Understanding Destiny

Published on: Sep 17, 2014 @ 15:41

This article by Gamesradar is absolutely wonderful, and is worth reading if you feel that the game is lacking in some way. There’s been a few reviews that have been quick to “score” Destiny, not bothering to even play the raid content first, or the additional modes coming very soon. While it’s understandable that reviewers are just critiquing what they have available to them at that moment, as this article points out, it’s very premature to do so. [divider]

There are two games called Destiny around at the moment. Both of them are by Bungie. Both of them released last week. One of them is a soaring, confoundingly large, dizzyingly ambitious, and seamlessly realised MMOFPS. Refined yet intricate in its systems, immensely, endlessly gratifying in its combat, it’s truly exciting in its long-term scope. The other is a short FPSRPG with a tiny level-cap, that you’ll finish in a day.

But only the first of these games really exists. The other is a hallucination, fabricated via a jabbering combination of under-researched misinformation, knee-jerk reactions, and standard-issue internet cynicism. It’s a hallucination that an unfortunate proportion of the gaming populace seems to have bought into over the last week, propelled seemingly in part by an unfortunate proportion of early (far too early) online impressions of the game.

Now you’ll notice that GamesRadar still doesn’t have a scored review of Destiny up yet, over a week since the game launched (though you can read my ongoing review diary here). There’s a very good reason for that. It’s still too soon. It’s too soon to appraise Destiny’s full potential as the evolving, long-term prospect it was conceived as. It’s too soon to properly appraise Destiny’s current content. It’s still too soon to have even played its current content. Those early verdicts from writer and gamer alike, erroneously shrieking about its low level cap, basic systems and short story? They came from people who hadn’t comprehended Destiny, not really. They came from confoundedly wrong perspectives of a game not understood, viewed as something it is not, and judged by criteria irrelevant to its nature.

Because to judge Destiny’s story as short–and it really isn’t–is to surmise a game’s quality based on the experience you had playing through its tutorial. To appraise Destiny’s content as lacking is to determine a house to be small, having viewed its interior only through the keyhole of the front door. And to state that Destiny’s level cap is too low, and its scope for achievement and progress stunted, is to flat-out state that you haven’t bloody played the thing and should really shut up right about now.

Because Destiny really does only start once you hit level 20. Because Destiny is a far cleverer, far bigger, and far less finite game than some are choosing to give it credit for. It doesn’t communicate its full breadth of horizons to start with, but it ultimately bears very little resemblance to the standard, linear, AAA shooter. Nor do its RPG elements make it simply Halo with levelling. Its scope goes much wider than that. It isn’t a mook-grinding, loot-grabbing, Borderlands 2.5 either. Its focus is much more precise, and intricate than that.

What Destiny does with its ‘main’ story is craft a smart, sympathetic segue through which players only familiar with traditional FPS can graduate from the land of A-to-B shooting to the wider world of the more malleable, expansive action-MMO. The true game–not the pure shooter, or even the shooter with loot drops, but the true game–only starts to reveal itself between levels 16 and 20. Rare loot begins to appear relatively frequently from 16 onwards. That loots starts to appear with extra stats you won’t have seen before. Stats for Intellect, Discipline and Strength. Stats that you’d been aware of, but never understood until this ‘late’ stage of the game.

Then you’ll come to understand those stats. And you’ll come to understand that they’re the first building block in really customising your character. You’ll learn that each stat boosts the cooldown on one of your special abilities. And if you really think about it, you’ll then realise this means that deliberately combining different pieces of armour with different elements of your skill-trees will create feedback loops, causing skills and buffs to resonate with each other to create even more powerful effects.

And still, this is just intro-level stuff.

