Friday, September 26, 2014

I'm too "casual" for Destiny.

Bungie has taken steps to address Destiny's loot problem in an upcoming patch.  Also, while I'm linking to Kotaku, can I just say that Kotaku's Destiny review was the best, most in-depth, even-handed Destiny review I've seen?  I don't often give ups to Kotaku, but Kirk Hamilton's Destiny review is an exhaustive look at what works and what doesn't.

I read it before I wrote mine and it made me not want to write one at all.  It'd be like building a sand castle next to a sand-ziggurat.

The news of a loot system that doesn't drive players towards treasure caves (Destiny, it seems, has produced a new gaming term) does spark a little flame of desire to return to the game and shoot more things - I've also heard they're buffing scout rifles, which are my weapon of choice - and I feel like maybe running around Mars or Venus after having spent some time away will allow my heart to grow a bit fonder.

There's this cynical part of me that feels like anyone who could give Destiny 10/10 are - for lack of a better word - "casuals."  Definitely the wrong word.  I mean...

I've no doubt there are people out there who buy one game a year.  If that.  Those people exist - in fact, they probably outnumber "gamers" like you and I by an order of magnitude - and when they get a game, it's all they play.  They will play the crap out of that one game all year and beyond, and love it to bits, and can't say that it's not as good as such-and-such a game in such-and-such a way because they've only played four or five games, total, for the PS3, and have no frame of reference.

What I'm saying is, in a vacuum - with no contemporaries to compare it to - Destiny could easily be considered a masterwork, and a spectacular way to spend a year with a controller.

'Course you could say the same about True Crime: Streets of L.A, but let's not get off the rails, here.

I can't see Destiny that way.  I wander the distressingly-confined wastes of Mars and find myself remembering the plains of Sarutabaruta in Final Fantasy XI, discovering caves that seemed to go on for an eternity and held untold horrors to fear, fight and overcome.

I still remember, this one time, I - a young Elvaan Samurai - was in a party with a few other low-level players, and our group accidentally pulled two or three too many monsters in those caves.  I shouted a command for the squishy casters to flee to the zone exit as the hulking Galka warrior and I caught the monsters' aggro and held them at bay, buying time for their escape.  I told him to run for it, and he said the same to me.  Together, we held the creatures back long enough for our friends to make it out - and died.

When you died in Final Fantasy XI, at the time, it cost you like 60% of a level's worth of experience points - not to be taken lightly - but we were heroes to those three casters we'd saved.  Moments like that hold the beauty of multiplayer.

I never had experienced anything that was emotionally similar in Destiny.

I wander Destiny's silently-shared word and think of the thrilling spectacles one would get caught up in in the similarly-mute Grand Theft Auto Online.  I'd think of days on end spent, as a Rogue, shrouded by stealth on the little hill that overlooks the town of Crossroads in the Barrens in World of Warcraft, harrying that small town to the ends of the earth, earning a reputation as an assassin the Horde prayed would never hit the level cap

I can't play Destiny in a vacuum where those exquisitely meaningful shared worlds don't exist.  They exist, for me.  I lived them, and Destiny's shared world pales in comparison.

That phrase - "shared world" - is how Bungie themselves chose to define Destiny.  A "shared-world shooter," to be accurate - to distance the game from a dyed-in-the-wool massively-multiplayer game, I suppose - and the game's reduction of that otherwise-familiar concept ends up providing something far less absorbing, for the trouble.

Every location in Destiny is "instanced," if you're familiar with the term.  An "instance" is a part of a game world, usually closed off - a cave, a dungeon - that can be inhabited by a limited number of players.  As I go wandering the ruins of Old Earth Russia, for example, I'm in one of a thousand instances of that environment, and each of those instances is (randomly? I don't know) populated by a few other players who also happen to have chosen to go to Old Earth Russia.

If there's a player who spends all their time in the plane graveyard of Russia - a player who stands atop the tail fin of an ancient, downed jumbo jet, picking off distant Fallen with a sniper's eye, only descending to collect more ammo before climbing back up there, that wacky character - I'll never know him.

I'll stroll through the graveyard today, and perhaps see him.  The next time I go to Russia, I'll be in another instance - and another, and another.  I won't get to know player-personalities like him because they live in a thousand different versions of this world, slipping in and out of my reality like ghosts.

Instead, Destiny will forever be a... colourless porridge of a million different players I'll meet once, and then never again - and no true "culture" will ever emerge. If one does, it will be the product of a slow osmosis of temperament between five million people - not driven by unique, powerful personalities who truly share your world.

They're only visiting.

That troubling, miasmic, disconnected sense of place may only be true for... well shit, I'll say it - more "casual" Destiny players, like me - which I feel is an excellent word for it.

Destiny's base is built on souls who play with their friends and have standing fireteams they can always join. This is, I feel, how the game was meant to be played - and such relationships require a commitment that I simply cannot offer the game.  I can't know that tonight at 19:00 EST, I'll definitely be available for the Queen's Wrath strike, and given that the game stubbornly refuses to provide matchmaking for anything beyond the vanilla dungeons, I will never get to experience it.

The folks who will are the folks who're prepared to pour their everything into Destiny - the folks who buy one game a year.  I envy them that.

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