Destiny: A Failed Storytelling Experience

Destiny“Wake up, Guardian!”

Everything’s a little fuzzy. You can almost feel your toes. It’s like you’ve been laying on a pile of rocks for years. Then Peter Dinklage beckons again.

“Wake up!”

“Huh?” you incoherently babble. “What are – where am – is that Tyrion Lannis..?”

“No time for that, Guardian.” He answers. “Here – pick up this conveniently placed M16. Now kill!”

“Wait, what are these things?” you ask as you aim down the sights. “Why do they have four arms? WHY ARE THEY SHOOTING AT ME?”

Welcome to Destiny. Where the enemies are made up and the plot doesn’t matter.

On September 9th, millions raced home from their local game stores to be the first to dive headlong into the massive, hyped-up world of Destiny. Become Legend! We thought in our heads. We couldn’t wait to learn about the mysterious Traveler, or what being one of its “Guardians” would entail.

Problem is, we still don’t really know. A month later. Even after the beginning story missions, players were left scratching their heads thinking: What exactly am I doing, and why? And this comes as a concern, especially considering the world of Destiny is slated for two more games in a decade-long deal.

Maybe I bought into the hype. Maybe I had my expectations a tad too high. Maybe I don’t want to believe I paid $60 for a polished shooter in a worldbuilding escapade. One thing is certain: Destiny failed at the most crucial aspect of fiction – storytelling.

Over the river and through the woods, and – BLAM – TO A GIANT TOWER AND THE LAST CITY OF HUMANITY WE GO!

No sight-seeing here! Just kill, kill, kill!

Shoot through a couple of baddies and you’ll find yourself with the keys to a rickety spacecraft. And you don’t even get to venture inside, as your ghost tends to upload and download your entire being into cyberspace. Soon you’re somehow inside your spaceship and soaring. Apparently in Destiny, the only thing that’s legend is the Wi-Fi.

The City

Oh, hey, there’s the city… that you will never explore.

And you didn’t even have to drive there yourself! One of the more disappointing parts about this game is that it throws you around so whimsically, without once stopping to satisfy your curiosity as to where you are, why you’re there, and what in world is going on. Soon players find that they are simply zooming from planet to planet (oh, and the loading screens are such a joy) trying to piece together this half-hearted story that they’ve embarked upon.

Why has an enormous chunk of the moon been gouged out?

What are the politics like within the last bastion of humanity?

Why is there not a single ounce of human presence on another planet?

…Find out next time on DragonBall Z!

Destiny seems to be the result of spending all of your time worldbuilding and letting the storyboard collect dust. But it’s hard to believe that there is such an empty void left in such a visually remarkable and astounding universe. You’re basically thrown out into the wild, and wished the best. And somehow you end up saving the day (maybe?) after shooting through hordes upon hordes of foes.

Lack of Character

Foes. That’s all they are.

There is little to nothing separating Cabal from Fallen, save physical appearance. They all hate you. They all shoot at you. They all want you dead. There’s no rhyme or reason, just generic, mean, bad guys with guns. This becomes the most jading aspect of the game and the universe.

Why am I fighting these creatures? Why are they here? What do they eat for breakfast?

Devil Walker

The enemies are void of any personality or threat. They all stand around in the open world, waiting for you to come along and pop them in the head. If you want to make a villain convincing, they need a reason to want your protagonist six feet under, and they also need to make you, the player and audience, feel that they will accomplish just that if your hero isn’t careful. Make us understand what their plight is and why they’ve come from the far corners of the galaxy to ransack our solar system. Make us afraid to venture beyond the Last City’s walls. Make us want to fight this fight.

And it’d be great to know what that fight even is!

The characters – and there’s just enough to make that word plural – don’t shed any light on your situation. And the (very) few times they begin to tease you with a glimpse of the setting, plot, or how they were feeling that day, they turn aside or vanish into thin air. For all I know I could’ve been brought from the dead to open up a hot dog stand in the Tower.

