I would hate to be a professional game reviewer tasked with putting a score on a blockbuster like Destiny. The sense of trepidation you’d have trying to think critically while still giving the developers benefit of the doubt on their intent is a near impossible task that I don’t envy. That already difficult task is made even harder by the sheer aspiration and ambition of a game like Destiny, where Bungie has made no secret of their intent to redefine the shooter. Not to mention the possibility of hordes of rabid Halo fans breathing down your neck if they think you got it wrong.
While its nearly impossible to know what was rolling around in the heads of the developer’s esteemed designers, it seems pretty clear that the world wasn’t necessarily expecting what it got from Destiny. Within the first 24 hours i’d seen lines of people returning the game, and critics throwing words like ‘hollow’ and ‘empty’ around in their not-quite-reviews. It was pretty clear there were some serious expectations from the general gaming populous going into Destiny – the most expensive game ever made – but that what was in the game was a little underwhelming. Destiny had won over the wallets of players, but hadn’t quite captured the hearts and minds.
And when you read the reviews and comments permeating through every corner of the gamer-verse, a trend emerges, and one that doesn’t paint a very favourable picture of the fruit of Bungie’s loins. In short, people feel that Destiny just isn’t big enough.
Now I haven’t played Destiny, so for a comprehensive and insightful look at the game I’d suggest reading this or this, but I couldn’t help but notice many of the criticisms levelled at Bungie’s latest were also levelled at Xbox One launch title, Forza 5. Being a launch title there was a lot riding on the fifth entry in Turn10’s top of the pile racer, and technically the game achieved everything fans could’ve asked for. It was a beautiful game that, when the rubber hit the road, was easily the best of breed. But the broader picture wasn’t so rosy, and Forza 5 suffered as much from its ambition as it did its omissions – at its heart though it was its light-on feature set and diminished track line-up that caused the most outrage. Everything Forza 5 did right, and it did a lot right, was stigmatised by a perceived lack of content. Less tracks, fewer cars, and an underwhelming career structure dragged down the review scores to make Forza 5 the worst reviewed game in the series.
But almost 12 months on, that disappointment has subsided far removed from the hype and expectation leading up to the game, and I am still playing the hell out of a game that polarised its players. Distant memories of turning my nose up at (a paltry) 14 tracks have been replaced of the exhilaration of thousands of laps over dozens of hours in some of the fastest cars in the world all from the comfort of my couch. And a year on Forza 5 has become a staple of my gaming diet as the pure bliss of Forza’s underlying driving mechanics keep their numerous tendrils wrapped around me and the sweet hum of a supercharged V8 Supercar charging around Mt. Panorama lulled me into a deep sense of security.
You see at some point my appreciation for what the game offered turned a corner and the quantity on offer became less of a point of criticism, and the logical side of my brain realised that the sheer act of playing Forza 5 was enough to keep me going. The subtlety in the physics, the tangible excitement of hopping into another car and feeling the difference heading into the first turn of Laguna Seca – all of these things were the game’s content, and there is a hell of a lot of ways to experience the beauty of racing Turn 10 has carefully and lovingly crafted. The content was there all along, it was just the very narrow view that consumers tend to take in quantifying it that was the problem.
And I wonder whether we’re seeing something similar with Destiny, a game that from all reports, seems to be a mechanically sound game let down only be its emptiness. Whether the solid shooter pedigree is enough to hold people’s attention long enough to keep people playing – like Forza 5 did with me – remains to be seen. But a game like Destiny, even in the face of criticism, won’t go down without a fight, and as the game gets its claws into select people, as it inevitably will, Destiny may well become the game people imagined it would be. The question is whether the core of the game is enough to ensure people stick around to discover that the content may have been there all along.