by Paul Tassi The reviews are in and Destiny appears to be something of a disappointment for fans and critics alike. The game has received rather low review scores from many major outlets, 6 out of 10s and the like, and its all-important Metacritic rating is hovering at a troubling 75. Past that, it’s a strange situation as in the […]
by Paul Tassi
The reviews are in and Destiny appears to be something of a disappointment for fans and critics alike. The game has received rather low review scores from many major outlets, 6 out of 10s and the like, and its all-important Metacritic rating is hovering at a troubling 75.
Past that, it’s a strange situation as in the wake of GamerGate, fans and critics don’t seem to be at odds with one another regarding low review scores of Destiny. This is an industry where fans will lose their minds if a Zelda game is scored in the 8 range, but there has been surprisingly little push back even among those fans who like the game.
I know the feeling. I like Destiny more than most critics it seems, but I understand that there are pretty huge, pervasive problems with it, some of which involve what it contains, some of which involve what it doesn’t.
One major complaint about Destiny is that the scale is vast, but largely repetitive, where players will retread over the same maps, fighting the same enemies in the same mission formats. The other big issue everyone has with Destiny?
It just doesn’t seem like what was promised.
It’s a giant world, but it’s empty, as I explained in detail yesterday. We were promised a “shared world shooter” and quasi-MMO like nothing else before it. Planets to explore! Sci-fi mysteries to uncover! A whole new video game universe to enjoy over the next ten years.
And yet, that’s not what the final game delivered, at least not at launch. It’s largely empty maps with an uncomfortably sterile hub world, and on top of it all, a story so incoherent even the game’s most ardent defenders admit it’s terrible.
All of this seems like it’s happened before. And it has, twice this year already.
Destiny was the third of three major IPs to debut this year, all of which have been greeted with fairly mixed reviews from fans and critics alike. I’m talking of course about Titanfall, the game meant to shake-up the shooter landscape, and Watch Dogs, which was poised to reinvent the sandbox genre. All three of these games arrived on colossal waves of expectation and hype, and all dashed against the rocks, producing adequate experiences at best, but failing to be the game-changers they were supposed to be.
The press has been blamed for this to some degree. There are accusations that for all three of these games, the media hyped up each and built up these false expectations. I don’t think that’s the case, given the evidence at hand.
Watch Dogs is a different case from the others. That game famously overdressed its E3 footage to the point where the final product was leagues behind what was debuted for the general public. That game’s hype was a slow decline until release when we were given a serviceable, but hardly revolutionary sandbox shooter.
Titanfall and Destiny share the same issue in this case. Both had a beta that allowed players to experience the game for themselves. You may think that’s the most honest and transparent way to demonstrate what your game will be like, but the problem is that with each of these games, there was no way to know exactly what was going to be contained in the final product after a promising start.
Titanfall was a more egregious example of this, with the final game having a handful of multiplayer modes and the flimsiest attempt at a single-player story in recent memory. Destiny certainly has more substance to it, and yet even during the beta, it was hard to get a full picture of what the game was going to be like.
Well, that’s not strictly true. There were certainly clues that many picked up on, and those who thought the game would be repetitive and empty were right. But others like myself had faith that because it was a beta, the blanks would be filled in by release. I remember thinking that the dead-ends I was running into in Patrol mode would surely be filled with treasure and cool enemies by release. I remember believing the story would pick up and become more interesting in time. I remember hoping that somewhere out there were interesting characters to meet, and missions would become more diverse down the road.
But instead we got the content of the beta repeated four times across four planets (well, three planets and a moon). We didn’t learn until after the fact that “endgame” content was the same content from your first playthrough, repeated on a harder difficulty. A singular raid is coming, and more content is being updated periodically, but again, if it retreads the same ground, the game will still face the same problems.
Erik Kain sums up the “what could have been” problem with the game nicely in his most recent review:
““I pictured an open space game in which you’d travel via spaceship from one planet to the next, to open and vast worlds ready to be explored.
I pictured a shared-world where players would encounter each other as they explored in an exciting and organic way, eschewing traditional concepts of party-based play and the over-crowded nature of most MMORPGs. I wanted to feel like a galactic hero, superful and badass, out in uncharted danger, only encountering my fellow Guardians (of the Galaxy) through luck and at times of great need.
I imagined outposts and other human settlements or military bases sprinkled throughout the galaxy—multiple hubs, essentially—and an actual metropolis rather than just the Tower hub.”
In short, it’s about expectations. The problem is that when we heard news about a shooter MMO from Bungie, we expected all the best things about the two genres. The massive universe with so much to discover. Characters to meet, mysteries to solve, friends to make, and so on. Instead, we got the worst aspects of an MMO, grinding for marginally better gear in repetitive zones, without the backdrop of an interesting universe at all. Bungie got two of their key points right, the amazing visuals and the tight gameplay, but they missed everything else.
And I’ve said it a million times before, but Titanfall, Watch Dogs and Destiny all share a lack of memorable characters. Tell me who the face of each of these games are. For Watch Dogs you have Aiden Pearce, an unlikable, improbable, bland hero. For Titanfall and Destiny, you have faceless space-soldiers. In fact, the “face of Destiny” is probably Peter Dinklage’s Ghost at this point, and I think we can all agree that’s kind of terrible. To become an iconic series, your game has to create icons.
I’m looking back to the year before this one where The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite were both vying to be game of the year. Both were hugely successful and beloved because of the stories they told, and the characters they created. I wrote a post about the mind-bending ending of Infinite which was my most popular of the year simply because people wanted to discuss the story that much. The Last of Us made instant icons out of Joel and Ellie, even if it didn’t innovate all that much in the gameplay department.
This year it feels like three strikes and you’re out. Three games that were sold as new entries that would revolutionize their genre, but ended up disappointing in one way or another because they failed to deliver on that implied or implicit promise. It’s a tough market for new IPs and I hope the lesson here for dev isn’t to stick with sequels. But I think consumers and critics are going to be incredibly wary of future games riding this much hype, even if they’re trying to be transparent through betas and demos.
I think out of all of these titles, there’s the most hope for Destiny. It feels a lot like Diablo 3 at launch in many ways, a game that disappointed at the start, but through hard work and listening to fan feedback was able to patch and expand itself into something pretty great. And given that Destiny even shares many of the exact same problems as Diablo (lackluster loot, a repetitive endgame), there’s literally a roadmap on how to fix these issues.
I like Destiny well enough, but it’s hard not to be disappointed with many aspects of it. Maybe it’s us that have the unrealistic expectations. Maybe despite how much games are advancing, we just can’t have it all between endlessly entertaining content, diverse missions, engaging characters, an interesting plot, easy co-op partying, and a fun and balanced multiplayer. Maybe given the finite resources of game development, we have to pick three of those and be satisfied.
But I hope not. I want that perfect combination of all of the above, and some games get very, very close. It just seems like developers sometimes focus on the wrong issues in an effort to create the next immortal franchise. In this case, Destiny reached in every direction, and in the process became a Jack of all trades, and a master of none.
It’s been a strange year for games when out of Destiny, Watch Dogs and Titanfall, I’d actually pick Wolfenstein: The New Order as a better game than all of them. That game wasn’t making grandiose claims to revolutionize any genre, and yet by doing what it knew well, it managed to surpass everyone’s expectations.
I think there are a lot of lessons to learn here about the importance of story and characters in almost any genre, the balance between proper marketing and complete oversaturation, and games that believe they can add content later and not expect players to be annoyed with a sparse offering at release.
All of these games will get sequels, and I just hope they learn their lessons for next time.