Destiny’s Big Halo Problem

Destiny, Bungie's return to consoles, has faced one big problem since it hit shelves last week: the past.

By now, you’ve probably heard about Destiny‘s divided reception. GameStop and Polygon both awarded this (former) Game of the Year favorite a 6 out of 10, while we were a bit more favorable in our first impressions. Not that we didn’t spot problems. There are a few of them. And they are serious.

But they are fixable. Before we start complaining and pointing fingers, we have to consider that no MMO is perfect at launch. While the game’s main campaign is a bit of a bland, repetitive mess, there’s no way that Bungie won’t learn, in the game’s planned 10-year lifespan, to tell captivating stories within this universe. The pieces for a captivating experience are all there. They just haven’t come together. I’m confident that will change.

One thing Destiny might never be able to shake, though, is its big Halo problem. Bungie’s massive game-changing blockbuster has slowly been sinking Bungie’s new IP since the very start. Expectations, my friend. You make something great that people will cherish forever, you’re applauded. Try replicating that over and over, and you’re bound to slip somewhere.

Four years after the release of their last game (the not-very-good Halo: Reach, a prequel to their beloved trilogy), the expectations from fans and critics were massive. How could Bungie possibly deliver?

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It’s obvious now, considering all the pieces of the puzzle that don’t quite come together, that Bungie are trying to shed their past a bit and create something that’s new and refreshing. You can’t blame them. There aren’t many developers that want to be known for making just one kind of game. Big names such as Epic, Blizzard, and BioWare have all tried to adapt the things they’re good at into new concepts. It should be of no surprise then that Destiny is a competent shooter — it is undoubtedly the part of the game that works best.

Bungie is unable to shed its past with Destiny, whose big flaw is its inability to wrap a compelling story around its shooter mechanics, which are basically ripped right out of Halo — guns, grenades, melee. While Halo told a unique story, more than a little inspired by Larry Niven’s Ringworld series, Destiny doesn’t really have anything interesting to say… 

The story lacks boldness and character, and its mostly delivered through boring monologues and cryptic bits of information — Peter Dinklage’s Ghost performance doesn’t necessarily help either. The delivery creates this sort of gross effect within the narrative: some backstory, no story progression. Gone are the pacing, drama, wit, and twists and turns of Halo‘s best storylines, stripped away for Destiny‘s lighter approach. There is absolutely NOTHING close, not even a little, to a great Halo moment — e.g. the introduction of The Flood.

It’s unfortunate then that Destiny‘s story is a watered down version of Halo‘s. Present are Bungie’s usual scifi themes: man’s place in the universe, mysterious artifacts, AI as weapons of war, aliens adopting religion as their galaxy-shattering credo, and a sense that a hero must look to the past in order to fight the present/future. I don’t have to tell you that Destiny‘s skeletal plot is even more obvious because Bungie basically ripped it straight out of Halo, right?

There are SO MANY similarities to its predecessor that the comparisons to Halo are inevitable. If you sat down to play Destiny last week and felt yourself suddenly nostalgic for Halo, which in turn made you angrily point out every bland moment of Destiny‘s plot, you’re not a nitpicky douche. Bungie created a game that can’t stand on its own creatively. Destiny lacks identity.

Even the elements within the story are the SAME. Alien faction that seeks to conquer the galaxy and claim ancient scifi relic as their own? Check. Counter alien faction that seeks to kill everyone? Again, check. Bungie was even bold enough to name this faction “The Hive” (remind you of anyone?). Mysterious wibbly wobbly scifi relic of unknown origin that changes everything the characters know about the universe? Check. “Quirky” AI construct that guides you through each mission? Super mega check. Most of the time, it seems that the whole point of the game is to follow Peter Dinklage around while he completes certain objectives, which mostly include scanning computer consoles (to open doors to the next area) and/or ancient alien artifacts. The truth is that your role in the game is closer to locksmith/archaeologist than freedom fighter/galactic superhero.

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My biggest qualm is with your hero, who joins millions of other heroes just like him in a quest to push back the darkness that threatens to engulf Earth’s last city — the one with the big, spherical Traveler for a roof. (By the way, this is about as much story as you get throughout the whole game.) This mostly-masked hero with nothing interesting to say and too much make-up (my version at least) is sent on an intimate journey to complete a task that only he can complete. Throughout most of the game, Destiny would like you to believe that your hero is Earth’s last savior, not unlike Master Chief, who is the LAST of his kind. But in Destiny, this kind of quest will always fall flat. How can you possibly feel unique to this universe when there are 20 other guys running around in the same mission as you?

Perhaps that’s why the Strike missions — which are constructed as communal experiences that require several teammates to complete — are the best part of Destiny‘s campaign. It’s too bad they have little bearing on the main story, and even more of a shame that they aren’t the main missions in the game. It’s obvious that Destiny was completely built as a social experience, based around playing the entire game with a squad. But to have focused exclusively on that kind of gameplay would have alienated the hardcore Halo gamers that played through the classic campaigns over and over in solo mode. Unfortunately though, as one of our staff writers pointed out the other night during a play session, “Playing this game solo is boring.” I tend to agree. 

Destiny‘s endgame content will begin to fix this last issue. Raids, strike playlists, and new PvP modes will undoubtedly drive the game into an even more social path. I like playing this game as a team. And the shooting is a heck of a lot of fun. The PvE and PvP are not unlike Halo — as you probably expected, the multiplayer aspects of the game ARE basically Halo.  

At first playthrough, Bungie got it wrong. Mixing Halo with MMO and action RPG elements doesn’t work. And that’s okay. We don’t need a Halo MMO with loot. That game was built as an intimate experience, one that you play as the last man standing in a hostile universe. As for the story, I’d say a lighter approach is for the best. Destiny is torn by trying to do too many things at once. 

Bungie will right the ship. Destiny‘s launch content introduces a lot of elements that will likely be explored in expansions, endgame content, etc. I’d count the game we’ve played so far as a prologue to the larger things to come. It’s just unfortunate that the “lore” introduces so many huge story elements in such a minimalistic way. Bungie once again tackle big ideas with an ambitious scifi plot, but it’s very hard to hear what Peter Dinklage is saying when your friend is eating cheetos in your ear. I prefer Cortana, anyway.

Stay tuned for our official review coming later this week!

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