I’ve been studying. I’ve spent a lot of time, in every medium I can observe, looking into how a good writer (such as myself) could improve the thing. Lately I’ve been studying games. Xbox, PC games. Gaming is no different than a billboard, a tattoo, a movie, a book, or a diner menu.
I’ll be talking about the newest release by Bungie, Destiny. The reason I’m talking about it is I’ve had the good fortune to play it, with my brother (who also studies video games. And philosophy. And engineering), and over the course of a few hours managed to come up with some talking points. First, the thesis.
Destiny sucks. It sucks for myriad reasons. And a lot of games fall into the same pitfalls this one does, in some capacity. Hey, Kids! Here’s why!
- Bad writing. For some insane reason, writers aren’t given much respect in the Games that Suck. They’re paid cheap, given little leeway or input, and must conform to designer/Corporate HQ needs. This contributes to a Game That Has No Soul (GTHNS from here on out). (Note: A GTHNS is really easy to spot, because while playing it, it feels like a game and not an experience. I usually spend time looking for inspiring moments, or daring decisions, or even broad-thinking connective terms. One of the greatest games I ever played for the 360 was Advent Rising, where writer Orson Scott Card created as much as humanly possible for a writer, and it’s so full of soul I still smile when thinking about it.) The writing of Destiny blows. They try to condense it to a really, really simple five sentence overview that incorporates, in some cases, two hundred years of violence and war as a cutscene between missions. The end result is a whole bunch of Capital Words that Mean Nothing to the Observer (A fancy name for the gamer). Where do you find the writers’ input? On the Bungie website, hidden away on another platform, where the Observer may peruse little cards s/he finds along the way. Example of hilariously terrible storytelling: The Queen (yep. More Capitals) and her brother send us on a quest to kill a Gate Lord, the result of which the brother says “isn’t important” but is more of a rite of passage to see if we’re killing-enough to gain her favor. Upon return with the Gate Lord’s head, the brother removes its eye and laughingly says it’s useless (the useless eye that wasn’t important to gain entry to the Black Gate). Then the Queen looks at the character and says something about us owing her for such a favor–the favor of sending us to get killed because she thought it’d be funny. And to top it off, yes, the Gate Lord’s Eye was important to create a Key to the Black Gate. Absolutely terrible writing.
- Little to No Originality. These are the same guys that created Halo. They made a fantastic game rife with balanced characters, cinematics, and story. Destiny feels like Halo Lite, where they took all the same buzzwords (Instead of the Library from Halo, there’s the Archive in Destiny), character mechanics, and survivability, sans Cortana, and relabeled and redistributed it. There’s a whopping 8 races involved (so far) with Destiny, and although 3 are available to customize with the Observer, the rest are arbitrarily at war with everyone and everything, no reason given. There’s the Flood–er, Hive. There’s the Covenant–er, Fallen. There’s the Vex, the Ultimate Evil. There’s random planet-important races that are “at war with the Vex (a machine race),” though they won’t let you go through to destroy the galaxy-eating bad guys unhindered. Finally there’s the Jovians, a yet-unnamed race of stuff “not forged in the Light.” It’s like someone upstairs, who has no idea how to make a good video game, decided to continue with an old template for gaming because it worked in the past. It fails miserably. Fantastic job, Vice President of Good Ideas. Here’s a Christmas Bonus (see? I can write like them, too!).
- Terrible Worldbuilding. I know some might think this falls under “bad writing,” but it doesn’t. When an architect builds a house, he creates every room with a supposed purpose, and creates enough stability to keep the house standing for 150 years. When a painter paints a picture, he has reasons for every thing he does and color he uses. When the Observer goes to the Moon to infiltrate The Hive, there’s a single hole into the planet through which we travel for three instances. “Lo! Deeper in the Pit at Hellmouth, the Hive has created a new Abomination from The Darkness! Verily, we were but there yesterday, yet spelunking that Dire Opening is once more in our Future.” Repetitive. Small. You can traverse the extent of the Moon in less than three minutes. And Venus. And Mars. And Earth. I believe this is the ever-present corporate copout, where every aspect of the game is stretched and squeezed for subsequent expansions. Larger places exist, but aren’t yet available. If these places were huge, and took a half hour to traverse just to get to the other side, and were chock full of side stories/quests/stuff, it’d be fun. Enjoyable. Since it’s a tight circuit of a mile and a half foot time on the planet, everything feels done and used up.
