If you ask Bungie, it just fixed a huge flaw in its game Destiny by removing the “Loot Cave,” a location where players would spend hours pumping bullets into constantly respawning enemies for a chance at rare loot. If you ask the players, Bungie just broke their own game. And this is as good an illustration as any of why Destiny is ultimately the worst game of the year: How can a company get the basics so right, and everything else so horribly, incontrovertibly wrong?
Here’s the thing; as a straightforward alien murder simulation, Destiny is great. The controls are well-tuned, the gameplay is fun, the enemies are intelligent and challenging, and the levels, while on rails and utterly at odds with the open world aspect the game is trying to promote, are well-designed and atmospheric.
If this had just been a straight-ahead shooter with a few co-op missions, it’d be fine. Perhaps not notable, perhaps not game of the year, but not an embarrassment. But it’s not. It’s supposed to be a grand adventure where you’re swept up in the story and so good you want to play the same missions over and over again constantly. And it’s a rigid, unyielding game that demands you play the way it thinks is fun, not how you actually enjoy playing it.
Destiny’s problems come into painfully sharp relief once you hit level 20, which the game has capped as the highest level you can earn through experience points. You can get up to level 30 by collecting gear that has “Light” as an attribute; the more light you have, the higher your level. One problem; the loot system is designed to keep you playing the same missions over and over again on the off-chance you’ll collect a Legendary or Rare engram… which has a strong chance of turning out to be complete and total vendor trash you’ll never use. So much so there’s a brutally funny Twitter account making jokes about it.
There are various other systems you’re supposed to use. You can join a faction and build your reputation with them, or earn various forms of currency to buy better gear, or earn “Marks” from replaying missions or playing multiplayer, although annoyingly those are capped as well, with only 100 to earn on a weekly basis. In fact, your EXP goes to “Motes of Light” after level 20, so you can buy gear from the Speaker.
But it all boils down to the same thing, in the end, which is replaying the levels you’ve already been through, well after they’ve lost anything resembling novelty or fun. If the story were compelling or if there were little bits of lore, or if there were a lot of reasons to poke around the huge maps, that’d be one thing. But there isn’t. I joined a faction at random mostly because it was the first one I found on the map. Then I saw how much grinding I had to do to hit the level required to start getting good loot in the mail, and I thought “Why bother?”
This game gets compared to Borderlands a lot, and with reason, as they’re both multiplayer co-op loot-driven shooters. The difference between them, though, is that Borderlands gives you a ton of things to do. What’s great about Borderlands is the relentless sense of progression. Every enemy you bump off pushes you towards a better gun, a higher level, a little stat boost in the form of a Badass rank. It’s all about building your character and loadout to suit your play style.
In Destiny, even your character progression is on rails; you don’t get to choose how you spend your character points, it just unlocks the next ability, and that might not even be something you want anyway. It says something that Disney Infinity 2.0 actually has a better character progression system than a game Activision spent the larger chunk of half a billion dollars and years promoting.
Technical Failures Vs. Artistic
This post is going to anger a lot of gamers who don’t want to admit they’ve sunk twenty hours or far more of their lives into a bad game. You spend enough time with even the worst game, a sort of Stockholm Syndrome develops. “You’re not playing it right.” “You don’t understand it.” “It’s not for you if you can’t accept its flaws.”
And one could make a valid point that calling it this early in the year, with three months of games to go, is jumping the gun. Or that there are games that are just as dull or even outright technologically broken that came out this year.
But I’ll counter with this: A technical problem can be solved, if there’s money and will. Destiny‘s problems can’t be fixed with a patch. The problems here are much larger, and lie largely with how Bungie doesn’t understand its own players. Bungie, in nerfing the Loot Cave, actually made finding the legendary and rare gear players are looking for much harder to find. The fact that they didn’t realize players were doing this to get the gear to actually have fun in the game itself speaks volumes.
No patch is going to make the story more engaging, and they can’t “fix” the loot system because it’d screw over the players they’re counting on to buy DLC until the end of time, or Destiny 2, whichever comes first. In short, Bungie made a series of mistakes that unintentionally caps off how fun and interesting their game is, and I can’t think of a worse accusation to level at a game that was supposed to be so fun, it’d take over your life.