For my money, Destiny is a good, arguably great game. Taken on its own merits, as a multiplayer FPS with MMO styling, it’s solid fun, and in some areas, such as raids and nightfall strikes, very challenging. I reviewed it here, giving it four stars, and still feel the same.
However, now that the game has been solidly played by the community for weeks, and the grind has set in, it’s become clear to the masses over time that Destiny has plenty of room for improvement.
In my review I pointed out some of my concerns, which were based on over 25 hours of play, completion of the story, tons of co-op and PvP, and early expansion past the level 20 cap. Now, of course, I’ve put in far more time, well over 150 hours, and over that time, the game has changed, but not necessarily in the way that Bungie claimed it would. Destiny has some flaws and design faux pas that need addressing, and I’m going to elaborate on these here, along with the lessons other developers can take from Bungie’s missteps.
There’s one more thing that should be addressed first, though.
A lot of criticism about Destiny has been tied to the reported $500 million development budget. People have laughed at the fact that the game is so shallow and lacking on content, despite having such a large amount of cash behind it, and although I won’t defend the lack of content, which I’ll go into soon, I do find attacks on the cost of the game a little unfair. The $500 million budget is not for Destiny, but for three Destiny games. $500 million wasn’t the cost of this game alone, and although I don’t have access to Bungie’s accounts, I’d suspect that there’s plenty of that money being used on future content and sequels. We’ll only see about this in time, but for now, let’s focus on the game itself, and where Bungie has gone wrong, or at least been misguided. And yes, this is a lot of opinion, but opinion that comes from a very large player base. You may disagree, of course, so feel free to share your own thoughts, as always.
We’ll start with what I’ve seen is arguably the single biggest issue many people have with the game at the moment, and this is the lack of matchmaking for all modes included. At the time of writing, only normal Strikes and PvP have matchmaking, whilst story, special daily and weekly strikes, and raids don’t.
What does this mean? Simply put, it means that you can’t play many missions as a team unless you manually form groups or find your online friends. The game won’t automatically fill out your fireteam for you with random players. You either play solo, which is nigh on impossible in some cases, or form a group.
Now this may sound okay on the surface, but Destiny has very little support in-game for group building. There’s no in-game communications outside of fireteam chat, no text chat in public spaces, and no private game setups. If you want to find others for a group you have to do so on your own, either via Bungie.net, your own PSN friends list, or via your clan. You can invite people to your fireteam via the game’s roster screen, but this simply jumps you out to PSN’s invite screen. You can also join a fireteam that’s open to public, but you do so with no communication. You simply pop into the game.
This is surprising, especially given Bungie’s pedigree with online gaming thanks to Halo. The lack of any competent communications inside the game is a major flaw, and at the moment, it leaves many Destiny players at an unfair disadvantage.
Whilst there may be players who are lucky enough to be able to spend a great deal of time online, and have friends who are always available, there are many that simply don’t. If you have a busy life, with work, family, or other commitments, or you live in different time zones to many of your friends, even getting two or three online at the same time can be difficult, let alone the five other players needed for a raid. You can make new friends, of course, but when you’ve already got a list of friends you know and enjoy playing with, you may not want to add more to the mix.
The lack of random matchmaking has been defended, both by Bungie and players. The most common defence is down to the Vault of Glass, the first raid. This is a deliberately tough challenge, made to put players through the ringer in order to win some rare, powerful gear. It’s been said that completing this with a team of random players would be impossible, as communication and spotless teamwork is needed. This may well be true (but turns out it’s not, as I’ll get to soon), and the Vault of Glass is very tough, there’s no denying that. The problem here is that players don’t even have the choice, and that’s where I personally find the problem.
People have gone out and spent good money on Destiny, and they expect to be able to play everything the game has to offer, and rightly so. At the moment, this isn’t the case for many, and the higher-level content is simply locked behind a friend-wall. Solo players can’t even attempt the VoG as even opening the door requires control of three points, which are constantly assaulted by foes. Two players may just be able to manage here, but one? Not likely. Nightfall strikes are very tough too, but at least you can try all of them out on your own if you like, not so with the raid.
With matchmaking, you’d at least be able to play the content, and when it comes to nightfall strikes, you may even be able to complete them, as they’re basically much harder versions of existing strikes, which already allow matchmaking.
