Destiny, and the Dangers of Playing It Safe

destiny disappointment

So Destiny has finally been released, and it’s… well, okay, I suppose. That’s the general jist of the impressions I’ve received so far, both from players and reviews.

It doesn’t do much wrong, but it doesn’t thrill or excite either. Activision played it safe, and they got a safe, entertaining but ultimately mediocre game out of it.

But, all hope isn’t lost yet. I think that something good may come out of Destiny’s release yet – just not for the people who bought it.

The Perils of Playing It Safe

I’ve said this previously, but Activision doesn’t want to take risks – especially with $500 million. Destiny has turned out pretty much how I expected it to – a well-made sci-fi shooter that ticks the correct boxes but ultimately is bland and lacking character.

People have compared it to Borderlands (myself included), but Borderlands carved itself its own niche with its funky, cell-shaded graphics and humorous cast of weird, wonderful and idiosyncratic characters.

Destiny doesn’t really do anything new at all. It’s an MMO game, the standard RPG item/experience grind is present and accounted for, with a sci-fi FPS layered over the top of it. It’s clear that Activision want to turn this into a ten-year franchise – but I’m not sure they’re going to manage it.

I’m not just picking on Destiny, either – it’s certainly not the only disappointing, overhyped release of 2014. Does anyone remember Watch Dogs? Hell, does anyone still even play it?

I wrote about my scepticism of Watch Dogs before it came out, a GTA clone with a hacking mechanic that, essentially, has never really “worked” in games. We all want to be superl337 hackers, but no game can ever really capture the essence of what makes hacking so intriguing to us. “Press X” to hack the traffic lights doesn’t quite cut it.

Watch Dogs presented itself as innovative, but it just wasn’t. It was building on an already-successful formula, and ended up feeling stale and second-hand.

"Press Y to do something badass."
“Press Y to do something badass.”

There’ve been others, too. The Battlefield Hardline beta was met with public disgust, after the seemingly intriguing concept of “cops and robbers” turned out to basically be a new skin on an old game – the title has been criticised for not doing anything new at all, and had its release pushed back next year – presumably to try and put some original content in it.

I’ve sung the praises of Titanfall many times, but that was a game that I felt actually WAS innovative – the ideas may not be brand new, but the verticality of maps, seamless integration of parkour mechanics and the perfect counterplay between human and titan fights creates a damned near perfect FPS multiplayer experience.

Then, coming this November we have Call of Duty Advanced Warfare, which promises a whole new Call of Duty experience. I recently watched a video on this “new experience”, where it touted abilities such as stim and cloak, as well as “verticality of the maps” and futuristic weaponry. All of these things, by the way, are in Titanfall.

So, we have Titanfall without the Titans – Activision has taken what works from that game, kept the tried-and-trusted Call of Duty formula intact and slapped the innovation sticker on a game that has none.

I’m sure the PS4 players will like it – they didn’t have Titanfall, after all. Hell, maybe that’s the same market Watch Dogs was catering to – the people who hadn’t got a chance to play GTA V on their platform yet.

I’ve painted a pretty depressing picture, but here’s the good news: I think a reckoning is imminent.

I said reckoning, not rekt. Dammit, internet.
I said reckoning, not rekt. Dammit, internet.

A New Age Beckons (I Hope)

I’ve seen a trend recently, and it’s given me a glimmer of hope for the rejuvenation of the gaming industry.

I’ve seen shitty reviews for average games. I’ve seen the hype machine fall apart, I’ve seen honest, critical responses from gamers who’ve had enough of getting the same, repackaged title year after year.

Right now on Metacritic, Destiny on the PS4 (the most reviewed platform) has a score of 77, and a user score of 6.5. Watch Dogs has scores of 80 and 6.3, respectively.

For the amount of hype those games were getting (and the generally inflated review scores I’m used to seeing), those scores are pretty bleak.

Review scores in general need to be reduced by 10% or so to get an accurate picture. Even now, I see the likes of CVG describe Destiny as having a “feeble story and safety-first approach” and being “slightly underwhelming” yet giving it 8 out of 10. Does that seem like a summary worthy of 80%? Sometimes I think people just don’t have the balls to shitcan something that has arrived on a tsunami of hype and a marketing budget to rival the GDP of a small country.

Call of Duty’s Metacritic scores seem to drop by about 10 every year, with the latest, Ghosts, getting as low as 68. These games haven’t changed, at all. Ghosts is not noticeably better or worse than Black Ops 2 or Modern Warfare 3 – they really just aren’t that different from each other. The experience hasn’t changed, but gamers’ fatigue has.

Pictured: Call of Duty Black Ops 2. OR IS IT?
Pictured: Call of Duty Black Ops 2. OR IS IT?

Anyways, I digress.

What I’m trying to get at here is that people seem to have had enough. They’re clamouring for something new, something better, something different. Innovative games like Evolve and Alien Isolation are generating a lot of interest – they may not even be good, but it doesn’t matter (although I’d really, really like them to be). They’re trying something new, they’re trying to be different. They’re trying to be something we haven’t already played.

2015 is looking like a brighter and better year for games. I don’t have my eye on the next Metal Gear Solid or Battlefield Hardline, I’ve got my attention focused squarely on the people offering new, exciting experiences. That’s who I want to be handing my money to.

I don’t think Destiny is going to be the juggernaut that Activision wants it to be. It’ll make a ton of money, sure (it already has) – it’ll do that based on hype and expectation alone. But I don’t think it’s the next WoW, I don’t think it’s the next enormous franchise and I don’t think it’s fooling anyone.

At least I hope not. I hope we can expect better, demand better. Reviews are one thing, but the real vote comes from our wallets.

Next time there’s a big, overhyped title on the way – hold out on the pre-order. Give it a week, and see what you think. At the end of the day, big publisher CEOs don’t really care what the reviews have to say – they care about the bottom line. If they can continue to generate massive profits in the first few days alone, they’re going to do that.

Most of the people who bought Destiny didn’t really know what they’re getting. I’m not trying to pick on Destiny either; it just happens to be the most recent giant, over-the-top spectacle of marketing that has everyone frantically pre-ordering so they don’t get left out of The Next Big Thing – or at least what they perceive the Next Big Thing to be.

But be warned: that big, impressive spectacle may just be a whole lot of smoke, mirrors and disappointment.

Thomas the Tank Engine mod
You can turn Thomas the Tank Engine into a firebreathing dragon, and someone isn’t happy about it