Video Games & Tech

6 Ways Destiny Could’ve Been Amazing

by on 15/10/2014
 

Destiny promised a lot, but just like real life, it squandered its potential.

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Destiny looks beautiful, has the beginnings of an interesting setting and, at a whopping $500 million, was produced with the largest budget of any game ever. Unfortunately, the final product seemed more like an introduction to a series rather than a full game in and of itself; it is as if it started life as one FPS project with story and multiple modes of play that then got all elements sliced down into a MMORPG to make it more expansion and cash-creation friendly.

As this post on reddit showed, in practice, the results appeared an awful lot like Phantasy Star Online.

Not that PSO was necessarily a bad game, but for the most expensive game ever that should’ve had the best constituent parts of all games ever, what went wrong? Well, it looks an awful lot like they had one project that overran and then was spun into a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none mishmash that was put out before it had finished cooking so we, as foolish consumers, would be forced to buy further expansions to play half of the stuff they’d originally planned.

Oh, and they want you to sign up on their website to make clans and find out anything about the story.

So, here’s a list of stuff that ground my gears when playing, things that more time and the clarity of directorial oversight might have produced.

1) Spaceships

You'll be seeing a lot of loading screens, by the way, so at least they're pretty.

You’ll be seeing a lot of loading screens, by the way, so at least they’re pretty.

What’s the issue?

Destiny has spaceships. What do they do? They slightly modify the loading screens between locations. That’s it. Spending money on the different ships has no in-game effects whatsoever.

How could it be better?

Idea 1: Provide a load screen mini-game:

I’m not going to moan about the long loading times in themselves, as I assume they could not have been brought down without some significant loss to game content. But, if you have spaceships with apparent guns on them, why not utilise these assets in a minigame for the loading screen? Each loading section could have some sort of simple shooting game (as the space between the planets is bound to be full of satellites and hostile aliens).

This could be a simple way of earning small amounts of glimmer and offer a whole new tech tree of upgrades and customisation.

Idea 2: FPS game buffs and supers:

Ships could also be integrated into the FPS game by giving your fireteam a group buff that you earn by getting above a certain score in the load screen minigames. There could be a dynamic where you’d be under attack upon landing on a planet, but getting above a certain score in the minigame allows your ships to bombard the surface before you get there, thinning the alien ranks or maybe showering the area with ammo and rare items. Rare items that you find in the depths of dungeons could offer new ship weapons or attributes.

Another option could’ve been orbital bombardment as a super attack for a class or for it to be utilised at the end of one of the missions (e.g. an endless assault countdown to a shield being lowered, then you see your ships emerge from the clouds and teleport you in while they bomb the crap out of the aliens).

Idea 3: Spaceflight and Space Fights:

Ratchet and Clank (2002) and Unreal Tournament 2004 (UT4) both have space missions as well as the surface-side third and first person shooters respectively. Ratchet and Clank also had minigames seamlessly inserts, and UT’s assault mode even had competitive multiplayer space fighter missions, and this was 12 and 10 years ago. There’s no real reason that the main storyline or the Crucible couldn’t include such a mode for the story campaign, deathmatches, team deathmatches or assault-equivalent levels.

Spacebattles in an FPS, 10 years ago.

Spacebattles in UT, 10 years ago.

Idea 4: Customisation:

An option to customise the ships on a par with cars in Forza, GT or GTAs of years past would’ve been cool. Colours, guns and witty messages written on the side would all be good options for customisation that next-gen consoles should be able to deal with. A “garage” mode where you can admire your possessions and tinker with them would’ve also been nice.

2) Locations

What’s the Issue?

Destiny has nice looking levels and events. Interaction with elements of these levels is, however, minimal at best, the levels are few in number and not massively diverse. They follow the general trend of industrial urban ruins in all locations, evocative of some sort of backstory. Ruined industrial complex in Russian grasslands, ruined alien tech-base on the Moon, ruined industrial bases in Jungles on Venus, ruined industrial bases in deserts on Mars. The Tower is a futuristic industrial spaceport Darnassus lobby area.

How could it be better?

Idea 1: Have more than five levels

Well, it would be easy to say “have more than five levels”, but, well, yeah, there should be more than five levels. There’s no interaction with them, few destructible elements and where there is space, it is under-utilised. Compare this to 2011’s Battlefield 3 (BF3) and Skyrim, or 2010’s Left 4 Dead 2 (L4D2).

BF3 has sprawling maps where the vehicles serve actual purpose, as well as destructible areas. Skyrim has an even larger global map with many areas you’re welcome to explore at your own convenience. L4D2 has intense and linear levels that tell a wider story with character interactions that you can pay attention to at your own will.