“Trust me, you wouldn’t want to have randoms on your team in the VoG,” is a comment I’ve seen on forums posts all over, and it may well be true. I know I would rather play with friends, but that’s not the point here. Although people may try the VoG with random players only to realise it’s impossible, at least they could try, and have had a chance to have a go at it. That’s where matchmaking would work, and if you need to, you could still arrange your own groups.
Let’s face it, though, the fact that you have to arrange a team to play Destiny outside of the game, as it lacks the most basic communication features, simply makes for a poor showing. And it’s not the only aspect of Destiny that requires you to leave the game, we’ll come to that later.
To be fair, Bungie has recently revealed that the dev team are in talks about adding matchmaking to the raids, so this may well change. They’ve even admitted that teams of random people have managed to complete the VoG (and a fireteam of three also recently completed it), so the popular argument for the lack of matchmaking is less relevant.
Oh dear. As I said in my review, it doesn’t take long for you to realize that Destiny lacks both content and story, and this is certainly an area where Bungie needs to improve. It’s also an area that’ll take the most work.
Destiny‘s story is woeful, and lacks even the most basic exposition. What’s there is, is badly told. We don’t know what the Traveler or the Darkness are, why they hate each other, and what’s happened in the past. We have no idea why we were dead, or in Russia, what the Ghosts actually are, and why Earth is so important. Who are the Fallen, Vex, Cabal and the Awoken? Why are the Exo on Earth, and who made them? Who is the Stranger? What is the Black Garden? Why do the Vex want to take over? And why did Peter Dinklage do such a poor job with his VO?
These are just some of the questions people have, and even after completing the game’s story, you have no answers, only even more questions. Practically nothing is explained in the game, and only disjointed and vague history is provided.
There is a story of sorts, though. You gain access to this by earning Grimoire cards in game. Once you do this, you can then go to Bungie.net and look at the online ebook that contains descriptions of factions, enemies, weapons and locations. Wait, what? I have to leave Destiny and go to a website to learn about the history and story of Destiny? Eh?! Who thought that would be a good idea?
It’s a really bad move by Bungie, as well as a classic symptom of games no longer containing physical manuals. Bungie can’t be blamed for the game manual issue, of course, but the team could have at least tried to tell a coherent story and provide some detail in the game. It’s almost as if a conscious decision was made to strip out all story content, just to place the player in a constant state of confusion. We simply have no idea why we’re doing what we’re doing, and why that great big sphere is so important. It doesn’t even do anything for the entire game. It just sits there.
There’s also a total lack of memorable characters. As it’s an MMO, player characters are obviously bland, as they’re user created and there are millions of them, but the game needs a supporting cast to tell the story. Destiny has none worth mentioning, and that’s even with some big name vocal talent behind them. Peter Dinklage, Bill Nighy, Nathan Fillion, Lennie James, Peter Stormare, and others lend their voices to the game, with hardly any delivering decent performances. Most of the cast is wasted on NPC vendors and quest givers that hardly speak (save for James, who voices Lord Shaxx, the voice behind the PvP content), and Peter Dinklage’s performance as Ghost has now become infamous for its dull, dry and downright anaesthetised delivery. Quite how so many good actors could produce such poor performances is a mystery.
I expect answers about the story to come in future DLC and sequels, but if you want to establish a brand and get players invested in your story, you need a damn story! Destiny, at the moment, has little to none, with no memorable characters to lead into a new expansion or game. That’s not good for the future of the series.
By now you’ll be all too familiar with the infamous ‘loot cave’. This method used to farm low level enemies for engrams is a perfect example of just how broken and unbalanced Destiny‘s loot system was on launch, and some would say, still is.
In Destiny you collect loot via engrams. Green, blue and purple engrams are dropped by enemies, with green offering low level gear that’s instantly picked up. Blue and purple, however, are where it’s at. Blue, or rare, engrams have to be decoded by the Cryptarch, which will reveal a random item in the class of the engram. There’s no telling what it could be, and the same applies to ‘legendary’ purple engrams, the hardest to find items.
