Published: Nov 18, 2014 12:00:00 PM

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Destiny is a $60 bookshelf.

Part 1: Why Is It So Hard To Reviews Destiny?

Bad marketing can turn insecure people into jerks.

You've seen folks of that sort, their words weed-whacker buzzing and thrashing all about the Internet, summoning the jargon they've been taught to justify a purchase. Good jargon indicates good marketing and good long-tail marketing contains language to turn customers into delighted evangelists. Ideally, these people promote a product long after the purchase. Once the person has bought the item, and experienced it, they’ll want to talk about its worth beyond the dollar amount applied to it. It doesn't matter if it's a $1000 iPhone 6 pre-order or a $60 copy of Destiny. When certain people buy things, they’re going to have to talk themselves into the purchase again and again.

That phobia can sometimes drive further purchases, so good marketing will promote that iterative insecurity. The new iPad is out. You already have an iPad. Best to fight the discomfort about a product’s outdated feel and simply buy a newer version to postpone the doubtful conversation. The new iPad also comes armed with a new arsenal of featured buzzwords.

How can we properly communicate justification for our vanity IN OUR OWN WORDS? That would be vain, in and of itself. You’re no expert on iPads. We need somebody else’s to distance ourselves from that responsibility.

Lucky for us, the videogame industry has crafted a whole lexicon for helping us explain the reason behind buying these granite-stupid entertainment products. Entire public relations departments are paid to spend their real-live workdays deciding on words to describe their work so it makes sense to a consumer. Heck, after studying hard and handling the language correctly, a thirteen year-old might even be able to explain Destiny to his aunt on Thanksgiving, in order to prepare for Black Friday.

(Parenthetically, she’ll still think this videogame-devotee nephew of her’s is fated to mediocrity, especially when compared to her own son. I mean, he went to the most prestigious, most expensive private high school in the state. (This is a metaphorical nephew, not a real person. (I am not meant to be a stand-in for this metaphorical “nephew,” and I can assure you readers that I have made careers in public relations, finance, technology research, and marketing in my life.)))

Destiny has become a white-hot hit since its launch in early September. Apparently there's $500 million worth of Destiny already out there on the market waiting to be snapped up! Do you know how much money that is? Let's just say it's enough to buy, feed, and create a functional jungle habitat for your own Bengal tiger. Trouble is, then you'd have to be able to explain to your friends why you bought a tiger.

Or get some new friends. Friends who understand. Tiger friends. People that Ernest Hemingway would call, “tiger aficionados.”

"I mean, I just wanted a tiger," you drowsy-blab to them from your traditional Connecticut-style lounging couch while your footman passes you a Chipotle burrito bowl. "It's got stripes. It’s a vicious predator."

Tigers do not come with marketing copy. Your friends think you’re a chump that wastes money.

Videogames are consumer entertainment products. Videogames come with marketing copy. Since videogames possess no cabal of beautiful people turning out glamorous projects, like the film industry, there will forever be a need to explain and justify a game’s existence. Technology products are icky like that. They need to be EXPLAINED.

Strange how videogame consumers enthralled by the industry’s stunted language tend to prefer it when a game is explained like somebody would explain, say, a bridge. To explain it otherwise would require years of foreknowledge on both sides of the conversation and vidoegames do not have that history.

So games are not critiqued. They are explained.

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Explanation requires knowledge. That leads to inferiorities. Inferiorities lead to superiority. Superiority carries authority.

This is why videogame reviews hold such sway. They are an authority explaining the inexplicable. They give names to features, buzz-iffying experiences, drawing parallels to similar games, and in the case of Destiny, struggling to describe it. They have to assume that Destiny might be somebody’s very first videogame. Everyone gets babied.

Everyone is inferior.

To date, no good reviews of Destiny exist. The writers are not good enough. Vocabularies are too narrow. The genres summoned and comparisons made are too constrictive. The industry is too strait-jacketed. This statement is less a celebration of Destiny and more derision of videogames’ petulant, accepted, self-pitying lot in life as entertainment’s perennial little-brother. It feels it must mimic in order to be legitimized.

Ironic that many games we play push for irreverence toward the old-world. But back in reality, all we want is dad to pat us on the head and say videogames are a-okay, right? Right?! Man, there isn’t enough therapy in the world to unbox the Internet generation’s Oedipus Complex. I know, okay? I’m one of them. I’ve looked at my own brain. It’s tarred, split, and blackened with radiation.

The answer? Go find some self-confidence. No wonder there’s confusion in players’ devotion to the press covering game developers. Its fan-base decries their authority out of one corner of its mouth and flings itself at its feet in desperation. The mechanism for reviewing a new game like Destiny is broken.

