Appreciating Destiny as an FPS (It’s All About Loot)
Destiny has been likened to a lot of things, with the most common opinion dubbing the game as an MMO. Personally, I’ve thought of it as a blend between Halo, Borderlands and Diablo III. Halo, well, because Bungie. Borderlands because this game was one of the first to blend the first person shooter genre with role-playing mechanics, complete with class systems, levelling and—of course—bountiful loot. And finally, Diablo III because of the cooperative style story missions of the game. Sure, players can brave the hordes of enemies alone, but the appeal of both Destiny and Diablo III that keeps drawing players back to what can be described as monotonous gameplay, is the enjoyment of teaming up with friends and having a laugh while exploring a map for the 50th time in hopes that maybe from the chest of a dead enemy will burst forth some sweet, legendary loot.
While there are plenty of comparisons to be made about how Destiny may be similar or different to other games, in the end, what I believe Bungie is trying to do is revolutionise the bland FPS experience by borrowing from other genres. At its core, Destiny is ultimately still a first person shooter.
The most prominent elements that have been included in Destiny are from the RPG genre, where players can create a character that is their own, and customise them with gear. And yes, characters can gain experience and level up, allowing them to access higher tier gear, which also grants some bonuses, but it’s also important to note that some of these are disabled for PvP Crucible matches. And unlike RPGs, levelling does not increase stats like Intellect, Discipline or Strength; the only way to increase these stats is with armour. Moreover, once characters reach level 20, experience points only serve to upgrade skills and weapons—a trait generic to almost any other game. Perhaps you may be familiar with Far Cry 3’s Tatau skill tree, Tomb Raider’s skills and salvage system, Dead Space’s RIG, Dishonored, BioShock? The list goes on. And even so, most of these skills trees allow players to allocate the upgrade points, whereas Destiny’s is actually a much more linear skill trunk. Destiny only feigns being an RPG.
Bungie have said that Destiny becomes a different game after 20 hours, and that’s because by the 20th hour, players will have hit the soft level cap. After that, it’s all about the loot. Characters can “level up” beyond level 20 but it turns into a matter of getting gear with a high enough Light attribute. Aiming to actually level up a character becomes a pointless exercise and a game of luck. The idea is that the more enemies you shoot, the better the chances of them dropping one of those godforsaken, infamous, glowing, purple polyhedrons that the Cryptarch might decrypt into a decent item. Players can buy gear with Vanguard and Crucible marks through very bureaucratic processes of bounties and ranking up with each faction, but there is only a limited range of stocked items at the Tower. The most reliable way to be rewarded with shiny, new loot is by participating in Strikes, Crucible matches or Raids, where kills and assists will all count towards players’ scores at the end of the mission or match. Does that sound familiar? Ohh. That’s right. Destiny’s an FPS. But with loot (just between you and me, it becomes a bit of an obsession).
To get the most out of the game, players are encouraged to participate in the Crucible, Strikes or Raids. The Crucible has competitive multiplayer game modes reminiscent of any other FPS but it could be the friendlier options of cooperative Strikes or Raids that might throw people off into saying the game is a massively multiplayer online game. Well, the phrase is literally correct. But Destiny is missing 90% of the elements that makes a game like World of Warcraft an MMO, such as trading, crafting and mining. Players can farm for materials like Spinmetal, but it’s certainly not a defining element to warrant calling Destiny an MMO. Character classes within a fireteam hardly affects cooperation between players as their single equipped defining Super ability is only rarely used; unlike tanks, DPS’ and healers in MMO parties who have different sets of individual abilities. There are also groups and clans that players can join, but this serves as simply building a community and fostering communication between players. Within the game, clans do not truly represent anything in the way that MMO guilds do, and there is certainly no communal loot stash.
Bungie has mentioned they have a ten-year plan for Destiny with the inclusion of Raids, public events and other additions that will ensure the longevity of its game, and more importantly its community, a.k.a. “fan base”. Going forward, this could quite possibly be a replacement for map packs DLC that have been so popular in multiplayer shooters. Why? Because that’s just how console technology is evolving, and Bungie has seized this opportunity to innovate. Public events can be integrated seamlessly into the original game content, making them ever accessible to all players, and every public event is a chance for Bungie to reach out to its community to hype them up again and again (with the promise of new loot). It’s called marketing and, like it or not, it’ll never go away.
Just because Bungie added classes, levelling and loot, and tried to build a community around an FPS does not mean that Destiny falls entirely into another genre. How often has each instalment of traditional first person shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield been criticised for being the same game over and over again? What people don’t seem to realise or appreciate is that Bungie is trying to do something about this and reinvent the FPS genre. If the aforementioned franchises don’t die during this console generation, I’d expect that it would be because their development studios are following Bungie’s lead with Destiny. Maybe even starting with the inclusion of loot.