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…
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.