Critical Hits is where I get to call BS.
I have played Bungie’s games since Marathon 2 first appeared on Windows way back when and while it feels harsh to rip into their latest endeavour, it is not the bright beacon of hope they are going around trying to sell, it’s a beacon with faulty wiring that flickers off and on.
After playing a sizeable amount of the Destiny Beta this past week I am left feeling excited for the final release while simultaneously concerned about what we will actually get. As a package Destiny offers less than Bungie’s own Halo 3 way back in 2007 and it is a confused game. Bungie are calling it an MMO but there is nothing massive about this multiplayer online game at all. You start the game by choosing one of 3 classes (which is flawed as a concept but I’ll get to that) followed by a mediocre character creation screen. You can choose one of three races – which the game offers no explanation as to their purpose – several hair styles, face shapes, and facial markings along with a colour palette for each.
Once you have made your character you cant even name you’re awoken by a hovering AI (not too far removed from Halo’s Guilty Spark), voiced by Peter Dinklage (everyone gets their own Dinklebot) and informed that you’re a Guardian, the evil Darkness (Yes that is what the main antagonist actually called) is destroying everything and the fate of the entire solar system is in your hands. This is pretty unoriginal as far as plots go but I let it slide hoping that the final game will flesh it out more.
This hope was soon turned to cynicism by the acquisition of my first Grimoire card, an item that expands the lore that can only be accessed online, in a web browser. This practice was started with Halo 4 (not a Bungie game I know) where key elements of the game are stored on an external App or Platform and expects the player to stop the game, log in to some piece of shit, half-assed interface to find out what the fuck is going on in the fucking game you’re trying to play. Seriously this is the worst way of world building/ story telling and anyone who uses this or a similar method should be downright ashamed.
After dicking around for a couple of missions to get your ship you get to go to “The Tower” which is the Social Hub for the game . Here is where the game and the concept of an MMO falls flat on its face. Here the game is presented in 3rd person which is jarring considering 99% of the time spent playing the game is in 1st person additionally this is the only place where players appear in any great quantity – 16-20 players at the most, hardly an MMO. The Tower is the social hub but the game lacks any way to interact with other players. There is no voice chat at all in Destiny outside of a three man fire-team or Party Chat on the PSN or XBL which immediately renders any social interaction moot, additionally in the adversarial multiplayer you can not communicate with your team outside of Party Chat. You are however given four emotes to use: point, wave, sit and dance that all change based on the race/ gender of your character but are largely useless when used to communicate. This hub is where you can spend your hard-won space bucks called Glimmer (Sounds like a good name for a space-stripper, were this a Bioware game you’d be going “I am Commander Shepherd and Glimmer is my favourite withered vag on the Citadel”) on absolutely nothing interesting. You can buy Emblems (Why the fuck cant I make my own? Halo 2 had this a decade ago), Ships, Paint-job for your land speeder (which is super fun to ride and sounds like pure sex), and more Emblems. You can buy new gear and loot but the main currency for these are based on actions like Bounties and PvP rewards. Also you can buy Emblems – there are eight fucking Emblem vendors in The Tower.
Presuming you find two other players to your liking you can form a fire-team to rock around Earth with. The game has an intermediate area known as “In Orbit” (I think this is where a few people’s expectations for Destiny sits) which is essentially a glorified menu by which most aspects of the game are reached. Your character is represented here by your ship, a purely cosmetic object thats sole purpose is to give the impression of travel in thinly disguised loading screens – loading screens that take just a fraction too long at times. A good guess would be that the player’s ship might be used in some space-combat based mini-game at some point but gamers familiar with similar things (SWTOR, Reach) know that these are normally on the wrong side of enjoyable.
Once you select a mission you and your fire -team can head off on some co-op adventures together hand-in-hand. It is fun for the most part but let me shit on some aspects of co-op for a minute…
The Classes are pointless. They are unique and they are interesting sure but they provide little to no meaning when delivered in a co-op concept. I can not think of one single co-op game where classes are an option that does not have some synergy between players. Not a single game. Roughly every three minutes (may differ with cool-down buffs etc) a player can trigger their class’s special ability, a pretty cool move that makes for a pretty devastating couple of seconds for whomever is on the receiving end but your chosen class offers no value to anyone you are playing with. On top of that, Ammo and Loot drops are purely client-side, meaning there is no point in telling a friend “Loot!” when it does not appear for them. Chests suffer the same fate as well with there being times where I find a chest that does not appear for a co-op partner.
