It’s safe to say that Bungie’s Destiny has had a mixed reaction from gamers. Arriving on the back of some serious hype, including some lofty promises from Bungie, Destiny has become the latest forum darling, generating heated arguments and flame wars over its quality. It’s quickly become a game that you either love, or just love to hate, and there appears to be little in the way of middle ground. Despite this, and the very vocal nature of its dissenters, Destiny has become one of the most successful games of 2014, and some are saying that it’s on course to become the next Call of Duty in terms of popularity and online dominance for consoles.
How has Bungie managed this? How has a game that has plenty of downsides and a ton of negative feedback become such an online beast? Was 2014 such a lacking year in terms of quality that Destiny was simply the best of a bad lot? No, of course not. 2014 had some stinkers, sure, but there were some great games too, and Destiny, whether you love it or hate it, is one of the latter. Let’s elaborate.
MMO for beginners
To understand why Destiny succeeds, and where it potentially goes wrong, we first need to look at what Bungie is trying to do, and with Destiny it has created a hybrid of FPS and MMORPG gameplay. Granted, Bungie always wanted to distance the game from MMOs, and instead uses the term, ‘shared-world shooter’, but let’s face it, it’s an MMO. A basic one, yes, but an MMO nonetheless. Although far from the likes of World of Warcraft, Destiny takes many of the core MMO features and fuses them with Halo-style FPS play. Just as Borderlands mixed the Diablo-style loot system with the FPS, Destiny does the same, only on a larger scale.
Destiny features loot drops of varying quality, character classes, a levelling system, complex currencies and materials, a social hub, and the all-important raids. Many of these are staples of MMORPGs, only here they’re bolted onto fast-paced FPS gunplay. The end result is a unique mixture of game styles which, although attempted before in various guises, have rarely been brought together with such skill. Yes, like it or not, Destiny plays brilliantly, there’s simply no denying it. As far as core mechanics go, Bungie got this one right, and it’s a great example of an FPS that’s a joy to play.
However, Destiny isn’t just an FPS, and there’s more to this than simple gunplay and control fluidity. A good MMO needs content, and a reason to plough hour after hour into it. It’s here where Destiny both succeeds and fails, depending on your opinion.
Let’s focus on the major complaints Destiny faces from its critics, with the first being a lack of content.
In terms of a typical MMO, there’s no denying that Destiny is very short on content. Including the Dark Below DLC, Destiny currently has 23 missions, eight strikes (six on Xbox One), and two raids. These are spread across four fairly compact worlds (compared to other MMOs), with little to do in each outside of missions other than random mini-quests via beacons, and grinding for XP, materials and engram drops. It will take a gamer of average skills only a few hours to see all of these (maybe not the raids, which are high level and designed for a team), and once you reach this point, and level up to 20, the grind hits hard. This change in gameplay is a major part of Destiny, though, and we’ll come back to this.
Another major criticism, one I mentioned in my own review of the game and one I personally still hold, is the lack of story. Ignoring the ridiculous need to collect Grimoire cards, which you have to leave the game and go to a website to view, Destiny‘s story is woeful at best. Even with extra story from the Dark Below DLC, Destiny‘s lack of information on its world, characters, and history is a big problem. Even now, after completing the game with three separate characters, beating the raids several times, and finishing the DLC story, I’m still left with more questions than answers, and still have no idea what’s really going on in the world as a whole. Bungie failed on a large scale here, so much so that if the story was removed, I doubt many would notice much difference.
And, let’s be clear. This isn’t a lack of story and clarification by design, as in games like Dark Souls, which purposely weave hidden stories for you to uncover, Destiny just doesn’t tell its story well, pure and simple. Bungie always said it wanted to tell a great story, and that it was a priority. There was no hint of leaving things to your own imagination. Because of this, it’s just all the more disappointing, and we’re left killing things for reasons that are largely unknown, and unexplained.
Exclusivity isn’t going away. As long as there’s competition between platforms vying for customers, and corporations have money to pay for exclusive content, some players will get contents others don’t, or at least have to wait for. Destiny is no different, but it’s also been one of the most upsetting, for Xbox owners, anyway.
Whilst exclusive content may usually take the form of a couple of weapons, costumes, or maybe an extra mission, Destiny has taken that further. PlayStation owners not only get timed exclusive weapons, but two extra strikes (Dust Palace and Undying Mind). As the game only has eight strikes in total, this means Xbox owners only get six, and miss a quarter of the strike content, which is a bit of a problem in a game where you have to grind the same missions over and over.
Getting an extra mission in something as large as, say, Assassin’s Creed, isn’t a problem, there’s plenty still to do, but with Destiny‘s lack of overall content, here it really shows, and highlights the problems with exclusive content of this type.
There are other issues people have with Destiny, such as the lack of trading, matchmaking, and the infamous Cryptarch, but these are some of the main concerns to highlight that Destiny isn’t your usual success story. What we really need to focus on is how Destiny has become so popular with its fans, despite these issues.
Ask fans of Destiny why they love the game so much, and you’ll often get a rather confusing answer. You see, even fans of the game admit that in many ways, Destiny isn’t the best, but there’s just something about it that keeps players coming back. People just can’t stop playing it, and are seemingly unable to break free of the grind. This is down to some very crafty, and purposely designed game mechanics, some of which are the things people complain about.
