Alright, time to address the elephant in the room. Is Destiny a good game? Yes. Is it a great game? No. Was it going to be a great game? Arguably, yes. In the weeks following the game’s debut to mixed reviews there was a pretty high profile leak (peruse it here if you like) from a supposed employee at Bungie studios who spilled the beans about the game’s cut content and troubled development cycle. Of course, this leak can’t be authenticated, but the legitimacy of the leak isn’t really important. You don’t need an insider to see that Destiny went through some tough times during its infancy. The evidence is splattered all over the game.
So, let’s make a list of obviously cut content shall we?
- Character race is completely pointless. You can select either Human, Awoken, or EXO when you make your character, but that choice is purely cosmetic. It has no affect on the gameplay or the story. C’mon. No RPG does that. Character race is one of the tools RPGs use to give their games longevity. Making a new character of a different race and experiencing the world from a new perspective (often with new gameplay elements) is standard genre convention. Heck, Dragon Age: Origins is built on the concept. Clearly the races were homogenized together so we could have one “catch all” story.
- Where is Mercury? Despite the fact that the planet is directly referenced in the story, and that a multiplayer map is set there, Mercury remains conspicuously absent from the rest of the game. The multiplayer map is the real tell. The final game includes a skybox for Mercury, a vignette of your ship flying there, and even a fully rendered planet for when your ship is in orbit around Mercury, but you can’t actually go there?! Preposterous!
- What about Saturn? If you watch Destiny’s old ViDoc from 2013, you’ll notice that Bungie actually says, “you can go to Saturn.” But there’s no Saturn in the final game.
- The game is packed with unused stuff. There are bunkers with special names and nothing in them, groups of incredibly powerful enemies guarding nothing, and even entire locations that are purposefully blocked off to make them inaccessible. The fact that they actually shipped finished environments on the disc that are totally unused just reeks of last minute cuts.
- The people in The Tower only exist to sell you gear. You can’t talk to them, they take no part on the story, and you can’t learn anything about them in game, but some of them actually have well known voice actors. Heck, Bill Nighy is The Speaker and Nathan Fillion, star of Firefly, voices the Hunter Vanguard. The work of these actors is woefully underutilized. If these characters were only ever intended to be simple gear vendors, Bungie wouldn’t have hired famous actors to voice them.
- Factions in The Tower are underdeveloped. When I first played The Beta I had no idea what the factions even were, but I gave the game the benefit of the doubt. That was a Beta. Stuff wasn’t done yet. I was sure they would matter more in the final game. But they don’t. They just exist. They have nothing to do with anything and all you get from them is more guns and gear. They’re basically just another glorified vendor. There’s no way that’s what they were originally intended to be.
- All of the game’s lore is in a database outside the game. Nobody builds an enormous world filled with lore and backstory and then sticks it on the Internet where nobody will read it.
When you look at all this together, it becomes clear that the game is a shadow of what it was meant to be. The blatant omissions in content are more damning than any supposed leak on the Internet ever could be. What went wrong though? As to that we can only speculate, but there are a few things we know.
Destiny spent around four years in development. That’s a long time for any game, especially in an environment of yearly franchise installments. With Activision acting as publisher, it’s possible that deadlines were imposed which forced the developers to curtail their vision. That’s what we’d like to think anyway. Everybody already hates Activision; let’s just blame it on them. However, there were problems at Bungie too.
In September of 2013, three years into Destiny’s development cycle, Joe Staten, lead writer for the game and cinematics director, quit the company after 15 years of working there. Joe was the lead writer for the original Halo trilogy and was one of Bungie’s most famous employees among their fans. Personally, I point to his departure as the reason why the story in Destiny is terrible. The problems didn’t stop there either.
A few months later in April of 2014 head composer and audio lead Marty O’Donnell was fired for undisclosed reasons. As head composer on the Halo games, Marty had created some of the most iconic scores in video game history and had become one of the most famous game composers alive today. Fan shock and outcry over Marty’s termination was intense. Despite forceful demand for information and for Marty’s immediate re-hire, Bungie refused to provide an explanation for his termination. He has since won a lawsuit against his former employer for the return of his share of founder’s stock and $95,000 in wages and vacation time.
Clearly, things were not going well at Bungie during the development of Destiny. The game they created is fun, but it’s a poor substitute for what it was meant to be. Destiny was going to be the next epic franchise, something bold, inventive, and unique that would stand apart from all other games. It ended up being little more than a social shooting gallery. Yet despite its shortcomings, Destiny has still provided my friends and me with hours upon hours of entertainment. It’s even helped hold our little group together as we diverge across colleges and careers. I thank Destiny for that and remain optimistic about the game’s future. But every now and then when I think back to the pre-release euphoria, I can’t help but wonder at what could have been.