Loot is central to the gameplay experience of Destiny and I am desperately hoping that the Beta is not the final indication of weapons for the game because otherwise I will be fucking bored before I finish downloading the game. The weapons are very generic and pretty lazy for a sci-fi game: Magnum, AR, DMR, Burst-fire SMG, Rocket Launcher, Machine Gun , Shotgun, and some futuristic Pulse Rifle. I hope some alien type weapons appear for the final game or at least something different to the guns I have been using in every FPS for the last 20 years. Some of the Aliens you fight have cooler guns than you. Fuck them. One interesting feature is that the more you use a weapon the more abilities it gains, a feature carried over to armour which I quite like as it stops the effect of immediately un-equipping gear once you get new gear that a lot of loot based games have.
Once you get down to the moment-to-moment gameplay, PvE is exceptional but this isn’t a review…I have a rant and a half about PvP which will come later. But to sum it up “Is Destiny PvP good?”
So Destiny PvP…
Competitive FPS games make up the bulk of my time I spend gaming, in fact competitive gaming in general is what I choose to play for the majority. Bungie have always been good with their Multiplayer even if they have taken a few missteps at times (Looks at Reach shitting on itself in the corner as it paints “I’m sorry” on the wall with its own feces). Destiny PvP will probably be fine for most but some who understand the finer points of what makes for good FPS MP leave feeling frustrated. I hopped into Crucible (Destiny’s PvP component) the moment it became available and was met with overwhelming mediocrity. I enabled Z-Axis Inversion and GreenThumb on my controls putting me in something like 0.1% of Bungie’s Control Schemes (At least last time they released figures). The first thing the game will do it put you into a team of six Guardians that you can not communicate with. I have been known to state how much I hate hearing other people while I play but that statement is largely contextual. In BF4 I like to hear my Squad, in COD I mute everyone, in CS or Halo I like to hear my team as they’re games where overall team work is where success is derived, not from one player carrying. The Gamemode that was available for the Beta is a heavily team oriented one (Conquest) and it truly rams home the lack of any communication options in Destiny.
Communication woes aside the first thing that will hit you is the low FOV (Field of View) and boy do I mean low. I had to max my sensitivity (which you should do anyway) in order to fucking see. I understand this from a technical standpoint – Destiny has large environments and lots of AI which is fine in PvE – but in fast paced PvP it is an issue that seriously cripples competitive gameplay. A low FOV forces the player to have limited visual information, they see less therefore they can do less, let me explain: To succeed well in a competitive FPS several things are required of the gamer, quick reactions, precision, map knowledge, and most of all fast visual processing. The ability to process large amounts of visual information as quickly as possible is what allows someone to be good at FPS games. Most gamers do this subconsciously without realising but the following pieces of information are generally being accessed at any given time (I will use destiny as an example):
Ammo count, weapons equipped, weapon reload state (Did I leave my launcher unloaded after I shot it or did I have time to reload before swapping back to my primary?), game score, capture-points and their current status (being capped, neutral etc), special-meter cooldown (can I pop my special yet?), grenade cooldown, melee cooldown (each class has a special melee), health, position of team, position of enemy (presuming you can see them), enemy health (same as former), motion tracker (an invaluable source of information), amount of bloom (will expand on this point later), active vehicles in game, and finally the most important piece of visual information: player (you) position in the map.
All of the above information leads a player to make a decision of what to do every moment of gameplay with map position being the key factor. Knowing where you are in the map is the most important piece of information available to the player as it cuts an overwhelming amount of choice down to: Objective proximity (a direct action) or tactical advantage (an indirect action). The player will make a choice based on the these two options: Either they are close enough to something: engage another player, collect ammo, collect orbs (these power specials), or capture an objective and they will move towards that to change the flow of the gameplay directly or they will make the choice to use the map position to their advantage and change the flow of the game via indirect actions: Can I cover this hallway and funnel the enemy towards the other direction? Can I use this ledge to provide long range support to lockdown half the map? Can I flank without being seen? etc. This of course is a great over-simplification of things but at least gives you the insight into why visual information is important.