It all comes down to a single word – addiction. It’s exactly why we spend hour after hour playing simple games like Candy Crush, it’s why you’ve spent years of your life in World of Warcraft, and it’s why many people just can’t step foot out of Bungie’s new world.
The mechanics behind this addiction may be different in each game, but the constant possibility of rewards just can’t be underestimated. A game that give players real sense of reward for their efforts will almost always be a bigger draw, and if you add to that reasons to show off your digital goods to others, or items that can be worn as a badge of honor to show others how good you are, you’ve got a perfect mixture.
Bungie has a clear understanding of what makes an addictive game, and Destiny‘s grind is clearly all about that. Here the main draw is the ongoing quest to find elusive weapons and armour, that exotic weapon you just can’t seem to locate, or that armour you need to get to level 31. Everything in the game is put into place to make getting what you want a mission. From finding an item, to upgrading it, here everything requires effort, and the need to grind away, earning currency, amassing materials, and being lucky enough to be rewarded with good items. And this can be done over and over, without the need for an expansive game world, or hundreds of missions. Destiny has proven that.
What is often only a small aspect of many games is actually one of Destiny‘s major features, and Bungie has crafted a loot system that’s far more than simple RNG luck. It’s also designed to keep you coming back, day after day.
Destiny‘s special events are the best example of this. Every day, and each week, after every server reset, various special missions appear, including the daily story mission, and weekly Heroic and Nightfall strikes. These more difficult missions offer greater rewards, but rewards can only be earned from them once per character before they reset. So, every day you can come back and do the daily mission, and each week you can do the weeklies. This means you always have a reason to return, a reason to spend a while each and every day playing Destiny. It’s a digital carrot on a stick, and it’s clearly working very well.
Then there are the raids. There are only two at the moment, but these are arguably where Destiny really shines, and most would agree they’re the highlight of the game. And, like the daily and weekly missions, rewards can only be earned here once a week per character. They’re also only for higher level characters, giving new players a goal to reach for.
Raids encourage users to not only jump on to get rewards each and every week, but to jump on with other people, forming teams to face the challenges ahead, which promotes community. Even with the myriad of exploits that make the raids less challenging than intended, there’s still a real draw to play through them, and doing so is the only way to get your character to the current maximum level of 32, as Crota’s End gear is needed for this. Sadly, the Vault of Glass has become little more than a shard farming zone for veteran players now, as its reward gear, and even weapons, are now underpowered compared to updated exotics and new legendary items. Well, maybe not the Vex Mythoclast, which is still highly desired.
Through these mechanics, and the standard grinding for engrams, Bungie has manufactured the addictive nature of the game. You need to play it, and put in the hours if you’re going to find the gear you want, and items that let you keep up with your friends. As raids are a major team effort, it’s very important to be equipped with the best gear so you can play your part.
On top of this are the superb FPS mechanics, which Bungie clearly understands from its Halo days, and the game’s mixing of PvE and PvP. Here you can play PvE and earn good gear, and then take it directly into the Crucible to beat up your fellow players. Or, if you wish, you can play PvP and take your rewards into the PvE world. Again, it’s another layer of possible loot grabbing, which only adds to the addictive nature.
Is Destiny bad for you?
So, with the key to Destiny‘s success being it’s well-honed plan of addiction, and keeping players returning day in, day out, the question has to be asked, is this a good thing? Is purposely creating a virtual addiction of sorts a viable and decent game mechanic, or is it simply a way to make an otherwise unworthy game successful?
Well, regardless of your stand on Destiny, to call it unworthy is just wrong. You may not like it, but the fact remains that Destiny is a good game. It may not be great, but it is good. It ticks the boxes of solid game mechanics, being fun to play, and has a good balance of solo, co-op, and competitive multiplayer.
The reason many don’t like the game is the grind, and the shallow content. Destiny may be designed to make extensive use of its content, re-using it to create more than the sum of its parts, but this is done via grind and repetition, which is something that many gamers will never like, and have since made this very clear. These players will likely steer clear of traditional MMOs, and other grind-heavy games, so no matter how unqiue Destiny is, it’s just not going to appeal.
For those who do like the grind, and have become addicted to the rinse and repeat nature, it’s a strange situation to be in. Personally, I enjoy Destiny a great deal. I’ve put countless hours into it, and I still enjoy it. At the same time, I freely admit Destiny is lacking, and the repetition just shouldn’t work. It needs more content, and some more game modes and mission types, but regardless, it’s still fun, especially if you play with friends.
I do have to say, though, Destiny has also caused me to neglect other games, such is the need to play every day, and this is something that I do see as a bad thing for the end user. A game that keeps you coming back is one thing, a game that forces you to come back due to the fear of missing out on rewards is another. Feeling pressured to play isn’t good, no matter what the game, and this is a big reason why some people have stopped playing. It’s an endless road of grind, reward, grind, reward, and if Bungie wants Destiny to continue to be successful, this will only increase.
However, for every user that stops playing, there’s likely another handful just beginning on their journey, and this will start all over again when Destiny 2 is released, not to mention the new DLC for the current game.
So, should we stop playing Destiny as much as we do? Probably. Will we? Probably not. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve a Nightfall to go and do.