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.
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 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
I 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.
There was a time when I’d admit to being a casual FPS fan. It’s enjoyable to shoot pixels as a way to blow off steam, but my heart had been firmly dedicated to the long-form gameplay of RPGs. Strangely, as I get older I find I have less patience for the reams of virtual paper enlisted to carry an RPG story to a conclusion, which somehow translates to wanting to spend more time shooting monsters and aliens in their ugly-ass faces. Time spent equals practice, and practice equals improvement, so while I can’t see myself ever getting on the Call of Duty bandwagon, I am a HALO fan, and I have recently been playing a lot of Destiny, enjoying myself, and improving my skills (at least in PvE).
Looking forward to The Taken King expansion, it’s the first expac for an FPS that I’ve ever pre-ordered. Despite the line that TTK will “improve”, or in some people’s estimation, “salvage” Destiny from the failings of 1.0, I bought the expac simply because I like Destiny full stop. I get to log in, take up objectives, and shoot aliens as I pursue those objectives.
Really, that’s all I’m looking for. I’m not expecting some kind of life-altering, transcendental experience that’s going to elevate me to some kind of karmic other-plane through the masterful confluence of story, graphics, and mechanics. People have complained that Destiny is lacking in story like it’s some kind of primal sin, but it’s a FPS, not Shakespeare. How people can ding a FPS on a lack of or a lackluster storyline makes little sense to me. If people really care that much for narrative, I might suggest Divinity: Original Sin or Pillars of Eternity, because what those games lack in face-blasting shotguns they make up for in deep, complex stories.
I wonder if people are just trying to sound smarter than they are, as if transcending the perceived confines of the product somehow makes them appear thoughtful and learned. I’m never deaf to legitimate opinions on factual, broken elements, like how the loot table in Destiny seemed to be way off the mark, but where exactly do people set the goalpost such that a game that’s all about shooting aliens and which delivers on that promise is still considered to be “mediocre”. Mediocre at what? It’s a shooter; you shoot stuff, and last time I checked it does that pretty well. Medicore in getting you to care why you’re shooting stuff? I can tell you why: because you have laundry to do. Because you had a long, stressful day at work. Because the kids are asleep and the S.O. is asleep or out with friends. I can’t imagine that anyone in the history of anytime bought an FPS because they wanted to be wowed by the in-game reasons why they had to take up arms.
Topics like this one are entirely subjective, and that’s something else I’m not deaf to. Everyone’s had different experiences that lead them to the lives they lead in the present, and those experiences include the shaping of the things that they like and dislike as well as the limits of what they’ll sit for and what they won’t. Personally, I like Destiny because of what it actually does, not what PR wants me to think that it does, or because I have low or high expectations of what it is or what it should be. I don’t believe in dinging a game because it doesn’t live up to a set of personal, immovable expectations. I always do believe that no game “sucks”. When we feel that we don’t like a game it’s really only because our expectations outstrip what we’re presented with, and because we’re unwilling to reconsider what we can get and want to get out of the game that we have in front of us. The way video games are marketed, there’s always a purposefully placed gap between what we’re told the game will be and what we want the game to be that’s left to be filled with speculation and hopes (the “hype”), and even if that gap is very narrow, we want what we want and woe be the product that doesn’t fit into the mold of our desires. But games simply are as they are when we hold them in out (virtual) hands; if we don’t like that, then thank gawd there’s a virtually unlimited selection out there we can look to for satisfaction rather than waste our time playing games we don’t like.
Postscript: Before someone wades in here with a Powerpoint slide they created about what’s “broken” with Destiny or tries to equate “ungood” with “broken”, know that they’re not the same thing. If a game has technical issues, then that’s a problem, but it’s a problem that can be solved. The unfortunate side-effect of the Internet on gaming is that games can and are released with issues, and with the knowledge that fixes can be deployed at a later date. That’s the reality we have to live with. Issues that can be fixed with a patch are not damning in the same way that people tend to throw a product under the bus because they’re unwilling to reconfigure their expectations on how the game is designed once the product moves from “extrapolated beliefs and ideal game desires” and in the realm of “this is what it actually is”.
Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment
I picked up Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment for the Vita this weekend. I enjoyed the first half of the first season of SAO, quit the second half of the first season, and was meh on the ideas behind the second season. Being an MMO player, the idea of being virtually stuck inside the game is both interesting and frightening. We’ve moved away from the idea of the “MMO as a living world” and into “MMO as a string of mechanics”, so bringing it back around to the space as being it’s own ongoing ecosystem is cool; physically dying in the real world if you die in the game, however, is very uncool.
The game itself is in Japanese with English subtitles, which under most circumstances is just fine. In this case, it’s like a psychological experiment gone haywire, mainly because in the hour or so I’ve put into the game, 2% has been fighting things, another 10% has been running from place to place, and 88% has been thumbing through conversation. I don’t actually know what these conversations were about, since my brain refused to process anything after what seemed like the twelfth hour of reading one language while hearing a different one. Adding insult to injury, the Japanese propensity to include every single little twitch and emote and exclamation and gasp and muttering and sidebar to the main conversation while requiring that each be progressed through a press of the button…
The game itself is borderline-obnoxiously convoluted, but like anime itself, it takes a while to get used to and once you do, you get more comfortable with it. Supposedly you can “bond” with secondary characters through such mundane tasks as “talking to them” and “sitting with them at a cafe”. Doing so increases their ability to fight. They’ll also make requests for specific actions in combat, like “please stun” the target. Complying allows the two of you to fight much better in the long run. But to get to that point, you need to master the basic, LB, and RB hotbar states, both for you and for the requests you make to your companion. It’ll take about an hour of just familiarizing yourself with the character screens before you can become effective…if you can get some time alone outside of conversation, that is.
I’m not going to touch the brouhaha that has been surrounding Destiny and Bungie as of late, except to point you at this article which reminds us all that Activision is behind Bungie now.
I re-bought Destiny for the XB1 because A) I had $50 card from the purchase of said machine, B) XB1 had a bundle on sale for $45 that included the game, the two current DLC, and some extra crap, and C) my brother and friend (XB1 owners) had it, but had yet to get anywhere. I enjoy Destiny just fine; I never got very far on the PS4 as I wasn’t playing as often as others, and while I’m OK at shooters, I’m not so spectacular that I can stomach plowing through them alone (especially some of Destiny‘s creepier locations, which cause me shoulder-tension stress).
So it’s back into the grinder. I got to level five on Sunday, have my Sparrow, and my supa’ power now. There’s an upcoming mission that I’m dreading, where I have to defend the radio tower or something like that. I remember that it gave me much stress and much grief, and I really only got through it because I had other people to help at the time.
Another game I worked on this weekend was Massive Chalice. It’s one of XB1’s “Games with Gold” selection for June, and had been on my Steam wishlist for a while. In a nutshell, it’s like Crusader Kings meets XCOM. You control a kingdom pressed on all sides by a magical enemy. You have to take over territories by building fortresses, and then you need to install regents there. In addition, you have to (or can, if you’re smart) marry those regents to other characters so they’ll produce more characters. The kicker is that the characters come from your pool of soldiers, so once they’ve been promoted, they’re out of the battle.
Combat is very much like XCOM. You move, the enemy moves, you get a percent-chance-to-hit on your preferred target, and so on. If your character dies, they stay dead.
The conceit is that you not only have to keep your soldiers alive on the battlefield, but you have to take them out of service for the “greater good” of the kingdom (and to make kids). Do you keep your best soldiers fighting and possibly dying for good, or do you force them to have sex and produce children because they have desirable traits? Wait, that doesn’t sound like a difficult decision…