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A Mystery wrapped Power Armour: What the hell is Destiny?

Destiny is out. Some would call it the biggest release of the year, Bungie would very much like to think so, and based on how many consoles it has sold by its own merit, I would be willing to agree.

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Destiny

The thing is, despite practically everyone in the world owning this game, it is still rather up in the air when it comes to detailing what the game actually is. People defiantly came in with some strong preconceived notions and I think it’s having an impact on how people are reacting to it. So here is Thumbstick’s own little guide on what to expect from Destiny and not fall into the same trap of assumptions that I did.

Firstly, what the game is getting the most vocal criticism for…

Don’t expect an epic narrative experience

Despite this being the new Intellectual Property from Bungie, after taking a step back from the Halo series, this is my no means a narrative experience. This is probably one of the biggest things rubbing people the wrong way coming into the game knowing Bungie’s track record. To put in bluntly, Destiny doesn’t have a story worth commenting on. Each mission is peppered with a few examples of voice acting, from a now famously disinterested Peter Dinklage, and little else in terms of it’s story.

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Common Bungie themes of mysticism and fantasy in a science fiction setting are all there, but it’s all just window dressing and obviously not the real focus when the game was being developed. It seems to me that Destiny isn’t made to be a large epic story in the vein of Halo, in fact it seems more like a jumping off point, a platform for Bungie bringing console gamers a new type of experience from what they’re used to.

However, the story is weak and not at all compelling. Not helped by the lacklustre performances given by the big name voicer actors cast in the game. On top of this, the player doesn’t really ever get the opportunity to feel like they’re having any significant impact on the world around them, it’s here where the game’s comparison to titles like World of Warcraft or Diablo seems to apply. In the end, the player is just “a” hero, rather than “the” hero. Thus there is no resolution to the story in this game, it seems like a small slice of a larger story we’re not privy to.

On the topic of World of Warcraft, my next big point is…

Destiny is not an MMO.

Despite what you may have heard, this game is not an MMO. Interaction between players is limited in game, within the city hub where a large number of players gather, interaction is limited to pointing, dancing and waving at other players. Out during the action/shooting segments, there will be four or five at the most other players out on the planet you’re on at the most, and unless they’re grouped with you, they’ll vanish when you enter any mission relevant area.

There a lot of elements commonly seen in MMOs present in Destiny: an emphasis on loot and end game content, daily and weekly missions and the inevitable grind. People might imagine the main brunt of this game is the story and the progression from level 1 to level 20, but that’s really not the case. Getting to the level “cap” will take no more than three or four days, after, the story has finished and the experience bar goes away, the focus of the player changes completely.

Over the coming weeks, those who don’t want to level the other two classes will be taking part in a repetition of events very reminiscent of the level cap grinding of daily quests and group content seen in MMOs. Players will spend time every day gaining currencies and reputation with factions, little by little to unlock the better gear that will allow them to continue to grow in strength. This means that…

Character level is irrelevant, sort of

Level is a strange thing in Destiny. Getting to level 20 is a result of the familiar progression of an experience bar. It’s a basic indicator of how prepared you are for the trails that lay before you, simple stuff. Many players have expressed their disgust at how quickly they are able to get to the level “cap”, which makes getting from 1 to 20 a harrowing experience, when you think you’re half way through the game after you’re first or second sitting.

The thing is, it is possible to go beyond level 20, only you don’t do so by simply gaining experience. Once reaching level 20 you find a new selection of competitive and cooperative multiplayer options open up, all that provide some small amount of new currency and reputation for various guilds. The difference between these guilds seems to be cosmetic in nature, but they all hold the best readily available equipment in the game, meaning players will need to spend the coming weeks collecting the marks and reputation needed to outfit themselves with the best available gear.

Post level 20 gear has a new stat associated with it called “light”, as you collect more light, a new experience bar fills and allows players to grow beyond level 20 and accessing higher difficulty missions for greater reward.

