Destiny Review: Peter Dinklage, We Hardly Knew Ye

Destiny is a big-ass game. There’s a lot to get through and a lot to say about it. I’ll try not to waste any time, but I kind of have chronic dilly-dallying, so no promises.

Also, right out of the gate, I have to point out that I didn’t want to play Destiny, so I’m sorry in advance if I get a little negative about your favorite game. In fact, let’s make this pre-apology last until the end of time, because I don’t want to play most games, and I’m just kind of negative to begin with.

Here’s what I knew about Destiny ahead of time. It’s an MMO, but it’s not subscription-based, but it came out eight months ago and you have to pay $95 to not experience a castrated game, so it’s still just shy of $15 a month, anyway. Truth be told, I picked it up on a sale, and I haven’t bought the expansions, but the full experience costs about the same as any other MMO. I’m not big on MMOs to begin with, either. I’ve liked a couple and only loved one, Dungeons and Dragons Online. Quick shout-out to Turbine, the studio that created and maintains Dungeons and Dragons Online. I know we’ve had our differences, but you guys have the only MMO that still pulls at me. You fucked with my wings, though, and that gave me the anger I needed to stop playing, and whose fault is that? But, really, I love you guys. My infraction message from Cubethulu is one of my most cherished belongings. If you don’t know what I’m saying, I apologize, but it’s too weird and complicated to explain.

Destiny is an MMO made by Bungie, the studio that made Halo, possibly the most popular game of all time. So, we already have nostalgia and fanboyism playing into opinions on this game. On top of that, Activision, who publishes Call of Duty, which may be the most profitable franchise of all time, published this game, and enough people don’t know the difference between a developer and a publisher that a lot of them will think that this actually has a significant impact on the product. In case you don’t know what publishers do, I’ll give you a hint: They just added “er” to the word that describes what they do. They publish the game. They put it on a disc and put a fancy label on that disc, and then they put that disc in a case and send it to Walmart. Is that an oversimplification? Yes. Is it an egregious oversimplification? Not really. Sure, they can flex their muscles and insist certain things do or don’t happen, but publishers are not generally a driving creative force. Just a driving monetization force.

So, right away, off to a bad start. I have no love for Halo or Call of Duty (or as I like to call it “Getting Gullible People to Spend $100 Per Year on the Same Game as Last Year so They Can Keep Playing Pretty Much the Exact Same Game with All of Their Friends”). More love for Halo than CoD, though, which puts Destiny in a slightly better place. I at least kind of enjoyed my time spent with the first two Halo games, but not enough to go out of my way at all to play any other. The first scene with the Flood, though? Possibly the best moment of gaming in the early 2000s. A+ on that one, Bungie. Solid bit of storytelling, that. Not Half-Life good, but still good.

It’s pivotal to know that I’m just too busy for an MMO. I’ve played MMOs heavily, before, and I know what it generally takes to be able to do well at that. Between work and writing all of this boring shit that you must hate and why are you even still reading this when you hate me so much is it just to watch me fail, I get about two or three hours of free time a night. That’s often one raid, if everything goes swimmingly, and what’s the point of playing MMOs in the high level range other than raiding? Raid Nights are usually several raids long, around five to six hours, for the most part, and the late-night crew will almost always round that up to an even twelve or more. I could maybe do that on a Saturday, if I somehow didn’t have one of the usual obligatory functions and I did all the chores ahead of time and my fiancée was out of town and everyone in the house left me alone. In short, it is highly fucking unlikely. As such, this will be less a review of the game as a whole and more about how it appeals (or fails to appeal) to those who approach it casually. For people like me, who will never join a raiding guild unless it’s somehow in every game and it’s made up of only old MMO friends I like. For people who have a limited amount of free time and would like to play more than one game for the forseeable future. For people with jobs.

Lemme tell ya, it doesn’t start well. Right off the bat, it does a fairly good job of isolating a large part of its audience with a large install downloaded at glacial speeds from a server that really seems like it should be able to do this faster because it’s not launch week, any more. Now that I have played the game, I relize this is because Destiny does not have dedicated servers, and instead uses the default servers provided by whichever console you’re playing on. This is very unusual for an MMO, and while it is more elegant to log in this way, the download speeds for everything suffer.

Once you get past the install, though, I gotta say it’s pretty good. It has its problems, as all MMOs do, but it’s a damn fun shooter. I am wise to most of its tricks, but it still feels compelling enough that I fall for every trick. What sorts of tricks? My favorite (or least favorite, depending on how you look at it) is that, while leveling, all good gear drops at a level above you, which forces you to grind out a bit more experience so you can even equip it. I don’t like being tricked like that, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t better than having loot drop a level below you so it’s already obsolete when you get it.

