So, it has been some 4 years now since Bungie last released a game, and ever since the mention of a new IP being developed by one of the great titans of the industry, people have been eager to see what was in store.
(Console-exclusive content! Pre-order bonuses! The firing of grizzled ancients!)
The beta was a phenomenal success, I enjoyed it very much, and Bungie has allegedly made back the entire $500 million budget that was pumped into this Triple-A development juggernaut in a single day. Suffice to say, regardless of the game’s quality, enough people were nipped by the hype machine to make Destiny an instant success – so well done, Bungie. You’ve not only made your cake and eaten it, you created a trans-dimensional machine that has allowed you to get the cake back before it has even been digested.
However! Let’s not get our heads in a tizzy over this, let’s not get so hastily swept up in praise and merriment just because Bungie has crafted a success (did anybody even doubt this would happen?), for there are things that need criticising to keep us humble. With the help of my objectively correct opinions, let’s take a look at one of Destiny’s biggest stinkers.
The story…Here’s where it all gets negative. I’ve been highly disillusioned with Bungie over the last 4 years, and a lot of other Halo fans have felt similarly when it comes to Bungie’s hit-or-miss capabilities with story writing. Halo CE, 2 and ODST were downright excellent – the latter two have drawn a lot of discontent from people over the years, but I have always been of the opinion that the true height of Bungie’s storytelling days was in Halo 2 where they set the foundations for the growth of Halo’s universe from a block of marble to the right toe of Michelangelo’s David (please permit me my absurd hyperbole).
Halo 2 took the classic space marine story and injected it with interspecies politics with the level of backstabbing you’d expect from a Game of Thrones season, an arc of redemption and character transformation, twists here and there, all wrapped up in a really well-woven, interconnected story of politics, history, and religion. ODST weirdly combined elements of classical mythology from Dante’s Inferno with a modern take on the noir genre and it just worked. Basically, Bungie did well with those games and each one has an unimpeachable identity in the Halo series (so do Halo 3 and Reach, but for wholly negative reasons in my book).
Destiny really lacks its own identity because it’s a universe that has so much potential, but so little of it is explored with any kind of depth or nuance. It’s no wonder one of the lead writers left to go to Telltale so he could work on stories with more depth to them… I was left thoroughly unimpressed by Destiny’s story offering, and now I’m (finally) going to get into why.Firstly, I really just cannot comprehend the fact that there’s literally only thirty minutes of actual cutscene content… That is nothing. ODST, a game made in 8 months, has more cutscene content than Destiny which just astounds me. It’s no wonder that, after all this time, Bungie didn’t reveal much information about the story outside of its vague premise because there was practically nothing beyond that. The little they revealed actually spoiled a fair bit of the game…
Nobody seems to have a long-lasting reaction to anything in this game. Somebody at Bungie had the bright idea to publicly reveal that the Vex are time travellers. In the game, this is treated as a stunning revelation, and it certainly is a big deal because this is technology that nobody else seems to have. But all the while, anybody who was around for Bungie’s spiel about the game must’ve just thought, “okay, but I’ve known this for over a year”. You find Vex structures that are apparently billions of years old, but the game just moves right on and doesn’t bother to go any further into it – like so many other things, it’s just glossed right over. I also find it quite funny that the Vex are treated as the main villains rather than the Darkness (whatever that even is because we’re not told). I remember a while ago when Bungie was doing a panel and revealed some concept art which included great black pyramid vessels and the mention of some secret alien race, but nothing of the sort appears in the story at all.
I also thought it was odd(ly hilarious) that the protagonist didn’t seem to have any kind of a reaction to the whole “you’ve been dead for a long time” thing when I played the beta. I figured “okay, it’ll surely come up in the full game, the psychological damage that could result from that will make for some intriguing character development”. Yeah… Nope! It’s never ever mentioned again, just totally swept under the rug and forgotten about.And the characters themselves… good lord, I’ve never seen a sorrier bunch of forced exposition dispensers in any Bungie game before – which is quite something. The Speaker doesn’t even try to hide it! What a waste of Bill Nighy. Characters exist in Destiny with practically no purpose at all. Y’know that female Exo who is following you on the Moon? What does she actually do? She’s there to be a mystery and that’s about it, and she gives you a nice shiny gun at the end of the game just ‘cos.
Who is she? What’s her name? Who is she working with? What exactly is she? What does being “forged in Light” mean – is this something that happens at birth for humans who are unique, or something? What is it about the Traveler’s Light that makes Guardians so special? Why does she just give you a gun at the end of the game? Where does she go afterwards? Why does she say “I don’t even have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain” before launching into a 3 minute long speech about vague plot details?
Somebody at Bungie was sat down and thinking to themselves: “If we don’t tell anybody what’s going on – who these people are, and why you should care – then we can distract people from the fact that we’ve got a plot that can out-thin Reach!”
The causal relationship between events of the plot is one giant fetch quest. Go here, find this, loljk we didn’t really need this but well done for wasting your time, have some coordinates.I can’t feel anything for these characters because I don’t know who any of them are. I don’t know what a “Speaker for the Traveler” is, I don’t know anybody’s backstory (NOT EVEN MY OWN), I don’t know why there’s ‘friendly’ Fallen with the Awoken Queen, I don’t know why the stick up her brother’s ass has a stick up its ass, I don’t know why the Awoken Queen treats you like an outsider even if you’re an Awoken, I don’t know why Peter Dinklage was cast for such a monotonous role when this Emmy-winning actor could be doing so much more… I can’t engage with this narrative because its depth and complexity is presented as only going skin deep.
The protagonist is an awkward mix of a silent protagonist that we’re supposed to insert ourselves into (don’t let your mind wander now…) and an actual character who reacts to things. Who am I? Who was I before I apparently ‘died’? How did I die? Where did I die? Did I die in Old Russia? How long ago? I DON’T KNOW ANYBODY HERE, I DON’T EVEN KNOW MYSELF!
How can you be expected to care if there’s no link being made between player and protagonist – or anyone? There’s not a single person to actually identify with in this story which is why it feels so disjointed and saturated with nothingness.
Also, the flow of the story is just so painfully illogical sometimes. In one mission, you find out that the Hive are damaging the Traveller by use of a dark ritual on a Traveller shard they have.
Like… goodness gracious me! Where did they get a shard of the Traveller from?! This is a big deal!
Nope, stop thinking about it because it’s time to move on! Pretend that never happened, let’s never talk about it again… That’s the sad thing about some (most) of the missions, they’re totally unwilling to push the story forward in any meaningful way. Things just happen and you’re supposed to lap it up without any thought.Oh, and before anybody starts telling me that some of these things are explained in the Grimoire, I do not care – you should not have to remove the most basic story details and stick them on a website to be read. People whined about Halo 4 doing this to a far lesser extent regarding the Terminals being on Waypoint, so if you were one of those people who complained about that but will defend Bungie for this – guess what, ye be a hypocrite!
See, Bungie has crafted a game with some truly interesting lore, but they offset that with sub-par storytelling and acknowledgement of said lore beyond the fact that it exists. I have to wonder just how much communication there was between the lore guys and the writing team because there’s so little reference to anything.
Let me put it this way: Is Destiny a fun game to play? Yes, it is. It really is.
Is the universe interesting? Most definitely! So much potential for greatness.
But is the story anything to wet your pants over? Absolutely not.
I think it’s shallow and one-dimensional, and I think it’s ridiculous that this was the result of such a long endeavour that came from over five hundred people. There’s something for pretty much everybody in Destiny, but the story just isn’t one of those things for me.