Let’s just get it out of the way. This is the best review of Destiny. You’ll find out why in a moment. If you’re not an inferior creature, you’ll find out in half that time.

But why is it so hard to review Destiny? Because we want to review it.

 

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Part 2: We Want To Review Destiny

There might be those reading that have suddenly blacked out from eye-rolling.

But, hey, that’s how we get people to look at their own brains.

Don’t be alarmed. Just remember that I know what I’m doing. This is going somewhere. I apologize for not ticking down Destiny’s feature-list with the consistency of a British schoolmarm. Now is not the time. If you’ll keep an open mind for just a moment, you might discover a new way of thinking about why you like the things you like, and recall that you can go over to IGN or Polygon if you want the tl;dr version of Destiny (In which case, ew, gross, why? You read that all day every day, and Ghost Little does not update often, only precisely when it NEEDS TO.).

It is hard to review Destiny because we want to review it. We want it to be done. I was told by somebody in conversation recently that our generation are master-curators and archivists. Most contemporary videogames inhabit a Big Bang-style, ever-expanding state. They are usually never “done,” in the sense that Jane Eyre was a book written by Charlotte Brontë, and it was published, and “done.”

In regard to Destiny, an unfurling, constant creation, how can you properly archive it? The thought is a phantom reconciliation, magic-beanstalking through a Millennial's immature mind. How can you archive a book that keeps on expanding in pages, and has tentacles that snatch up other books, and sometimes the book vanishes and reappears elsewhere? Well, first of all, you stop trying to put that book on the bookshelf.

We will not archive Destiny today.

That wasn’t a joke. It was honest. Stop trying to assume that you know how to record the history of a piece of media like Destiny in a single week. Stop trying to put on a bookshelf.

Destiny IS a bookshelf.

So, back to the review thing. It’s tough. People still want numeric values assigned to reviews. Because we’re archivists. The dewey decimal system can still get them hard.

Because that’s how we know we’ve been marketed and sold to properly. Query: What’s better than Christmas? Conjecture: Christmas is best when it is somehow exceeding expectations!

Once more: how two-faced. How German. How BRITISH! How fetishistically adult. How schoolmarm-ish. And yet, how childish. Our games, our little playthings that we’ve watched grow from piddly pixels to polygons, OUR INDUSTRY, we want it impress us. Time and time again. To baffle us. In ways we felt as children. As we’ve been told we shall be again.

We don’t just want it to impress us in intangible ways. Those aren’t sure things. Not sure enough. We’ve learned from the era of playground-law, that it isn’t sufficient to say that, “Mario is fun.” Mario must also be superior to Sonic. It’s not enough for us to succeed. Others must fail.

Expect an “A” grade product. Anticipate it overachieving. That is where graded, numerical game reviews come in. Stamp a game with a number. Aggregate those numbers. Tally it up. Set that golden record on your shelf to be admired. Archive it. That’s fair, right?

People SHRIEK about giving games fair reviews. Destiny is no exception.

“Just review it fairly!” they word-hurl. “Objectively! By definition of what we have come to understand as the word ‘review,’ we want it to ‘be reviewed,’ goddammit! We want it to have edges, a thick border, and we want to know what that border is made of, and how wide the border is, and what other games and genres does Destiny run alongside?”

Alright. Fine. The first leap that those attempting to review Destiny make is to announce that it’s an MMO!

“I know what an MMO is!” Joe Six-pack mumbles. “Like World of Warcraft. That game blows.”

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Christ on a bicycle, I hope you know what World of Warcraft is. They advertise that thing during National Football League games! It’s public knowledge. However, the next words spilled from the reviewers’ keyboards is that by definition, Destiny is not even a very good MMO, usually citing two points.

First: it is a console MMO, so you should probably hang yourself with necktie made of shark’s teeth to spare the inhumility.

Second: it is an early-stage MMO, and history suggests early-stage MMOs (this stage is usually called “vanilla”) are big, dumb, incomplete worlds.

This is a crucial criticism. People think they have the game nailed now. Remember, World of Warcraft is advertised during NFL games, like, on Thanksgiving, man! Even your aunt knows it exists.

Now comes the moment where giggling snot-chuggers now mention that The Eminent World of Warcraft is one of Destiny’s publisher Activision-Blizzard’s main franchises. A microscope-eyed somebody makes the quantum-discovery that, hey, Destiny is just WoW + CoD! They close their browser tab, satisfied that they KNOW WHAT’S UP NOW!

“Can’t fool me, Activision!” they fart-chuckle. “I know your game. You’re just trying to combine your most successful stuff.”

That’s no mystery. You have discovered nothing in that statement. You’re not Rust Cohle. Stop your conspiratorial psychobabble.

