Monday, September 22, 2014

Destiny - The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

So it was just a few weeks ago that I was promising I'd blog a bit more often, and here I am already slacking off. Let's remedy that this morning by talking a bit about what I've spent most of my recent time playing - Destiny. There's already been plenty said and written about the game, so my summation will quite likely reiterate some of those other opinions, but I've put enough time in on my own to feel I can at least talk about the parts of the game that I've played.

The Good
At its heart, Destiny is an action RPG. It is most like Diablo, I think, in its mechanics, gameplay, and certainly progression - at least, through most of the leveling process. The core gameplay is that you go down to a dungeon (planet), you kill tons of bad guys for the most thinnest of story-lines and justifications, you collect a bag full of loot and gear, and then you go back to town (the tower), you equip the gear, sell or disassemble what you don't want, pick up another batch of quests, and do it all over again. And in that core game loop, it actually does really well. In fact, if you add in a friend or two that is progressing at roughly the same rate that you are, you will have an absolute blast.

And for me at least, it is during the leveling process, where the gear doesn't matter too much, the progression is relatively straightforward, and the path is clear, that I had the most fun with the game. Especially playing with friends, the variety of story missions, strikes, and patrols, combined with a steady and clear progression of gear and abilities, will keep you coming back night after night. And to make it even more enticing, Destiny's minute to minute gameplay - the combat itself, is also really good. It has a great mix of abilities and specialized mechanics to make the classes feel pretty distinct (once you get beyond level 15 at least), and their weapon system itself is streamlined, yet still provides clear means of modification and enhancement, unlike some shooter MMO's we won't mention (Defiance!).  So if all of this is so good, then why am I already eyeing my return to other MMO's?

The Bad
Well even though the developers of the game would have you believe Destiny is not neccessarily an MMO - it is. And that is okay - in fact it's the reason I was convinced to give the game a try in the first place. And I'm quite comfortable with many of its MMO trappings. But like many MMO's, Destiny will have you play one game when you're leveling your character, and then play an entirely different game if you want to continue to progress after you've reached the level cap. Because once you reach level cap, the only means of progression available to you is through your gear. You now have to get gear that has a completely arbitrary stat to on it that has no bearing on your abilities, but serves solely to increase your virtual level. There are exactly two ways to improve your gear - you can either wade through a convoluted faction and reputation system, attempting to complete specific tasks to earn arbitrary currencies and reputations, and then buy them from vendors, or you can just kill things, and hope that better gear drops for you.  And the important thing to realize is that the difficulty of creatures you are killing has no bearing upon your chances of getting better loot. A level 22 player is just as likely to get a legendary engram a level 2 mob in the Cosmodrome on earth as he is from level 24 mob in a strikeforce on Mars. So for progression, you can either do extremely difficulty content requiring a well coordinated group of players to complete, in order to earn currencies and reputation, or you can just farm the hell out of really easy content. Which leads to the next thing I've encountered, and is probably what will drive me from the game.

The Ugly
So faced with really difficult content, or endlessly farming really easy content, players are going to look for exploits. And Destiny's spawning system provides ample opportunities. So now for progression players are just using spawn farms. And there are plenty. The first one I was made aware of was the mission based one, where at a certain point in the mission mobs of creatures come spilling out, and you can kill them over and over again simply by dying and respawning before the mission advances. But this weekend the big one was the Earth Cave, where you simply stand in a single location and shoot mindlessly into a cave entrance. Do that for a few hours and you can easily gain several light levels. And while Bungie will undoubtedly (hopefully) fix the most egregious of these, they way their mob spawning works means these locations will exist all over their multiple worlds. Just last night I found a similar location on Mars, where I could endlessly respawn a group of Vex and Cabal, just by killing them all out, moving a short distance away, and then return.

The Verdict
Bungie has a lot of work to do to fix the spawn camping exploits that players are using to progress their characters now - if they even can. But even if they do fix those, and they don't replace it with a system that casual players can use to progress, then I wouldn't stay. If the only means to progress in endgame becomes coordinated efforts at specific times with groups of people - ie., raiding - then it's not a game for me. I don't have the time to raid in MMO's that I've loved for over a decade - I won't have time to raid in this one. And those MMO's do provide alternate means of advancement, and I'm happy to make use of them.

So it may sound like I'm running down on Destiny here, but in truth, I'm quite satisfied with my purchase. As I mentioned earlier, Destiny's gameplay is and of itself quite fun. It's the reason I've logged close to 30 hours in the game already. And this comes from a guy that doesn't have a ton of free time to game - and typically places shooters - and console games - at the bottom of types of games he'd like to pay. Even if I don't spent another minute in the game (and I most definitely will), I will have got my money's worth.

So if you can find a friend to play with, and go into Destiny with the expectation that it's like Diablo - loot up, level up, and have a blast killing things, I think you'll have a great time. And then when you get to the endgame, you can decide for yourself if that content is the right mix of difficulty and reward to keep you in the game or not. But even if you don't, still will have had fun getting there.

Note - all of the screenshots in today's blog are stock screenshots from Bungie's site. I play on the XBox One, and it hasn't yet developed sophisticated next gen technology like screenshots. It does allow you to save clips from time to time though, so I invite you to view my collection of clips here:

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