Destiny: Wot I think (Destiny)

by Cody Miller @, Music of the Spheres - Never Forgot, Friday, June 13, 2014, 13:18 (2522 days ago)

I guess I should start with the good and work my way to the bad. Deej said if I ranted on here, I’d been banned from the final, so no caps or forceful language here - just hard hitting analysis. There is a really great game buried here, but it’s underneath a lot of stuff that has the potential to spoil a lot of the content when the full game comes out. Yes, I’m talking about the investment system and boss design.

Graphics are great no complaints. A nice touch is that in orbit you are around the last place you left. So after playing PvP you can be on the dark side of the moon.

If you strip away the investment and progression systems, then you have a really fun first person shooter. The strike and the story mission are great, mostly because they are designed and the spaces you’re navigating have encounters designed for them. The space in Destiny is actually really huge, and in the Alpha so much of it is empty. I’m guessing that every area in the final will have story missions, strikes and raids taking place in them, so all this wonderful world doesn’t go to waste. The drawn distance and 2^2km limit aren’t an issue. The game seems to transition completely seamlessly between spaces with no loading at all, and you see other parts of the world simulated as skybox when you get too far away, so the illusion of size is still preserved. It's perfect.

The weapon system is actually pretty fascinating. It was really confusing how it was going to work until I saw it in action. Basically, you can carry 27 weapons at a time, 9 from each type, and have 3 in slot ready to use. You can at any time swap out a weapon for another, like if you are going from an outdoor space to an indoor space you can swap your special from a sniper to a shotgun. You essentially have a full arsenal at your disposable like a traditional 90s FPS game. The difference, is that when you switch a special or heavy weapon, you lose all your ammo (and you have to enter the menu to make the swap). There are ammo synth packs that you can buy which completely fill your ammo for a given weapon type, so this is not a big deal. However, they have a 4 minute cooldown. This means you’ll be switching either no more often than every 4 minutes, or after encounters when there’s lots of ammo on the ground.

I can guess that weapon management like this is going to be a big deal, especially with the different damage types. You’re probably going to have to have a wide variety of weapons at your disposal, using guns tailored to specific missions or specific parts of missions. You can store even more at the tower. Forget Halo 2, Destiny is the game about guns guns and mo’ guns.

This isn’t as spontaneous as in Halo, and I feel like a lot of Destiny is going to be based on planning rather than improvisation. You could pretty much play Halo and take what guns you think you want on the fly, but I’m guessing in Destiny, especially at higher levels that’s going to be less and less successful and you’ll need to know your shit.

The combat itself feels good, and is a lot of fun. Crank it up to Legend because the enemies on Brave aren’t as great. I’ll get to the levels and damage when I talk about the investment system. Headshots aren’t instakill, they just do critical damage, and various enemies have different critical hit areas. Like how with the flood in Halo 2 you'd ‘headshot’ in them the chest. Especially in the Strike, some of the encounters were set up really well with enemies shooting you from long distance while other charge in, making the experience pretty dynamic (and teamwork very helpful).

There are abilities that aren’t your super, and I wish there were more and a larger variety of them to choose from to make different builds for each class essentially. Particularly fun is the throwing knife the hunter has. If you melee and there’s nobody close you throw a knife, which if it’s a critical hit is does a ton of damage. If you add the knife juggler ability, which resets the skill’s cooldown to zero after a critical hit, it really changes the way you approach things since if good you can string together knife criticals across enemies doing a tons of damage. It doesn’t appear most of the skills change combat in that way though, but maybe that’s because it’s not content complete. Most are ‘passive’ skills.

It just wants to be played co-op, and is really a lot more fun to do it that way. I didn’t have any network problems or lag ever, and my internet sucks. Still, the ability to explore the world offline would be welcome. It's a cool world.

It’s so big though, that you really need to have planned and designed challenges for the spaces. Story missions and Strikes accomplish this, but explore mode doesn’t. Explore mode isn’t very fun, because you are doing tasks that are dumb, in areas that are largely empty and feature scattered groups of enemies. You can think of the experience like Halo ODST: the story missions and strikes are the levels, but explore mode is the mombassa streets. It’s just not that much fun wandering around doing the same types of MMO type quests. You are either killing all the enemies (and possibly collecting what they have), or you are capturing a territory essentially by ‘scouting’ or ‘evaluating’. Some of it is so pointless, all you get is your ghost saying ‘Good Job’ after completion. There’s no sense your actions had an effect on anything.The beacons are always in the same place, but I’m assuming that’s an alpha only thing.

Explore mode could be really cool though, since while mission waypoints are highlighted and revealed to you, I found a bunch of loot chests completely out of the way and hidden. This gives me hope, as what if explore mode had things such as characters, story arcs, and other things to discover. Imagine instead of just doing stupid MMO quests, you actually explore and find a crashed ship with a computer that you can analyze. Or maybe a character still in it. This could propel the story forward, and unlock strikes and story missions. Or maybe really cool weapons are hidden in loot chests. If explore mode can be about exploration, with no handholding and lots of actual cool stuff to find, then it could be really really sweet. That’s they key. All this sweet stuff in explore mode has to be like that sweet puzzle in Bioshock Infinite. As it is now, you get bad weapons in loot chests and boring quests, and it’s really not a lot of fun. This is why the Alpha leak video made the game look like it sucks. Because for the most part, explore mode does suck.