Now with all of the above in mind you can understand how having less information available (Low FOV) is less than ideal. A high FOV provides such a larger amount of information to a player and in turn leads to greater choice and more interesting gameplay. There were times while playing Destiny where I would fall down a hole or off a ledge and all I would see is a wall. There was no other visual information present other than obviously there is no roof above me (which I can not see I just know because I fell). Indecision kills so the time it takes to turn left or right to figure out where I was is time wasted. There was a door in the wall just described no more than two pixels out of frame that having had a higher FOV would have been seen and instantly allowed me to make the action of walking towards it rather than clawing my way through the hole. This loss of time while only a second or two at a time slowly adds up throughout a match to – lets just assume – a minute out of a 15 minute game. This boils down to 6-7% of a match where a player is being disengaged from the core gameplay because the FOV is low.
One could make the argument (and they have) that everyone has a low FOV therefore it is a non-issue. That is somewhat correct – yes everyone is handicapped in the same way – but that does not lessen the fact that it creates a poor gameplay environment, Destiny does not exist in a vacuum it exists in a genre of games where things like FOV are crucial to the core gameplay experience and player expectations. Consider Destiny PvP as the special olympics, everyone is handicapped and everyone is trying their hardest to win, no one can take that from them but there is a reason the Olympics with out the handicapped are far more popular.
FOV is not the only issue with visual feedback in the game either, there are several little questionable design decisions that pile on top of each other that end up mounting in frustration. Enemy player health is represented in two segments, one white and one red. This is confusing and a poor way to reflect enemy player health considering they themselves only have a single health bar. Game information is presented in the middle of the screen and pollutes the screen with kill-streak information when you’re trying to aim.
By far the worst visual representation of a mechanic would have to be the bloom. This one issue affects nearly every aspect of the core gameplay loop in Destiny PvP. Bloom in an fps is best summed up if we take a trip back in time to 1999. Counter-Strike burst on the scene with a fast-paced twitchy shooter, in CS the reticle is how you aim (ADS wasn’t popularised until COD:4) and whenever you move/ jump/ shoot the reticle expands, spreading your bullets wider and wider this is known as bloom. CS however has bloom down to a science, every gun has a consistent and predictable spread pattern. If we hyperdrive back to Destiny the bloom is almost the same as CS in all but two ways. The first point of difference is that Destiny has ADS and by definition ADS does not have a reticle. When the player aims down the sight that accuracy is expected but in Destiny several things occur simultaneously while aiming down sights that fights that expectation. Bloom exists in this mode but is represented in the most asinine way possible, the gun when fired does not recoil (visually) but as (the bloom exists invisible to the player in ADS) the bullet pattern is spread wider and wider which is reflected by the only by sight of the gun hopping around at each point of impact. This means when I aim and shoot at someone in ADS while moving or jumping the place where I aim is not representative of where my bullets go. When I say the sight moves I mean this: Picture a red-dot sight, now image shooting someone while aiming down it – the red-dot will not move (relative to its position on the gun) but in destiny whereever the bullet goes the red-dot will “jump” to that location while the entire gun and sight case stays perfectly level. How fucking confusing. The second and major point of difference between Destiny and good bloom is that the spread patterns on the weapons are extremely random and very large, this results in grounding the game (Destiny has double jump) and forcing ADS (Which remember should not have bloom but does just in far smaller scale). In Destiny you have double jump as a core ability but when you jump like this the Boom balloons to a level of pointlessness. Most of my kills were from people double jumping and I will not use this ability in combat at all. You can have bloom in a game and I’ll enjoy it. You can not have bloom and ADS and have a consistent gameplay experience.
There are a few stragglers in terms of issues like being able to spawn with power weapons and vehicles that seems so out of place, having MP modes based on PvE loot (boils the MP experience down to chance and not skill) that I could dwell on but these are things that can be tweaked (they wont be though). Maps feel too busy visually and need to be cleaner as clouding that visual information with shitty leaf textures and areas that are not distinct enough makes maps feel frustrating rather than rewarding. All of these issues while minor by themselves come together to form a frustrating and unenjoyable experience. You can feel the absence of Bungie’s MP magic at every turn in PvP as they have built a multiplayer-game that is a shell of their former output lacking everything that makes a good competitive MP shooter including soul.
When I think of Destiny PvP I’m all like: