Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Destiny - The Bad Bits

Last time I told you all of the ways Destiny was the best game I’ve played all year, but now the time has come to tell you all about the many ways it ranks the worst.

This game has been taken apart and analyzed more times than I can count over the last few weeks, and while opinions on the game’s overall quality have varied significantly a unified narrative has started to emerge: ironically, that narrative is that the narrative of the game itself isn’t very good. This is the dark side of the conflicted game design I mentioned previously; Destiny doesn’t know what kind of audience it wants to attract, other than the same 18-34 year old men every other AAA game is chasing after. It doesn’t know how much it wants to rely on its story missions; the writing quality varies immensely from quest to quest, with some missions beginning or ending with cutscenes ranking among Bungie’s best and others given nothing but Peter Dinklage’s monotonous exposition playing over barely-disguised loading screens.

The voice acting deserves special mention. Despite having some top-tier acting talent (Bill Nighy! Peter Dinklage!) and diehard nerdbait (Nathan Fillion! Gina Torres! Lance Reddick! Dinklage again!) Destiny’s voice acting is almost universally mediocre. Fillion and Torres at least are veterans of voice acting and understand the nuances that separate it from acting on stage or screen, but they’re largely wasted, voicing static quest-givers/item vendors in the game’s single social area. The rest of the cast seems to be entirely lost, given lines without context or emotional guidelines…I assume, because there’s no other way a cast this talented and charismatic should be able to turn in a performance this disinterested.

The dialogue is all very arch, cliche stuff, and would’ve benefited from these actors turning in the kind of memorable, nuanced performances they’re known for, making their general ineptitude all the more depressing. Bungie clearly tried to model each world in Destiny as a “zone” in more traditional MMOs; each planet has its own line of quests, usually with some vague overarching goal, but usually not. (Earth is the notable exception, with the unofficial tutorial quests culminating in the discovery of a “Warmind” code-named Rasputin, which your Ghost touts as being “a powerful ally against the dark”…and then promptly drops it from the storyline, presumably to be picked up in DLC later on. I hope. This is one of the times Bungie’s attempt to have it both ways profoundly backfired, as they merged MMO-style quest-giving with Bungie-style gravitas-heavy cutscenes. Gamers only tolerate verbose expositionary dialogue that serves only to tell the player where to go and what to kill because that dialogue can be clicked through quickly and doesn’t disrupt the flow of the experience. Destiny ends up trying to infuse those same boring quest descriptions with a bit of Bungie’s “epic” scope and grandeur, and it. Just. Doesn’t. Work. You end up sitting there, watching boring cutscenes that simultaneously contain the only context you get for what you’re doing on any given mission and tell you absolutely NOTHING interesting about any of the characters or the world they live in.

Nothing joining the MMO half of this game to the FPS half works as intended. The gunplay may be fun, but there are functionally only 10 guns (revolvers, burst rifles, scout rifles, two kinds of auto rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles, fusion guns, rocket launchers, heavy machine guns) with nothing other than low-key, uninspiring upgrades separating one looted gun from the next. Loot drops so rarely that Bungie has had to spend more time patching out loot-farming exploits than adding new content, and the player base is angry with them for it. The enemy factions, although visually distinctive, feel very similar to fight; one gunfight blends into another, and although it’s easy enough to get caught up in that familiar kill-loot-sell looping rhythm, it’s not likely to lead to the kind of memorable moments that will give Destiny staying power. I can tell you the plot of all three Halo games, and memorable moments from each, from memory. I can’t tell you ANY memorable moments from Destiny, other than what I’ve already mentioned in this article.

And this is just the big stuff. Don’t even get me started on all the little nitpicks I have, like how the game ties leveling beyond 20 to the “light” attribute which starts dropping on the already-anemic armor loot, slowing progress to a crawl. (It’s hard enough getting gear that lines up with your class, favored weapons, and aesthetic. Then you need to make sure it has a high enough light level to actually help you.) Or how there’s no inter-player economy; you can spend an hour playing, find a single legendary engram, and have it be an item you can’t use because it’s class-restricted and thus useless to you because you can’t trade items with other players. I got around this by storing stuff I couldn’t use with my current character into the Vault (an inventory shared between all of my characters), but this is a vital feature in the MMO genre; I can’t imagine how this game shipped without anyone thinking of it. (And a lot of people don’t want to spread their time between three different characters, which you have to do so the loot you find doesn’t out level your alternates.)

I could go on, but I’m starting to rant/ramble and that’s a clear sign I’ve let an article go on too long, so let me leave you with this: I feel the need to stress that despite all the shame I just heaped on it, Destiny is still a fantastic, beautiful game that’s fun to play, especially with friends. In the end, this review (like all game reviews) boils down to whether the good outweighs the bad. It’s just that in Destiny’s case there’s a lot of weight on both ends of the scale. I honestly can’t tell you whether Destiny is a good game or not, only that I had fun with it. Good luck, Guardian.

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