The Crucible is Destiny’s competitive PvP multiplayer mode. It’s where Guardians go to take a break from murdering the minions of the Darkness by murdering each other instead. At first, I wanted some sort of narrative justification for The Crucible, but like with everything else in the game, one wasn’t forthcoming. I like to think that being woken up from the dead gave all the Guardians severe brain damage and that they are now all homicidal maniacs as a result. It would certainly explain why you can dance with someone one moment, and then liquefy his kidneys with Space Magic five minutes later. Frankly though, after a couple of games the reason and the why stopped mattering to me. Liquefying people’s kidneys is really fun.
Destiny’s PvP falls right in the middle of the competitive multiplayer spectrum. On the one hand you have your arena shooters where everyone starts off with the same guns and the same abilities, and only player skill decides the victor. That would be your Halo 2. On the other hand you have your class based shooters where everyone has different guns, custom abilities, and player skill is deemphasized in favor of light hearted, hectic environment. That would be your Call of Duty. Destiny incorporates elements of both along with some shiny newness of its own, allowing it to appeal to fans of both designs.
At its core, Destiny is a class based shooter. The Guardian that you have built by fighting the Darkness in the game’s other modes is the same Guardian you use to murder your fellow players in The Crucible. Your guns, your armor, and your abilities are all the same, allowing you to customize your playstyle as you see fit. However, this is tempered by an arena shooter element: ammo drops. Similar to Halo, which placed power weapons on the map for players to fight over, Destiny places special and heavy ammo on the map. The distinction is that in Destiny you can bring any weapon you want to the party; you just have to earn your ammo. It’s an interesting compromise between player freedom and map balance.
In terms of the mechanics of combat, Destiny retains Halo’s emphasis on player skill. Your ability to land headshots is what separates you from the common rabble. Despite having kill times so fast that they border on twitch shooting, Destiny keeps things just slow enough to maintain a skill gap. If you hammer all your shots directly into your enemy’s cranium, he’ll go down in a heartbeat. But miss a shot, and he might be the one who takes you down. The ability to out-shoot your opponents is what makes The Crucible satisfying to me. I hate instant deaths. If someone shoots me first, I like knowing that I can still win that engagement if my aim is better. This is why I’ve always enjoyed Halo’s multiplayer.
Halo’s gameplay was once described as a golden triangle of guns, grenades, and melee. Those elements are present in Destiny as well, but Destiny’s formula is more of a lopsided trapezoid. Destiny’s Space Magic throws a new spin on the shooter formula. Each class of character can trigger a spectacular Super Move several times per game that greatly alters the flow of a match. For example, Nova Bombs disintegrate whole groups of enemies, Ward of Dawn creates an impenetrable shield, and Arc Blade can cut its way through hordes of enemies with impunity. Supers are such a raw expression of power that using them is incredibly satisfying, but they pretty much destroy game balance. In fact, the presence of Supers in Destiny is what makes complaints about the game being imbalanced rather moot.
In an arena shooter, balance is everything. All players have to be perfectly equal so that only player skill can determine the victor. But that’s an antiquated design philosophy. Sure it’s fun, but it’s harder and requires more dedication and time. Few games adhere fully to that formula anymore. Most shooters incorporate playstyle customization into the game. The more customization you allow, the more randomness you introduce. The more randomness you introduce, the less balanced the game will be. As an RPG, Destiny is built around player customization and is therefore inherently imbalanced by design. Considering the number of variables Bungie had to work with, I think it’s a big accomplishment that The Crucible isn’t a nuthouse. Alright, it’s still a bit of a nuthouse, but it’s the kind of nuthouse that’s still fun to play in.
Next up: The Raid