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This is another aspect of the game that seems heavily inspired by games like WoW and Diablo, in which you’re grinding for gear for its own sake with no real end goal besides becoming strong enough to get the next level of gear after that. Its a very specific gaming itch that these games manage to satisfy rather well. It seems to me that Destiny is really aiming to fill that demographic for a more console based audience.

Plus, this attaches the player to their characters all the more, which is good because…

Character persist between all gameplay modes

The player character exists as the player makes it in every game mode within Destiny. This means that you can take your fully geared character both on the multiplayer raid missions for big rewards, and also go visit planet matchmaking and play competitively with other players, not all of which will be geared or levelled to match you.

Destiny is a game that seems to be about making a character, and building it continuously over a long period of time. The carrot here being the ability to take your badass Sunsingers or Bladedancers pretty much anywhere in the game to show them off.

While this sounds great in theory, Destiny falls down slightly here because of the second major issue people are having with the game after the story…

Destiny

The game is still severely limited

Despite the obvious thought put not the game and putting a new type of experience out there for the console only gamers, Destiny itself is a very small game. At least it feels that way. Again, the MMO comparison comes mind as the quests and objectives themselves rarely get more complicated than shoot people till a progress bar fills up, or shoot people and collect the things they drop until a progress bar fills up. The only time strategy may be required is during the bosses in the group content, and even those are more slow and arduous processes rather than a tactical fight.

Groups themselves are limited to only three people, and there are no real roles filled by the different classes, after all this is a shooter. There are several daily and weekly quests available, many of these involving doing a certain thing so many times. e.g. kill 100 enemies with head shots. So you go on patrol (which is the free roam mode) down to a planet and spend between 30 and 60 minutes filling in five bounty progress bars to get your rewards.

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These types of quest have existed in games for years already, but the problem is that Destiny feels like this right from the get go. There is no carrot beyond character progression, and while that starts off relatively quickly, come towards the end the grind becomes very arduous.

It screams of a game that is desperate for DLC, almost to the point that it seems sinister. I certainly hope this isn’t the case as the time and money put into this game would make me hope Bungie are above such low business tactics. I think my main issue with this aspect of the game and the thing that has riled everyone up to such an extent is that…

It seems like a proof of concept

In playing Destiny, it becomes apparent what the “ten-year plan” talked about by Bungie actually is, it’s this game as the jumping off point, where player make and grow their character and incrementally, through DLC, patches and sequels, they slowly grow and a single title becomes a franchise.

Based on how many copies of Destiny have already been sold, there’s no doubt that it’s not going to stop here, the question is, what is the next step? Based on what I’ve seen so far, Destiny contains the first 20 levels of a character that could eventually grow through the coming years to becoming a level 100 character by the end of this console generation.

The downside to all of this is that as a standalone game, Destiny comes across as a very shallow experience, one that many have had issue with already. And if Destiny were to end here, it would go down in history as a huge white elephant, but Bungie have a long term plan in mind here, they’ve made that much obvious. So this leave me with the most intriguing thing about this game…

Despite playing Destiny, I still don’t know what it is

Or more specifically, what it’s going to become. I’ve gone from being excited, to dismissive, to angry and come around to intrigued. It’s strange beast and for better or worse, Destiny is going to continue to be a talking point for years to come I think. There really might be something to the claims made by Bungie that they’re creating the next big console game genre after all, the problem is that they’re going to need to wade through a lot of criticism and stay true to their original vision, whatever that may be, to prevent publishers from becoming afraid and changing what Destiny is.

Or maybe that’s exactly what the continuation of this franchise needs… All I know is that I’d prefer Destiny to be strange and confusing than just another dusty box on the shelf. It makes a better conversation point that way.

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If flip flopping the line between cynicism and enthusiasm was an illness then I would have a nifty obscure disease named after me, but seeing as how it has yet to be diagnosed, I'll settle with just being inconsistent.