Damage Report: Destiny is an odd duck. Games journalists keep mentioning that it is akin to MMORPGS and Bungie can’t backtrack enough away from that label. Either way you look at it, Destiny was intended to be an always-online, social experience. There are dungeons with matchmaking, open world areas with public quests to do with strangers, and it will eventually have raiding that is supposedly quite difficult. If you want to call that a MMORPG, then Destiny’s content functions too shallowly to be a MMORPG worth playing.
Destiny is Bungie’s (Halo 1, Halo 2, Halo 3, etc.) new game. A rumoured $500-million has been poured into their new intellectual property and it seems like it has paid off: this is the most preorded new IP in gaming history. But people are still confused what this game is supposed to be, including Bungie. Is it an always-online FPS for a new era of gaming? Is it a MMORPG in the same vein as another Activision title, the venerable World of Warcraft? I’ve pumped enough hours into it to know that it isn’t quite a MMORPG, though Bungie aped plenty of MMO elements to create its Frankensteinian monster.
The closest gaming experience I have had to Destiny would be the Dreamcast’s Phantasy Star Online. There’s an online lobby to socialize and trade, the world consists mostly of dungeons that can be run solo or cooperatively for loot, and the grouping dynamic – often called the ‘Holy Trinity’ in MMORPGs – is almost completely replaced with ‘fend for yourself’ action gameplay. Destiny’s RPG elements of stats and gear aren’t as RPG-like as Phantasy Star Online, but they do a good job of maintaining precision, twitch-based FPS combat without letting the RPG-side replace accuracy with RNG.
I loved Phantasy Star Online and Destiny being fairly compared to it bodes well for me, but it has been a decade+ since I last played PSO on my Dreamcast. That’s at least ten years for MMORPGs to grow and develop into a genre that a) is playable on consoles, and b) navigates the Scylla and Charybdis of required social interaction while still supporting more antisocial tendencies. Destiny doesn’t really benefit from any of that though.
Let’s start with Dungeons. In Destiny, dungeons are called Strikes and they are for 1 to 3 players. I was under the impression that they were only for a full group – especially since that’s how matchmaking does it – but after managing to solo one when I queued for the Weekly Strike mission, I realized they scale significantly based on the number of players present.
Scaling isn’t a bad thing. For example, I like that Destiny’s levels and gear don’t make you 100% immune from the dangers of low level mobs. They can and do swarm you, which will hurt (and possibly kill you). I also like that it allows for players to run Destiny’s stories and Strikes as they wish. If you aren’t a fan of the story, then you can bring a friend to speed it along.
Yet, nothing but scaling tends to create a world that never feels very concrete, and it limits what most games designers seem to be capable of. For example, the bosses at the end of Strikes are all uniformly bland. Why? Because imagine a life bar that moves a barely noticeable sliver at a time when the boss takes a rocket to the face, and now remind yourself that you’re likely not going to have any rockets left when you get there. It takes ten minutes of blindly shooting at a weak point, often dealing with adds that spawn throughout the course of the fight, with nearly zero group-based mechanics outside of two Special Moves that can buff your allies temporarily and resurrecting fallen allies.
I’d compare Destiny’s bosses to loot pinatas, only replace the stick with a spoon, but they don’t even drop loot. That’s right: 10+ minutes of mindlessly shooting a target and your only reward is that the tedium has finally ended.
Given that this is Destiny’s ‘vanilla’ and we haven’t seen the supposed complexity of raid bosses quite yet, I wouldn’t have a problem with Destiny’s bosses if this were still Phantasy Star Online or even World of Warcraft circa 2004. I understand that creating FPS bosses can be difficult – perhaps that is why Bungie so rarely did them in any of their Halo games – but if they aren’t going to drop loot anyway, why make them take so long to kill? If anything, Bungie should’ve borrowed from the model of bosses in various Nintendo platformers where the weak point or the pattern of attacks varies and changes through ought the fight. Every single Strike boss I have gone up against (whether while leveling or at the game’s max level) has been a disappointing repetition of only a few attacks stretched over a 10 minute or longer stretch with zero gratification for my troubles.
I could maybe see Strikes less as the Dungeon equivalent if Public Events were anything worth doing, but they fail to impress as well. In Destiny, there are a small handful of world maps which are used to access all of the game’s various missions. Both Story Missions and Strikes begin with a brief stint on these public maps before you get to the instanced portions. Despite being not being privately instanced, they are almost always sparsely populated, and are underwhelming considering their only content are Patrol Missions which are generic “things to do”, gathering items to upgrade high level gear, and Public Events.
Public Events function closer to … well, they are like a watered down version of Public Quests from the feature’s progenitor, Warhammer Online. There’s no Guild Wars 2 evolving objective and they aren’t easy to find. In my rush to max level, I participated in exactly three Public Events. Each ended quickly, was unforgiving if people didn’t show up in the small time frame it gives you to finish it, and lacked much of a reward or incentive. I wish I could say they were cool, but the only thing they offer is even more ‘defend the objective’ in a game overrun with the mechanic.
Even if the zones are beautifully rendered and populated with lots of exciting mobs (that fight each other, as well as spawn by giant dropships), there’s almost no reason to spend any time in them. Considering that Destiny keeps voice chat off unless you are grouped, the game does nothing to promote its more social aspects, and provides no path to meet, befriend, and clan up with strangers. If they plan on having a raiding system that forgoes matchmaking entirely, then it seems strange that the rest of the game goes out of its way to prevent you from ever making friends.
That’s a shame too because despite having almost no interplay amongst its three classes, grouping up with friends pushes the blandness of Destiny to the back of your mind as you blast your way through hordes of aliens. For many, that won’t be enough, nor will it justify how much time and effort has gone into making this game an always-online, “cooperative” experience. I didn’t expect a Threat system, dedicated healing or the like, but it does annoy me that more and more new games tout their online, social play but forget the importance of distinct roles. I’ve had fun playing a Defender with my giant bubble shield, but outside of specific PvP modes, the ability only rarely seems worth it, and then only as a cover-up for bad play (on my part or others).
It would be piling on to go into detail about how little customization for how your character looks, how shallow the tradeskill and economy are, or how the game has taken the World of Warcraft token system and made that the entire experience. To cut the point, Destiny can be fun at times, but despite its MMORPG mechanics and never because of them. If Bungie had been able to pull this game off as Halo 2 or maybe even Halo 3, then Destiny’s dated mechanics might feel revolutionary. Sadly, they don’t.
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