Bungie's Destiny is an undeniably beautiful game with an A-List talent across the board from voice actors to animators to programers. It looks at the very least moderately entertaining, although it owes a lot all too clearly to games like Borderlands and Call of Duty. Yes these games are practically sure things when it comes to printing money and it all looks very decently polished. You might argue you can't fault a video game for being a video game and a well composed one at that with pretty music, pretty graphics, and smooth responsive (if derivative) gameplay.
But then, if you're me, you look at the story...
Halo isn't exactly Shakespeare, but it had it's own identity by doing some things differently then earlier sci-fi outings. The most prominent idea is in the title itself. The Halo is similar to earlier written works, especially the book Ring World, but it wasn't just a habitat, it was a weapon and a prison. The Covenant were an interesting wrinkle to the alien enemy idea since they were a diverse collective of several species united by religious zeal, and The Flood were an interesting union of the Facehugger idea from Alien alongside zombie lore but with the concept of a hive mind to guide them as well. Pretty much everything in Halo was on the cusp of being familiar, but there was some twist that made it memorable and unique and iconic.
Destiny is a Halo rip-off. You can indeed rip off your own ideas if you bring nothing new to the party, and Destiny is just that: a rehash.
Look at the plot here courtesy of Wiki:
Upon mankind's first attempt to repopulate and reconstruct after the Collapse, it is discovered that hostile alien races have occupied mankind's former colonies and civilizations and are now encroaching upon the City. The player takes on the role of one such Guardian, and is tasked with reviving the Traveler while investigating and destroying the alien threats before humanity is completely wiped out.'
Could you cram any more half-baked and utterly tired ideas into one concept? This sounds like the back of an early Atari game when the plots were considered so nominal to the experience (because back then they physically couldn't be represented in-game) that some intern would probably invent them long after the game had even been made.
Even the titles for things are unimaginative and dull. Golden Age...never heard that one before. How about 'The Collapse' which is so mysterious the story apparently doesn't feel it has to be described in detail. The Traveler is the only potentially interesting aspect of the whole show, and it has little to do with the events of the game beyond providing arbitrary magic powers to the player.
The whole notion of mankind colonizing the galaxy and then these colonies all dying off because of hostile aliens is basically the plot of the Halo universe only with far less interesting opponents.
Destiny is actually a step BACKWARDS in terms of plot from the original Halo games!
It gets better. Lest you suppose I might be unfairly believing that Bungie is ripping itself off, check out the way interviews with the actual creators refer to the races involved in Destiny...
'Destiny will center on the journey of the Guardians, the last defenders of humanity, set to protect Earth's last city. Guardians will be divided into three distinct races: Humans, Awoken, and Exo. Humans are described as being relatable, tough, and uncomplicated. Bungie drew its inspiration for the Human race from the military, and the character designs and aesthetics of the Spartans present in their Halo franchise. Awoken, described as exotic, beautiful, and mysterious, were inspired by fictional depictions of elves, vampires, ghosts, and angels. Exo are described as being sinister, powerful, and tireless. Exo were inspired by the undead, Halo's Master Chief, and the titular character of The Terminator. The playable races will be purely cosmetic and will have no effect on the game mechanics of Destiny.'
Every race in this game was designed based on some other property, and more than once just straight cribs from Halo! The aesthetics, the ideas, are all so shamelessly borrowed they're mentioned in the press releases, not even as influences only but as direct copies.
It's nice to revisit something that worked, but maybe it wasn't too much to hope that the most expensive game in history put a LITTLE effort into distinguishing itself from even the history of the company responsible for cobbling it together? Maybe there might be some effort to push aside nay-sayers who might be inclined to call Destiny a retread of story tropes without any spark of originality?
Notice also the last line. All these derivative races DON'T EVEN HAVE AN EFFECT ON THE GAME.
That's right. Their entirely cosmetic. The game plays the same no matter what race you choose to play as. Essentially Bungie isn't just hinting at the fact that their limp-wristed story doesn't matter, they're flat out telling you.
