Sep 16, 2015

Posted by in Editorial, Featured | 0 Comments

Round And Round We Go – Repeating Content in Destiny

Destiny-The-Taken-King

I feel like I have a lot of well-worn tag-lines trailing after me. “I suck at math”. “Geeks today have no idea how good they have it”. “I’m not a psychologist”. Those kinds of things. I throw them out almost verbatim when the need arises, so I should probably see about making macros for those phrases.

Generally, they don’t need their own topic, but I received a “challenge” of sorts from Talyn328 to write about why I normally dislike repeating content in games, but have no problem with it in Destiny.

For those who aren’t on the Destiny train, the game is a hybrid of a lobby shooter — where you return to “hang out” and shop in between missions — and an open-world FPS. The “open world” is divided into planets in our solar system (and the moon, and the Reef, an interstellar junkyard at the system’s edge). If you stick to the story missions, you’re dropped off at a starting point and must traverse the map to get to your objective. This usually involves retracing your steps over and over as your goals move further and further from the starting point each time. You’re also not limited to “one and done”; you can cycle back and re-do missions at your leisure. There’s also raids and strikes (dungeons) that you can party up or queue for, and patrols that allow you to just wander the map and pick up ad hoc missions.

There’s a lot of repetition in Destiny. The worst of it is probably the Cosmodrome on Earth, simply because it’s the first zone you enter, and is one you return to over and and over as you progress through the story, patrol, and attempt to fulfill bounties (long-term assignments for XP). After the first few drops to any zone, you quickly learn where mobs congregate, their usual composition, and what the best weapons are to counter them. Basically, it’s the epitome of what I should detest: ultimate repeating content.

I had to think about why I am enjoying Destiny so much, even to the point where I’m eschewing other games — even PC games.

Missions Versus Roaming

Missions are the reasons you have to go to a specific location. Roaming is just hitting up a map to see what’s going on there. The missions are a necessity because you only unlock different planets as you progress through the story, so you can’t skip it. If you want to get to Mars, you need to complete Earth, the Moon, and Venus first. The first time around I can enjoy it for the novelty of it all. Subsequent returns — either by repeating the mission or by revisiting those zones for a free roam — are all about stretching the legs with technique.

Freedom to Try Something New

There’s a mission early on in the game called The Last Array, and it’s the bane of my existence. You have to activate a communications array on Earth to allow a defensive AI to communicate with satellites, but as soon as you turn it on, your position is swarmed — swarmed — by enemies. There’s standard enemies, fast-moving paper mache enemies, and tank-like enemies. A whole bunch. And a drop ship that fires on you. The first time I did it, I died many times. The second time I managed to make it through. Third time I had two friends with me. Last night I did it again — with an over-leveled character — and it was a piece of cake. But even though I didn’t fear for my life on the last attempt, I still had fun. My tactics were different. My weapons were different. I had months of skill now that I could utilize.

Being able to go back to a situation and trying something different is interesting to me. If it’s no longer a surprise, then I feel more comfortable with the content. The first time I might work really hard to stay alive, but once I get the lay of the land, I find I’m more cavalier with my tactics.

The irony that this is what player-written guides provide — which I detest — is not lost on me, except that in this case, I learn about the situations myself, most certainly with errors in my trials. That is a rewarding feeling you don’t get from internalizing someone else’s guide and it makes success feel so much better.

Grouping

I belong to a cadre of folks who believe in the idea of grouping, but who rarely get around to doing it. Sometimes we might PUG it, although that’s a tactic of last resort.

This time around, I have been playing with my brother and a friend, and we’ve been trying very hard to not out-level one another so we can get through the meat of the story. It’s been working exceedingly well, and has allowed us to complete the base game. We’ve started on The Dark Below, and have House of Wolves and The Taken King content to look forward to.

Having people to group with helps iron out repetition as invariably someone will get a mission or so behind and will need to catch up. For those who have already completed it, it’s XP and loot, and since we’re helping out a friend, it’s never a wasted trip.

Progression

Progression in Destiny is insane. As someone who is progression-minded (another macro phrase), it’s very important to me. Seeing missions drop away in the rear-view is awesome, but feeling more powerful is also awesome and makes me excited to play again soon.

Whether it’s something updated in TTK or just a matter of learning how to “game the game”, progression has been pretty rapid. There’s only (now) 40 levels, and in one session last night I got from level 25 to level 27 with the barest of effort. In fact, I was completing the low-level Earth story line with a level 25 Warlock, and still managed to get two levels of progress.

Patrol Missions, Bounties, And Exploration

Sometimes I don’t want to worry about completing missions but still want to shoot aliens in their alien faces, so I’ll pick up bounties and head to where I need to go in order to fulfill them. I like this part a lot for a few reasons.

First, the act of aggression involving slaughtering hostile aliens is just fun. Like, the level of fun you get out of making a match in a match-3 game, if  you can draw that mental parallel. I’ve found that when I’ve got the time to take time, I self-challenge anyway. Can I get nothing but head shots (aka “precision kills” in Destiny parlance) on a group? How quickly can I eliminate a group of seven to ten enemies? If they’re all clustered up, how many can I kill with a single shot? How well can I toss a grenade?

Bounties kind of codify this over a longer term, which can be completed specifically by focusing on the bounty requirements, or simply by letting it happen in the course of completing other objectives. I’ve got a bounty currently to kill 30 enemies with primary weapon precision shots. I also have and have had bounties to kill x numbers with grenades, or melee kills. I find bounties and patrols to be really fun because they’re quick and lucrative, help speed the progress, and can be a very low-key way to play without pressure.