The tower is nice an all, but in reality all it does is make the mundane and cleanup tasks you have to do take longer. You get weapon drops you need to identify before using them, and this can only be done at a certain dude in the tower. There’s a reason Diablo did away with this and now just lets you right click to identify an item anywhere: it basically just adds unnecessary steps and strings the task out. You should be able to enter the menu, and hold square to identify the item. You can dismantle items anywhere, so why not identify? It’s the same thing with commerce. It’s just time consuming needlessly to walk around from person to person. A better solution would be a store menu you can access while in orbit, that has everything from everybody. It would be way easier. Look at Final Fantasy XIII, even they realized the convenience of menu shopping, and that actually traveling to your merchants doesn’t add anything to the experience. Need to buy something? Select the tower, wait for it to load, travel to the merchant (if you can remember who has what you want), buy it, then leave. Or do it my way, go to orbit, open the shop menu, and buy, leaving more time for strikes. I get that the tower is probably supposed to have character progression and story details happen there, but that could still happen. Just move the commerce into something more streamlined.

My worry for the story though, is that all these bits will come in piecemealed. I’m hoping the story missions will lead into each other and pretty much play like a campaign. What would be a shame is if it ended up like the Starcraft 2 campaign, which because of the nature of being able to select missions in any order, the missions don’t significantly effect the story until you get close to the end and they then have a fixed order. The strikes, raids, and explore should all be back, side, or behind story. Think of it like Deus Ex. There’s a main story, but tons of side stuff to deepen or twist it. I’m wondering if there will be a main storyline with everything else as side stuff, or if it will have everything be side stuff like in SC2. Only Bungie knows right now.

You’re reading and you think the game sounds cool, but I haven’t talked about the investment system yet. This is potentially going to be a problem, and make the game less fun. First of all, when you change the difficulty level, the enemies level up. Instead of making the enemies more aggressive, more numerous, and of different types, they become more powerful. This is a problem because your ability to do damage is pretty dependent on your gear and level. There’s an underground space in the game which contains a few enemies that have ??? as their level. Shoot them, and you do 1 damage. I don’t care how good you are, but you can’t kill them. That’s… bullshit.

That’s the extreme case, but it will impact your ability to play normal stuff. Try playing the first story mission on Legend when you are level 3. It’s doable, but kind of tedious since the Wizard has lots of HP and you have no heavy. You can use your golden shot 3 times and not kill it. However, once you are level 8, go back and play it on Legend, and you will absolutely breeze though it.

I think difficulty needs to be separate from leveling. Basically, enemies should be the same level regardless of difficulty you are on. If you do a strike and set it to Brave, the enemies should be the same level as Legend. The only difference is that there should be more of them, they should be of different types, and they should be smarter. What difficulty you play on should be dependent upon your skill, not how much damage you can do. That’s why difficulties are around in the first place: so regardless of your skill, you can find the game challenging. When you base the ability to play on higher difficulties on your damage output, when you are starting out and have low damage output, you are forced to play easy stuff even if you are really good. Then you get bored. This is where the mix of MMO and FPS collide, and sour instead of enhancing the experience.

Boss and mini boss design is likewise based on your ability to do damage. Bosses and minibosses have way to much HP. It’s absurd. Bosses are supposed to be lethal and intense, not a grind to kill. Worse, is that neither the walker nor the big orb boss vary their AI or attack pattern. If you are level 6 doing the level 6 strike, without access to a heavy weapon, you and your team are going to be pecking away at these bosses for tens of minutes, all the while dodging the same attacks because you figure them out pretty quickly. It becomes a test of patience, not skill. I understand that Bungie wants crews to have to figure out how to kill bosses, and bring in that MMO vibe, but fighting them needs to actually be fun. Given that you can always revive your allies, it’s not really going to present a challenge so much as a battle of attrition. If you prepare for these bosses, by coordinating on the leg with heavy weapons for the walker, and by having one person take of the enemies while the other two take turns shooting the orb with their heavys, it’s not so bad and doesn’t take too long. Bungie needs to make bosses fun to try to kill if you aren’t prepared. Basically, if you aren’t prepared the boss should be fun to fight but wipe you out. If you are prepared, it should be fun to fight and you kick its ass. The solution is to up the lethality, lower the HP dramatically, and give the bosses better AI and more dynamic behavior and attack patterns. I am nearly certain that the final game will have better bosses. It just has to.

That to me gives me glimpse of where it looks like high level content in this game is going. I don’t necessarily like it. The signs are there that it’s leading towards MMO type bosses that take insane gear and lots of time to take down. I’m not against having boss fights be puzzles and you and your team having to figure them out. Figuring out the strat, and what weapons to use is fine, and it can be fun. But getting it wrong should mean you die and fail, not slog on for tens of minutes. So yes, while I was able to figure out how to beat the alpha bosses in reasonably quick and easy ways, that's only because I ended up level 8. Try doing it at level 6. It's not possible. I guarantee you there are going to be bosses in the final game, that will require certain damage output and level in addition to strategy. Strategy takes a leap of intuition to formulate. Leveling up just takes time.

So what do I think? This MMO with FPS elements has tons and tons of potential, but also places where it could stumble hard. That being said, I've been really really enjoying myself. Is that because the game is great? Is that because the level cap is so easy to hit in the alpha that it's hiding the woes of the investment system? Probably both.

This is a buy. Whether it's played casually or played harder is entirely dependent on how much content the investment system spoils. I have no patience for bullshit, but I'm pretty sure even if my worse case scenario comes true there will be enough that isn;t bullshit for the game to be fun.

Tune in Monday for a rampancy videocast where you can see all the modes in action from someone who doesn't suck (maybe at PvP :-p)

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