Idea 2: Have (more) destructible environments, exploration and more varied play locations

Imagine fusion rifles taking out chunks of wall, heavy machine gun fire through crates. The open areas could have areas and dungeons you only discover through patrols, rather than be an empty location peppered with enemies that you have to farm for rep. The “story mode” should have each chapter tell an actual story with the level’s elements like L4D2. This should mean more plot-based interactivity than putting your pocket Tyrion to work on a Fallen fridge or killing a boss monster again. It could also utilise different styles of play, like stealth, Prey-style varying physics (2006), flight, group puzzles or vehicle use.

Idea 3: Have outer space environments

An example of potential lost would include the Reef area; the game’s longest attempt at story is in an area with no actual explorable content. The FPS section for this location might have been interesting; it could take inspiration from Dead Space and had a variable gravity location where you could use the jump mechanic to navigate between large, rotating asteroids and space junk. An example use of this environment could involve deactivating bombs to help your ship get past (perhaps helmed by an ally or AI) while under attack from tomb ships and other space-dwelling enemies, as well as multiplayer usage of the same terrain.

But any such location has been relegated to the expansions at best. Even locations that are apparently in the disc content already, though how finished they are is anyone’s guess, it still feels like a joke when you finish Mars and you get Bill Nighy telling you how amazing you are for going to five different locations and churning up the enemies in turn.

Idea 4: Have more countries on each planet

These are supposed to be planets; they should have different areas with different climates, wildly different architecture and, where possible, different styles of play. Ideally, each could have some wider outdoor “war” areas with vehicles that could perhaps have some cumulative (perhaps even unpredictable) effects on Tower events. I imagine in the expansions they’ll branch out to other planets and star systems, but ending on a high note of exploration into the cosmos would have been far superior to “kill Mars then abruptly end”.

3) The Tower, the Economy, the Quests

What’s the issue?

I can’t see what the purpose of the Tower location really is, to the point that I now think there’s genuinely no need for it that I can tell. It doesn’t look terrible, but it’s nothing to write home about either. The location has seemingly no logic to it, with long, tedious strips of nothing but corridors and cleaning robots between vendors for items and currencies that have not been properly introduced to the player. There’s no map function, no guards to ask where certain vendors are, like in WoW, and a whole load of missing detail that would be helpful in similar ways.

Also, and this is a personal hatred of mine, the Xander Postmaster or whatever it’s called, has paper with information on it that, for some reason, you, some sort of badass cyber warrior from the future can’t carry if you’ve already got six bounties on the go. So the damned thing gives you a radar notification to check him until you’ve finished what you already have and take his damned note. This adds literally nothing but annoyance.

The quests themselves are much of a muchness; throw the Tyrion-cube at it, kill things.

How could it be better?

Idea 1: Minigames, spaceships and Sparrow races

If you want a lobby area, that’s fine, but it would’ve been more fun if it had, say, a psychedelic Sparrow wipeout race feature, spaceship races that weave in and out of the area a collection of competitive and cooperative minigames that encourage social interaction and variation in play.

Idea 2: Tower events

There could also be weekly events where the Tower would come under attack by a hostile faction and you could take part in that for rep, involving FPS, turrets and space games as outlined above.

Not just some balls.

We've all seen enough body bags and ball sacks.

We’ve all seen enough body bags and ball sacks.

4) Characters

Destiny_20140909004643-700x393

What’s the issue?

Character creation has no impact whatsoever on the rest of the game.

How could it be better?

Idea 1: No helmets

Let me hold my hands up and say that the “doll simulator” character creation parts are actually one of my favourite aspects of coming to a new game. I like the customisation and the art styles and hair and all of that. So what does Destiny do with it? You can see it in the lobby and that’s it; a simple way to deal with this would be option to play without helmets.

Idea 2: Customisable voices

A sad missing option was the Saints Row/UT/Soul Calibur selection of voices and Mass Effect’s personality creation, all of could’ve combined for some interesting (and hilarious) interactions between people’s characters over the course of multiplayer action. Left 4 Dead had some great (and variable) character interactions and jokes in the course of a linear experience, like Zoey admitting to farting in the lift in the No Mercy collection of levels. This would’ve been one way to get some life into the setting and reveal little bits of the story.

Idea 3: Customisable personalities

A cool way of using the previous feature would be having two personality types that typically hate each other and having them increase personal rep with each other the more they play together and save each other. So what may start out as speciesist, insulting characters, could grow over the course of playing together. Mass Effect’s system of personality creation would be fine.

