Destiny – The Thin Line Between Boredom and Immersion

As someone who could easily be described as a ‘niche gamer’ – rarely venturing outwith my comfort zone of western RPGs, strategy games, and the odd sniper/stealth game – it’s fairly easy to let the majority of releases pass by without affording them much attention.  Sure, there’s always going to be the bandwidth-hogging animated nagverts on any high-traffic website to make sure you’re at least aware of the name and the general premise, but delving beyond the teasers to find out more is something that rarely happens.

The second I walked through the doors of the South Hall at this year’s E3 I was confronted by what looked like an angry mob, waiting for someone to hand out the pitch forks and flaming torches before entering ‘spooky house on the hill’ into their designated driver’s Garmin.  As I neared the huddle, however, I realised that the mood was that of excitement rather than tension, and that the attraction was a desert landscape with a large futuristic vehicle that people climbed atop to have their photos taken.  “Ooooh”, I thought, “Are Disney making a new Star Wars game?“.  Nope.  This was Destiny.

Initially intrigued by the logo itself, mainly because it resembled a pair of y-fronts or some sort of groin protection, I decided that I’d keep one eye open and allow some of the hype to filter in.  Not being one for first-person shooters, with the only real enjoyment from that genre coming from Borderlands thus far, I was always a little sceptical as to whether or not I’d actually enjoy it.  After a while, jumping into the PSN store on the PlayStation 4 became more about avoiding the Destiny takeover ads than anything else, but it did its job and my interest was piqued much quicker than it would normally have been.

Then came the beta, and I would regularly ask my gaming peers if it was something that they felt I would enjoy.  The general consensus was that I would definitely enjoy it as it had the stat-whoring aspect of Borderlands coupled with the frenetic cover-based action of the Halo series.  “Ah, but I didn’t really get in to Halo!“, I’d tell them, and so the mental back and forth would continue until the point where I actually caved in and decided I would indeed give this futuristic shooter the benefit of the doubt.  That decision came the day after the beta ended, typically, and so I had to wait for the general release to whet my appetite.

Release day arrived, and so too did my copy of Destiny.  Even though I was well aware that I was soon going to be stepping outside of my long-standing comfort zone, I was still eager for work to come to and end and fire up the PS4 to see what all the hype was about.  As a graphics whore, I was pleasantly surprised.  Everything looked ‘next-gen’ and felt like someone had spent some serious time ensuring that the experience was fresh enough to keep you interested yet familiar enough that you could immediately fall into character without constantly checking the control scheme.  It was looking increasingly possible that Bungie were about to convert me into a lover of their work, even if Halo still aroused me as much as a minced sock.

Within minutes of playing, I knew that Metro: Redux had already taken a back seat and that my half-finished playthrough of the original inFamous on PS3 was all but forgotten.  I had a new love now, and her name was Destiny.  She was exotic, glamorous, refined, and… most importantly… so damned exciting.  From that first moment where I had to actually decide between several weapons within my inventory, comparing each stat with the next, I knew I was smitten.  They told me that the gameplay was like Halo, but if this was truly what Halo felt like to play then I must have missed something for those first few hours on my original Xbox, as I was never pulled in like this.

Then came The Tower.  At first I was impressed at how busy it was, with what I thought were NPCs wandering all over the place to give it a more realistic feeling of it being populated, until I realised that it was other players.  “How could this be?  I don’t play MMOs and specifically go out of my way to avoid them as I generally dislike playing with randoms!  Why didn’t anyone tell me that this was an MMO?“.  Regardless, I carried on and played my way through as much of the story as I could before fatigue set in and I had to hang up my armour for the night.

Prior to shutting down completely for the night, I jumped on to my phone and searched Google for “Is Destiny an MMO?“, only to discover that it wasn’t.  At least, not as far as Bungie themselves were concerned.  Granted, I’d played a considerable portion myself and only ever encountered randoms within whatever areas I passed through en route to the missions themselves, so perhaps it wasn’t an MMO after all.  During a bit of co-op play with fellow GL writer, Mark, I asked why I would sometimes be flying solo when other times I’d have random players turn up and take out some of the enemies.  He told me that this only happens in public areas.  PUBLIC areas?  I thought you only got public areas in MMOs, but apparently not.

Over the next few days I would grab as much time as I could with Destiny, always longing for a drop where I could swap out my current weapon or gear for something meatier or with added bonuses.  The initial draw was all about the stats, but the combat itself was so damned satisfying and watching the AI appear to think for themselves and take genuine evasive action was impressive, to say the least.  It wasn’t until I tried my first Strike mission that the matchmaking came into play and I realised that this was, regardless of what Bungie themselves say, an MMO.  Yet it didn’t matter.  Sepiks Prime was obliterated and I honestly couldn’t have done it without the two randoms at my side.  I can’t remember their names, or how many times we revived each other, but I was glad of their support and no longer worried about the MMO aspect.

It wasn’t until a few day later, bearing in mind that I would mostly be lucky to grab an hour of gameplay at a time, that I suddenly questioned my excitement over the game.  Why would my mind wander throughout the day and find itself back in the Cosmodrome, Tower, or the Moon when I should be working?  Was Destiny really SO good that I wanted to walk away from my desk, lock myself away from the outside world, don my headset and blast the hell out of The Fallen?  Of course it was!  I got to pick up weapons and compare them to those already in my inventory, I got to watch the Vandals hide behind the rocks as soon as I fired off a round close enough to them, and I got to replay the same missions as part of the daily bounties so I could gather extra Vanguard and experience points. I even recalled an evening where I spent more than an hour sitting atop the Cryptarch’s tent watching the ships dock and leave, and other players wander around or dance with each other. I did nothing but watch.

That’s when I suddenly realised that I had become utterly immersed in a game where tedium was the core element.  The weapons themselves never looked much different from each other, at least not in terms of how varied they were in Borderlands, and the stats were such that I would invariably hang on to the same weapons for ages because I was somehow lucky enough to pick up the best-suited gear at the time so anything else would tend to be sub par.  I also realised that the AI which had so impressed me at the start was incredibly predictable to the point where I knew that shooting at one guy in particular would mean that the other two would disperse in very specific directions and would remain behind cover until I got close.  I also knew that the one on the left would come out first, guns blazing, while the one on the right would follow shortly afterwards and try to melee the life out of me rather than waste any precious ammo.

Perhaps if the story had been engaging enough I’d never have noticed how lacklustre and pedestrian the actual gameplay was, and I’d have forgiven its shortfalls in favour of wanting to get to the end so I could see what my actions would bring.  Of course, as far as Destiny is concerned, there really isn’t that much of a story and with no choices to be made it means that there can’t be any consequence.  What ending exists for one exists for all, and the path therein is as linear as it gets.  I had become immersed in something with no substance and no real reason to continue playing, beyond watching the number alongside my name increase every now and again.  Yet there I was last night, for several hours, grinding away as usual.

I posted these thoughts as my Facebook status: “Destiny – the most fun you can have while simultaneously being bored shitless” and within moments it had been seconded, expanded upon, and liked by many of my friends.  How can it be that this super-hyped release from the FPS giants Bungie, consistently scoring between 8/10 and 10/10, is in reality a boring grind fest with no real direction?  What’s more surprising is that I’m now fully aware of this, and yet the choice between playing Styx: Master of Shadows, Metro: Redux, and inFamous still results in the PS4 being switched on and that first visit to The Tower to see what new weapons and gear everyone has to offer.

I stand by what I said before, that there’s a fine line between boredom and immersion.  Somehow, Destiny continues to walk that line.  For the moment, at least.

Last five articles by Mark R


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