This is indicative of the entire rest of the experience. Just a whole lot of grinding to get the things you want so that you can grind for slightly better things you want, and this is where discussing Destiny gets a little difficult. You see, there is no feasible way to cut down on the grind, shy of launching an awful lot of extra content. And, even then, it would still have to be a chore to get the good items, or people would get bored and stop playing.

Shit, I’m a thousand words in and we’re already tackling heavy issues regarding the core problems with all MMOs. Okay, I’ll commit and really go at it. Let’s get technical. And Mom, don’t worry, I’ll try to explain some acronyms so you can sort of understand what I’m saying.

MMO is short for MMORPG, which stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. World of Warcraft is far and away the most popular one, due to a combination of longevity of the game and people saying “I’ve put in too much time to quit, now.” I feel that, guys. Totally been there. When you play a game as much as a full time job and you know that each of those really great items you found took a 40-hour work week to earn, it becomes difficult to let go. We’re gonna try to avoid most of the high-level MMO-talk, since it gets so weird to look at, even for most players, but one concept we will be looking at in detail is the aforementioned “grind.” Simply put, “grinding” is the act of doing the same task over and over again in the hopes of being rewarded. This happens due to everyone’s favorite video game mechanic, the RNG, or Random Number Generator.

In Destiny, any time you accomplish a task or kill an enemy, the Great and Powerful Random Number Generator pops out a number between 1 and something like 216 million. I think. I’m not a Computer Numbers Scientist. With about 80% of the results, nothing happens. The remaining 20% is made up of a large range that awards you money, a small range that gives you guns and clothes, and an even smaller range that rewards you with these magical little boxes called “engrams.” Engrams are (don’t quote me on this) raw matter that hasn’t been told what to be, yet? You take engrams to the Grand Duke of Engramology to be “decoded” and he pops out mostly okay items, and hardly any truly bad ones and a decent number of truly useful collectables. So, that’s one level of grinding. Ideally, this will happen only automatically while accomplishing other tasks with far better rewards, but you have to understand that every single action has at least a small chance of dropping something rather good, forming a sort of light base layer of grinding on this big, grindy cake. Of course, if you do too many of the more exciting things, you will only have this base level of grind left, so it pays to keep it in mind.

On top of this grind is the slightly more meaty grind found in Faction Reputation. Reputation is earned through performing mostly repetitive tasks that tend to follow a “Fight some small guys, then a bigger guy, then a really big guy” formula, but these Strikes are mostly okay. Reputation reliably buys items just below the real top-shelf shit, so it pays to keep a lot around. There is a limit on how much of the currency used to buy these items can be earned in a week, which works well with what I want from this game, which is basically two or three nights a week and 5 or six hours on the weekend.

For the players that are more committed than me, the big, bad raids provide the third major form of grind, but I have my doubts about regularly entering raids in Destiny. A “raid” is an exceptionally hard quest that allows for a larger party. In Destiny, the normal party limit of three is doubled to allow up to six people to team up to tackle it. The very best rewards are found here, but (at least in the case of every raid I know of) the Almighty Random Number Generator still has a hand in this, and rewards are not guaranteed. Thus, you do them over and over again, which is the very definition of “grind.” Raids aren’t exactly my favorite, as they require an awful lot more teamwork and communication than I have energy for after a long day of teamwork and communication at work. I play games to not do that. Sometimes, a well-done cooperative shooter is fun, like Left 4 Dead, or Destiny, or-

Wait. Destiny is a good co-operative shooter? Wow. Yeah, it really kind of is. I’m having a hard time believing it, myself. That’s its saving grace in this ocean of grind. Even when wandering around the worlds with no party or grouped up with total strangers in the Strike Playlist, nearly every cooperative player interaction is a good one. Sure, every once in a while you’ll have the odd silent guy who fucks everything up, then abandons the group after the party wipe he caused, but even most of the silent guys are good at what they’re doing. And it’s easy to get good at what you’re doing, because it’s an awful lot of fun to play. The guns feel great, the jumping feels great, the jumping while shooting feels great, and the ironsights aiming to fall faster feels great. I go weak in the knees for games that bring me joy just walking around, and Destiny’s movement system feels so good it makes me a puddle on the floor. Every movement can be big and flamboyant if you want it to be, but it’s never too flamboyant, and it’s always relatively precise and easy to control. My Warlock has a glide as his main movement power, and it can send you hurtling in a semicircle arc with a 30 foot radius. It’s bananas. But, you retain at least a modicum of control in mid-air, you can hip-fire while you’re up there, and you can aim down the sights to make yourself drop like a rock. These jumps are large enough that you can regenerate your entire health bar in mid-air if you jump the right way. It’s fun. To me, at least. Who knows if I like what you like? Wait, YOU can know! I’m sure there’s a way to just read everything I’ve put up on the site in a row. Go read all of it and get a really great idea of where I’m coming from. I’ll wait.