5) The Story

I haven't looked at a single one of these

I haven’t looked at a single one of these.

What’s the issue?

The story has clearly been eviscerated, reduced to online fluff that I’ll never read. There is only one threadbare story you can actually play with zero character impact. It’s a rushed mess, it doesn’t really use the multiplayer mechanic at all and nothing is clear or especially important to what you’re doing?

How could it be better?

Idea 1: Narrative mode character interactions on the first time through

For me, L4D was the best for a linear game where the story was effectively optional and readable from the levels and the course of the action. Characters drive story, and the closest thing Destiny has to such is the Tyrion-cube. However, the player characters could, on the first play through anyway, drop bigger hints at what happened, and after these narrative statements are done, only pick speech from a more relaxed “interaction list” described above.

The story as it stands is essentially, “player character is resurrected, player character then goes through five areas fighting an undefined “darkness”, meeting a queen who does…something, and has a brother that appears treacherous but nothing ever comes of it, player kills a few giant versions of baddies, is then celebrated as a hero by Bill Nighy.”

Idea 2: Abandon grimoire cards for a more intuitive storytelling system

I’m not sure how this could be fixed beyond reams of extra missions that actually do show you stuff about the enemies and their motivations rather than telling you it through “grimoire cards”. If you had to preserve the current gameplay, put the grimoire in a journal system comparable to Tobin’s Spirit Guide in the Ghostbusters game.

An option to make the story feel more interactive would be the dynamic warzones I mentioned in the location section, events, and plot choices that affect how other characters would refer to you in multiplayer. Like do you save a group of your own people or one of the other species, or kill some ally AIs of a given species to achieve some wider goal.

6) Gameplay

What’s the issue?

The gameplay is mostly pretty good. It’s obvious that they focused most on getting this polished and enjoyable, and it shows. That said, fireteams are too small, the enemy AI is stupid, and the bosses are just giant versions of normal enemies with masses of HP and higher damage guns.

How could it be better?

Idea 1: Bigger fireteams, more mission dials

I think larger fireteams should be an option for any mission. Several times a degree of social ostracism has to occur because the teams are limited to three. Diablo II had this command called “players 8” in which the enemies got amped or neutered in their number and toughness by an algorithm according to the number of players in the game (in that case, 8). The number and toughness of the enemies could dialled as if there were that many players for players who wanted more of a challenge (similar to the difficulty choice within Destiny).

A default average level of the players and gear in the game could be an option for dictating the difficulty or number of enemies. As it is, I think the balancing so higher levels can still potentially be damaged be enough lower level enemies is pretty good, but I think it should be more dynamic and reactive depending on your party’s make-up and population to offer a better all-round experience after you finish the main story and start helping your friends.

Idea 2: Kill the currencies

I would cut down the number of currencies, they are not remotely intuitive and you don’t want people to have to use the dreadful fluff system you were forced to use to craft the story. One currency is really all you should need, and rep with one house lowers your rep with another and the specific gear sets you get for them tailor the way your character will be able to play. One currency would probably be fine, but if you were pressed for another, why not make it possible to exchange XP for currency?

Idea 3: Kill the vendors and quest limits

I think that I’d also kill off the majority of the vendors and the silly limits on quests. When you go into a dungeon, you should simply get the offer to do all the quests of that dungeon that you’re appropriate for. I would not have an artificial limit on quests; any and all appropriate for your class or level should come automatically and your desire for a clean quest log is your main concern, accessible through your Tyrion-cube or comms aboard your ship. All quests and items could be automatically given in on the fly, abandoning the tower as its current function as a time sink.

Idea 4: Sort out the AI, add Valve’s director (not Gabe)

The AI is really nothing to write home about. It is perfunctory, though the teleportation and shielding elements offer a degree of a challenge, the majority of the time it’s the exact same fight over and over. A director-like system like that in L4D could amp up the variation in enemy events, like a sudden incursion of Fallen or Vex when you’ve been fighting the Hive, an unexpected mini-boss and the like. Give designers their favourite levels and missions and write in alternate scenarios for it that get triggered randomly.

The bosses follow the old formula of bullet-sponge and insta-kill weapons on larger-than-normal enemies. They’re cheap. Mixing it up a bit with optional puzzles and artefacts (or minibosses at locations like the ones in Alterac Valley) during the dungeon would make it more dynamic and interesting. As it is, the strategy for every boss is essentially the same: hide behind things, shoot at critical area, kill adds, repeat until it is dead.

And that is not what the world’s most expensive game should be about.

Do you have any other ideas? Share them with us.

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