The problem with this system at launch was down to the RNG (Random Number Generator) mechanic, and the overall design of the system. Although it could take hours and hours to find a purple engram, you could decrypt it to find that it turned into a blue, or even green item. There was no guarantee that it would be a legendary item. In fact, more often than not, it wasn’t, which made for plenty of gamer rage on forums. Blues could also turn green, and all engrams could turn into other items, such a crafting materials, instead of armour or weapons. Not only that, but you can also decrypt an engram and get an item for another player class, one you can’t even use. So, getting a legendary armour item, only to find its for another class, can make people very mad.
This is compounded by a lack of a player trading system, a staple of most MMOs. This alone would alleviate some issues, as gear you can’t use could be traded with others, but at the moment, this basic MMO mechanic isn’t in the game.
After the 1.02 patch, the issues with legendary and rare engrams was solved, and now all engrams will at least grant an item of their level (or martial), so there’s a much higher chance that a legendary weapon engram will actually give you a legendary weapon. The patch made the drop rate for these far more unlikely, though, so you’ll need to put in more time to find them. And, as the loot caves have, or are being shut down, it’s all about the grind.
Bungie failed here as it underestimated the player need to find decent loot, and trade it with others. This was especially short-sighted because, as I said, this is a basic MMO feature, and any game that focuses on loot needs a trading system. It’s just a given. It’s one of the reasons why people put up with the grind, and it also bolsters the use of in-game currency, which could also be traded.
I’ve mentioned a lack of content, and this is where I personally think Destiny suffers the most in many ways. Although Bungie has said that Destiny is not an MMO, but a “shard-world shooter”, most still label it as an MMO, an MMO with FPS mechanics. And it has plenty of MMO features, such as loot, open world instances, raids, a public hub, and grinding, a lot of grinding.
For an MMO style game, though, Destiny has very limited content, and it doesn’t take long for the game to resort to grinding to pad things out. Once you hit the level 20 cap, it becomes all grind, with special events and strikes simply using existing missions, thus meaning players have to replay the same missions over and over again.
This is a gameplay mechanic that works for many other games, such as WoW, Guild Wars, and even action titles like Warframe. In these games you have to grind away, killing the same foes over and over again in order to level up and find better gear. This is where something like Warframe succeeds, and Destiny suffers, due to the wrong kind of repetition.
Missions in Warframe may be similar, with samey environments, but these levels have a selection of different layouts, with different map configurations and start/end points, and enemies are all randomised. There’s also a selection of game modes.
Destiny, on the other hand, has the same, exact mission layout every time, with even the enemies all being identical, in the same places, and there’s no variety in missions types. Most simply require you to fight off waves of enemies while Ghost decodes something, and that’s your lot. The only real difference in challenge is how tough and powerful enemies are, and how many of them you’ll see in the same zones. On high levels, the difficulty is amplified by simply making foes bullet sponges, there’s little more to it.
This means the grind soon becomes a chore, and when you get a bounty that asks you to complete 25 strikes in order to proceed, the exasperation becomes stifling. It can seem like Bungie is actively trying to get you to give in, daring you to play the exact same thing over and over until you can’t take any more.
Speaking of the grind, the decision to make Destiny‘s level cap so low, switching to a mechanic of bettering your character with gear isn’t new, and it can actually yield good gameplay and enjoyable looting mechanics. It works for other games, but the key here is the avoidance of the tiresome kind of grind.
A lot of games have grind, especially RPGs and MMOs, and great titles like Borderlands and Diablo have their grindy elements, but this is tempered by rewarding and engrossing play, as well as varied locations and characters. Destiny fails to do the same thing in many ways, and although the core gameplay is great, and the PvP still addictive, the loot and grinding system may not have the legs they need to carry a long-running MMO.
With identical missions repeated over and over, ad infinitum, it quickly becomes a little drab, and this is where other games of this kind really need to take note. Grinding for a reward is common in games, and it’s expected. After all, getting that new rare weapon should be challenging and hard work, but replaying the same mission over, and over, and over, with no changes or differences at all? Not so much fun. Keep your grind as varied and random as you can. Referring to Warframe again, a game that’s all about the grind, it succeeds because enemies and maps are always different.
Ship to bore
There’s a lot of loading in Destiny, with times that can vary from decent to painfully prolonged. This is a fact that Bungie would seem to be well aware of, even before launch, as it gave us pretty spaceships to look at. Yes, you know those cool ships you can blow tons of Glimmer on? That’s what they’re for.