Good, you’re back! Remember how I didn’t even talk about Mr. Torgue in that Borderlands review that had his name right in the title? What a weird decision! But, I stand by it. Torgue speaks for himself, and he really works best if he isn’t spoiled. Also, I’d nominate him for some kind of “All-Time Best Tertiary Character” award. He’s that good… And, since we’re already here and it has to be done, I’ll make the Borderlands comparison, since Borderlands, with its space theme and co-op and guns, is the closest thing to Destiny that really existed, before. For my money, Borderlands has the far-more-superior-than-anyone-should-be-comfortable-with story, but Destiny blows it away in terms of gunplay. Even the low-gravity shenanigans of the Pre-Sequel, while far more outlandish, pale in comparison to Destiny’s wide array of jumping and shooting.

I wasn’t really exaggerating when comparing the stories of the two games. Borderlands, even at its absolute weakest, has a much stronger story than Destiny. This is because Borderlands refuses to be an MMO, it sticks to more structured dialogue, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Bungie named their game’s primary antagonist “The Darkness” without a hint of irony. And the dialogue…

I don’t want to have the Dinklebot conversation, but we have to have it. I’ll keep it brief, since we’ve all talked this into the ground. In case this is the first time you’re reading anything about Destiny at all, and you’ve never played it, I’ll give you a brief run-down of how the story in Destiny plays out. Every single person who plays Destiny is the main character of his or her own adventure. All of them experience the story as though they are the main character. But, unlike most games that take this route, there is only one storyline and it is terrible. Every epic story trope is there: the aforementioned “The Darkness,” a sleeping guardian, a Queen whose brash head guard is also her brother, an ancient evil waiting at the bottom of a temple built for it, a prison filled with ancient evils… the list goes on. You’ve seen this all before a million times, and you just want to skip it. But, you can’t skip any of the cutscenes. You want to, every time, but Bungie says, “Fuck you, you can’t skip our cutscenes you ungrateful little shit. We paid top-dollar for Peter Fucking Dinklage, and you will listen to every word he says.”

That’s right. You can’t make this stuff up, folks. Comedy will never be as funny as real life. Bungie hired Peter Dinklage, of Game of Thrones fame, the world’s most beloved tiny man (sorry, Verne Troyer; and Peter Dinklage, too, since I’ve never been in touch enough to know the right PC words to say, so I just calls ‘em like I sees ‘em and say things like “tiny man”), to play a role in their MMO, which is a style of game designed to expand over time. Not just that, but he voices the player character’s “Ghost,” a sort of digital guardian angel and constant companion. No lie, he is with you exactly one hundred percent of the time. And this seems like a really cool thing, at first! Permanent Peter Dinklage robot! That should be incredible! But, after a time, you come to two distinct realizations. First, you realize that you definitely won’t be getting as much Peter Dinklage dialogue as you want. I mean, he’s a busy guy. He can’t live in Bungie’s studio. There is no way he will be delivering as much dialogue as you’d hope. Second, his performance is… not so great. And I find myself blaming Bungie’s terrible ability to make decisions for this lackluster voice acting. I mean, Dinklage is great. That Drew Barrymore movie where he was a tiny attorney (Penelope, if you’re curious), was maybe not the best movie ever made, but Dinklage’s performance was downright chilling and hilarious. We know he is capable of greatness, so why is nearly every line he delivers in Destiny such utter shit? Well, primarily, the script is shit, and there’s only so much anyone can do with that. Also, I am currently operating under the assumption that Bungie, overwhelmed by his sheer star power, gave him hardly any direction. They must have known he didn’t have much time to record, so they handed him the script, gave him two words of instruction (“bored robot”), then let him do it all in one take. They must have thought we’d just be grateful to have Dinklage involved at all and we wouldn’t complain if the performance was sub-par. They were wrong. Oh, man, were they wrong. The community playing this game doesn’t seem as if they could care any less about Dinklage’s presence, and everyone noticed that Dinklebot keeps oddly silent through a lot of the expansion content, presumably due to the problem I mentioned previously wherein Peter Dinklage is a little too big-time to constantly record dialogue for an MMO. You thought it’d be great, but you were wrong. How very wrong you were, Bungie.

