Why Destiny Breaks the Mold / by Benjamin Sawyer

It has been a month since Destiny’s release. In that short amount of time we have seen many things go into and come out of this game. We have seen the first maxed out Guardian, the first Guardians to conquer the accursed Vault of Glass, another team complete the Vault on the hardest difficulty, and just yesterday a three-man team tackled the feat in just under an hour and a half. We have exploited the infamous Loot Cave and recently discovered the Loot Stairs. We have shed enemy blood and forged iron bonds with our friends in Vanguard Strikes, and showered in bullets with friends and strangers alike on the surfaces of Earth, Mars, Venus, and the Moon. For the last two weeks we have carried out the bidding of the Awoken Queen, performing hits on bosses in her name, and now we go to battle with our fellow Guardians with the aim of impressing the Iron Lords under the Iron Banner in the Crucible, a gauntlet unlike any other multiplayer arena.

While almost every other game’s multiplayer experience is loadout based, equalizing players with a set number of customizable options per class, Destiny takes a road less traveled by (if at all). Players bring their Guardian, straight from the campaign, into the Crucible in the ultimate test of your strength. Instead of being confined to loadouts and base level weapons, gamers are allowed to work with the warriors they have built up in a litmus test of prowess. While the game modes are nothing spectacular, with your common conquest, team deathmatch, and free for all modes, taking your battle hardened Guardian and putting them to the test against others is a uniquely rewarding experience that adds value to your successes. Where Call of Duty and Battlefield are a test range of a multitude of weapons, Destiny offers a warzone for titans (and warlocks and hunters) to hone their mastery.

That is a lot of positive feedback, and this is just in the first month. Surely, there is much more to come. But let’s face it, the most prominent things we have heard about destiny can be simplified into two short points: Peter Dinklage, and Reviews. And while I would love to dive into why we need to calm down about Peter Dinklage, (and I will, trust me) I think it is far more important to address the latter point first.

This is the first time that NerdyBits has made any comment on the five-hundred-million dollar project from Bungie, and there is a very good reason for that. I would like to point out, before I go any further, that Bungie themselves didn’t even allow publications to post reviews for Destiny until the game had been released. They wanted their world to be populated by players before Game Informer, Kotaku, Polygon, and the rest, judged the game at all. Now, instead of understanding what the developer was trying to do, these publications, for lack of a better term, harassed Bungie for this conscientious decision. It wasn’t a “smart move” by the titan but rather an odd, even shady request that warranted all manner of suspicion and conjecture. If you ask me, Bungie didn’t want Destiny reviewed until now, a whole month after release. Look at all that the game has offered after its birth. With constantly developing side quests and challenges, raids, and a constant flow of patchwork and updates, Destiny is only adding to its scale and overall completion.

With that in mind I want to ask gamers and reviewers alike some pretty difficult questions: What does this mean? Why is Destiny the exception to the rules that have, for so long, defined how a game is reviewed, and finally, is it in any way possible to say that, given the lack of game world development upon release, those reviews that were written before release day (or shortly after) are an accurate judgment of the title that Activision published?

I want to start by answering that last question first. No. The “average” score reviews that Destiny received in the first week of its release were and are, in no way, a fair judgment of this game. It is akin to basing the review of an entire television series (the whole series from pilot to finale) on the pilot alone. And while a show’s potential can certainly be culled from its pilot, even that evaluation is a measured prediction based on what the show gave you on day one. A prediction. And that isn’t even what Destiny was given. GameSpot wrote that Destiny’s “essentials are there, and they're great--but the game surrounding them is cold and shallow.” IGN titled its review “Partially Manifested.” Polygon commented on the disappointing lack of strike missions “available at launch.” There is a familiar strand of thought at play here (I’ll let you figure that out yourself, if you haven’t already).

Now my goal isn’t to go into this article with the sole purpose of branding these blogs and publications as wrong, or even as failures. In fact, many of these reviews really do address some truly important issues with Destiny’s execution. However, the overall tone of nearly every piece of published literature regarding this title can be summed up in a single word: Incomplete.

The question that I want to extend to you is: Can Destiny be scaled alongside games like Borderlands or do we need to treat it as something altogether unique?

How many games can you list that have added up to twelve hours of additional content in the first three weeks (yes the Vault of Glass can take that long) for free? How many titles have introduced as many side quests, challenges, and evolving opportunities in as little time as they did? Chances are, you can count the games that you listed on one, Family Guy hand (they have fewer fingers). That should stand for something.

Destiny could (though it probably won’t) and should (again, probably won’t) change the way that games like this are reviewed.

