Thursday, February 19, 2015

2014: The Year Video Games Broke My Heart Part 2 - Destiny

Destiny: Be Mediocore

In 2014: The Year Video Games Broke My Heart Part 1 I detailed how the quality deficit in Halo: The Master Chief Collection needs to lead to a change in behavior: no more pre-orders and no more day 1 purchases.

In 2014: The Year Video Games Broke My Heart Part 2 - Game Review Sites Strike Back! shows how a couple game review sites hopefully lead the charge to reviewing the product and experience retail game buyers have before rating a game, which should act as a deterrent to shipping shoddy products to retail.

But flat out broken games weren’t the only huge disappointment in 2014. The most anticipated & hyped game of 2014, Bungie’s Destiny, wasn’t even close to living up to expectations.

What went wrong with Destiny? Destiny is like the best C+ shooter you’ve ever seen. First, here’s what went right:

Before I unload the complaints, I have to tell you dear reader that at the time of this writing I’ve played Destiny for 3 days, 11 hours, 35 minutes! That’s just the shipping game, I also poured a bunch of undocumented hours into the beta. I’m not even a hardcore player, there are tons of people with hundreds of hours played in this game!

What could be so wrong with a game that millions of gamers and I around the world have spent so much time in? A game profitable on day 1? It’s complicated, but even Destiny’s most ardent fans (largely) agree on this:

  • A story that barely makes any sense in game
  • A ton of story shunted off into something called a Grimoire, which is a collection of "cards” to read on a website or app.
  • Laughably bad dialog from a lot of the in-game voice acting (e.g. "I don’t have time to explain what I don’t have time to explain")
  • A bewildering number of currencies and materials (glimmer, vanguard marks, crucible marks, motes of light, strange coins, black wax idols, ascendent shards, ascendent energy, exotic shards, I might have missed something) 
  • A bewildering number of factions to grind reputation for (Vanguard, Crucible, Dead Orbit, New Monarchy, Future War Cult, Iron Banner, Queen, Eris Morn, Cryptarch)
  • Factions (New Monarchy, Dead Orbit, Future War Cult) with hardly any back story or purpose, they’re just vendors of slightly different versions of weapons and armor
  • No Looking For Group tools in game for the toughest challenges, it’s all manual.
  • Notice I didn’t say Matchmaking, which is in the game, but not for the hardest content, and Bungie has “no plans” to do so. (Thankfully , Weekly Strikes Will Soon Be Matchmade).

And this is just for starters. I mean there are so many things wrong, incomprehensibly nonsensical, it truly boggles the mind. Players have spent tons of time on the Bungie community forums documenting this and much, much more…the threads live for a while, then disappear either intentionally or they lose all heat and get auto-scrubbed.

This is a great look at why the game was such a letdown at launch and largely still to this day:


Yet Million Keep Playing…or Are We?

For all the complaints, a lot of people are hooked, digging deep to rationalize their addiction. For me the continued playtime is twofold. I’ve already paid for more content then I’ve received and I remain hopeful Bungie can pull this thing out. What do I mean? I bought the $90 Digital Guardian Edition, which included The Dark Below and House of Wolves expansions. The Dark Below was not an improvement, but more of the same. Still I enjoyed some of the changes, and the missions, while still not making a ton of sense, were decent.

The big hook though is winning that sweet loot. Chasing the carrot (even while there aren’t enough), pulling the slot machine handle one more time, or this time getting the winning lottery ticket. What do I mean? Every reward in the game is handed out at random. Materials, armor, and weapons. There are few guaranteed paths to acquiring everything, and the ones that do exist (Exotic Weapon Bounties) are extremely time consuming. The tantalizing possibility of winning by chance (not earning) loot is the hook that keeps people doing the same repetitive tasks over and over again. Playing the same mission, strike or raid (in ascending order of time & difficulty and thus possible payout) is no different from going to a casino for hours and hunkering down with a bucket of coins and pulling the slot machine handle or tapping spin over and over again.

This is perhaps the biggest disappointment of all. It feels like Bungie went full dark side, embracing every dark pattern used first by the gambling industry and increasingly the video game industry to keep us playing, and playing, and playing to get the loot, to beat the monsters, to get the loot, to beat the monster, ad nauseam.

Yet with all those tricks in full use, hardcore players are hitting a wall while waiting for the The House of Wolves expansion, which is coming out later than many expected. I’m not hardcore enough, I haven’t had enough time, to exhaust the raid content because without matchmatching or in game looking for group (good for you if you like, it’s often too much work for me to put a raid group together. Even with the great DadsOfDestiny clan on my friends list, the game doesn’t help people on your friends list figure out which activities you’d like to do, it’s all website forums or Xbox One (for me) messages.

Yes the addiction is strong, abetted by the promise I can play my characters for a long time, so how could I have avoided this love/hate relationship? Don’t believe the hype.

Call to Action

It happens to all of us from time to time, the hype gets to us, we believe, and spend money before a product is shipped. But with games increasingly the prescription is don’t fork over your money ahead of the game actually shipping (Kickstarter included). Don’t buy expansions before you’ve played the game, you’ll save yourself money, and this stuff is often on sale if the game is good. Wait for reviews of even the most hyped games before plunking down your own sweet loot.

I would not be playing Destiny if I hadn’t already paid $90 for the full game.