I’m still playing Destiny. It’s February. We’re well past the holiday period where I have an unusual amount of free time to binge on video games. This Christmas it was Warlords of Draenor (revitalized game play, almost a reboot, right?), Shadows of Mordor (fascinating engaging game play and enemy reputation system + best game based on movie lore ever), and Destiny.
It’s February and it’s just Destiny now. My minutes per week are spiking, I’m compulsively checking Friday morning to see what wares Xûr is sporting, and I’m slowly gathering a group of fellow Guardians1 where we’ll collectively help each other tackle the end game content.
Video game reviews aren’t my forte. There is so much great writing about Destiny elsewhere, but for the first time since World of Warcraft, I’m lost in a video game and I want to explain why:
Destiny is hard. There has been an ongoing lobotomization of video games for decades and it’s understandable. The easier a game is to play, the more humans will play it. It’s a delicate balance that game designers have to manage: how hard to build the puzzle?
Destiny won’t scare new players. It does a fine job of introducing new players to the mechanics of the new world. You’ll level up quite a bit, but at some point with your first character, you’re going to run into a part of the story you can’t pass with your currently level character and gear. The enemies are too hard. You’ll be frustrated and you’ll ask a friend who will tell you, “Yeah, go level up on Crucible or run some Vanguard missions and come back.”
It’s a risky game design move. Early on, creating a potential roadblock for new players that involves branching from the main story line. This is a moment where non-committed players can switch to any of the other great many distractions available to them, but those who return will notice that one or two earned levels will get them past the roadblock and they’ll also gain valuable exposure to the other parts of the game.
Destiny feels like Quake. I was a big player of both Quake, Unreal, and Halo. I was not a Call of Duty player. I played a couple versions of Call of Duty, but it never stuck. Whether it’s the content or the the game play, I don’t know, but early on in Destiny, I was struck how much – even though I was using a controller and not a keyboard – Destiny felt like those early games. Here’s why:
First person shooters (FPS) have a mechanic called Time-to-kill (TTK) which measures the average time it takes to kill a fellow player. There’s a trend in FPS games to lower the TTK to increase gamer joy. Make sense, right? Run into a room and BAM BAM BAM, you’ve got three insta-kills. There is satisfaction there, but it’s empty gaming calories. You ran into the room and TWITCH TWITCH TWITCH, you’re a big winner.
You won nothing. You showed no skill save for pulling the trigger fast. Destiny’s higher TTK means that you have to think and strategize (quickly) before you run into a room of full of enemies because it’s going to take some time to mow these folks down:
- What is the right weapon for this room? (How good is your understanding of your currently equipped weapons and skills?)
- What is the right entry point? (Do you intimately understand the map?)
- Where are you going to aim? (Can you aim?)
Really, Can You Aim?2 Crucible is the player-versus-player (PVP) portion of Destiny and there is no better way to explore your utter Destiny ineptitude than a few hours getting waxed in the Crucible. If you’ve ever been remotely good at FPS, you’ll spend your first week yelling an endless stream of profanities at your screen because you’re aware that I know how I could be better.
Again, another bold move by Bungie. Each degree of gaming frustration correlates to a portion of the potential gaming population bailing for greener and easier fields. I say – good riddance – I want to play with folks who are eager to achieve excellence.
I’m on month number five of Crucible and only in the last month have I felt like I had a clue what I was doing, but now I cherish what I considered my hard earned ability. Right behind Crucible is the ever-evolving raiding content and the difficulty of that content has created entire cottage industries of websites designed to help players organize raiding parties around these multi-hour events.
I’m awful at raids right now, but that won’t always be the case.
Destiny has no story. Lore and how it’s told has never been a differentiator for me in video games. Frostmoure is that big sword… for that guy? Right? Destiny’s lore has been getting ripped on since the beginning and I have two points:
First, have you seen the game?
Forget about what stories are being told within the game. Just look at the amazing detail within in the game. This is a universe where shit has gone down. It’s not entirely clear what has gone down, but it’s serious and it’s everywhere. I feel surrounded by a story that I don’t quite understand and I like that dramatic tension.
Second, who cares? Selfishly, the story I care about the most is mine. How am I progressing? Are there unsurmountable challenges that I have surmounted? Am I learning? Am I progressing? Do you remember how I ended up getting Invective? I do. It’s a great story.
Destiny is a story in progress. It’s not quite done, but there is more than enough in place for me to enjoy my place within the story. It’s a difficult world where achievement is increasingly difficult to unlock, but I prefer to work for achievement because that makes for a fascinating story.
- I’m playing on PSN as “kurzinator”. I’m on the West coast and play in the evenings. I aspire to get a regular raid cadence during the week and weekend. ↩
- As a former Quake and Unreal player, I have a real issue with the controller because I know that a keyboard has drastically better precision. Imprecise controllers are here to stay and, yes, it’s fun to sit on the couch and play. While it might not be designed to specifically address controller lameness, Destiny’s radar UI someone makes up for the lack of precision. By giving me the ability to see where enemies are coming from, I am able to regain some of the confidence lost by the controller’s thumb-based lifestyle. ↩