Mystery Box!: Destiny and Narrative Structure

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Destiny is disappointing, and The Dark Below DLC has made it even worse. This is my subjective opinion, but I’m not alone in holding it. A quick check of major game sites and magazines show that Destiny is a resoundingly average game in terms of review scores. A large portion of the comments sections on Destiny-related sites or on Bungie’s site are overwhelmingly of the opinion that the game is one of the largest disappointments in recent gaming history. I agree, but further than that, I think the review scores are higher than they should be. This stems from the fact that reviews must be thorough in what they cover and equitable in how much value a reviewer applies to each aspect. If you are going to review a game in general, then the criteria on which you judge it should be fairly distributed in terms of a point system or importance. At NLGO, we use the four categories of Concept and Execution, Mechanics, Atmosphere, and Entertainment Value, and each category contributes 25% to the final score. Usually a game that is unsatisfactory will do at least average in these categories to lead to an average score overall. I argue, however, that Destiny fails on such a fundamental level that it doesn’t even fit a category in our reviews, or the reviews of others, and it has been largely overlooked in the review world because it hasn’t been treated as the main value on which to judge the game: its narrative structure.

In my original Destiny review, I was hopeful that the game lacked a rich story because it was the foundation or the framework on which the franchise would build in its ten year plan. This isn’t the usual model for a franchise. A game, even if it is one in a long line of installments, still maintains a sense of closure and coherence, and even if only one game of a trilogy is played, it still has enough character development and complexity of story to be worth playing towards a satisfactory end. Visible examples would be BioWare’s Mass Effect and Dragon Age games in which each game built on and interacted with the others in the series, but could be played as standalones and still be entertaining experiences. Decisions you make and actions you take in this type of narrative structure will ripple forth into future installments, but this isn’t the only way a game’s narrative can be structured. For instance, the Final Fantasy franchise is comprised almost solely of standalones excepting, of course, where a new game is purposely designed to expand on its predecessor such as Final Fantasy X-2 or Final Fantasy XIII-2. Almost every Final Fantasy game can be played in any order without losing coherence in a narrative structure, and this is because each game is a complete entity which encapsulates the entirety of the story within its own boundaries.

Destiny does neither. It lacks character development, engagement, entertainment, replayability, and a complex or rich enough story to be considered a successful standalone. This is where my hopefulness came in. Perhaps this franchise would be so massive that it had to be grounded in something, however vague it must be to begin with, so that future elements had a framework to be built on, and that Destiny was the product of that necessity. I was wrong to be optimistic. The first expansion for the Destiny world came in the form of a Hive-themed adventure in The Dark Below. I was excited to play this DLC mainly because I was excited to see where the writers, developers, and designers would go from the mediocre and bland foundation of the original game. I was crushed because they didn’t go anywhere with it. The Dark Below is a continuation of the same level of complexity that the original Destiny was built on: not complex at all in any way. There is no more depth to the Hive than there was before The Dark Below, and this is because there were no profound reveals of backstory of the Hive, their involvement in the Great Collapse, or history of their race and why their history led them to attack Earth and the Traveler in the entirety of The Dark Below. This is so intensely disappointing not only because the DLC is boring on its own, but because it had the potential to expand the Destiny world into a lush and complex story. Players could have been treated to an incredibly rewarding experience, but, for whatever reason and whoever’s decision it was, the DLC was designed without a story or stripped of it in one of the development stages. Even the grimoire cards added with The Dark Below do almost nothing to enhance the story or history of the world or the Hive. Any theoretical storyline that can be constructed by combining the almost non-existent story in the game with the tidbits of information found in the grimoire cards is underwhelming. It’s almost as if the enormous star-studded list of voice actors were paid by money taken from the narrative and script writers who wrote the lines the voice actors would record for the game: very poor form if that is the case.

The process of reviewing a game, then, effectively improved the ratings that Destiny got simply because Destiny got a pass based on the review system itself. Since it had a novel concept, plan for the future, a bit of prestige based on the names and companies involved, and a solid marketing schema, a lot of people were excited about this game. Then, because the game had to be treated in reviews as a totality, it wasn’t railed as hard as it should have been for failing as it does in narrative structure. It isn’t a standalone, but it isn’t foundational for the DLC or future installments to build on either. Destiny doesn’t have a satisfactory story, then, in any way shape or form so it fails on its own merits, but that means it will also fail any future structuring that attempts to build on the game since we’ve come too far to make the improvements needed. The franchise may make improvements for future installments, but it will never be able to go back and fix these failings. In comparison, I would go back, if it was an acceptable practice, and lower my rating of Destiny considering how it now stands in relation to the franchise. There really is no point in being involved with this franchise considering how mediocre it is, and this claim is supported by the majority of reviews, but with the attention that gaming has received as a sort of art form, literary genre, and mode of storytelling—on nlgo.net and in the community generally—Destiny and The Dark Below have disappointed in objectionable and deplorable ways.

Did these companies really think that no one would ever question where the story was?

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