World of Warcraft and Call of Duty were successful because you made them successful. World of Warcraft was an experimental spin-off of a PC real-time strategy game that spun into a phenomenon. Call of Duty was a niche war-based shooter that didn’t snatch the spotlight until the original Modern Warfare spin-dodged around Halo 3’s hype in 2007 with its post-Kojima meta-narrative and bump-and-grind multiplayer. That’s why they earned their positions. Consistent consumerism and reaction to those games indicated that this is what the market wanted. And then, when somebody realizes that Destiny is not exactly what they expected, that it isn’t perfectly fitting with the wording we’ve used for similar things in the past, something breaks.

It breaks in the consumers’ minds. It breaks in the reviewers’ minds. If you are willing to snap your own spine and bend over backward to proclaim enlightenment toward a grand conspiracy, then yes, something is wrong with the way Destiny was presented and sold.

Where was the clearly-defined online shooting adventure promised in the marketing copy? Those words described a grade-”A” term-paper (maybe even an “A+”) that we could take home to mom. Sorry, bud, but that game exist neither in reality, nor in the marketing copy. It existed only in that thing-thirsty brain you possess, where the game was a shapeless void with omnimorphic limbs and no defined edges.

“Well, what do we call this thing?” an under-rested, over-stressed games-writer asks herself while re-examining the marketing copy that developer Bungie sent over with the review code.

Remember two things: 1) Bad marketing turns people into jerks, and 2) She’s got to get the review out. In the name of Ebert’s ghost, the site is losing hits to other spots on the Web that already have their Destiny reviews up! Links are being distributed across Reddit and neogaf. People need an answer. It’s a videogame, you review videogames for a living, describe what this thing is!

“Shared world shooter? That’s what they call it. That’s not a thing. It’s an MMO with guns.”

Destiny resides within a genre.

 

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Part 3: What Purpose Do Genres Serve Today?

An MMO is genre-shorthand for MMORPG. MMORPG is short for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Play Game. That is a lot of words to describe Destiny. The tough part is that it’s still not enough words to present it properly.

Destiny is best explained from one friend to another, face to face. No acronyms. No reviews. It’s a game you talk about with people. How transcendent. How modern.

I had a five minute conversation with a friend while walking in the rain about an exotic machine gun found in Destiny. I felt compelled to talk about the game. I wondered how that new machine gun might change the way we play later that day. Then we got drinks and didn’t play until the following Sunday.

Online though, people speak in a tongue native to the Internet. The language they’ve been taught by the industry. They mention “MMO” and “Destiny” in one breath. They might be right to do so. I don’t know that it is cause for alarm. I don’t know that you will suddenly reek of sheep feces if you find yourself enjoying that game. There is nonetheless a negative stigma surrounding MMO’s in videogame’s more vocal cultures.

They also are rather negative toward copycatting and “more of the same.”

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Unsurprising that next, people will mention Borderlands in the same breath as Destiny. Both Borderlands and Destiny involve shooting guns from a first person perspective. The strength of those shots fired in both Borderlands and Destiny is determined by gear that you gather in the world and apply to your character. This gathered gear alters the play experience, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically.

I’m going to answer the question of Destiny vs. Borderlands RE: they are the same thing, since that is popular opinion. Never fear, I am qualified to answer this question because I have played both Destiny and Borderlands, AND I have played both Diablo II and Halo: Combat Evolved. These are the most relevant titles to the above-mentioned games (you’d know how relevant they are if you know what’s up), backward and forward.

I’ll be brief.

Comparing Destiny to Borderlands is like comparing Battlestar Galactica to Robot Chicken.

We are unpacking a lot here, aren’t we? And we haven’t even started talking about Destiny itself as an actual game!

What’s your rush? Do you have someplace better to be? You came here for something you couldn’t get somewhere else. If you just want your back-of-the-box quote, I’ll slather it on the wall right now so you can be on your way if you simply must be moving on:

Destiny is the high-spirited, action-adventure epic that you’ll want to be a part of from the beginning—a real-time expanding bookshelf of stories to tell!”

If you think that sentence tells you everything that you need to hear about Destiny, and you feel satisfied, be on your way. You can make an informed decision now. However, if you still can’t make up your mind, or you feel underprepared, I’ll craft you an itinerary for the rest of your day so you won’t have to think too much:

  1. Go to the hardware store
  2. Buy quick-drying concrete
  3. Go to Sears
  4. Buy the LARGEST washing machine you can afford (get a job and earn the appropriate amount of money if you cannot afford one that you could not fit yourself into (VITAL!))
  5. Climb into the washing machine with the bag of concrete torn open and set the machine to the hardest, longest setting
  6. Close the lid

People really wanted to review Destiny and just be done with it. They want to take a ball-peen hammer and nail the box-lid shut and ship the thing off to the chattering masses constituting their readership that cannot justify $60 without some wide-mouthed website from a recognizable domain name nursery-rhyming them to sleep using all their favorite words. I’ve noticed a number of things that People Who Write On The Internet brought up when talking about the game.