Nor does your character seem to care! Even after spending X amount of time “dead,” your character wanders from planet to planet, taking everything at face value. This, right off the start, makes connecting with your character a chore.

Oh, who is this guy? Hmm… “Speaker of the Traveler?” FINALLY, SOME ANSWERS!

“Hey, good job on dealing with the Fallen. Now, if you don’t mind, there’s a bit of a situation on the Moon.”

“Like what?”

“It’s overrun by undead.”

You bring up a finger, and open your mouth to speak, but nothing comes out as you realize the only way you’re going to get some sort of clarity in this game is by putting a bullet into it.

“Also,” he butts in as you begin to walk away, “Venus kind of went Skynet everywhere, so if you could take care of that, that’d be greeaaaaat.”

The Speaker

Characters are the driving force of a story, and the lack thereof truly hinders what Destiny was trying to be. Their absence of interest in the world also robs what little plot there is of any intensity, suspense, and urgency. The most useful character is your ghost, and all he does is bark at you to kill this, and go there, and shoot that. And as much fun it is to listen to Peter Dinklage deliver you narrative, it soon becomes jading, even to the point where even he sounds disinterested.

In the brief screentime the mysterious “Stranger” gets, she is the only one who gives the plot any sort of direction and momentum. But before you can get an answer out of her – poof – she’s gone.

This character dilemma comes as a shock to me, considering Bungie brought the Halo universe to life. Those characters became my childhood heroes. Surely with a fresh, clean slate to work with, they were going to bring something memorable and unique to the table. So we all thought.

Hell, I don’t even know why my character wants to find the Black Garden. I’m still trying to figure out why the Fallen were after me in the beginning. Or why they have four arms!

The Grimoire

Speaking of arms, did you notice that the Fallen dregs only have two? Ever wonder why? I thought maybe they didn’t get enough human in their diets. Turns out, they lopped their own arms off in acknowledgement of their own short comings as an act of ultimate humility to be accepted amongst their kin. Wow! That’s actually quite interesting! Too bad I would’ve never known that by the fact that they stand in front of you and let you shoot them point-blank, and, oh…

…because that is never mentioned once in entire narrative.

Ever realize that the Hive wizards are female?

Did you know that Fallen belong to certain “houses” that cling to a long forgotten echo of royalty amongst their race?

Did you know your Exo friend, the “Stranger,” is a new-world legend as the “guardian without a ghost?”

Neither would I, unless I had checked out the Grimoire – Destiny’s online, out-of-game lore bank. Instead of including all of the fascinating lore and writing that surrounds this entire universe within the game, they left it up to you to discover it on your own time.

…what?

Grimoire Cards

It’s like buying a book to read that is extremely vague and brief that comes with a much larger, more detailed codex of everything that should have been in the book to begin with. Especially considering the rich lore that the Grimoire has to offer is very interesting and captivating. It’s a shame to see such creative genius wasted, when that’s exactly what the doctor ordered for this game.

How this mess ever came to be is beyond my logic and understanding. It is also the hammer which drove the final nail into this coffin.

Total Lack of Immersion

What really took the breath out of Destiny is the clear lack of absorption into the fiction. Between having no character to connect to, having to figure out the setting yourself, and no sight of the plot, you’re left with a colorful array of guns and some aliens to shoot. Oh, and did I mention the loading screens? You have plenty of those.

You are returned to orbit after EVERYTHING you do. You can’t even pick your nose without having to go back to orbit — which is AKA for a “mission select” screen. It breaks the streamlining of the story if you get to pick and choose from a list of quests instead of the story bringing it to you. It’s as if you picked up a book, read just one brief chapter, and set the book back down closed. Wouldn’t you much rather read through it, instead of in stop-and-start spurts?

Orbit

The missions also become very worn-out, very swiftly. There is nothing to keep you on your toes after the multitude of defend-the-point and survive-the-horde events that happen in the story. How many times does your ghost have to scan something while you empty magazine after magazine into your foes for this game to offer some sort of different challenge? Sure, there’s a boss fight or two, but they’re laughable at best.