It goes on...
'Players will also be able to choose a "class" to go alongside their race. There are three classes available to players in Destiny: Hunters, Warlocks, and Titans. Hunters are a reconnaissance class meant to be reminiscent of the classic bounty hunter. Bungie cites as influences Han Solo and classic characters from old Western films such as Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name. Warlocks combine weapons with special powers from "the Traveler," and are meant to be a form of "space wizard." The Warlock class is influenced by the Star Wars series's Jedi Knights, Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, and Morpheous from The Matrix. Titans, which favor heavy weapons and melee attacks and are intended to be reminiscent of the classic "future soldier," were inspired by Bungie's own Master Chief from Halo, stormtroopers from Star Wars, and other space marines from science fiction.'
Even the classes aren't designed to suit any kind of in-universe logic: they're a grab bag of 'cool' archetypes. What does a Hunter/Warlock/Titan do when they aren't killing generic alien bad guys? I dunno...doesn't matter. Bungie executives again all but confirm that the first thought that flew into their minds was how to justify the most stock and overdone ideas. We want something like a space wizard. How do we make it interesting? Who cares. He's just some guy with powers because of a big Deus Ex Machina. Again and again you see the company alludes to Halo as a prime influence. You'd suppose a game company that's already MAKING sequels to their other franchise wouldn't cheapen it by cloning it's ideas into another separate game, but that would require the people involved to care about plots and characters.
Who needs either when you can jury-rig a cookie-cutter narrative to lay the barest ground work for a grab-bag of game ideas?
Guardians of The Galaxy is a movie I've still yet to (and want to) see, but from what I've heard it stumbles in this fashion too. It looks fantastic, the acting is great, the music is fun, even some of the writing is clever...but the story is garbage. The assumption is that with the glitz there doesn't need to be anything under the hood. The plot, the characterization is all secondary to conveniences that bus the main characters from one big meaningless set piece to another. That's never been good enough for me. I will experience and even at times enjoy these empty, noisy firecrackers but I will not walk away satisfied that this was the best a film or game could aspire to be.
The writers/creators/artists/technicians deliberately settled for less.
Destiny has been in the works for years. In all that time NOBODY thought about improving the plot? No one asked themselves why anyone would care about the characters if they were all interchangeable or care about a generic looking future Earth or care about fighting faceless, nameless, generic aliens? They have lots of arms and wear capes.
That's not a character, that's again window-dressing to distract.
Halo opens with you battling a combo of strange small aliens who seem more afraid of you then you are of them and tall lithe warriors capable of turning invisible. It gave the game a flavor that only improved when you landed in the gorgeous vistas of the ring planet below, punctuating weird alien ruins with forests and waterfalls and plains of grass.
Destiny is the same industrial corridors and barren wastelands over and over again. It all looks very nice in high resolution with great lighting, but it also looks EXACTLY like Call of Duty, Left For Dead, Dead Island, Borderlands (minus the cell-shading), and any number of current and last generation games. There is nothing to distinguish Destiny, not from the graphics to the gameplay.
Using bolts of force to throw enemies backwards? Mass Effect.
Zooming around on hover bikes? Star Wars Battlefront and Halo.
Dark industrial corridors? Metro, Call of Duty, Dead Island and Resident Evil.
Iron-sighting guns and throwing grenades? Call of Duty, Battlefield...any and all FPS.
Multiplayer online drop-in drop out game? Again, Call of Duty, Battlefield, Borderlands.
Collecting new weapons and armor from scattered chests? Borderlands.
Upgrading weapons by swapping out pieces? Borderlands, Call of Duty, Brink.
Flying robot you can summon helps you? Killzone Shadow Fall did the same thing.
You don't need to be totally unique all the time, but is it too much to ask for this game to justify its existence with more than just 'I look pretty'? Some ideas work, yes, but if you decided only by changing names and the general look of things that you were going to recreate Star Wars would this make it suddenly it's own property without question?