How different would the reviews be if they were written now, with Iron Banner’s recent release, the Wrath of the Queen’s two week existence, the Vault of Glass, and even more on the way? Would those evaluations claiming Destiny was an “incomplete game” still hold as much merit or would their writers have something different to say. As much as I hate to side with the same people that blame millennials for all of the world’s problems, it seems that our gaming culture’s insatiable need for some kind of instant gratification has left Destiny in the dust in search for a more “complete” and immediate product (e.g. Call of Duty….blech).

And the (ridiculous) complaints about Destiny didn’t stop at its level of completion upon release. Within the first two weeks there were numerous grievances filed under the folder of, “It’s too hard to get legendary and exotic loot.” Seriously? Are we so ADD that the words “difficult” and “grind” have been lost to RPG players? If it were easy to obtain legendary and exotic loot that would be disappointing.

Many have complained that some of the bosses are too hard and take too long to defeat. How many people complained when they found out that Yiazmat (Final Fantasy XII) had over fifty million health points? Yet we complain that bosses in Destiny are “bullet sponges that take fifteen to twenty-five minutes to kill.” Fifteen to twenty-five minutes? I remember fighting Emerald Weapon in Final Fantasy VII for two hours (and I was like…12).

I think we forget that Destiny is an RPG just because it is a shooter. That’s okay, it’s an honest mistake. The only other similar game, really, is Borderlands, whose focus was not nearly as much on the grind as it was about “joypuking” at the sheer number of guns there were (I believe their actual term was BAZILLIONDER). Destiny has advertised “hard work” since the beginning. After all, to “Become Legend” you must (must) put in serious hours. Michael Jordan never complained about how much “work” he had to do to become one.

Now let’s talk about Peter Dinklage, the voice of our Ghost. I’ll keep this short (please, no pun intended). Complaints directed at our AI companion range from “too robotic” to “dismal, sci-fi jargon laden dialogue.” Let’s take a second to think about this from a logical standpoint.

Too many people want to compare Ghost to Cortana, a comparison not entirely unwarranted. After all, both artificial entities were creations of Bungie. Our Ghost, however, is not Cortana, and the expectation that they deliver in the same (or an even similar) manner is ill-based. To say that an artificial character be “too robotic” is awfully oxymoronic. I’ll give some credit to the complaints that claim his vocabulary is, at times, overly sci-fi laden and a bit monotonous but, again, Borderlands was very similar in its “story-by-radio broadcast” style of narration. But Borderlands had comedy in its favor, something that, though not entirely absent in Destiny’s dialogue, isn’t its focus. So let’s stop blaming Dinklage for his shortcomings (no...) and instead look at the message Bungie was trying to get across. The universe put forth by Destiny is one of extinctive peril and looming, nearly inevitable, doom. So…sorry that the dialogue lacks that comedic charm and instead feels more like a concrete swan dive. Could it be improved? Of course. Is it as bad as everyone likes to say it is? Not at all. In fact, some of the best moments of dialogue come from Dinklage’s human moments (I’m reminded of a certain “little light” conversation).

Now, as I said before, I don’t want to completely trivialize every argument that has been voiced about this title. Destiny has some pretty egregious flaws. That being said, they aren’t completely unfixable flaws. The story is mediocre. Period. As much as we should have expected lack of closure in a game from the creators of Halo (Halo 2 anyone?), Destiny didn’t even give us a climactic cliffhanger. In fact, this may be the only instance in which I agree that the game really did feel incomplete. The final confrontation is a tense and overwhelming struggle, quite appropriately, but the story, which bordered on feeling rushed the entire game, just came to an abrupt and, frankly, misplaced stop. In truth, in any other circumstance, this completely cripples a game and its chance at reconciliation (I’ll leave that reference there for you quick-witted types). I think gamers and critics, alike, are missing something though. The contract between Bungie and Mega-Publisher Activision has a 10 year tenure. Activision even said that they are expecting a Lord of the Rings size universe to develop. Couple that with the fact that Bungie has no plans for a sequel yet and you will begin to realize that Destiny has a lot more coming in the next few years.

While many gamers will be displeased with the idea that a game’s story arc is incomplete when it is shipped, there are numerous examples of the same strategy, albeit in smaller titles, that have proven to be extremely successful. Look at the Walking Dead episodic game. Look at anything Telltale has done and is doing, for that matter. The Destiny that we have now is clearly the framework of something much bigger, and while the idea of paying for more story is cringe-worthy for many, I would much rather pay thirty-five dollars every eight months for a new DLC pass, than ninety dollars every year for a new game and a new season pass. Remember the concept I previously mentioned about pilot shows? We have all played the pilot for Destiny, and the set up could, almost literally, go anywhere.