About 20 years ago, my mother ruined my life. By that, I mean she purposefully, intentionally, and maliciously broke my Loom disc. Breaking the disc to keep me from playing the game wasn’t the worst part. It was the realization that I came to when I saw the plastic shatter in her hands: I loved that game. I had loved other inanimate objects before that, of course. I had stuffed animals, specifically Rabby the rabbit (I wasn’t terribly inventive at that age) and Oliver the tuxedoed bear who was named for the cat in Oliver & Company (He still lives in my closet). I also loved food and books, but, until the moment my mom shattered Loom in her cold, heartless hands, I hadn’t realized that I loved a game. After that epiphany, my life was ruined. I have wasted so many hours of my life sitting in front of monitors and TVs playing countless hours of games all because my mother’s punishment, like almost every punishment anyone has attempted to use on me, way backfired. Thanks, mom.
Like all first loves, after it ended there were others: Secret of Monkey Island, A Link to the Past, Full Throttle, Pokemon Blue (I’m not ashamed to reveal I won a tournament in 1999), Myst, Curse of Monkey Island, Ocarina of Time, Chrono Trigger, GTA III and Vice City, most of the Final Fantasy games, Diablo 2, and Warcraft III. All of those games I played, loved, beat, and moved on, which makes me sound like the video game version of a pickup artist. Then, in 2004, I got into the beta for a game called World of Warcraft, and, much like ten years earlier, my life was ruined. WoW became my second life for the next 7 years. Everything about it appealed to me. The story was expansive and well thought it. The leveling was difficult but straightforward. The endgame content was very challenging but focused on fun. I met some of my best friends on WoW, including my closest friend, Jessica. It’s been years since I played, but I still remember that feeling of logging on just to talk to friends, run around with them in a huge open world, do random things just to get dumb achievements, etc. Recently, I started playing Destiny. Perhaps I hoped that it would rekindle those feelings I had when I played WoW. Perhaps I thought I had found another story I could really sink my teeth into. Perhaps I wanted a chance to meet strangers, team up to do crazy stuff, and part friends. After more than 3 and a half days of game-time, I can safely say that Destiny is really good game which I have come to love, but it has a major issue. All of those things I mentioned about WoW? It doesn’t have any of that shit.
Two years ago, when I first heard that Bungie was making a story-driven, open world MMOFPSRPG (massively-multiplayer online first person shooter role-playing game), I was ecstatic. A company like Bungie, who produced some of the most wildly popular games of all time was going to make the MMO to end all MMOs. What ended up being delivered quite clearly showed that Bungie’s definition of “massive” is very different from definition used by every other person on the planet. Let’s start by tackling the story.
There are rumors that huge portions of the Destiny story were changed before they launched. I don’t know if that’s true or just the popular guess of gamers hopeful that one of the most influential companies of all time hasn’t completely lost the ability to create stories that make sense. Apart from an obviously depressed Peter Dinklage’s performance as your ghost, your nearly constant companion throughout the game, where you can actually hear him thinking that the script is god-awful while he’s reading it, the story makes zero sense. First off, we are left in the dark about almost everything. After the second mission, you to meet The Speaker. Here’s how that interaction goes down:
The Speaker: There was a time when we were much more powerful. But that was long ago. Until it wakes and finds its voice, I am the one who speaks for The Traveler. You must have no end of questions, Guardian.
Are… Are you talking to me? Sorry, it’s a little weird that you just started talking like we were in the middle of a conversation without saying hello. I thought you might have been on the phone or something. Anyway, I have so many questions, and my ghost tells me you are the guy to talk to. First question: What is the Darkness?
The Speaker: In its dying breath, The Traveler created the Ghosts to seek out those who can wield its Light as a weapon–Guardians–to protect us and do what the Traveler itself no longer can.
Okay, that really didn’t answer my question. Again, what is the Darkness? You know the thing that “killed” the Traveler? That thing. What is it. Is it like the anti-Traveler? Is there a big black ball out there that hates our big white ball?
The Speaker: I could tell you of the great battle centuries ago, how the Traveler was crippled. I could tell you of the power of The Darkness, its ancient enemy. There are many tales told throughout the City to frighten children. Lately, those tales have stopped. Now, the children are frightened anyway. The Darkness is coming back. We will not survive it this time.
Yes! Those are the exact things I want you to tell me. Go ahead.
Ghost: Its armies surround us. The Fallen are just the beginning.
The grown-ups are talking, Dink. Now, Speaker, seriously, brass tacks. What is the Darkness?
The Speaker: You must push back the Darkness. Guardians are fighting on Earth and beyond. Join them. Your Ghost will guide you. I only hope he chose wisely. *wanders off*
Ghost: I did. I’m sure of it. We’re in this together now.
