This week’s livestream improved things, but not much.
From the earliest reveals for Destiny, the game’s developer, Bungie, was talking about an ambitious long term plan for the game series. Now the studio that brought Halo into the world has carried the first Destiny game as far as they could and is making a sequel, Destiny 2. The prospects for the next Destiny game are probably good but you couldn’t tell that from the marketing for the game so far, which is a disappointment.
Destiny is a game that can’t decide on a tone, or at the very least doesn’t harmonize it’s multiple tones very well. There’s the big last stand for humanity tone and the comedic “there’ll be tons of loot” tone. The trailer gives these tones equal time and weight which is a problem for a few reasons. First it ignores the tone of a lot of the lore of Destiny which has to do with the mysteries surrounding the Traveler, humanity’s protector and the source of the guardian’s powers, and the Darkness, the unseen force behind all the enemies besieging the Earth. With this week’s Livestream for Destiny 2, Bungie finally started doing this aspect of the game some service but for people who are interested in lore it may not be enough to sell them on the game. Second, the comedic tone is grossly overused in Destiny 2’s marketing. Destiny is not a funny game. It had some solid moments of comic relief, absolutely, but that was never a main focus of the game.
It’s important to note the difference between intentional humor and transformative humor here. When I say that Destiny isn’t a funny game, I’m criticizing the writing of the game for the most part. While some of the bits in Destiny, and more so in the game’s DLC, work pretty well, most of the jokes couldn’t even be saved by the whit and whimsy of Nolan North and Nathan Fillion. Destiny is a funny game in the way that the movies in Mystery Science Theater 3000 are funny: Destiny is fun to make fun of, not funny in itself.
Destiny is a strong example of a game with a long tail. The combination of seamless co-op of the main campaign as well as crafted co-op experiences like strikes and raids and the competitive crucible mode means that Destiny players have a lot to keep them busy. Combine that with the loot mechanics of the game and the way Bungie has consistently supported Destiny with DLC and it means that the game stays around in player’s lives longer than other games. It seems like the game is on the right track in this respect with the move to allow solo players to match into late game combat with an established group. It remains to be seen how well this system will work during low traffic times when, presumably, there will be few groups running raids and other late game content.
One aspect of Destiny and some other games in this emerging style that tends to be a bit weak is the lore. Much of the detail in the storytelling for Destiny actually appears only in grimoire cards viewed in the game’s app. Making players do extra real life work to find the story for your game is becoming more and more common. The Overwatch community practically writes the lore for that game at this point. This is a problem because role-playing is a major way that people engage with games to begin with. The fact that people get invested in the characters and story of games like Destiny is often in spite of the way these games tell stories. Destiny 2 appears to be trying to remedy this problem with the inclusion of more side activities on the patrol maps for the game.
Destiny 2, at least the marketing for it, has a different problem, though. Destiny 2 needs to be hyped while not stepping on the DLC for original Destiny, or so it seems the Destiny 2 marketing team thinks. Even though the gaming community knew that a sequel for Destiny was likely in the works for some time, the news about Destiny 2 largely came from leaks and other unofficial sources, until this week’s Livestream. It’s as if they think that basic information about the development of a sequel to a game negates the enjoyment that players get from a current release. What this fails to understand is the new-ish trend of games with long multiplayer tails. Destiny, Overwatch, and The Division are all separate, recent examples of this trend of attempting to keep players engaged with a game long after they would normally drop out and stop playing.
Once triple-A developers and publishers realised that chasing the Call of Duty style annual release was largely futile they started using a bunch of different strategies to milk extra purchases out of a single game. All the microtransactions and DLC content for this new style of game take the place of the annual sequel. One possibly unintended consequence of this design strategy is that players get more and more invested in their game of choice, while they might play all of these games their favorite becomes ‘their’ game in the same way a sports fan’s favorite team is ‘their’ team. This makes players see sequels to a game like these more like they see the sequel to a movie or a new season of their favorite TV show. The new game adds to the previous one without really detracting from it in the way other serialized games do. Knowing that The Last Jedi is in production doesn’t make me want not watch The Force Awakens just like knowing that there will be another season of Daredevil doesn’t make me want to skip the first two just like knowing Destiny 2 is on the way doesn’t make me want to not play Destiny. I stopped playing Destiny because I was bored with doing the same five things over and over.
Also, and this may seem trivial, the title of Destiny 2 is dumb. Destiny, the concept not the game, is an inherently singular thing. There can not be more than one destiny for a person, group of people or an object. If someone thinks they’ve achieved their destiny, then decides they have another destiny then what is actually happening is that they were wrong about the first destiny. You can’t have multiple destinies in the same way that you can’t add to infinity. In an industry known for linguistic gymnastics in naming sequels, calling a game Destiny 2 is just lazy. The already existing naming conventions for Destiny DLC make the title of the sequel seem even more careless.
I’m excited for the same reason I played the first one longer than I should have which is the gameplay. The storytelling, worldbuilding and characterization of Destiny were all hit and miss and thanks to some strong investigative reporting from Jason Scheler at Kotaku we know that much of the story content for Destiny was scrapped and rewritten pretty far into the game’s development. What was great about Destiny, though, was the moment to moment feeling of the gameplay which was incredibly solid throughout the game. The potential of Bungie taking a second shot at building Destiny from the ground up for Destiny 2.
Based on this week’s livestream, the new game’s Story will center around the class quest-giver NPCs from Destiny, much like some of the game’s later DLC. Specifically Destiny 2 will put these NPCs under unprecedented stress and into new situation which will, hopefully, flesh them out as real characters in a real world; something original Destiny failed at somewhat.
What all this boils down to is the idea that based on the content of everything Bungie and Activision revealed about Destiny 2 I think the game is on the right track but the tone of the marketing is off putting enough, and reminiscent enough of the run up to original Destiny to cause concern. It feels as if the makers of Destiny 2 are talking past the audience of people who fell off Destiny early on or never played at all and speaking directly to their most rabid fan base. The problem with this as a marketing strategy is that the people being marketed to were already going to buy Destiny 2 while people like me who felt burned by Destiny’s lack of content early on still need convincing to buy at launch and not wait until the first round of DLC.
On the other hand, Destiny 2 would give me something to play with friends that doesn’t have Bastion and Reaper in it for a change.