Originally, I wanted to write about how tired I am of playing Destiny and that I won’t be making the jump to the new DLC (downloadable content, for the acronym averse) that came out last week. But then I saw this. And then I realised, I was never actually playing a game, was I? Instead, I was taking part in perhaps the most elaborate and expensive transmedia performance art project ever created.
There really is no other way to explain the madness surrounding that thing. Promoted as a revolutionary online gaming experience, taking place in an incredible sci-fi universe that promised a rich lore and unimaginable cosmic vistas (that early concept art was so magnificent), Destiny promised to be an epic tapestry in which every player would weave their own story in unique individual threads — a project set to last the coming decade.
And then you get to the game, and it’s… it’s a massively competent first-person shooter, for sure. Finely balanced mechanics complement snappy, exciting moment-to-moment gameplay. It’s even more fun to play with friends, one of the very few online shared experiences I have actually enjoyed (no, I never touched the player-versus-player-focused Crucible, because I’m over 30 and not insane). And then… that’s kinda it, really.
The promised universe is little more than half a solar system and features same-ish maps spread out over the Earth, the Moon, Venus, and Mars. I mean, sure, it can be argued that just the Earth is some people’s entire universe, but I’m pretty sure Bungie didn’t mean that when it was promoting Destiny. The player is expected to go through a finite number of missions on those same areas, until they reach the level cap of 20. And then the player has to switch gears and start replaying those same missions, over and over again, but collect a different type of currency and gear this time, so they can reach the actual level cap of 30. And the mechanics of gathering this currency (which is divided into several types of sub-currency) and gear are an exercise in attrition, of banging your head against the same wall until it collapses, so you can proceed and bang your head against the wall behind it.
And then, the raid becomes available!
The raid, called Vault of Glass, is supposedly the absolute culmination of the game; a strictly team-based, epic mission, where you will need all the expertise and skill you’ve gathered throughout the game in order to power through. Except not really, because the raid introduces mechanics and gameplay elements that never made the slightest hint of an appearance in the rest of the game, so you’re pretty much improvising. That is, if you get that far, because it’s all too possible you will have gotten bored of the endless repetition somewhere about fifteen hours back, and never know there is such a thing as the Vault of Glass. I still don’t qualify for the raid (I’m still a lowly level 23), and now I never will.
And now, just three months from the game’s launch, there is new content available for Destiny, with The Dark Below DLC, featuring a new raid and a handful of new story missions, which costs extra money. And as if that weren’t segregating the game’s population enough, Bungie chose to shut part of the game’s content out of reach of the players who hadn’t bought the DLC last week. And there’s also a new raid coming in a few months, which also costs extra money. Oh, and Bungie is working on the sequel, which will probably not be distributed for free – just a hunch.
If this whole thing is not some strange, elaborate commentary on the modern videogame market, then it’s perhaps this industry’s most cynical product since Oblivion’’s Horse Armor DLC. If it’s not some scathing critique at what the AAA games industry considers value, then it’s the biggest display of imperious arrogance ever put forth by publisher Activision, the gaming mega-power behind the Call of Duty franchise.
Just look at all the elements surrounding this game. The supposedly epic lore is a bunch of derivative sci-fantasy techno-occult gibberish that tries its damnedest to stay just enough within the player’s peripheral vision so they know it’s there, but disappearing, wisp-like, into thin air whenever the player looks straight at it.
The story is implemented so haphazardly, you begin to wonder if someone at Bungie wanted to poke fun or offer homage to videogame storytelling circa 1994. Actors who are not only instantly recognizable, but also probably cost a pretty penny, like Peter Dinklage, Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Lance Reddick, Bill Nighy, Lauren Cohan, Peter Stormare, Claudia Black, etc., stumble through atrocious lines, busywork dialogue, and wooden exposition.
A world-famous music legend was commissioned to make a theme song for the game… and he made this.
This whole thing either takes a bold, satirical vision worthy of Andy Kaufman’s wettest dreams, or balls the size of Venus.
So Bungie and Activision have made an unparalleled, plethoric, extravagant performance art production, where the players are both the performers and the targets of the satire. This is the only explanation that makes any kind of reasonable sense, because if not… if Activision and Bungie actually think of Destiny as a real, honest entertainment product… well, that’s a whole other discussion, isn’t it?
So it’s curtains for my part in the show; I’ll make my exit stage left, and try to think about what I have learned.