When Destiny released in September of last year, expectations were set high — perhaps unrealistically so. Many were looking forward to the balance of campaign and multiplayer that fans of the Halo series had come to expect from Bungie. As we all know now, that wasn’t exactly what was delivered.
Most would agree that the game is in a much better state now than it was at launch. Regular patches, events like the Iron Banner and the recent House of Wolves expansion have all done their part in offering new content and refining the base game. However, some fans still aren’t satisfied.
Bungie came under fire recently for their latest Destiny update. The patch fixed a host of issues players have been having with PvE content, but many found it to be lacking in the changes it made to PvP modes — in particular, the limited time Trials of Osiris event. It’s clear that the studio is favoring PvE over PvP, but why?
Striking a Balance
The biggest hook that Destiny has to offer is the challenge of crafting your own highly personalized character. Choosing between classes, subclasses, gear and weapons makes it easy to build a Guardian that suits your playstyle, but it means that the team at Bungie has their work cut out for them when it comes to balance.
Keeping the different types of weapon in line is difficult enough — fans have been clamoring for auto rifles to get a buff for some time, but before that pulse rifles were considered to be in need of some help. Making a Titan’s super as beneficial as that of a Hunter is even more of a challenge, as their abilities are completely distinct.
It was well documented that balance was a huge focus for Bungie over the course of their work on the Halo series. Those games were multiplayer juggernauts, and they only rose to that level of prominence because plenty of work was done to make playing online a fun and satisfying experience.
Given that Destiny is all about crafting your own Guardian, finding a balance in competitive online multiplayer is much more difficult. The amount of variables that need to be considered rose exponentially from the likes of multiplayer in Halo 3.
The Crucible typically puts Guardians on a level standing for multiplayer, outside of special events like the Iron Banner. While this certainly saves a lot of frustration for low-level players, it cuts out something of what makes Destiny special and turns it into something closer to any other online shooter.
Fans crying out for more of a focus on PvP likely came to Destiny having enjoyed the multiplayer Bungie created for the Halo series. It’s understandable why those players would be looking for a similar experience, but in truth Destiny is far further away from Halo than many would have expected ahead of release.
The core gameplay is similar, of course, and the customization options have their roots in systems developed for Halo. However, the metagame of Destiny changes the way these mechanics work quite dramatically. Many were looking for a conventional FPS campaign at the core of the game, and they were disappointed not to find it.
Instead, Destiny is split into two main parts; the mad dash to level 20 that most new players experience as they play through the game’s story missions, and then the more complex endgame. Following level 20, things are far more open ended — it’s a pursuit of gear to raise your light level, but that can be achieved in any number of ways.
That structure might be familiar to MMO fans on the surface, but it’s far from accurate to say that Destiny belongs in that genre. The game pinches ideas here and there, like the idea of an endgame to occupy high level players in between content drops, or the concept of Raids, but it’s certainly not an MMO outright.
Destiny borrows plenty from modern trends in the MMO and FPS genres, but it doesn’t fit into either. The fact is, it’s biggest influence comes from a very different type of game.
Destiny & D&D
More than anything else, Destiny owes a debt of gratitude to pen-and-paper RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons. Evidence of this is littered throughout the game, but this week’s hiring of a D&D designer in a senior role at Bungie should make it clear that the links between the two are no coincidence.
Thinking of Destiny as a sci-fi twist on D&D with FPS mechanics at the core of its combat makes it easier to see the thinking behind some of Bungie’s big ideas. For one, the focus on lore rather than plot — it’s an attempt to build a setting, rather than tell a specific story.
Then there’s the much-criticized lack of matchmaking. Many players find it strange that Bungie wouldn’t allow randomly matched teams to take on Raids and other content, but it makes a lot more sense when you think of the sort of social play the studio is trying to encourage.
The idea of a group meeting to play regularly is core to the concept of Dungeons & Dragons. Bungie wants that sort of engagement to be the norm in Destiny — content like the Vault of Glass isn’t meant to be dipped into carelessly, it’s designed for a tight-knit collection of players to band together and conquer as a unit.
The lack of matchmaking is something of an artificial restriction. It’s an attempt to make you get to know the people you’re playing with, rather than just meet up with randoms for a one-off session. Expect to see plenty more content that prompts this sort of play as future content is released.
That’s why, in this writer’s opinion, Bungie puts so much of a focus on PvE. It’s easier to build a team with co-operative play, rather than competitive play. A Raid is a far better team-building exercise than any number of rounds playing team deathmatch, especially when mechanics are designed to force players to work together.
So, while it might be frustrating to find that you can’t find enough players on your friends list to launch a Prison of Elders run when you feel like it, there is a reason behind the choices Bungie have made.
The intent here is to coerce players into building a fireteam that’s based on quality, not quantity. And, based on the vibrant community that’s already sprung up around Destiny, it certainly seems like it’s working.