How can you get lost in a fiction, when everything within seems so distant and detached? The game runs out of steam quickly, and there isn’t much to entice you forward. It’s like showing up to a party where no one talks to you, and you have no idea when it started or when it will end. You can’t even take your shoes off to get comfortable.

Wasted Potential

It really feels like Bungie gave up halfway through this game. That, or Big Brother Activision came through with some scissors and red ink. Lots of it. There is so much potential in this world, and it is very, very disappointing to see it go to waste.

For supposedly being in for the long haul of a ten year deal, Destiny has a lot of answering to do. Not only to the players, but for itself. And it’s understandable that the first installment isn’t going to reveal everything. But it needs to give us something to want to come back to in a few years. Or even a month. And not just DLC.

Destiny botched the most basic goal fiction has to achieve, and that’s to give you another realm to escape to. And for that, Destiny failed as a storytelling experience.

Was my synopsis too harsh? How would you rate your Destiny experience?

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Shannon G
Shannon G
6 years ago

Ouch. That really hit hard, but you struck it at its head. This reminds me of one those failed story games, where you just mindlessly kill foes from start to end with your main character.

Annie Marie Peters
6 years ago

I have to agree with you here, Cody. Destiny had a lot of potential, and it just fell flat. Very disappointing!

Princess Loki
Princess Loki
6 years ago

You couldn’t of said it any better. I totally agree!!

P. H. Solomon
6 years ago

Sounds like they needed a book or movie to base this on. Well-rounded experience is as important as cool tech and coding.

Ryan Crown
6 years ago

I have to agree I was beyond disappointed with Destiny’s lack of a real story (and the fact that they put all this great backstory on the website instead of in-game only made me more annoyed). Makes me glad I rented the game and didn’t waste $60 on it, because for me even the gameplay wasn’t that spectacular. The repetitive grind of it quickly got old. Titanfall is easily just as fun (and I already own it) — and Titanfall even managed to have a fairly engaging story (I especially like that its campaign mode lets you play through as both sides of the conflict, so that you get both perspectives as to why each side is fighting).

Sarah McCabe
6 years ago

The most frustrating thing for me when I come across stories I end up hating, is when the story had a lot of potential that gets squandered. It’s like the storyteller made a promise to me and then ended up laughing in my face while flipping me off. I had that feeling with the Sword of Truth series and now I tell everyone I have the occasion to talk about there series with what a steaming pile of crap it is.

Codey Amprim
Codey Amprim
Reply to  Sarah McCabe
6 years ago

That is EXACTLY how I feel.

Philip Overby
6 years ago

I agree that Destiny’s story was rather shallow. One improvement (a minor one) might be to include a way to view the Grimoire entries in-game a la Skyrim. I don’t think anyone really bought this hoping for an awesome story though, did they? I certainly didn’t. I never really expect good stories from FPSs, one reason I rarely buy them. But Destiny is definitely addictive in some other regards, even if the gameplay becomes repetitive. One great thing they do though is offer up new events and such, which I think it pretty cool.

Codey Amprim
Codey Amprim
Reply to  Philip Overby
6 years ago

Well, my friends and I had been keeping up on everything about this game before it was released. It is true that most FPS games aren’t bought for their story, however, the game was sold to players moreso on the RPG and story aspects than the shooter. But, and it pains me to say this, even Call of Duty single player campaigns have had better stories than what Destiny offered.

Antonio del Drago
6 years ago

Your analysis is right on, Codey.

I’m a level 27 Warlock, and I’ve beaten the main campaign. Heck, I even conquered the Vault of Glass raid on Venus.

Yet, I have no idea what the story is. I’m not even sure what my character was doing, and why he was doing it. I don’t know what even took place, other than I shot a lot of stuff and things blew up.

Still, the game is a blast to play. The gameplay is fantastic, and the RPG mechanics are cool. But the story is a jumbled mess… if there is a story?

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