The end of the next mission isn’t much better. After you kill a tremendous number of aliens, Dinklbot hits you with this:
Ghost: They didn’t get much. Kept hitting an active firewall. Old Earth, Russian. The legends are true. A Warmind did survive the Collapse. Rasputin… an AI built to defend Earth. He faced The Darkness and survived. And he’s protecting something here in the Cosmodrome. We have to find a way to reach him.
What legends? What’s a Warmind?
Next mission, after killing another tremendous number of different aliens:
Ghost: The Array… it’s controlled by Rasputin. The last Warmind. He won’t let me in. But it’s connecting to defense constructs all across the system. There could be something out there.
WHAT IS A WARMIND?!
The game suffers from this penchant for not telling you anything of consequence throughout the entire story. It gets so bad that sitting through Dink’s narration at the beginning of each mission seems like a waste of time.
Ghost: We gave up the Moon to keep the Hive away from Earth. We hoped that would be enough for them. I used to look up here at night and wonder what the Hive were doing, but the only activity I could ever pick up was hazy–like it was blocked or buried.
Is it okay, if we just sit here in silence? I think I would prefer silence.
Combine the poor storytelling with the fact that, every now and then, I unlock a new piece of the game lore. Excellent! How do you access this important part of the story, I hear you asking? Well, first, put down your controller. Then, get up from the couch, sit at your computer, log on to bungie.net, put in your PSN or XBL username and password, navigate to the grimoire cards, and start reading! I’m kidding there is an easier way to do it. It involves downloading an app to your phone, logging on there, and navigating to the grimoire. Either way, you have to look up the story outside of the game. It’s like going to a movie and being handed a book as you walk in.
You: What’s this?
Theatre Employee: Oh, it’s the accompanying material for the movie.
You: Oh, no, I just want to watch a movie that includes most or all of the story that I will need to understand and enjoy it.
Theatre Employee: Well, tough shit, because, in this movie, every now and then, you will become totally lost by the nonsensical dialog between characters that are barely introduced or referenced. Then, you will need to open the book, hunt for the next chapter, read about something sort of related to the movie that doesn’t answer your questions, and go back to watching the movie. Enjoy!
So, the story is not good. The social aspect (You know, the thing that makes it an MMO) is not there. It is totally and completely absent from the game. Here are the ways that I can contact another player that I don’t already know: 1. wave at them, 2. point at them, 3. dancing at players, 4. leave the gamer entirely and send them a message that, owing to PSN’s habit of suddenly breaking for no reason, may or may not arrive within the next hour. There are no other ways to contact someone who isn’t already on your friends list. Even when you play a part of the game where you are forced into a group with other players, like PvP or a Strike, Bungie doesn’t let you speak to them. Basically, the game is only multiplayer in the fact that other players are playing the game at the same time as you are. The game is like an introverts idea of a fun party, everyone present and not interacting.
Bungie also has not consulted anyone else on what an “open world” should look like. When I heard it was going to be a sci-fi/fantasy open world MMO, I imagined some crazy version of GTA V set in space. Instead of anything resembling the vibrant, huge city in GTA V, Destiny has small desolate wastelands for the player to cross populated by nothing and no one. On Earth, the largest and most well thought out of the worlds, a player can run from the far side of the map to the other side in less than four minutes. I’ve tested this. Worse than that, the worlds feel like they’re on rails. I can’t navigate over buildings and ruins any way I please to get to the next area. I have to go through the same room with the same four enemies in it each time. When I’m farming public events, I take the same path from one point to the next simply because that’s the only way to get from one point to another. The same might as well be a side-scroller.
The story isn’t good, they give you a book to read that doesn’t answer any questions, the social aspect is missing, and the world less open than most of the RPGs that came out for the last generation of consoles. What’s good about it? For all its faults, which are numerous, the game is incredibly fun. If you ignore the fact that the story is stupid or that you can only talk to your friends, you’ll find that time spent shooting aliens and other players is super exciting. I grouped with two random players, neither of which I could talk you thank you Bungie, and we were doing this strike, which is basically just an extra hard mission. One of the players disconnected early on, and the other player and I had to soldier on together. The enemies and encounters were built around you having three players for this mission, and when we finally killed the last giant evil alien guy, I jumped out of my chair, slammed my hand into the blades of the fan directly above me, cursed, and cheered. It felt like a real victory. That other player and I waved, pointed, and danced at each other in our triumph. We jumped around on our magic-powered rocket packs, and punched each other a lot. We weren’t able to speak, but I think we both felt the same. It was a feeling close to what it felt like to conquer something in World of Warcraft. Close, but not the same.
Destiny will get better. They’ll fix the story with the DLC and patches. They’ll figure out what Blizzard, the makers of WoW, did a long time ago, that it is always better to have an open discussion about the game with your players than to make decisions alone in the dark. Those things that I don’t like will be fixed. For now, though, the game is broken, but, broken or not, I still love it for what it is.