I’ve also learned that there’s a lot of places on the maps where I haven’t ever been. They’re not in any stories. They’re usually in caves or downstairs in bunkers, or around corners that don’t look like corners until you’re right on top of them. There’s a whole lot of places to see that I don’t even know exist, which is insanely exciting for me, since “exploration” in MMOs is only one player-written guide away should you not want to put in the effort.

The One Thing That Kills It (and Me): Dying

have noticed my perchance for repeating content in Destiny before Talyn brought it up, and I’ve also realized my Destiny Achilles Heel, and that’s dying.

I have to say that I haven’t been making a habit of it. I do still die and I do still get stressed each time I do. The first time I tried The Last Array, for example, got me so tense that by the third consecutive go, I had a headache and my shoulders hurt like I’d been thrown out of a window. When I tried soloing the “level 10” Fist of Crota with a level 24 Titan and died several times, I had to give up for the time being because I was getting frustrated.

I can’t not be annoyed by the setbacks of dying, so repeatedly not dying is always a plus. I’m sure someone is going to question the idea that not dying equals more fun than being challenged by overcoming the threat of constant death. I never said I wasn’t challenged here; just that I’ve been getting better at cheating death. I come close a lot of times, which makes the fast-paced lightning rally to overcome the obstacles that much sweeter, and the game so much more fun.

Compared to Other Games

What bothers me about repeating content in MMOs? It is primarily MMOs where the repetition seems to really wear me down, so let’s talk about that.

MMOs are pretty massive as a rule, and seem to get more massive with each expansion. To me, they feel very…hmmm…I want to say “linear”, but not necessarily in the theme-park way. They tend to expand out, by adding more horizontal real-estate with new zones, missions, and so on. Destiny, on the other hand, crams a lot of content into smaller areas and has you revisit those areas for different purposes; they seem to do more with less. Even their expansions have just added new missions to the existing zones (TTK notwithstanding). Plus, there’s all those undiscovered niches out there, including digging deeper into a vertical map system. Being in a lot of enclosed spaces also cuts you off from the rest of the zone, giving you a feeling that each corridor is a world unto itself, compared to open zones where you can see far off in the distance. MMOs seem to be enamored with their own sense of scale in an attempt to impress or impart upon the player the gravity of their journey (a la your own personal Lord of the Rings sized epic).

The journey in an MMO seems to be stretched over a period of time and distance simply for the sake of keeping players playing, which is especially important for games which have a subscription model. Getting to level 40 in Destiny is proving to be limited pretty much by my availability of time to sit down and play. In an MMO, the distance between level 1 and whatever cap there is — often times measured in decades — just takes so damn long. I have to complete maybe 20 quests in an MMO to get one or two levels, whereas in Destiny I can level up practically per mission with the right combo of mission and bounties. For some that may be too quick, but for me it’s just right.

And I guess Destiny doesn’t complicate things with busywork. I’m a fan of certain MMO systems like meaningful crafting, housing, and certain diverting mini-games (like WoW‘s pet battles), but any intense staring at those systems and I start to obsess. Since those systems rarely contribute to the overall progression of the character, my need to see progression takes over and I start to feel that I’ve gotten off-track. Destiny does one thing: shooting fucking aliens. I don’t even have anything else to divert my attention, and so I’m extremely focused on doing just what the game offers in whatever form it offers it.

Finally, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel in Destiny, whereas I rarely see it in an MMO. In MMOs, the slog is too long, the diversions too many, and the grouping (with people I can stand) is too few and far between, so getting to the level cap is a Herculean force of will for me, and therefor rarely happens. With Destiny‘s progression-friendly design, I know it’s not a matter of if I get to the cap, but when, and that’s a goal I’m excited about.

Conclusion (i.e. tl;dr)

Shooters have never really been my primary genre, even when I was younger and my reflexes faster than they are now. I don’t do well with pressure and tend to “spaz out” at the controls. I also tend to favor precision over speed, which ends up putting me in a place where I’m easier to hit. But I’m getting over that, thanks to Destiny (and to lesser extents games like Borderlands and Defiance) and as a consequence I’m starting to appreciate shooters more and have more fun with them.

My desire to not have to repeat content still remains. Due to the size and general linearity of most MMOs, there’s really no way to avoid repeating content unless you only roll a single character and stick with it — amazingly, that’s what I do 98% of the time. I’m not an altaholic mainly because I really do not like having to re-do content that I’ve already completed: there’s nothing new to it, no new-content smell left, and at that point it’s less of a “gee whiz” set of things to do, and more of a stark reminder that from this point on, the slog though the maps as I attempt to progress towards the vicinity of the level cap is filled with nothing new under the sun…60 – 100 levels of nothing new under the sun.

Destiny is quick. I can get going fast (despite abysmal loading times) and keep going. Loot has become plentiful, so I’ve got new toys to look forward to. Leveling is ultra-fast, which is very important to me, and there’s really no “preferred” way to level. I could do missions, patrols, strikes, raids, or bounties and still get XP and still gain levels at (what seems to me) equal rates. When all tasks move at similar speeds — or at least seem to — then I’m like a kid hopped up on sugar in a candy factory: everything is exciting, no matter which way I run.

 

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