22 Sep 2014
There have been a lot of criticisms levelled towards Destiny ever since its release: it’s lack of story, its unfair loot system and obvious DLC holes. These are all valid points but I think there is a more pervasive problem with Destiny which actually links most of these flaws together and generally makes the whole game worse.
Simply put: Destiny doesn’t feel real. It is a series of, very beautiful, unconnected experiences that never weave together into a cohesive experience or world.
Let me ask you a question, how do you get out of your ship? Do you land? If so, where did you land your ship? The place where you spawn on the planets doesn’t feel like you’ve just come from your spaceship because there is no hint that you have. You simply appear randomly on the ground, strangely in the same spot every time. If we just saw your ship swoop down and see you jump out and land all cool like it would connect it, Mass Effect did this very well showing the Mako being dropped on explorable planets.
Imagine though if instead of appearing inexplicably in the same place that you select from the planet map where abouts you’re going to land, perhaps near your objective, perhaps near your friend who you see is currently exploring, or right next to a public event that desperately needs more help. Then either a Mass Effect drop animation or even a Planetside 2 style drop pod sequence would look fantastic and connect the experience of sitting in your ship and running around on the ground.
The other big oversight on Bungie’s part, which would have been depressingly easy to implement, was the lack of maps in the game. Maps are so important. They provide context and scale. They are easy to interpret and beautiful to look at. Without them we are lost. And in Destiny I felt lost a lot. Navigation was just constantly running towards the white diamond marker showing me mission waypoint, never did I think about the planets in real way. I navigated by “Ok I’ll head towards the diamond marker” instead of “Oh the mission at The Divide I’ll head in that direction”. The difference is subtle but the latter regards the environment and world as a real place, and in a supposedly open-world aspiring game it is vital. Imagine playing Skyrim without the map.
What I find bizarre is that Bungie did make the maps, they act as the mission select screen, but because we never interact with the maps in game, because we never see our cursor on it telling us where we are we never get a sense of scale or place.
Similarly the perspective of the planet select screen never changes. For example if I’m currently at Mars then the Tower is still in the centre. I understand that in terms of hierarchy the Tower and Traveller are most important so from a symbolic perspective putting them in the centre makes sense but it breaks the suspension of disbelief slightly. I become very aware that this is a video game, that this spaceship it a glorified menu select screen and I’m not actually moving anywhere.
If they had modelled the planet select screen after say, the solar system, it would have immediately made it feel more real. An example of this done extremely well is in Mass Effect 2. In Mass Effect 1 you simply selected a planet to land on which wasn’t brilliant because you didn’t have a persepective of where your ship currently was in relation to where you were going. So in Mass Effect 2 Bioware made you have to move your ship around the map. Some may have found it gimmicky but it immediately told the player where they were and offered context and scale about how far things were in the game.
Many people have opinions on the fairness of the Destiny’s Loot system but I think there is equal trouble in terms of how the loot is delivered. There is a reason why in the MMO community and in general video game culture we refer to enemies dropping loot. It’s because they drop the loot, physically. Destiny has done away with this and has given us a slot machine style random give at the end of a Strike mission. This entirely removes the reward of gaining a new item from the activity of killing a boss or completing a mission. Making it more difficult to feel happy and rewarded from killing the boss. With grind heavy fairs like destiny, reward feedback is vital. As soo as the boredom of the grind outways the joy of the reward the player loses interest. You want the feedback loop to be as short as possible.
Similarly, once you have these items in your inventory you cant move them at all. You can’t trade them with another player and you can’t drop them in the world. They are icons with no physical presence in the world of Destiny
A game that deals with items and reward sublimely is one that Destiny has oft been compared to: Borderlands. When you defeat a boss in borlerlands loot spews forth from the enemy with pillars of colorful light like a font of gunpowder glory. It looks exciting and fun and happens the immediate moment that last bullet is fired into the boss.
The most pervading quality of Destiny is inconsistency. This is seen in the mission design, the on-off approach to story and the weapons. This is also true with its tangibility. One of the best things the game does comes into play in multiplayer and when you’re in a Fireteam. When you have a couple of people in your fireteam their ships join yours in the loading screen, making you feel like your really a crew of people.
Similarly when jumping over to multiplayer your teams ships join you in the jump to the map and you get a cool avengers-esque tableau of you all looking cool in your gear.
These are great flourishes that help to tie the world together, but by being the only notable interesting examples in an otherwise fractured experience they only serve to highlight whats missing.
Ultimately, Bungie promised so much about the feel of Destiny and delivered so little. They promised exploration, but gave us no map. They promised showing off loot to your friends, but offered no mechanics for us to do so. So I guess what I’m saying is Bungie is the new Peter Molyneux.