There are a multitude of reasons behind why I really dislike Bungie's new Massively Multiplayer Online shooter Destiny (and there are another multitude of reasons for why I'm still playing after nearly 100 hours of game time—I'll let my psychiatrist figure those out), but I'm not going to rehash all of those here. You can listen to our Destiny podcast to hear me bitch about the shitty loot drop system, the endless futility of cave farming, and the half-assed design of the game as a whole. Instead, I'd rather talk about something I didn't really touch on during my various social media meltdowns over the game—a problem that is not solely endemic to Destiny, but really stands out amongst its flaws: The fact that the game—and Bungie—have mistaken busy work for fun.

The idea for this editorial comes from a completely off-handed comment my PSN friend Mr_Green_Rd made while we were playing one night during the first week of the game's release. I don't remember the exact context of the comment, but gist was that he was teasing me about not wanting to work for things in the game—of basically just wanting the game to fork over the loot without me having to put in much in the way of effort.

My initial reaction to this was to laugh, feel a bit defensive about it (not because Mr. Green was saying it in a mean way, but because I actually wondered if this was true. It's not. I've done some insanely grindy things in other games, and I've bitched about it while doing them, but I've always put in the work), and say "yes, I'm a lazy man—just give me the good stuff already." For whatever reason, that conversation has sat in the back of my head for weeks now, and only recently did I finally figure out why. Allow me to explain.

Games, by their very nature, are supposed to be fun. Work, on the other hand, is rarely fun (I don't care what Mary Poppins says…). Most people hate their jobs. We suffer through them as a necessary evil, so that we can afford to live and maybe buy some games. Games that will be fun. When a game forces us to do dreary, repetitive work-like things, they're not fun—and worse, they go against the very nature of what games should be. Why would I pay money to a company so they can make me do something that feels like work? At least my job pays me for my suffering.

This idea of paying to be miserable applies to Destiny really well. While fun is certainly subjective, I don't know that anyone finds the never-ending cycle of doing the same ten daily quests for reputation, or running the same handful of strikes and story missions over and over fun. In fact, the idea of dailies is something that feels ripped straight out of World of Warcraft during the Burning Crusade expansion—when daily quests for faction rep were all the rage and a lot of people got really burnt out and quit playing.

Bungie's reliance on what amounts to daily busy work to keep people coming back in pursuit of the dangling carrot that is better gear is MMO 101 design at this point. Destiny is hardly the only game that forces players to do boring shit endlessly in order to procure a reward that will just set them off on another treadmill grind. The problem with Destiny is that there's nothing else to the game at this point. It's a Rube Goldberg-esque contraption built entirely of things that require grinding. Every gameplay option is built on the idea of doing something repetitively for some miniscule reward. It's a monument to busy work, a game that continually throws chores at players in the hopes they won't notice the Emperor isn't wearing any clothes.

Really, there's no better descriptor of Destiny's gameplay than to call it a chore. The game has launched with a dearth of content, a measly three classes to play (and two of those, the hunter and the warlock, are essentially interchangeable), and an endgame that is best described as "ill-conceived." Seriously, how else can you describe a post level 20 leveling up system that is based entirely on luck (and more grinding!) with the game's much maligned random drop system?

The only other option you have is to pick a faction and grind rep—day in, and day out, until you get enough points to acquire what you need (the best part of this? Getting back to that dearth of content part, all the faction gear is interchangeable in terms of stats. Bungie, who spent half a billion bucks on this game, couldn't even be bothered to come up with different stat sets for the various faction gear…). Even then, you're looking at weeks of repetitive strikes/bounties/patrols, because the game will only allow you to obtain 100 Vanguard or Crucible Marks (used to purchase said gear) in a week. Helmets alone cost 120…

In what universe is any of this fun? Repeating dull as dishwater missions over and over for gear that no one even cared enough about to make unique feels like the antithesis of fun from where I sit. It's as soul-crushing as waking up at dawn every morning to drive to a job that requires you stand for eight hours putting together widgets on an assembly line. That analogy is more apt than you might realize, because it's a fitting metaphor for what Destiny really is—a videogame turned into factory work, where you paid $60 for the privilege of doing mind-numbing tasks endlessly while the guys in charge at Bungie and Activision laugh all the way to the bank…

Mike Bracken

Mike Bracken

Mike Bracken is a 43-year-old writer and bohemian living in Florida with a mountain of movies, books, and video games.

A film critic by trade, specializing in Euro-horror, cult exploitation, and Asian action cinema, Mike has written reviews for a diverse group of print and online publications. He covers horror news, movies, books, and games at TheHorrorGeek.com and Horrorsquad.com and spent two seasons as The Horror Geek on Comedy Central's pop-culture game show, Beat the Geeks.