Get closer to level 20, and you’ll start getting weapon and armour-drops with additional, increasingly creative properties, via their own skill-trees. Guns that save ammo on missed shots. Helmets that recharge character-abilities faster when you kill certainenemies.Guns with double-powerful ammo in the second half of their mag. Guns that draw faster. Gauntlets that cause even more powerful cooldown loops, especially if you combine them with the right gun, Intellect, Discipline and Strength stats. And we’re still just getting started.

Hit the ‘level-cap’ that everyone is moaning about, and you’ll discover that you have now completed Destiny’s tutorial. Congratulations. Welcome to the big leagues. By the way, there are now a load more game systems to learn.

Now you can start buying the Rare and Legendary gear that does all this stuff. You can more actively pick and choose the combinations and abilities you want. Exotic gear is coming too, later down the line, and the good Lord only knows what that will do. But you can’t just buy this stuff. Even if you accrue enough of one of the four new, functionally distinct currencies, you still have to have a high enough reputation with the vendors first. That means having high enough Crucible and Vanguard XP ratings from PvP and PvE. And whether you go to the general store owners or the class-tailored faction vendors–whose stuff offers the potential for killer buff feedback loops, as long as you commit your progress to the cabal in question–you’ll only get those from completing Bounties, the Achievement-style challenges you ignored as a pointless diversion before level 20. Surprise! They’re fundamental to the whole damn thing, and you never realised ‘til now.

But haven’t we already hit the level cap at this point? Oh yeah, sorry, I didn’t mention. Destiny just starts using a new leveling system after 20, based on the amount of Light your armour is carrying. Light is another new property that only appears after level 20, and it will take your level as high as you want to go if you can acquire the right stuff, long-term. I’ve seen level 28s running around already. I’m at 24 and-a-half myself, after more than a week of solid play.

But why bother continuing to level up if the game is over? Well, as should be searingly predictable by now, Destiny is–everybody sing it with me–just getting started. Because you now have access to high-level, ludicrously challenging Strike missions, designed for a mandatory three players. And you can remix those previous story levels with new difficulty, new enemies, and a whole bunch of abstract gameplay modifiers. And then a little later, you’ll unlock in the Nightfall missions. These come in daily and weekly flavours, refreshed respectively, and combine high challenge with game-mod lunacies, such as enemies having higher defence, quirky immunities, and being more susceptible to certain elemental weapons. The very same elemental weapons I haven’t even got access to at level 24, because I haven’t got the crafting system rolling yet.

And then there are the full-blown Raids–the first one of which is only releasing today–which promise to provide, if not the long-term backbone of Destiny, then a great deal of the vertebrae. There are few details on these yet, but they are going to be big, they are going to be hard, and they are going to demand a team of six players before they even let you try. There’s talk that Raids being tested out at Bungie incorporate new platforming, puzzling and problem-solving elements not seen anywhere else in the game so far, and can take anywhere from 3 – 16 hours to complete, depending on how smart your team is. Today’s Raid has a recommended starting level of 26. Just to get through the door. Of Destiny’s first ever Raid.

You see why I’m not reviewing Destiny yet? And why I’m wary of anyone who has? You see why I’m waiting at least until I’ve played the first Raid? You see why, even then, I’ll be reluctant to stick a number on the end of the words, knowing that there are three free content expansions dropping into the game world over just the next six weeks, before the first big DLC arrives later this year?

I write a lot of reviews. I know how long they take to craft. I know how long they take to upload to a website and design as a page. So I can take a good guess at how much play-time I can take off any Destiny verdict already delivered. And so far they’ve all come too soon. Hell, a Destiny review that landed today would still be too soon. Look out for mine some time around the end of the week.

No, it might well not be the first one you read, but I don’t care about that. On a game like Destiny, I’m not interested in chasing the perceived traffic win that supposedly comes inherent to the first review to hit the ‘net. I’m interested in really understanding this game, getting it right, and telling you what you really need to know. I understand why others haven’t taken that route, but if I’m investing this much time in playing Destiny and communicating it to you, I want to make sure that we all get the maximum value out of that experience. That sound fair?