In a previous post I expressed some frustration with a few points against Destiny. From that I boiled it down to it’s seven worst offenses that I wished would be addressed. This was written back in May heading into it’s second expansion, House of Wolves. Now we’re knocking on the door of it’s third expansion dubbed The Taken King. I couldn’t think of a better time to check the score card on how Bungie has fared with tackling some of these issues within Destiny. Let’s dive in and see how things have or haven’t improved over the past five months.
1) Story (Fixed)
The launch of Destiny was surrounded with controversy regarding the game being heavily modified from what it was when it was first revealed. Stories swirled about marketing dictating the Traveler serve as an icon of the series as Halo’s rings did, and that the writer’s original plan of making it the villain of the story was squashed. The departure of key people played into that story quite well. So what was shipped was a Frankenstein’s monster style assembly of what was finished, then further butchering the content so they could have a constant flow of DLC expansions mapped out. We’ll never know the truth of that. All we do know is a lot of people were unhappy with the disjointed and seemingly unfinished end product they got on launch day. It was underwhelming given both the history of Bungie’s work and the expectations created by the hype train. Without being able to retcon the original game entirely they seemed to have made due by improving the quality of the story with each expansion. If they could manage to string in some of the established grimoire lore during play or even at loading screens it could go a long way to remedying the questions of who and why that bubble up during the game. Item descriptions drop proper nouns like they’re going out of style. Who are Osiris, Toland, or Saint-14? What are the Battle of Six Fronts, Twilight Gap, or The Vault of Glass? There’s so much story that can be pieced together that is written. Unfortunately Bungie doesn’t help the players realize this since the grimoire cards and their supplemental texts can’t even be accessed in the game itself. Throw the players a bone here, ya know?
I’ve always envisioned Destiny’s base game as a Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting, meant to serve as the backdrop for greater tales. With most D&D campaign books you get an intro module at the back of the book to help players get comfortable with the world. The expansions of The Dark Below and House of Wolves acted as new modules for your characters to run through. The dungeon crawler aspect of the game just solidifies this comparison. For those who aren’t big on tabletop games, imagine it bit like each episode being self-contained story versus a giant serialized epic. Sure enough TDB got the ball rolling with a far more concise and rewarding story. The missions carried a central storyline and villain through out, which lead into the strike. This naturally lead into the final assault on Crota with the raid, completing the self-contained story within the expansion. HoW, the second expansion, stayed true to this path with creating a new story that connected to the world of Destiny through a post-campaign adventure that again was self-contained. In this remote location of the world an event happened, a villain was established, allies were gained, and the content (mostly) felt like a natural progression of the story. The placement of Trials of Osiris and Prison of Elders were nice additions but didn’t necessarily feel like they were connected to the overall narrative told with Skolas in HoW’s story.
With talk of a restructured original story for the base game, a new recording and dialog for Ghost’s lines, and the new story of The Taken King referencing the events from the first expansion makes it seem like Bungie is starting to really focus on telling a cohesive tale of our Guardians tromping about space. I’d say this issue has been fixed as much as it can be and hopefully should be a non-issue for players who are picking up the game fresh this year.
2) Training/Tutorials (Unchanged)
Destiny did a horrible job of explaining anything unique to the ambitious game. There are mechanics at play like how elemental shields/weapons work, what the attack on weapons indicate, how light levels work, how to combo perks together, how levels affect damage output, etc. I’m not sure if this is a Souls-influenced decision to not explain anything and forcing a community to grow as they cling together to piece it out… but the esoteric design would only be improved by clarifying some of the systems in play. As it stands after the first two expansions and various updates there have been no attempts to remedy this. Destiny doesn’t have any tutorial sections or in-game guide to explain anything beyond a one or two sentence blurb for select items when highlighted. Shame on Bungie for being so lazy here, and hopefully the restructured campaign launched with TTK helps to bridge this gap in understanding how the game operates beyond “shoot, kill, loot”.
3) Light Levels (Impending fix with The Taken King expansion)
Probably one of the worst offenses with throwing the players at content with no real explanation came in the form of light levels. First 20 levels were XP driven from killing mobs or completing missions and objectives. Once you hit level 20 all of that ended and you were left to navigate the oddly structured light-level system. Some gear drops with a “light level” value on it, which then adds up to progressing to level 34 at random intervals. This barrier also halted progress for a lot of players because you couldn’t obtain top level gear without running one raid excessively in hopes of acquiring the drop you seek, then continually after that to get the materials to upgrade that gear to unlock it’s maximum light level. In short it was a horrible system and thankfully it’s being tossed. With TTK they plan on increasing the level maximum to 40, all of which is acquired through traditional XP gains just as 1-20 were in the base game. The term “light level” is sticking around but being rebuilt to show an overall character rating, but it won’t actually affect your level. It’s sort of a summary of your gear. While I’m not thrilled with the idea of having an efficiency benchmark as it generally is only ever used for elitism – I’m still very happy to have it disconnected from your actual progression. Consider this one fixed come September 15th.
