4 min read

Ideas in science fiction matter. Time and place in science fiction are never “our time” and “our place”. The location and time frame serve to create a canvas for discussion about contemporary issues; everything from The Time Machine onwards talks about issues bigger than “how big guns get in the future”. They talk about alienation from nature (We), they talk about the detachment from self (Nineteen Eighty-Four), they talk about class (Brave New World), reality (anything by Philip K. Dick), societal structure and development (Canticle for Liebowitz); anything that affects readers, science fiction finds a way to talk about it.

Destiny, however, talks about nothing and ideas don’t matter to it. It’s the empty vacuum of space and little more than cheap pulp fiction.

There’s a line towards the end of the terrible, shallow, incomprehensible, and disappointing story mode of Destiny that succinctly sums up the game’s issues. In a neat twist of dramatic irony, the third character of the story (maybe the fourth if we count Bill Nighy) says to your hero,

“You want to turn it into a battleground? How…unimaginative”

It’s a beautiful moment of irony, but one that I’m not quite sure landed with the game’s script writers. This one line expertly sums up all that is wrong with Destiny. It encompasses the lost potential for the game’s environments, the terribly dull and uninspired lore (The Traveler, The Fallen, The Awoken; I’m a fan of “everyman” fiction, but it comes across as lazy), and the panic-inducing, strangely moreish gameplay that keeps you going back for one more terrible mission. Destiny has taken the canvas that science fiction gave it and its developers crafted, and declined to do anything more than turn it into a never-ending battleground.

Judging books by their covers

It’s not all bad for Destiny. It was built with a custom, in-house game engine. It uses Havok for its physics. It’s a highly engineered piece of work, which brings the best out of the old-gen systems, and hints at what’s available for the new gen systems. It looks great.

It’s an example of how to craft “time and place” in a game; art assets, lighting, and effects all work together to make an intriguing canvas to paint your Destiny onto.

Yes, the rusted cars are a clichéd hangover narrative hangover from Iraq’s gruesome Highway of Death.

Yes, nothing screams trite post-apocalypse more than a rusted factory inhabited by weird non-humans.

But I challenge anyone to walk through the missions and not be impressed by the feel of the place. The gameplay mechanics are also, by and large, the best you’ll find in an FPS. I felt more control and more in command than I ever have (this was, in part, due to the fact I’m a few levels higher than my enemies which can actually take away a lot of the challenge of defeating the hordes of monsters that are thrown at you…).

The game’s mechanical structure and overall development quality is superb. You should check it out (rental, preferably). The in-house engine looks swell, and the music is probably one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard on a game before—it’s truly epic. Well done Paul McCartney. And well done developers. You made a good game. It’s just that the writers let you down.

I’ve got a bad feeling about this…

Packt do amazing game development books. We’ve just released a new raft of Unity books to help people make more awesome games for different platforms. We’ve been publishing game development books for five years, and will continue for a long time yet. We’ve always aimed to provide the skills you need to create games. They teach you sprites, animations, GUI development, 2D, 3D, how to create multiplayer games, and much more besides.

They don’t, however, teach you ideas.

All our books require you to have an idea for a game. We can arm you with the skills, but unless you want a clone of an FPS lifted straight from the book, you’re going to need to bring your own twist of originality.  Our seminal Unity book, Unity Game Development Essentials, hit upon this in the tagline:

“If you have an idea for a game but lack the skills to create it, this book is the perfect introduction.”

The most recent content release, a Raid for level 26 super Guardians, is a great example of how few ideas Destiny is bringing to the table. It’s a mission that takes 10 hours of playing to complete and requires five other level 26 friends. It took 1606 deaths (2 minutes a life) for an expert clan to complete it. This is not innovation. It’s just more. More of the same bullet-sponge enemies, more of the same gameplay, for more time. It’s more of your life that you aren’t going to get back. The whole thing just reeks of bad ideas and bored story-telling.

Against the backdrop of the most expensive scenes ever created, and to the strains of sublime music, Destiny forgot the most important ingredient in the game development (and science fiction) recipe—great ideas. There’s a paucity of quality ideas throughout that, even with the most talented developers in the world, Bungie can’t hide.

Destiny isn’t a bad game; it’s just a game that forgot that the first step of game development is a good idea.


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