It’s an MMO, slash, Borderlands-style shooter, with Halo’ic influences in its artistic design. Now it really has a genre. Now we’re all talking about the same thing.

Now we’re actually talking about the game!

 

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Part 4: Destiny Is Brand New, Boring Science Fiction

Destiny opens on space explorers leaving the first (perhaps?) footprints on the planet Mars. The name of the planet is written in flickering letters across the screen. The letters are alternating between numerous human languages. This is a unifying message. Humanity has reached Mars. Not a nation. Humanity.

Striding forward, the three explorers aid one another across rugged terrain. The sky, wind, and weather on the planet flickers in the same strange way the title cards did. This suggests we are not on a simple space-exploration mission. As if exploring Mars was simple and boring to people that play videogames? The explorers are carrying combat rifles. Again, something is not right.

They crest a hill. In a valley below them hovers a monumental white sphere the size of a Manhattan Project mushroom cloud. It is weeping rain onto the ground beneath.

Smash to black. Exposition begins. We learn of a Golden Age aided by the sphere, The Traveler, that allowed humanity to expand to every planet on the inner solar system. Then a Collapse. The Traveler and humanity withdrew back to earth under siege by The Darkness, an old enemy of The Traveler. The Darkness is never shown properly. It is left formless and ambiguous. The Traveler is white, spherical, and stable. The Darkness slithering, black, and choking. It is a mystery. Obviously, it must be fought though. It brought death to all planets and nearly annihilated humanity.

This is where the tangible story ends for Destiny. It is a world. It is a backstory. In terms of actual story as you play the game as a Guardian, very little is detailed or discovered. There are alien species, old-world artificial intelligences, and vagueness. It’s poorly executed. Its vagueness cannot be understated though. There is talk in the background of time travel and cyclicality. Bungie, the game’s developer, has noted Dark Souls (our review) as an influence, another game that dealt with humanity’s regular dying and re-dying, attempting the same tasks again and again.

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Something remains amiss. You can feel it in your thumbs. Everyone you ask will tell you that The Traveler’s emissary, the masked Speaker, is a discomforting presence. It’s not that he won’t tell you the truth, he won’t tell you the whole story.

There is an uneasiness to the story. I sense its indecisiveness bothers a lot of people. When videogame stories ever brush by concepts such as, “we’re just doing this over and over because we can’t help ourselves,” Nier, Demon’s Souls, Infinity Blade, and Rogue Legacy being a few recent examples, players feel somewhat patronized. Chances are, every person that has ever played a videogame has had a person they respect lean over their shoulder in the midst of play and state, “it looks like you’re just doing the same thing over and over again.”

This will cause somebody to try to justify their time. And their purchase.

Again, videogame players frequently feel on the defensive about how they spend their time. If the story in Destiny truly is about being time-locked and humanity repeating the same mistakes again and again, I would be so happy. There is no better meta-context for a science-fiction game world. Others might not feel that way. Not only will their present reality be laughing at them, their escapism will be, too.

“Videogames are so stupid,” the onlooker says over the player’s shoulder while you headshot another Cabal Legionnaire atop the Mars Dust Palace.

Yeah. Videogames are stupid. Lots of people grapple with that fact. Some may even deny it. Ninety-nine percent of the time spent in ninety-nine percent of games is stupid. Stupid is easy. Stupid is universal. Stupid is a strong sell. Stupid is youth. Stupid is comedy. Stupid is rebellion.

Stupid is, “fuck you! You don’t get it! I get it. But YOU don’t get it!”

It’s okay that videogames are stupid. You just need to keep from believing in the stupidity with all your heart.

Returning to the point about expectations, marketing, and genre, what should be assumed about science fiction storytelling? That we’ve seen it all? What a joyless existence to feel hurt by creative endeavors a consumer endorses with a purchase. Look, it’s okay to feel frustrated if you spent your ONLY $60 to buy this game and you feel somehow deceived. By the same merit, open your mind to a different interpretation about value.

That mere $60 was a ticket to the biggest conversation in videogames. Just $60 for a telescope and a microscope into the fanciest, intimately-designed science fiction landscape.

Destiny’s artistic aesthetic is rich. It’s obvious they spent ages researching sci-fi environments from the past century to paint their mythology. Look out across Destiny and you notice it.

