic because it sends mixed messages about how you are supposed to spend time in its world. On the one hand it has short, digestible missions for drop-in, drop-out multiplayer sessions, and on the other a mercantile system that asks players to repeat menial tasks to earn eligibility for the game’s best gear. The result is a game that seemingly wants you to play all day everyday, but also wants you to save its major (or quality) content for when your friends hop online. The difference here between Destiny and a traditional MMO is that Destiny doesn’t have good quality “off-time.” The best MMORPGs have dozens of ways to improve your character while you aren’t playing the game’s core content, and while I wouldn’t say farming crafting materials in Warcraft is any more stimulating that Destiny’s rote Patrol missions they do offer one distinct difference: side content in an MMORPG should reinforce the core game, not replace it through attrition.
But while I could sit here and nit-pick the game’s myriad of obvious flaws, I have had nothing but fun playing Destiny. In the end, Destiny is not —to my mind— an MMO, despite its attempts to be one. It is a lengthy multiplayer console game. It suffers from a pretty severe messaging problem, but with 20 hours clocked (and only a fraction of that time dedicated to competitive multiplayer) I’m excited to keep playing it. If you can find the friends to play with, and can resist the psychological temptation to marathon it, there is a game here I feel like I’ve been wanting to play for a long time.
- There’s a bigger discussion to be had here. This game is fascinating (and conflicting) from both a gameplay design perspective and an industry one.
- The story is shockingly horrible. It would’ve been a deal breaker if the emergent stuff weren’t so cool.
- It’s a fantastic game to play with friends you want to catch up with.
- Jetpacks. Dammit all if they aren’t just super fun all the time.
- The melee attacks and grenades also feel awesome — this really does spark memories of Halo round-the-clock.
- Length is such a weird dilemma with this game. If it weren’t for the artificial MMO tag-line, 20+ hours of content for a FPS (discounting competitive multiplayer) would be considered a tremendous value — something Olivier and I talked about quite a bit.
- I’m not the first one to say it, but we’ve been waiting to see what new IP would be the next Assassin’s Creed (insofar as it would need time to be refined), and this game is definitely that.
- Loading times are an issue.
- Marty. O. Fucking. Donnell.