I was going to save this for my full Destiny review, but my past few play sessions are giving me an urge to rant right now. What was originally going to be a paragraph or two in the original post turned into a much larger tangent. This is mostly me narrowing in on what drives me crazy the most about the gameplay and is not necessarily representative of my opinion of the game overall. I’ll tackle the rest in the other post.
So Bungie is on record for saying that “Destiny is a different game after twenty hours.”
Well… well that’s true to an extent. Hour twenty is not all that comparable to hour one, but it’s not this subtle change from hour to hour. It’s more of drastic shift after about ten hours. See, Destiny is unquestionably a shooter with a WoW or LotRO formula applied to it, but you can blow through pretty much everything the game has to offer very quickly. In about ten or so hours–maybe around twelve–you can complete all the lackluster story missions, get a general sense of each of the four exploreable areas, reach level 20, and dabble in the PvP (I only played five matches; I don’t care for PvP). Seeing everything the game has to offer is easy. Reaching level 20 is easy. Now, I really like that; it means that, unlike LotRO, I don’t have to spend the better part of two years trying to reach the late-game content. It means I would be more inclined to play it all over again with a new character. It means the “grinding” is fairly non-existent. I don’t think I’ve ever gone into an in-depth rant on grinding in games (and MMOs in particular), but I think I’ve mentioned off and on that I pretty much hate it, and generally stay away from games that have it. Getting back on track: reaching level 20 and experiencing the vast majority of Destiny’s content is relatively quick and easy. For anyone who has played Destiny, however, you know the game doesn’t cap at level 20, but at 30. Once you hit 20, after ten to twelve hours of play, that’s when the game drastically changes. Getting to level 21 isn’t so easy.
What I say next is going to require a bit of set-up.
For your first twenty levels, you progress via experience points like in most games with a leveling system. After that, it changes a little bit. Armor in the game can give you bonuses to three stats–Intellect, Discipline, and Strength–used to increase the recharge rate of your abilities so you can use them more often in combat. Once you max out, a fourth stat called “Light” is introduced, and these Light points are used to get you to levels 21 to 30. To continue leveling, you need to keep playing the game to find better gear. The old experience points can also still be used to unlock better stats for your equipment–including a higher Light score–but only up to a certain point before having to find something better and repeating the process. But how do you find better gear if you’ve already played through most of the content and seen everything there is to see? And what’s the point? The answer to the first question is you jump into a random matchmaking playist that contains all the boss instances/raids from the game’s four locations: Earth, the Moon, Venus, and Mars–or you could run through a special PvP playlist. You then run through all the stuff you’ve done before again. And again. And again. And again. Until you’ve (hopefully/eventually) found some better gear. You also get a small amount of faction reputation and special currency which goes towards (eventually) acquiring Legendary-type gear, which is what will ultimately max out your level. Often times you won’t get anything of use, so you have to jump through these playlists repeatedly. Now, to answer the second question of what the point is in doing this, well, the answer is you’re doing this solely for the sake of “good loot”. And also so you can be high enough level to run the next, new raid–whenever that comes.
Oh, and that next raid can only be played with friends, and not in a matchmaking playlist. So hopefully, you know five other people who play the game, otherwise you are some poor schmuck who spent the better part of a week trying to acquire new levels for absolutely no reason!
This is the point of the game I have hit. I have reach hour twenty (I’m actually pretty sure I’m in hour thirty-something). Destiny has switched hard and fast into a long, drawn-out grinding and waiting game with nothing much else to do. I’m grinding the same handful of Strikes, and shooting the same, crummy, bullet-sponge bosses that can kill you in one hit and make you start from the beginning. Have I told you about the Strike bosses? Oh, let me tell you about the Strike bosses. They are undoubtedly one of the worst parts of the game–right there with the grinding and time-wasting. There’s no actual “challenge” to them. They have no interesting behaviors, weak points, or telegraphed moves. They barely react to you shooting them, blowing them up with grenades or rockets, or nuking them with super Space Magic abilities. They easily have 700,000 hitpoints and upward with lots of armor so that no matter what you do, you’re whole team will be shooting at them for the better part of a week. They also have one-hit KO attacks you’re constantly dodging while also trying to deal with the armies of mooks who occasionally come to help Mr. Large In-Charge. In a freaking first person shooter. That’s the game’s idea of a “challenging, team-coordinated effort”–lazily made enemies who are arbitrarily tougher than their counterparts just as an excuse to need teammates. When the whole team dies after knocking the boss down to his last few hitpoints and has to start the whole fight all over again, there are no cries of, “Aw man, you guys! That was so close! We can do it this time!” Everyone groans. When you finally beat the boss, there are no cries of victory or accomplishment, but sighs of, “Oh thank God that’s finally over.” After a harrowing experience of fighting a particularly unpleasant boss three times in a row (in a playlist that chooses Strikes randomly), you realize you still haven’t gotten anything worthwhile, so you go back in for a fourth, fifth, and sixth time.