2001: A Space Odyssey is an obvious touch-point. Every time a wacky God-object from space shows up and freaks some human minds, you must mention Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s collaboration. 2001 is about incomprehensibility. With The Monolith discovered on the moon near the start of the film, it becomes quite obvious that despite our capacity for space travel, humanity’s primitive simian-consciousness is too slight for the expansiveness of the universe. There are things out there in space, like The Monolith, and The Traveler in Destiny, we cannot begin to close our minds around, conceptually. The Monolith blows Dave’s mind at the end of 2001, shows him the bizarre, unhinged future, and it left everyone else to wonder what was really going on. Simply put, we don’t definitively know.

We cannot conceive. We cannot archive this feeling.

2001 is ambiguous and provocative. It will make you think hard about humankind trying to leave this silly little water-covered rock.

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Those playing Destiny are already beginning to speculate about what The Traveler really is, if it’s telling us the truth, and whether or not The Guardians are fighting the good fight. The compulsion to think and discover the truths behinds alien relics is a giddying lure. For example, we don’t know much about the mystical portions of Destiny, but the gate keys discovered on Mars to unlock the Black Garden in the game are literally Monolith-looking slabs, ringing with dangerous nonsense powers, and that just makes the mystery all the more appealing.

Whether you’re Event Horizon, Interstellar, or Destiny, all sci-fi, good or bad, is trying at least a little to be 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Well, maybe not ALL, because the next touch-point that comes to mind is John Carter.

Have you seen John Carter? Oh lordy, that movie OWNS! It’s a creativity hate-crime that people accuse John Carter and Destiny for having more classical influences for their design and story structure.

What another unfortunate case of bad marketing. It turns out that John Carter, the progenitor of sci-fi pulp that influenced all the twentieth century space-traveling sagas you know and love didn’t blow up the box office and make it rain Taylor Kitsch action figures. Based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels, specifically A Princess of Mars, John Carter is the brilliant puppy-dog-rolling-in-mud entertainment that inspired stories like Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Avatar, et al.

The John Carter movie follows a disgraced Union soldier. His name is John Carter. He is quickly teleported from Earth to Mars and ends up becoming involved in a three-sided war involving green humanoids, some Roman-style conquerors, and people whose gargantuan capital city travels a desert on mechanical spider legs. It’s all swashbuckling lunacy. Technically, it’s all swashbuckling Martians, but it has everything that Destiny does: weird, ancient societies right here in our solar system. Four-armed alien freak-beasts. Gonzo space-magic. A reckless disregard for gravity and logical physics. Mysterious, invisible aliens trying to guide the fate of the lesser species.

Destiny takes a similar approach, not to mention how similar Destiny’s Fallen aliens are to John Carter’s Tharks, and the Destiny Warlock characters wield void-powers identical to the de-atomizing blasts used by the evil Therns in John Carter.

I could go on and on about John Carter. It’s caramel popcorn at Christmas. Watch it as a triple-feature with other unfortunate Disney bombs, Tron: Legacy, and The Lone Ranger. Then plonk down with Destiny and stop taking your sci-fi video games so seriously, okay? Not everything has to be a blunt metaphor for why slavery is bad and religion is pretty weird, if you think about it, you guys.

Strangely enough, on the other side of the influential coin, the serious-heads to John Carter’s silliness-tails, is Battlestar Galactica.

Battlestar was a military show about humanity’s last remnants on the run from a sworn enemy, and the factions that grow within that limping society. In Battlestar’s universe, humanity was a prosperous, spacefaring civilization in a far-off solar system until we created the robotic Cylons, who evolved, rebelled, and nuked is down to roughly 40,000 refugees. This is very similar to Destiny’s story of our species’ near-extinction, and our attempts to survive post-Collapse while rediscovering an ancient-future past out there among the stars. There are secrets buried across the Battlestar and Destiny universes. The Vex machine-race in Destiny bear a clear resemblance to the Cylons, and a great deal of time in Battlestar, Destiny, and all good science fiction, is spent asking questions about where we’ve come from, where we’re going, and if we even are fighting the right fight. Get over the Internet’s freakish whine-mob and go experience Battlestar if you haven’t already.

That huge mid-season cliffhanger halfway through season 4 was so delicious and tragic that you can probably just end the show there, if you want to savor its true nature.

To call Destiny borning, boilerplate science fiction design is to assume a lot. It’s odd how much people want to assume they know everything. That betrays so much purpose in creating fiction.

 

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Part 5: Destiny Is An Action Game With Guns, From A First-Person Perspective

The first weapon you acquire in Destiny is an automatic rifle, claimed from within the walls of a Russian Cosmodrome. The second weapon is a shotgun. They fire bullets.

