It doesn’t matter who you are—only what you will become.
This is the alluring promise echoed in the original launch trailer of Destiny, the BAFTA Award winning first person shooter that made its debut in 2014. Bungie and Activision joined forces to unleash an epic sci-fi experience that would transcend the traditional boundaries of the MMO, and deliver fans an ambitious story set in a post-apocalyptic world with ground-breaking visuals. Given its $500 million budget, there were high hopes that Destiny would become the latest addition to the deeply entrenched icons of the gaming industry, earning a place amongst Halo and World of Warcraft. According to Kotaku, Destiny was intended to be a ‘cultural touchstone’. Upon its release, its gameplay, graphics and soundtrack all received high praise, but the one component that seemed consistently underwhelming based on critics’ reviews, was the story itself. Since 2014, Destiny has been updated with DLC that brings with it new enemies and new powers, and yet, it is once again the narrative that appears to be its downfall. At present, the future of the guardians is unknown, and Bungie is yet to confirm whether a sequel will launch in place of DLC. Whichever path Bungie chooses at this point-releasing extra DLC or giving Destiny 2 the green light-seems irrelevant. The real question is can they reinvigorate the franchise by giving players the story they have been craving since the game’s inception?
THE MISSING ELEMENT
In space, the most abundant elements are hydrogen, helium and oxygen. There are other elements too, of course, but they are present in much smaller quantities. What’s interesting about that is without these elements, Mars would not be red, and Neptune would not be its characteristic blue. In other words, every element has its purpose. If we apply the same logic to a game like Destiny, the importance of storytelling becomes clear. Fans are in dire need of the compelling sci-fi experience they were initially promised, and that means a story that is as enriching and phenomenal as the combat. Yes, Destiny may offer velvet smooth shooting and great PvP gameplay that caters to a wide audience, but now that players have acclimatised to the shared shooting experience, it might be worth introducing a matchmaking feature, even as a trial. This kind of organised grouping could very well be the key to evoke a stronger sense of emotional attachment to the game. Heavy, repetitive grinding can be wonderful, but the time has come to fill the void and give players ‘substantive new content’ that is not as short-lived as the DLC packs.
It’s widely known that Destiny’s original story underwent a massive overhaul in favour of a more non-linear experience. The current story revolves around a futuristic locale named The City, which is invaded by an evil force called The Darkness and is more or less obliterated. Fortunately, a mysterious floating sphere known as The Traveller sacrifices itself to salvage the last traces of humankind. Guardians (resurrected fallen individuals) must fight off multiple alien invasions to protect the Earth and, with a little luck, resurrect The Traveller too. Generally speaking, characters and/or places with vague titles can do wonders for making a game intriguing, but when this style of nomenclature is overused, it can come across as uninspired. Star Trek Voyager once featured an entity called The Caretaker, but most other alien races had their own original names. That made it memorable. It gave fans the ability to share their expertise on a specialist topic, and helped create a community of interest.
Another aspect of Destiny that has been the subject of critique is its script. The jury is still out on this one, but the lines most frequently quoted as evidence for a problematic narrative include: “I don’t even have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain”, and “Evil so dark it despises other evil”. Despite this, Destiny still has its fair share of good, humorous dialogue; if Bungie gives just a little more attention to the cutscenes, the entire game’s story could be changed for the better. On that note, enhancing the lore of Destiny could also be a step in the right direction. Franchises like The Elder Scrolls, and Lord of The Rings thrive on lore, so why does Destiny choose to hide it? Don’t tell the players, show them. Incorporate the lore more tightly into the gameplay, so Destiny becomes a multi-layered experience that makes its themes resonate long afterwards. Make players curious to find out why The Darkness and The Traveller are enemies. Make it believable.
In the end, Destiny’s fate rests on the shoulders of not only Bungie and Activision, but within the heart of its fanbase. As an ever-evolving MMO like experience, Destiny still has time to realise its full potential, and that’s precisely what matters: what it becomes from now on.
*Note: The above piece is based on research. I myself have not yet played Destiny, so any inaccuracies are mine.