What if you, say, changed the light saber into a magic sword, changed The Millennium Falcon into a dragon, and changed The Force into magic? What if you set it in medieval times instead of a galaxy far far away and the death star plans were a dragon's egg?
Would this make it a new concept no one would recognize?
No. It would make it the movie Eragon.
But Destiny gets away with it because it works. Fine, it works and it's all very spiffy, but the issue I take is how ultimately lazy this vacuum at it's core is.
Yes all the components fit together but it's not in aid of anything. There's no urgency, no twists or turns, and no soul to the proceedings. The unfortunate impression I get is that Bungie or Activision feels that an interesting plot would either be too much work, too risky for such an expensive project...or they felt that gamers by and large don't care so the extra effort wasn't needed. You don't care as long as the scenery is nice to look at and there's something to shoot at, right?
You don't care as long as the music is nice and Peter Dinklage is speaking in your ear, right?
But I do. I want to have an immersive universe to explore if I'm going to spend time and money to do so. I DO care about a company that's willing to spend the time to develop some kind of story rather than patching together a bunch of assets and after the fact slurring together a regurgitated mess of cliches. You could get away with this when graphics were flickering lights on a screen there was only three levels of play and your object was to shoot at geometric shapes. But this is a billion dollar project years in development. You don't get to hand wave and plagiarize and half-ass your way through and still get full credit.
So by all means play Destiny if you'd like to. It looks fun and runs smooth and seems to be an entertaining multi-player experience, but NOBODY please declare it an 'epic' or a 'triumph of atmosphere' or a 'next-gen gaming experience' or a 'compelling story' because it's not.
It's a safe cash-in rehash frankenstein of all the most superficially successful ideas in gaming but without any of the creativity or world building we should have come to expect by now from the same industry that brought us the daring venture of Bioshock, the narrative maze of Alan Wake, the complexity of Dragon Age, and the woven character interactions of the Walking Dead series.
For a final example take a game you might not have thought had a plot, but it did.
And a deep one.
Missile Command is a classic, simple game in which you must fire rockets from your bases at the bottom of the screen at descending lines that are headed towards several defenseless cities you're defending. The object is to stay alive as long as possible because there is no winning the game; the lines continue to descend until all your cities and bases are destroyed.
Sounds like a childish pursuit and a cobbled together distraction, but it owes its existence to the creator's most vivid nightmares.
Missile Command is the story of the last war on Earth. From his home the creator of the game could see three large populated areas, and in his nightmares nuclear bombs fell onto these and eradicated them as well as everyone in them. Wanting to put to bed his fear he made it into a game, but one that stayed true to the horror of the idea.
Sometimes in the game you must sacrifice a city to defend a base, or vice versa. If you sacrifice a city to defend your bases you're essentially allowing genocide to continue to play the game for just those few extra minutes. If you do the opposite however not only is the populated base destroyed but the city may still be upright...however it can't help you except to serve as one more target before the missiles destroy everything.
The final screen for Missile Command, regardless of your score, doesn't read Game Over.
It reads 'The End' and is one of the only games to do this. Literally win or lose the game, it's all over for everyone everywhere.
So I ask you...if a game in which the graphics are piles of pixels can somehow communicate not only a full narrative but also a surprising amount of human drama...WHY CAN THERE BE NONE OF EITHER IN A TRIPLE A GAME WITH A MASSIVE BUDGET AND A LONG PRODUCTION TIME?
Destiny wasn't rushed for holiday release. Destiny was practically guaranteed massive sales. Destiny was the next creation of two prestigious game companies who had made hit after hit.
But Destiny didn't try. Destiny didn't care.
So...that's my thoughts on the matter. It might be a fun game, but that's no excuse in my opinion for such blatant corner-cutting. I could be wrong (I often am) and if I am I'll take back my words if a mind-blowing plot twist or compelling character crops up.
But I hope against hope this isn't the trend. We need our stories back.