Upon traversing the Russian Cosmodrome’s wall and clearing a field of pursuing aliens, you will level up from level 1 to level 2. You discover your actions bring experience. Experience expands your arsenal of supplemental abilities beyond bullets and guns. This includes extra-powerful melee attacks, grenades, and the Super Charged attack. Right here, it’s obvious that Destiny is going to tear up the constitutional turf for modern first-person shooters. Beyond mere gunsmanship, and a player becoming an expert at putting a dot on an enemy’s weak point to optimize that trigger-pull we’re so familiar with from past shooting experiences, there will be hyper-fashionable systemic layers to make touching this game beautiful.

To borrow terminology, you are not a football running back in Destiny. At least not usually. You are not handed the ball and finding seams in a defense, battering through using decades of instinct.

No, in Destiny, you are a football quarterback. You are designing your offense in every enemy encounter. Your weapons are your receivers, your runners, your blockers.

(It’s unfortunate that the adults that avidly play videogames were commonly NOT the football players in their youth, and thus usually assume sports are for faggy jocks, since there is so much common ground between indoor videogames and outdoor sports games. C’mon, they’re both games, you whiney punks. Get over yourselves, alright? Liking one does not predispose you to like or dislike the other.)

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As the quarterback of your little Destiny arsenal, you should always have a ticking clock in your head. You’re always counting off. That’s what good quarterbacks do. Watch Tom Brady snap the ball, take a 3-step drop, scan for targets, assess the swarming field, and know that he has maybe 4-7 second before he’s ruined by a man that weighs more than a pickup truck full of vaudevillian dumbbells. That’s you in Destiny. You survey, move, act, and loose an attack. You’ll know you have “x” seconds before your grenade is ready. You might want to hold off on it, you might need that weapon for the next big play. So stay short-range and safe.

The gunfights in Destiny are football fields. You need to save the trick-plays and your star-player’s energy for when you need it most.

Take the Super Charged attacks, for example. The Super Charged attack is unique to your character’s subclass, of which you have two to choose. There may be more in the future. Subclasses also maintain specific melee and grenade attacks and an elemental tendency denoting strength against certain enemy types. Again, you are designing an offense before you go into battle. Are you going to launch an aerial attack or smash-mouth run-game? Watch film. Plan ahead. Although this information is not shared outright, you will discover upon playing that subclasses commonly fall naturally into an offensive or supporting role.

It is a snuggly feeling knowing that once both subclasses are filled all the way out, you can alternate between, say, an ultra-destructive Voidwalker Warlock, or a durable, game-saving Sunsinger Warlock.

By the time you reach, say, level 28, you will be conducting a destructive concerto closer to Bayonetta than Call of Duty. Picking your moments to unload the biggest attacks are more like Street Fighter IV than Halo. Destiny’s beautiful ability systems are woven together to help a player understand that the best way to engage the action is to have one skill fuel the next.

For example, certain glove gear, will allow you to re-use your melee abilities more quickly. In turn, certain helmets will allow you to use your grenade more quickly. Going further, with certain abilities selected for the Voidwalker Warlock will recharge your Super Charged ability more quickly if you kill enemies with both your melee AND grenades. When you use your Super Charged ability, it will produce orbs, and when your teammates collect them (crucial: you cannot collect your own orbs), their Super Charged abilities will recharge MUCH more quickly.

These are high-concept action systems. You, and all of your friends playing with you, will need to use every ability you have to survive. The fact that it is an action game from a first-person perspective is crippling to Destiny’s identity. I’m reminded more of Devil May Cry or Mega Man when playing it, putting out as much damage as quickly as possible, because if you fail to do so, you will die. The gear you discover, the abilities you choose, and the weapons you equip will vary from one encounter to the next.

On later levels, enemies have color-coded shields vulnerable to one element, but strong against all other elements. There are three different potential elements, solar, arc, and void, and the more powerful special weapons (shotguns, sniper rifles, and fusion rifles), and heavy weapons (machine guns and rocket launchers), carry an elemental tendency that makes them more powerful against their corresponding element.

Now the player will be tasked with preparing appropriately before attempting difficult missions. All players on your Fireteam should, too. This quickly becomes a 3-player, multi-layered, high-definition version of Mega Man X. All players must know their strengths and step up when its time to play a role. And they must perform at a first-person action shooter when they get there. Beyond the science-fiction story, the marketing, the art direction, the potential gear-drops, the cooldowns, the buffs, the builds, the elements, the systems, and worlds upon worlds you visit, Destiny is a glittering, diamond-edged action game.

Nothing is guaranteed. You still need to play it. You are open to keep playing it.

 

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Part 6: Why Keep Playing Destiny After Level 20? (And What Is The Destiny Loot Cave?)

I recently had a conversation with a friend where we compared Destiny to Diablo III. He works at a game development company and is the type of Diablo fan that is in love with its systems. It came as a surprise to me that he dislikes the systems for leveling in Destiny, especially after reaching level 20, the game’s current maximum level.