Then there are bounties–those special missions you perform for bonus XP and faction rep. You have a limited number of bounties you can complete each day before waiting 24 hours for the next set. The number of bounties a day appears to be about seven for single player and another seven for PvP; you can have up to five at a time. There is also a cap placed on how much special faction currency you can acquire in a week from grinding the Strike playlist, but the amount you’re also earning even at the highest levels is a paltry sum. Playing a level 24 Strike, for example, will net you 6 “marks” per session. Legendary gear costs between 65 and 120 of these marks. The cap per week is 100. Earning reputation itself, fortunately, does not have a cap, and doesn’t come in the same small amounts. On average you earn 10 rep per fetch quest–sometimes 25–and bounties will net you 50-100. A rank with a faction is starts at 1500, increases in increments of 500 with each rank, and there are (so far) a maximum of three ranks. So it’s really not terrible considering the other hoops you jump through, but it’s still slow going.
All you can do is grind and wait, then wait until you can play whatever new content may come along. Sure, the gameplay itself is still fun, but I’m doing nothing compelling with it. There is no “history” that I have built up with my character. He has better equipment and powers than when I started, sure, but he’s very much the same as he was before. He has no character and no personality. No one sings his praises in the Tower, much less gives any indication they recognize him. Speaking of people in the world of Destiny not reacting to you, no one seems to even react to the world they inhabit. You don’t get a sense of who any of these people are. You don’t know who the Speaker is, or what exactly he does, and the game tells you NOTHING about who these various political faction people are. What if I’m earning reputation points with a psycho? Who are these people? Dead Orbit? The Future War Cult? They sound like they’re maybe psychos, but I don’t know. The game couldn’t even be bothered to fill you in on who exactly you are fighting other than that they are “servants of the Darkness!” The empty world gives you nothing to “immerse” yourself in, so that statement by Bungie Executive Producer Patrick O’Kelley is laughable. I’ve built up no community of players, because I don’t really have any friends who play Destiny, or anyone who can play at the same time as me. I generally prefer single player games because I can’t and don’t want to be dependent on others for my video game entertainment. Almost every time I try to play with random people over the internet, they’ve been obnoxious jerks. If I’m lucky, the one person I know who plays might have enough friends of his own to make up the difference for me so I might do a level 26 raid at some point in the future (and the raid is supposed to be harder and longer than any of the Strikes? Good grief)–all so I can hopefully maybe see another small sliver of half-baked world-building that I wouldn’t get to see otherwise; all because I’m a pathetic nerd who likes the universe Bungie sort of made and wants to see more of it. The game knows it has nothing to offer beyond getting the next best toy, so on top of the work you already have to do to get that toy, they make you wait by giving you lots of vendor trash to draw it out as long as possible.
Here’s the thing: bosses, grinding, and waiting aside, Destiny is an enjoyable game. It just doesn’t have a lot going for it. The lack of grinding (for the first 20 levels) and the lack of artificially extended content (for the first 20 levels) is great, and I think that’s the best approach for games in general. The problem is that Bungie tried to apply an MMORPG formula onto it. A formula specifically designed for massive games with loads and loads of filler content spread out over large areas and blocking the next relevant plot point, reward, or whatever else. And that doesn’t work with a game like Destiny that wasn’t designed with the scope of WoW or LotRO. If the game had a compelling story and environments that I could immerse myself in over and over again the same way I did with the Halo games over the last decade, that would be different. I, and I think others, would have a reason to stick around. But the game doesn’t have that. The story is thin, disjointed, and confused; the missions and enemies are lackluster, and the world-building is non-existent.
What I’m trying to get at is that something needs to change. Destiny is going to need filler content on the scale of other MMOs to offset how dense and impenetrable the grinding feels, which probably isn’t going to happen, even with the two planned expansion packs–unless they’re really big and actually contain proper narratives with characters, exposition, and world-building of their own. Completely redesigning the system is, practically speaking, out of the question; too much time and money was spent building this thing. And honestly, it just needs a few tweaks and no major redesigning. Ideally, I don’t want these games to be long, drawn-out, and grindy. What Bungie needs to do, come Destiny 2, is more or less keep the game they have. Rework the bosses, and cut the late-game grind. Then, do what they didn’t do in this first game and build a proper world with characters and lore, as well as interesting level and AI design so that the franchise has a sense of richness and substance that will keep players around the same way people have been playing the original Halo games all these years later.