- Nonexistent Sociopolitical Structure. One thing I loved about Halo was the fact three (at least) races vied for control of life. Humans, Covenant, Flood. There was a religious aspect to the Covenant that worshipped the Halos and the sacred nature of life (and the lack thereof). Destiny created the “religion” of Light and Darkness, literally incorporating the idea through using Light to level up past 20. It’s weak. After the first third of the game, all the Evil things have vaguely religious names like Cabal and Vex and Black Garden. Why are they Evil? Other than the life-eating Vex, I don’t really know. The Cabal seem like a group of Grunts that got lazy and wanted to settle down with little militant families on Mars, only to have us Guardians come through with guns ablaze. No political intrigue. No true factions of varying honor or moral compass. In World of Warcraft, there’s the two sides of a war that seems truly dedicated to a balance of morality, where either angle seems justified in fighting against the other. In Destiny, there’s the survivors of a terrible fate and all those who oppose their righteous light-filled will. I wanted something more. Furthermore, characters representing factions in the solar system come and go throughout the story, as if they were important, but no emotional connection is made. They’re out of the story so fast it’s ridiculous, and nothing feels important. “I was not forged of the Light” SHOULD HAVE been a “whaaaat!?” moment: secret forces opposite you are at work in this universe? Sweeeeet! Nope. For me, I literally said, “Who cares?” out loud while she disappeared in a cloud of contradictory ions.
- No Personalization. I know this isn’t an MMORPG. I know this is just an MMO, which generally means a whole cluster of people doing clustered people things and leveling clusters of gear. Yet, there’s no way to communicate with other people except through pointing and dancing. There’s no trade system. No world chat. Unlike Diablo 3, the specialization trees are a joke. I understand they’re trying to confine the game to four thumb buttons, two triggers and two bumpers, but these trees left so much to the imagination it hurts. Another game (not an MMO, mind you) with very similar features is the Borderlands series: you choose one of four character classes, you level up your skills while you level up your gear, and you ultimately play in an endgame where you grind for drops and replay instances for fun. That’s LITERALLY what this game does, only much weaker. You have a choice of one of two legendaries for each piece of equipment (unless you want to play an ungodly amount of PVP), you choose between one of three classes that, frankly, do all the same stuff save for the Titan which drops an invincible bubble (and ends up being a hinderance to the Titan due to lack of Orb creation), and you’re leveling nothing more than damage and defense for the last twelve levels.
- Broken PVP. The creme de la creme of Destiny’s UberSuck is the PVP. First off, rewards are random and arbitrary. You can score a KDR of .22 and gain an Exotic (the highest level gear in the game, currently) or score a 28.0 and get nothing. Your teammates can smash you against walls (to kill you), the weapons are invariably weak and unbalanced, and there’s absolutely no replay value. While the levels are well laid out, it doesn’t save the game. Similar games such as Call of Duty or Titanfall literally run their entire replay value off PVP. If all the rest of this game was terribly made, I could still see playing this for six months if the PVP was worth anything. Nope. I see no reason to play PVP, especially since the rewards are split between two equally uninteresting factions.
If you want to play a game with a great story, great weapon upgrades (and many of them), a world large enough to play baseball in, grab Borderlands 2 (or the Pre-Sequal coming out in a few weeks). It literally trumps every aspect of this game. If you want a great Sandbox-style game with specialization and side quests aplenty, political intrigue and complex, involved characters, go play the 3 year old Skyrim. If you want a fun shoot ’em game with fantastic PVP replay value, go play Titanfall (or even grab one of the Halo games). Given the fact it seems this game was created dedicated to greed and the pursuit of the unholy dollar, I find nothing redeemable about it. Furthermore, I’ve played it more than enough to have given it a chance. The game straight-up sucks. If any one of these bullet points weren’t there, I wouldn’t be writing this post.
I think if Bungie were given freedom to develop like it wanted, this game wouldn’t be a storm of poop raining on puppies. If Activision didn’t think it was the Cat’s Pajamas, this game wouldn’t be said storm.