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What? Intelligible Narrative!

Ever since I bought into the PS4 and Destiny a year ago, I stuck with the game until June this year when I made the Tweet below, it was about that time that I realised my time with the game was done.

It was The House of Wolves expansion that did it. I’m not really sure what it specifically was about that expansion, as opposed to the first one, but it finally broke my psychological contract with the game. It did the same for my whole family group playing the game as well to different degrees. While I disengaged from the game totally, others changed their play-style to exclusively do PvP due to the nature of PvE (which is what breaks it for me).

If I was to think about it a bit I think it was a combination of the complete lack of an engaging narrative, again. The ability of Destiny to throw you through a sequence of missions, all very short in the case of the second expansion, have some ‘character’ communicate with you over comms and telling you stuff that just seemed to make no sense. There is always names, places, events and some sort of purpose but it is virtually unintelligible. Destiny has always been like an RPG in which the GM has invested eons of time in a world and setting no one understands and he can’t communicate it either.

The fact they switched from raids to Prison of Elders was also a bad decision. I realise why they did it, as it is more inclusive than a raid, but it’s just boring. It swaps the atmosphere of the raid and the narrative wrapping the raids have, for just waves of enemies. This tended to make gearing up a chore. I admit this is a weird one. A raid just feels like more of a group experience and a challenge to meet, once it gets a bit more on farm status it feels more of a social event. Prison of Elders didn’t engender neither of these experience, it just felt like a job.

Despite all this, like some sort of Stockholm Syndrome sufferer I purchased The Taken King. I’m glad I did it as circa five hours in it and it has substantially changed the game for the better.

The biggest change is this: the game now presents some narrative musculature that carries you forward through the story missions. The story missions can, for the first time, actually be called that without people laughing maniacally in embarrassment. We have rendered cut scenes with actually acted characters. The ‘over comms’ stuff actually makes sense now and adds a narrative momentum to what you’re doing, makes you part of and important to the events, rather than it feeling like back story gobbledygook. They also come across as characters, which makes you want to hear what they say next rather them being an exposition robot.

The weird, and ironic thing, about Destiny is they employed known ‘Geek Culture’ actors. You have Peter Dinklage as the voice of Ghost, your personal fist-sized hovering robot, who delivers his lines like he regrets the whole experience. He has now been replaced since he adds an emotionless, soul destroying disembodied voice throughout the whole game. He probably saw the importance and narrative weight of Cortana in Halo and then saw his script and cried. The three Vanguard class leaders are voiced by Lance Reddick, Gina Torres and Nathan Fillion. They went out of their way to get recognisable, fan favourite actors. Then they restricted them to nonsensical voice overs or being a vendor.

Now these people have something to do, which is great.

The new shift to adding sensible narrative and interesting characters makes it exciting, rather than a series of disjointed events you’re doing purely for progression. For the first time, you actually feel like it is an amazing thing that the God of an alien race has entered the solar system because you killed his son (well, in theory you did, if you completed the Crota’s End raid) and he wants revenge! It’s not Mass Effect, because your character isn’t a talking agent in this narrative, but that is to be expected. It’s not as full on as Halo either, since it is an MMO, but it has taken a significant step to being more Halo like. These story missions intrigue you, they make you want to know more about what’s going on and they truly have some action film like fist pumping moments.

This, for Destiny, is transformational.

The whole Destiny 2.0, year two, update has added loads of other stuff. It is a bit like a ‘year one was an extended beta level of new stuff’. I’m not sure what all that stuff is, but what I’ve encountered I’ve liked. I like the fact they’ve finally realised they should separate out levels and light. Once you hit a certain level in Destiny you then had light levels, which was essentially a gear rating turned into some sort of special, post-max level..level. It probably confused loads of people. Now it is simpler, you have your level gained through experience and then a light rating which is quite clearly the gear rating it always was in the first place. I’m also liking the visible nature of quests and the listed out multi-stages.

I’m not sure how the end game is going to pan out fully yet. So much of the game is spent in the gear grind it may well turn out that I still can’t get engaged with that process any more. How painful or enjoyable grinding up that light rating is going to be will be key. There are a few bad signs. They’ve removed the weekly cap on the key currencies you need to accumulate, but then shifted it so those currencies are only earned on daily, weekly, etc, activities. This is a pain as the game then starts to dictate a work schedule for you rather than allowing to fit it in when you want to do it. This removes the option of sitting down and doing an hours worth of strikes.

At the moment though, The Taken King has done what I thought was impossible since they’d failed to address it twice before…re-engage me with the game with narrative. In a way, Year Two has allowed Destiny to get over its identity crises. It seems to be finally realising it is an MMO and shouldn’t try and persuade people it isn’t, and that it can add some Halo-like narrative to the whole experience.

If you’re interested in getting into the Destiny experience, now is the time to do it as the PS4 bundles are back on. You can also buy bargain copies of the game that include all the expansions and the like. You don’t even have to play through all the old content as you can start one character at level 25 meaning you start ready to challenge The Taken King content. It truly is a re-start.

About Ian O'Rourke

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