I’ve learned, through playing this game and becoming fairly involved in the community, that Bungie has been wrong about a lot of things, most notably The Taken King, the upcoming “expansion” to Destiny. I put this in quotes because it costs twice as much as any previous expansions, which indicates that it must be substantially different, despite having the same label. I’ll only talk about this vaguely, because it is absolutely dominating the internet right now. Google “Taken King drama” or go to reddit.com/r/destinythegame and spend any amount of time there if you crave more than what I’m giving you. If you’re reading this FROM THE DISTANT FUTURE, you’ll have to filter by date or something, I don’t know, you have more advanced technology than I do, fuckin’ figure it out yourself. This expansion has massively pissed off the community. Again, it costs more than the previous two expansions together and no one has any way of knowing if it is really worth that until it’s released. But, pre-ordering and buying the most expensive version of the game rewards early adopters with some pretty huge bonuses. Bear in mind, this is only the $80 version, which contains the base game and both of the previous expansions. So, the people who have supported Bungie from the beginning have to spend an extra $40 to just get these bonus items. It blew up very publicly, since the internet is a thing, now. This sort of blowup always happens in active gaming communities, and the dissent was so widespread that the game’s lead designer was drilled about it in an interview. Rather than try to minimize the problem or talk around it (or, you know, ideally offer to fix it), he basically held up a giant middle finger to the players that got him there and told them to fuck off and give him their money. It was bad. Apologies have been issued, but a lot of the core Destiny community seems to have checked out and is only sticking around to bask in the drama. I’m gonna try to illustrate a few things I’m not seeing mentioned, much, so bear with me. This is already even longer than normal.

The items that are exclusive to the most expensive version are divided into two camps: pointless bullshit and fucking game-breaking. The only part that Destiny’s lead designer deigned to speak of in the infamous interview was the pointless bullshit. He didn’t feel the need to address the fact that the expensive pre-order gives an effect to an otherwise worthless piece of gear. The Class Emblem gear slot in Destiny is a purely cosmetic item with a different look on each class. Hunters get sweet hoods, Titans get dresses, and my Warlock gets a stupid sweatband thing on his arm. They grant no bonuses. Even the small handful of emblems that do something just allow you to earn reputation at the same speed as normal (read: crazy slow) but for a different faction. No bonus. Just redirection. We’re all a little disappointed that they don’t do anything, but at least we’re all on equal footing. The expensive pre-order version of The Taken King comes with an emblem for each class that doubles experience earned.

Fucking. Doubles it.

You can talk all you want about experience not being overly valuable, but it still levels your new guns and earns Motes of Light even when your classes are maxed out, so it still has value, and allowing people who can justify spending an inordinate amount of money on content they already own to gain this sort of advantage over people who just can’t afford it is not very cool. You’re giving purpose to a piece of gear that never had it. It’s not just a really sweet piece of gear, it’s a bonus that hangs out without taking anything away. If it was a helmet that gave double experience but had terrible bonuses otherwise, that would be one thing, but there’s practically no drawback, here. Oh, you can’t earn reputation for other factions while wearing the double experience emblem? Who cares? The reputation rewards all suck, for the most part. There is practically no downside to wearing these exclusive items, and plenty of upside. THIS is the issue, Bungie. No one gives a shit about the new emotes. Do we want them? Yes. Are we upset about not getting them? Not really. And, we would throw money at the screen for the emblems. We really probably would. But, you insulted all of us in the process of explaining why we should throw money at our screens, and that’s the beginning of the end.

What a side note. Sorry about that. I get mad when people don’t see the problem. Score time? Score time. But, to make the score make sense, I’ll score some other MMOs. World of Warcraft is a 2/10 for me: 4/10 solely based on the amount of content, but 0/10 for how much fun I have playing it. I just hate every single mechanic. City of Heroes was a 4/10 for me, and it’s one of my favorites: A solid 6/10 for the fun-to-play factor, but held back by overall jankiness and the story’s presentation (still a great story and fantastic dialogue at times, but the pre-full-voice-acting days were rough). Dungeons and Dragons Online is a solid 7/10 for me: both story and gameplay sitting at that 7 level.

I call Destiny a 5 or 6/10. But, I quantify that by saying it’s one of the best 5 or 6/10 games I’ve ever played. I rated Assassin’s Creed 4 as a 7.5/10, and I’d rather play Destiny any day. The gameplay is 10/10, and the multiplayer aspects all work great. That damn story and Bungie’s handling of… everything… drags that score down, though. It looks and plays like a dream, but holy hell, I cannot watch any more of those cutscenes. If the game survives long enough to get a decent amount of content, I may revisit this score, but it’d take a miracle.

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