To advance beyond the arbitrary level 20 in Destiny, the player needs to equip certain armor with a new statistic called “Light.” Earlier in the game, armor could grant higher “Discipline,” “Intellect,” and “Strength” statistics that allow more frequent melee, grenade, and Super Charged abilities. Those are still factors, but “Light” is the biggest fashion statement as one advances further into Destiny.

There are always more advanced and more difficult mission varieties in Destiny, where the enemies carry higher levels. There is some hidden random number generator (RNG) math occurring behind the game’s oft-derided Wizard of Oz-style curtain, dictating that if an enemy is a higher level than a player, they will deal additional damage, and the player will do decreased damage. The swing in those statistics increases by several powers as the level-gap increases. In most cases, if a character is level 26 and an enemy is level 28, the player will do almost no damage to speak of.

Obviously, the player needs to increase their level to compete. They need to increase their “Light” to increase their level. They need to find gear with a high “Light” statistic. Gear with this trait are most commonly found in difficult, variant versions of missions call “Heroics.” I suppose you would have to be a hero to considering playing them? No, not really. They’re actually just added incentive to replay the fine-art level design and fantastic gunfeel that Destiny provides.

However, there are other routes players have taken to come across better gear with a higher Light stat. In lieu of experiencing the game’s finest feature (how it feels and functions when the controller is in your hands), some players chose to go to the Loot Caves.

The Loot Caves that people have discovered are the peak of unconscious entitlement and perversion of purpose.

Here is the circumstance. As mentioned before, you need certain gear with the particular “Light” statistic to advance in levels after reaching level 20. This certain gear is semi-rare, and the most valued kind are the purple “Legendary” or yellow “Exotic” variety. However, there is an unpredictability to finding it. Some of it can be purchased with currencies earned through playing the game, either in single-player or on the multiplayer Crucible mode. This is similar to how you earn guns in games like Call of Duty, or craft specific armor in RPG’s like Skyrim.

As we’ve discussed, Destiny is a fun, frictive action game. If you feel compelled to continue beyond the story’s conclusion, and you should, considering how enjoyable the game is to wrap your fingers around, the ever-present chance that a rare legendary or exotic item might fall into your lap as a reward for simply CONTINUING to play and engage with the game ought to be motivation enough.

The drops are not reliable. The anticipation is enjoyable though. Certain players carrying a sense of entitlement though would rather sit by the Loot Caves and shoot into the darkness, feeling that this is the best way to function in the game space.

The best way to function is to get better gear, quickly, at any cost.

That is robotic and so rat-gets-a-pellet that I want vomit so hard it snaps my neck.

Let’s examine the logic flow for this:

  • Player hits level 20
  • Better gear is required to advance
  • Better gear is designed to drop on high-level missions, bounties, rewards, and is purchased from 10 different vendors accepting various currencies
  • Currencies are earned from completing the missions
  • Ergo, playing the game more lets you earn more gear
  • Hit level 26-28 and you might just be strong enough to complete the highest-tier missions like The Vault of Glass Raid or Nightfall Strike missions

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Nice, right? Play the game, maximize loot, see new stuff! Seeing new stuff is a powerful motivator in games. Why do you think they designed such crazy-good first and LAST levels in old arcade games, then showed attract-mode videos of the late levels?

“Whoa! Crazy, a dragon monster!” Billy whispers in stuttered tones before a Golden Axe cabinet, slamming in quarters. He want to see cool stuff. He wants to play the game for the chance.

Loot Caves offer an alternative to seeing cool stuff:

  • Player hits level 20
  • Better gear is required to advance
  • Player stands in front of a black hole for hours in hopes that the game’s internal math spins the wheel enough times before he falls on purple or yellow
  • Maybe he does the Vault of Glass raid, eventually

In plain terms, these wheezing psychopaths want to see more cool stuff, more gear and locales, and are willing to deprive themselves of the game they have bought to see it sooner. They shoot at blackness, so it will all be over SOONER. What a beautiful assembly-line of misdirected aspiration.

What is more fun? Playing a so-warm it’ll cradle you to sleep action game for the foreseeable future? Or shooting a cave and watching colors bounce out?

What is more repetitive? Teaming up to explore the omni-varied and expertly-designed missions and environments for a shot at shared glory? Or shooting a cave and watching colors bounce out?

People throw out that Destiny is repetitive. Destiny, like life, is as repetitive as you have the laziness to make it.

What kind of no-talent, limbless water-bug rolls out of bed in the morning and assumes that they are not the broken ones—that a system designed by mathematician doctorate-holders and tested for years is in the wrong? Yes, you are free to participate in the game as you feel is the most efficient for you, everyone has weird lives and schedules. Don’t go snorting and hoof-stomping all about because you think something is broken and you are entitled to some better loot.