Mike's childhood was spent playing videogames any time he got a chance. His parents had a Pong console and his grandmother had an Atari 2600, where Mike cultivated his skills by playing hour upon hour of games like Space Invaders, Berserk, and Asteroids. From those early experiences Mike learned one thing: he loved games.

In 1999, Mike became a staff reviewer at Cinescape Magazine's website where he spent a year learning the craft of game criticism. After internal changes led to Mike leaving Cinescape in late 2000, he joined up with RPGFan in 2001 and spent several years writing reviews for them. Happy, but looking for an opportunity to expound on a wider variety of titles, Mike joined GameCritics.com and hopes to help Chi, Dale, and the rest of the GC staff bring a higher level of respect to the field of game criticism.
Mike Bracken

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9 Comments on "Destiny’s Greatest Failing is Mistaking Busy Work for Fun"

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Mike Bracken
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This is a good point about the intelligence of the A.I. — it never ceases to make me laugh.

The other thing that makes me laugh is how you can keep shit from spawning if you stand in the spawn area. How does that even make sense? Why wouldn’t the enemies respawn regardless of whether you were standing there or not?

Spokker
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I can prove that the AI in Halo is much smarter than in Destiny. One time I managed to convince my wife to play Halo 3 co-op with me. She hates first-person-shooters and gets scared when she plays (she has no problem with first person games like Portal 2 or Minecraft). So we get into a firefight and she runs and hides in a corner. An enemy stalks her and eventually pops up in the corner she’s hiding in and starts blasting away. She screams and throws the controller down while kicking her feet wildly. I can’t imagine that anything… Read more »
Spokker
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“Busy Work for Fun”

They did say the game featured MMO elements.

Mike Bracken
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Tom, The AI in Halo is definitely better — and the bullet sponge thing is something I complain about at least three times a night (why am I still playing this game every night? I really must hate myself…) I often think that the idea of trying to build a shooter-based MMO along the lines of WoW with guns (which is what Destiny seems to be aiming for in my estimation) is a bad one. There’s not enough role differentiation in the game for it to work. You don’t have to have the “holy trinity” of tank, dps, healer for… Read more »
tom
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Thanks Mike. Enemy movement in Destiny is very similar, but what stood out in the Halo series ( that I’m a big fan of, while not ignoring Halo’s hyper repetition and useless traversal as a time extend ) is its best in class AI. Never before have gamers fought seemingly smart AI like that. Destiny took everything good from Halo and MMO-ified it into oblivion just like you described in your post. The combat is not bad, it’s just so super boring. I share delorian88 capability of just looking at a games combat and recognising it’s fun, or it’s problems.… Read more »
Mike Bracken
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DeLorean88 (love that username…), Storytelling is definitely an afterthought in Destiny. I can tell you that I’m level 28, have played roughly 100 hours, and I haven’t the first clue of what the story is about aside from the fact that it involves Peter Dinklage not being able to open doors about a hundred times so I can kill waves of enemies. Oh, there’s some emo dude who looks like he wandered in from a My Chemical Romance video. Other than that? No clue. Definitely hurts the game. I have zero idea narratively speaking why I’m even doing these stupid… Read more »
Mike Bracken
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Tom, I’m sort of mixed on Destiny’s combat — it’s very Halo-esque, which probably pushes my nostalgia buttons more than it should (the enemies are basically re-skinned Halo adversaries, right down to the movement patterns). I think it gets a bit of a pass from everyone on that point. I also think it gets a pass because it’s still the best part of what is an incredibly mediocre and underwhelming experience. If you have to pick out one thing Destiny doesn’t completely fuck up, it’s the combat. That being said, since we recorded the podcast (where I was pretty much… Read more »
DeLorean88
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Thanks for the review. I have no intention of playing Destiny, after I saw other people playing it on twitch.tv and the reviews I think I have a good idea about the game. Personally it feels that more and more games seem to be busywork rather than fun lately. It might be an age thing 🙂 Good storytelling is one of the things that separates work-play and fun-play, and I hear storytelling component is quite bad in Destiny. How can they spend so much money and resources and not have a good/coherent story?

tom
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I’d redirect your focus Mike. Agreed that Bungie propagandised by conflating fun with the chore-dom that is Destiny at it’s core, but it’s all those gamers that actually think it’s fun, and even the critics of the game that call the combat fun that you should be the focus of your criticism. Nice sounding weapons with good aiming is not good combat. You need as well; good AI, mission variety, combat progression, set pieces, distinct weapons, weapons strategy and AI reaction to that strategy, player choice in combat etc. I’ve not heard one critic say that Destiny has any of… Read more »
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