4) Too Many End Game Currencies (Mostly Fixed)
At the back end of the game there were WAY too many currencies to balance. Two kinds of marks, a dozen reps, glimmer, two kind of commendations, three types of shards, motes of light(MoL)… It was just a mess. Without pissing off a lot of players Bungie couldn’t outright eliminate the value of all the various currencies. They seem to have acknowledged the issue by allowing the exchange of currencies from one to another to create a bit of liquid income. Shards can become MoL, commendations were eliminated, and shards were removed for a more general unit of upgrade currency called Etheric Light which worked for all armor and weapon upgrades. With all these changes it seems Bungie understands the importance of getting this right and ditching the convoluted juggling nightmare they inadvertently put themselves into. It’s too early to guarantee but I have a feeling this won’t be an issue going forward with TTK. I’m expecting to see things further reduced down to glimmer (money), MoL & strange coins (special purchases), and some evolved form of Etheric Light (upgrading gear). I’m gonna write this one in as a mostly fixed with hope for a cleaner future.
5) Cosmetic Variety (Fixed)
End game Destiny had a big issue with everyone being a copy of each other. Since level was tied to gear with the bizarre Light Level system everyone had to equip the same base set of gear to reach the max level. The only variance came from swapping out a piece of that gear for an exotic armor piece, but even with that you were limited to a very few good choices from a small pool of armor pieces. I was begging for something similar to transmogrifying your gear in Diablo 3 to let you get the build you wanted without compromising what appeals to you aesthetically. The creation of Etheric Light with the House of Wolves expansion gave you the ability to bring any piece of legendary armor up to the highest light level. Effectively this unbinds your level and gear allowing you to customize your appearance a lot more. While I’d love for them to take it a step further to create a wardrobe collection of everything you’ve owned and assign that skin on top of the armor’s default look. Reason being is it’d be great to separate all stats from cosmetic aspects of the armor. For now though I’d consider the big issue fixed. No longer will you see an army of clones running amok in the social spaces.
6) Players vs Devs (Undetermined)
I understand the frustration of things not being played as intended. I’ve run D&D campaigns where the players completely blow through or sidestep an hours of planning with one fell swoop of creativity or lucky dice rolls. My solution would be to adapt with the players and learn from it going forward in future events. When players unraveled the design of Destiny’s systems and made it work to their favor Bungie took the opposite approach and instead of rewarding the creativity by letting it ride, they’d alter their designs to force you to play their way. This goes from eliminating the infamous loot cave to raid shortcuts to maximizing weapon potential to altering boss patterns. For better or worse they’re constantly adjusting the game to make it more difficult for the players whenever a creative solution comes around. Of all of Destiny’s sins this seems to be the one that is most divisive with it’s players. Personally I’m not a fan of constantly adjusting weapons, fluctuating your favorite weapon from garbage to super awesome and then back down to a relic of better times. Altering what exists and is established will always irk me. Unfortunately Bungie doesn’t give a damn and sees no wrong in fudging the roll on the fly. It’s been awhile since they’ve had to make any adjustments to these kinds of tactics. Almost nothing in House of Wolves was altered after release, but they do have a new patch of gun “rebalancing” expected to drop before the next expansion.
7) The Endless Game with Endless Expansions (partially fixed)
Artificial timesinks in the form of artificial barriers. I hinted at it previously in the currency sin that Bungie loved to create convoluted progression systems that were completely dependent on luck and repetition. It definitely extended the time investment playing at that point as you constantly chased after your goal just before a new expansion releases. I believe Bungie started to get away from the philosophy of “anything to keep the players playing” with House of Wolves. Only a few weeks after it’s release I felt I was at a place where I could relax and just play the game because it was fun and I wanted to, not because I was compelled by the chase of reaching max level. My theory behind their change of attitude is rooted in there being enough content in-game now to justify it as an experience worth seeking. Obtaining level 34 isn’t bloody awful and doesn’t require repeated raids with five fellow Guardians sans-matchmaking. Enough paths have been created to the point of where it isn’t an exclusive club and you have direct control over your progression now. Iron Banner and Trials of Osiris have breathed so much life into the Crucible(PVP) side of Destiny as well that it’s a sustainable experience in of itself. PvE benefited from Prison of Elders creating a constant variable and challenge for modest sized groups of three. Suddenly that content that’s only seen by the organized top-end few as pretty much everyone can run PoE on some level to advance their character. With all these options you can get what you want out of Destiny and walk away feeling like you had a fulfilling gaming session with some form of a conclusion for the night. Assuming TTK doesn’t return to a carefully constructed climb to expire just before the next smaller expansion releases I’d consider this another partially fixed. It’s too early to tell if Bungie is willing to give us room to breath and play other games or keep us committed for another 9 years of releases… I’m really hoping there’s a gap before they release Destiny 2 so I can finally get to some other games like Witcher 3 or Dragon Age Inquisition. I hear they’re worth a look. =P
So three fixed issues (come TTK release), two partially fixed issues, and two unchanged. All and all it’s nice to see the developers actively working towards solutions for their communities woes. I don’t necessarily agree with their methods all the time. I’ll take what I can get though and hope for constant improvement on Bungie’s part. At this point I’ve already thrown in over 500 hours, more so than any game SERIES in the last decade for me. It’s safe to say I’m willing to stick around a little longer as they figure their way through this wonderfully flawed game.