If there is desire in you to play science fiction dress-up as quickly as possible, and you don’t want to learn how to draw your own fashion or art, go to the loot cave and feel like you’re gaming the system, but if you do so, then you’re admitting that it’s a system, not a work of science fiction. In which case, I’d recommend locking yourself in your room, ignoring the outside world, and doing push-ups, forever, until you die, perhaps just to make a point to God for not giving you pectorals large enough to bench-press a car, because that’s what the loot cave is: endless, spiteful push-ups.

 

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Part 7: Welcome To The Vault Of Glass

Destiny is glass machine. It is not a complete machine though and you can see which organs are missing. It is an advanced life-form. Part-organic, born from a soul, and part-machine, created by well-meaning hands. Through Destiny’s opaque skin, you can see its cubic heart pump blood all about its body. Some parts you can spot and name—Story Missions, Strike Missions, Patrol Missions, Bounty Missions, Raid Missions.

Missions. Missions and objectives.

You can observe gaps in Destiny’s body when you look close. Missing organs. Absent story. Incomplete parts still under construction. Gargantuan, locked doors made of shimmering hieroglyphics. So you sit and wonder. How can the body function without these things? Is it even a body with only four toes instead of 5 on each foot?

Destiny is a living game that goes on forever.

We will know someday. Until then, we have the raid on The Vault of Glass.

It’s been reported that the first team to complete The Vault of Glass took 10 hours to figure it out. I completed it for the second time in about 2 hours yesterday. Our team of 6 was a little sloppy midway through.

The Vault of Glass was simply revealed one week after Destiny’s first week on the market. Placed like an Incan puzzle-box from an estranged globetrotting uncle into your waiting hands, the raid was exquisite. No mission briefing. No explanations on how to even open the first door. You had to remember your known knowns. Six of you had to, all at once, in concert, discover what to do, and perform at peak efficiency.

Through the alien vault door in the jungles of Venus. A mysterious light beam blasted it open. Down into the depths. It’s a dripping limestone cave girdled in thin mist. Past the hostile machines phasing in and out of time. Battling against enemies capable of winking you out of existence. It can be fought though. The weapons must be discovered though. Weapons and techniques you’ve never seen, but somehow know how to use when they’re placed in your hands.

Deep in the Vault of Glass, the architecture resembles a Roman circus nuked by a manic god-machine, with its drifting remains slotted back into place by a Russian art student. There are golden entities called oracles. They seem to be alive the way that a mathematical equation is alive. They sing when they come into being. You must kill them or be erased.

Next, there are ghostly robotic Gorgons. They live in a labyrinthine cave further below. If they spot you, everyone dies. They cannot be killed. Best to avoid them.

Further still, into the heart of the Vault of Glass, there is the Gatekeeper, overseeing portals forward in time to Venus, or backward in time to Mars. Or perhaps there’s something more to it? The Vex’s mechanical, time-compressing intentions are unknown. What is known is that as your group is bounced around time, passing through portals, claiming relics to keep them from being destroyed, your target is the Vault’s guardian, Atheon.

You must communicate with everyone. You must divide into teams. You must relay information, across portals, far out of sight, desperate to survive. Cooperation and performance are vital.

Some complete it and feel compelled to slay Atheon all over again. Maybe it’s the rush of earning the exotic rewards. Maybe it’s the camaraderie. The Vault of Glass is the best part of Destiny. It lets all the shortcomings fall away. It leaves us wanting more sensations like this. They are promised to be coming. Destiny does not end.

Destiny is a $60 bookshelf.

-- Alex Crumb (originally published 11/18/14)
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Part 8: Extra Apocryphal Musings

Apocryphal 1: On The Grimoire

Check out the grimoire. It's cool. Oh, you don't have time to look at your phone while playing? Yeah, probably not, but I'm sure that you spend more time looking at your phone every day that you do playing Destiny. Maybe read some of the lore about the places you've been or the people you've met instead of complaining about things on Facebook? Maybe recall that you don't read the written lore in the books or notes you pick up in every other game like Skyrim or Independent-Horror Game Number 24601.

 

Apocryphal 2: Game Scores Are Stupid

Games are more of an ongoing event than a product anymore. You don't assign a number score to a single game of football, or even to a football season. People report on it, people write about it, people talk about it, and people participate in it, maybe even criticise it, as they should. They don't score it though.

Rank video games. Rank them among their peers and competition. Call of Duty Black Ops II is better than Call of Duty Ghosts is better than Call of Duty Ghosts. There.

Scores and reviews and genres are in place because moms can be stupid and little Jeffy needs help making a decision with his moron seven year-old brain because while he can't tell the difference between pieces of written criticism, he can tell the difference between a 7 and an 8. But not a 4 and a 9, that's too much!

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