They may look good, be bristling with weapons, and Ghost may have made them sound essential, but in terms of the game itself, they serve as a loading screen, and nothing more. This means that there’s really no functional reason to buy new ships at all.
Some space combat, or even a personal space inside the ship would make them useful, but no, they fly into the screen when loading, and that’s it. You can’t even control them. Even the free-to-play Warframe has a ship loading screen where you can fly around, and it serves as a player’s personal space, but not here.
It’s a massacre!
Next we come to PvP. For the most part, this is pure Bungie multiplayer, and this is where the game feels the most like Halo. Everything screams Master Chief here, and if you’re a fan of Halo‘s online competitive modes, it’s this part of the game where you’ll be most at home. That said, it’s also different in some ways.
The most glaring issue many have with the PvP is the balance, or lack of it. Although most multiplayer game modes in Destiny strip out level advantages, any enhancements on your weapons and your armour count. This means that, although base damage and defence are normalised, it’s pretty pointless, as upgrades are not. So, higher level players will always have an advantage, with better gear and armour. They can dish out and take more damage, and this can result in totally unbalanced matches.
There’s no option to customise matchmaking here, and although the game seems to try and group similar levels together, this doesn’t always occur, and I’ve seen matches where level 28 players can be fighting level 10 and even lower. This presents a serious problem for low level players who are less experienced, and just end up daunted, dismayed and annoyed in equal measure.
To add to this, the latest special event, The Iron Banner, adds level advantages and base specs too, making for an even more unbalanced affair. This is optional, of course, and only high level players really should be giving it a go seriously, but it only contributes to the lean towards high level Guardians, and some could argue that’s it not skill that takes precedence here, but the gear you have equipped.
An option for base stats and specific load outs available to all players may help, perhaps in the form of a separate, level-playing field mode. This would make the PvP entirely skill-based, give everyone an even footing, and show just what the game is capable of.
It’s not just the actual PvP gameplay itself that’s caused fallout with players, and the rewards have caused plenty, if not more rage. Upon the completion of a match, the game awards participants with random rewards. These rewards can be standard weapons and equipment, as well as legendary and even exotic items. The thing is, these rewards are also randomly given to players, regardless of their performance in the game. So, the person who got the most kills, assists and captures could get nothing, whilst someone arriving into the game late with the least kills can get a legendary item.
This random award system does keep everyone playing, as even those who aren’t that good at PvP have the chance to earn items, and so it keeps interest up, but it also alienates the better players, who often feel robbed. Clearly, Bungie needs to work on this, and come up with a fair, but still inviting reward method. Maybe top players could be guaranteed an item, and others could be random? That’s just one solution.
All aboard the hype train!
It’s clear that Destiny isn’t perfect, and as I’ve said, although I still consider it to be a good, enjoyable game, well worth your time, it’s also a game that has polarised gamers everywhere. Luckily for Bungie, the nature of Destiny means that the game can be refined and problems fixed as it grows. Sure, many of the issues it suffers shouldn’t have made it to retail, but that’s the age we live in, where the public is the best beta tester around, and post release patches are the answer to everything.
Even with this fact, what can other developers and publishers take from Destiny‘s reception and criticism? Quite a lot, actually, with the first being hype, and how it can have the opposite effect, and seriously damage a game.
Destiny has had more hype than most other games in recent memory, partly due to Bungie’s history, and this being its first game since Halo, and partly due to the promises about the game content, and the advertising leading up to the game’s launch. Bungie often hyped features of the game to such a degree that anything less was going to cause criticism, and this unfortunately became the case for a lot of the content. In the end, the features Bungie put into Destiny are actually good, they just don’t live up to the lofty hype. It’s the whole Peter Molyneux syndrome, where a developer oversells features, which leads to disappointment, and criticism.
We were led to believe that Destiny would have a large, open and evolving world full of life and random events. A world we’d want to spend all this time in. In actuality, Destiny has a large, but restricted world where life is limited to pre-defined patrol areas, and events are samey, and far more scripted that they appeared in the pre-launch footage. The content in the game is good, and events are actually pretty cool, but when compared to the content Bungie talked about pre-release, it just doesn’t stack up.
Hype and advertising are tools that needs to be used like a scalpel. They needs to support the game and sell the major features, but hyping a game so much naturally means you’re going to have to pad things out and talk up your title more and more, to keep that momentum and interest going. This will inevitably lead to a disappointing performance.
