Two Thursdays ago, we felt invincible.
Our 6-man fireteam blitzed through the Vault of Glass in an hour, successfully enacting strategies honed over the past few weeks. Everyone knew their role and position in every challenge. More than that, we knew to stick together. We worked as one unit: spotting Oracles and broadcasting their location, looking after players rendered blind by screen effects, and synchronising our attacks to take bosses down as smoothly as possible.
It was frantic yet controlled; challenging but not overwhelming. It was some of the most fun on Xbox Live I’ve ever had, and a reminder of why I took the leap into multiplayer games.
Judging Destiny based on nights like that, it would be one of my favourite games of all time. It encompasses so many things I enjoy in gaming; true co-operation and teamwork; challenging but just-achievable goals; customisable skills and weapons, and a great multiplayer mode. These all combine to make a compellingly playable and engaging experience.
However, Destiny also contains elements of gaming that I’m much less fond of. Some complaints are just personal preference – for example, I’m not very good at navigately massive open-world games, so I prefer the more linear aspects of Destiny over the more open ones. However, some elements of Destiny are illogical, overly complex at the expense of enjoyment, or immersion-breaking.
Destiny terms itself a “shared-world shooter”, a hybrid of first-person shooter and massively multiplayer online RPG . This gives it many MMO-like features such as random drops for loot and weapons, a reliance on upgrading equipment to increase its power over time, and a system of minor quests with multiple factions. These ideas are implemented well in a mechanical sense, but there are some issues with the randomness – the impenetrable logic of the drop system approaches being an AI itself.
One example of this is our rewards for the Vault of Glass raid. One member has had nothing but bad luck, raiding five weeks in a row for no rewards, while two others have had amazing luck, getting the rarest and strongest available rewards every week without fail. The drop system, often doesn’t feel random: it appears to favours the people who already have the most, imbalancing the people with least.
Another frustrating aspect is the event and reputation mechanic. These are simple systems in theory: perform tasks set by a specific person to earn reputation with them, and use your earned reputation to unlock and buy their best items.
However, there are so many people to level up with (one vendor for each race, one for multiplayer, one for single-player, as well as different time-limited characters) that keeping track of which are important requires either a photographic memory or an Excel spreadsheet.
For people who don’t play MMO’s, just keeping track of your materials and their uses could dual-classify Destiny as a resource management game. Currently, I’m storing :
- Four different base materials, one from each planet. These are used to upgrade specific pieces of armour.
- Two types of Ascendant (rarer) upgrade materials, used to upgrade high-end weapons.
- Crucible Marks and Vanguard Marks – currencies used to buy specific weapons, which are earned from multiplayer challenges and class-specific challenges respectively.
- Strange Coins and Motes of Light, two even-rarer currencies. These are used to buy one Exotic (highest-class) weapon, which changes every week, from a vendor who appears in a hidden location for 48 hours each week.
Although a highlight of Destiny is having fun in the raid, a bad raid night can be a frustrating experience. The pinnacle of this for us was during our first try at the Vault of Glass. Four hours, three heated discussions and two replaced fireteam members later, we abandoned the Vault and surrendered to Atheon.
That wasn’t a good night, and tempers were short all around. There was no lasting damage, but the knowledge that we had temporarily chosen to sacrifice our alliance for performance was a sobering thought. Most of the raid nights since then have been much smoother, averaging an hour and a half. Yet while the experience of those nights is better, the rewards often aren’t.
Its disappointing- potentially enjoyment-breaking- to realise you’ve spent the last few hours taking part in the most challenging thing in the world of Destiny, only to be rewarded with armour dye and a gun you already bought last week. The feeling is amplified if the team member stood next to you is given an Exotic weapon or raid-exclusive equipment. In those situations its easy to forget that loot is powered by an RNG. In the moment, it seems like a zero-sum game: you didn’t get the equipment because they did.
That mechanic embeds one of the unhealthiest elements of competitive play into what was otherwise the most strongly co-operative parts of any game. And Destiny is slightly worse for that. However, the complaints I have here aren’t why I’m ambivalent about Destiny. The main reason why I’m not enamoured with Destiny is more abstract.
I simply don’t trust it.
Yes, I play it quite often; I think its clever and well-designed, and I really enjoy some elements such as the multiplayer mode. But for some reason I struggle to see Destiny as a genuine game. It stays as a collection of mechanics and psychological tactics wrapped in a cliched plot.
Maybe being a psychology graduate means I’m more used to spotting those techniques, but to me the design choices in Destiny are so transparently marketing-based and psychologically engineered that without the social fabric of the raid tying us together it falls apart.