The Halo: Reach campaign was everything I could hope for in an action game. The story was easy to digest and framed every skirmish well. The trademark Halo sandbox skirmishes were engaging and varied courtesy of Bungie’s terrific artificial intelligence. They even snuck in an unexpected dog fighting section to cap off their final contribution to the Halo universe.
My hope for Destiny was simply Halo: Reach Expanded. I saw the pre-release demos (those weren’t really alphas or betas) as teasers and believed Bungie was holding back content for the final release. I hoped for vehicular combat in the vein of Halo’s warthog. I hoped for space battles because they offered a selection of ships in the demos and Bungie were no strangers to aerial combat. I even believed there would be grand battles where squads of players boarded giant walking tanks a la Halo 3. Bungie were known for their action games and although there were glimpses of MMORPG tendencies, the pre-release information and demos did not indicate Destiny was going to conform to the genre’s tropes.
Boy, was I wrong.
Destiny met my lowest expectations and that was it; the beta was actually representitive of my twenty hour Destiny experience and that was huge bummer. Like 2007’s Assassin’s Creed, the bulk of game’s layout consisted of copying and pasting the same gameplay loop across a handful of beautifully crafted vistas. No amount of model changes or poorly delivered story justifications could mask the repetition of the game’s structure.
It’s really tough to care about a game’s fiction when much of the backstory was outside of the game. Grimoire cards were a futile attempt to coax players into visiting Bungie’s website. I’m okay with the collectible nature of the cards but why not surface that information in-game? Why not employ some voice actors to dispense that information through audio diaries? It would give us something to enlighten us while we’re riding out to the next quest marker. I would even be okay with a Mass Effect styled codex.
Do they realize how corny their “Light and Darkness” lines of dialog were without any frame of reference?
I can say with 100% certainty that extra backstory wouldn’t have made the quests or enemies more engaging. I couldn’t believe how much they relied the hold and defend style of objectives. If I wasn’t fending off waves of enemies, I was dumping copious amounts of ammunition into giant damage sponges. No matter how satisfying it was to shoot or pistol whip my enemies, eventually the lack of meaningful engagement took its toll.
The enemy intelligence didn’t evolve beyond what was shown in the beta. They were still easily influenced by whoever was dispensing the most damage and were inexplicably fascinated with fallen squad mates.
I enjoyed the Strikes more because they were concise and showcased minor shifts in battle strategy. I keep hearing that the level 26 Raids are more interesting but I’m not convinced it is nor do I believe they’re worth it. Bungie did not demonstrate a willingness to stray from their templates throughout the campaign and Strikes. Why would I believe they would change twenty hours later?
Even if it was a compelling end game experience, the journey beyond level twenty is not pleasant. I have to subject myself to hours of monotonous grind by replaying missions or Strikes in hopes that the right equipment dropped for me to progress. All this uncertainty and repetition just so I can access content? I’ve put down JRPGs for this nonsense and I did the same for Destiny. I despise the idea of having grind for materials, points and gear for hours just so I can overcome an artificial barrier of entry. I’m not learning or developing new skills that will prepare me for the next challenge, so what is the point of that grind?
With a limited number of equipment properties to work with, equipment progression was painfully straightforward with scarce moments of decision making required. Towards level twenty, it was all about choosing the equipment with the highest attack or defense values. Beyond level twenty, it was all about gathering equipment with the highest Light values in order to level up. I’m okay with this kind of incremental equipment progression if the classes were more diverse but when they only diverge by a handful of abilities and equipment diversification is limited, my decisions appeared to be moot.
Everything is better with co-op and it’s true with Destiny as well. I don’t know if I could have waded through Destiny solo. I enjoyed playing savior and rescuing my brother from certain death. It also reduced the amount of time required to defeat damage sponges. But not everything behaved better with co-op. Enemies seemed to be confused by who to attack and rotated through the squadmates too quickly. They hardly rushed down wounded players and were more content with taking pot shots and keeping their distance. They were more willing to melee at higher difficulties but all it took was for me to turn the corner or hide behind a box before they lost interest.
There’s a shocking absence of socializing for a title that promoted the social side of gaming. I’ve created more of a repoire with strangers in a Battlefield 4 squad than in Destiny. Meeting and grouping up with strangers is virtually non-existent in this game because matchmaking was only available through Strikes and competitive multiplayer. And when the Strike was over, the matchmade squad was disbanded with no built-in option to stick together. If I needed fixed squadmates, I would have to visit the NeoGAF forums or schedule meet ups with friends. There was no point in trying to group up in the social hub because everyone was too busy doing their own thing and there was no easy way to tell if anyone was looking for a squad.
I dreaded the end of every campaign mission because there I knew there was a significant amount of down time ahead of me. I could review and assess my equipment and character during each loading screen but there’s only so much you need to do. I did not understand why I had to start every campaign mission from the exact same spot. I’m not even sure why they couldn’t string multiple objectives in sequence. Beginning every mission with a long ride through the same areas that I just went through drilled home the repetitive backbone of this game.
I’m indifferent to the competitive multiplayer. I wish the network performance was more consistent between matches but even when things were running smoothly, I never played for more than a few rounds. The game swings harshly in favor the side that gets on a roll first. When my team wins, we win too easily and when we lose, we’re losing by large margins. Struggles and turnarounds rarely happened in my experience.
The maps were more intimate than the Halo maps that I remember but the complex nature keeps it from being a mashup of super moves and rocket launchers. Super moves stressed optimal spacing between allies so we’re not all wiped out by a single action. Double jumps, dashes and other movement options resulted in more vertical games which I enjoyed immensely. I never felt safe in matches and was always on the look out across several avenues at a given time.
I approached Bungie’s Destiny as a fan of Bungie’s action games and was left sorely disappointed. I share some of the blame but it was not like Bungie wasn’t going out of their way to dispell the game’s true nature. It’s an online FPS with many MMO trappings and while that may be fine for some, I found those trappings to be repetitive and unrewarding. I felt like I was playing a free-to-play game where grinding, repetition and lotteries were the norm. While I commend Bungie for bringing sound action mechanics into the MMORPG space, I condemn them for not breaking genre traditions. For better or worse, the original Halo influenced the first person shooter for years to come. However, for the sake of first person shooters, I sincerely hope that the Destiny of today is just an anomaly and not the beginning of a new trend.
For more information on Destiny, visit the official website.