Take Watch Dogs, a great game, sure, but one that hardly lived up to the hype. I’m not just talking visual presentation here, we all know how that turned out. I’m talking about gameplay. During the build up to the game’s release, which was a long time due to the delays, the hacking system was made out to be a much more powerful and flexible system that it actually was. What we got was great, but we expected more, and so disappointment crept in. Again, our hopes were raised to an unattainable level.
Now, take the recent Shadow Of Mordor. It’s a game that has had relativity little hype, and limited advertising, but it turned out to be a superb game, and one that is garnering almost universally great reviews and gamer appreciation. The content wasn’t over hyped, impossible promises weren’t made, and we got a game that delivered what the developer said it would. In fact, aside from the downright disgusting PR advertising conditions forced on YouTube reviewers, Shadow Of Mordor is how a game should be pushed. Just enough to get us interested and excited, but not so much that our expectations sky-rocket to levels that will simply never be met.
Tell me a story
If there’s one thing Destiny has made quite clear, it’s that story really does matter. This is a point Bungie seems to have missed entirely on launch. Creating a new IP isn’t easy, and there’s always going to be criticism and accusations that you’ve stolen from here or there. It’s unavoidable. However, it’s with the story, and how you weave the characters into the narrative that can set your game apart from the rest. With a new IP, it’s also the story that plays a big part of getting players invested, and to sign up for the long haul. Many won’t be back for another title if they’re not interested in the story or characters.
Destiny not only features few memorable characters worth mentioning, but it has practically no story, which is just crazy for a new IP that the developer wants to succeed. Relying on DLC to flesh this out is just wrong, and is a trend that really needs to be stopped. Paying full price for a retail game, only to find out that you need to spend more to actually complete the experience is a business practise no one but the publisher likes, certainly not the gamer. We expect to have a complete package from launch, and DLC should be an optional extra, not an essential part of the the game.
As it stands, as much as I like the game, I couldn’t care less about the Traveler and The Last City, and The Darkness is little more than a Top Cow comic and glam rock band. It’s certainly not a fearful, deadly force, as I haven’t got a clue about it, or the past war, which the Speaker so kindly refused to elaborate on. Thanks for that, Bill.
Basically, if your players only have more questions and even less idea about what’s going on after completing a game, then you’re doing it wrong. Bungie clearly had big ideas about this new universe and the events playing out within it, so there are no excuses for such poor storytelling. And, if you’re going to flat-out waste voice talent, why spend so much money getting big name actors in?
Think of all the people
One of Destiny‘s more alienating issues is Bungie’s seeming love of hardcore players, but disdain for the rest. So far, all of the best content in the game, and the special events are reserved for those at high levels. The Vault of Glass opened two weeks after the game launched, and to participate you had to be level 26 or thereabouts. Most players were not at that level, and so had a lot of work to do. Likewise, the Queen’s Wrath missions were aimed at high level only, as is the Iron Banner.
Now, I appreciate that the game needs high level content for high level, veteran players, and to act as a goal for others to work their way to, that’s great, but all of the extra content? Really? If you’re a gamer with a job and family, a life outside of the game, you may miss out on a lot of this content. The Vault of Glass isn’t bad, as it’s permanent, but the timed events leave many people without a chance to even participate. Surely some lower level specials would benefit both players and Bungie as a whole?
This has been done in other games, including Warframe, which constantly has special events that low level players can tackle. Simply ignoring new players is not a good way to increase your fan base, and you have to make them feel welcome. Putting up special events only high level players can attempt is not doing this.
Super Hype Fighter
So, in a nutshell, Destiny has shown us that too much hype is bad, story is crucial, gameplay balance is paramount, and all players are important. This is by no means a guaranteed way to create a great game, the core production needs to be solid too, but it’s certainly grounds for avoiding a lot of problems like those Bungie is facing, and the daily news stories of glitches, loot farming, and updates on patches.
Developers and publishers of future games need to pay attention to Destiny, not for the game itself, but for how it’s been received. This is a game that’s good, it really is, and despite the problems, people just can’t stop playing it. If no one cared, it simply wouldn’t be an issue. The fact is Bungie made promises it couldn’t keep, and we expected much more. Without this hype, Destiny may have had a much easier ride.
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