Destiny’s Design – Hamster Wheel in Space

Destiny Screenshot

Photo by Videogame Photography CC BY 2.0

Before Destiny came out most people were describing it as the world’s first MMORPGFPS, a classification that developer and future world overlord Bungie Studios was hesitant to embrace. Besides the fact that MMORPGFPS doesn’t have nearly enough letters in the title to be catchy, it doesn’t really describe Destiny. Destiny is a shooter masquerading as an MMO. Oh sure, on the surface it might look like an MMO, after all it is wearing all the trappings of one, but like ground beef at Taco Bell, what you see isn’t exactly what you get.

Destiny is first and foremost a shooter. It comes from a distinguished ancestry of shooters, so the shooting is quite good. There are three different categories of guns: primary, special, and heavy, and each category contains a suite of archtypes all of which in turn contain a vast array of weapons. Each type of gun is satisfying to use, and more importantly, feels distinct. Your playstyle will change substantially if you swap from a Scout Rifle to a Hand Cannon for instance. No matter what you’re using though, it’s very satisfying to blow the heads off endless hordes of aliens. That’s a good thing too since that’s pretty much all you’ll ever do. Well, let me take that back. Sometimes you blow the heads off endless hordes of robots.

Its one of the central issues with the game: there’s nothing to do except shoot things. MMOs rely on large scale social interaction, a huge immersive world, and the feeling of being part of something bigger than yourself. Destiny captures none of that.

Despite having a so-called “social hub” called The Tower, it is impossible to interact with other players. Well, you can throw impromptu dance parties with random people, but that counts as social interaction about as much as a creepy stare counts as flirting. Unless you have some friends to play with, Destiny is a silent world filled with random people going about their business. You may be fighting the same enemy and completing the same objectives, but you certainly are not doing it as a community.

The game world is satisfactorily huge and sprawling, but it’s barren. Enemies mill around aimlessly waiting to have their heads blown off, and there are treasure chests dotted about the landscape for you to crack open, but the environments have no soul. There’s no environmental storytelling, nothing to interact with, no characters to meet, nothing interesting to explore. Every planet you visit is just a big sandbox with no toys in it. Maybe the aliens took all the toys. That’s why we’re blowing their heads off.

These two factors together make investment in the world of Destiny nearly impossible. Despite a plethora of available activities including story missions, strikes, and exploration, everything basically boils down to running to a specific location in the same environment and killing a whole bunch of aliens (or robots). The activities are so repetitive that you can’t attach a sense of import to what you’re doing. Shooting stuff might be fun, but it’s not enough to sustain the game by itself. But Destiny has an answer to this problem, and that’s where the RPG part of this game comes into play.

Destiny may fall flat on its face as an MMO, but it has the RPG thing down. Literally every aspect of the game has a progression system layered into it. Your character levels up. Your abilities level up. Your guns level up. Your armor levels up. You get experience points for everything. You find guns and armor all over the place. Every activity in the game yields some form of currency you can use to buy better stuff. Destiny isn’t a game about destroying wicked aliens from beyond the confines of space and time. It’s a game about running in a hamster wheel trying to get the next cool item.

The presence of this one system solves nearly every issue faced by this game. Yes, the world is bland. Yes, the gameplay is repetitive. No, you can’t talk to other players. But man, that gun is so cool and I only have to play 25 more strikes to get it. After that does anyone want to go collect upgrade materials with me? I need 64 pieces of Relic Iron to max out this helmet I’ve got, and I need to do that to get to the next level. Then once I get there I’ll be strong enough to attempt the end-game Raid so I can get an even better helmet. Then I can throw this one away and start upgrading the new one to level up my character again so that I can do the Raid on hard…

Next up: the story.

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