The End of Destiny

As part of Q1 2017 Craig looks at the end of Destiny, a game that should be drawing to close after two years of engaging players who now await its sequel

When Bungie left the warm cocoon of Microsoft and Halo it was a leap into the unknown. Not being able to have control of the world that they had created, must have irked a number of people within Bungie and though years of creating great games for the Xbox must have been satisfying, there must’ve been a part of Bungie that felt empty.

When Halo: Reach tied up Bungie’s Halo saga, they were able to put it in a bow and gift it to Microsoft’s new Halo team, meanwhile Bungie were finally left to pursue their own universe, free of the creative constraints that being consigned to a single, multi-million selling franchise can sometimes do. Leaving behind such a staple of video games must’ve been a wrench, but in the end, their curiosity of starting something new got the better of them, and so Destiny was born.

destinyhaloreach

It’s an apt name for a development studio whose previous accomplishments have led to this all-encompassing game. The way that Destiny has evolved since its release in 2014 is less of a game and more of a platform, being built-on and expanded on month-by-month to a player base that is hungry for more content and is unlike anything else we’ve seen on console. Sure, games that are platforms are common place on PC. Titles such as World of Warcraft immediately spring to mind, but on console? Long-standing multiplayer titles are one thing, but seeing a game evolve, change, and adapt as much as Destiny is a phenomena that PlayStation and Xbox just hasn’t been used to.

From Alpha to Beta to Launch …

One of the immediate problems (apart from the entire game leaking before Bungie were ready to talk, which we’ll go into a bit later) that faced Destiny was that Bungie failed to coherently explain exactly what Destiny was and how players played. There was confusion over whether there was an over-arching story, how that fitted into the always online nature of it, and whether Bungie could successfully recapture the gameplay that made Halo so enticing to a legion of fans. Critics argued that re-producing a game that changed the industry like the original Halo did was impossible, but Bungie were sure as hell going to give it a go.

The switch from being Xbox exclusive to multi-platform, following their partnership with Activision, also threw up questions of how the PlayStation eco-system would embrace a Bungie developed game. A platform that they had never had the chance to work on previously in an extensive fashion. It wasn’t long until Sony reached out to Bungie and secured an ‘exclusive partnership’ for Destiny, and an Alpha and Beta were launched before the title’s release in 2014.

Destiny’s Beta was record-breaking, yet concerning for players. While Bungie drew valuable data and information to how their world reacted to 4.6 million players logging on over a number of days, players began to question how big Bungie’s world would be. Old Russia was the playground given to players in both the Alpha and Beta, with the Moon opening up in the closing days of the games last Beta before launch.

When the original Alpha started, Bungie had already declared that Earth, The Moon, Mars and Venus would host all of Destiny’s content – barring one multiplayer map set on Mercury. What they didn’t anticipate though, was that players who had explored Old Russia, believed that the content provided within this area in the Alpha (and the Beta) would only be one part of a number of locations on Earth. Unfortunately for both players and Bungie, Old Russia was the entirety of Earth’s content. With the Moon, Venus, and Mars containing similar one area per planet locations, limiting fan’s expectations as to the size of the worlds that they would encounter and raise a potential lack of missions and mission variety.

bungie-infographic

When the game launched on September 9th 2014 it hit stores with no reviews and fans eager to discover what the full content of the game would be. Bungie’s decision to not send out review copies of the game to media outlets was justified, and was in no way similar to Bethesda’s recent decision to withhold press copies. Destiny, without being able to play online with other players, just wouldn’t function correctly. Bungie’s pedigree, combined with Activision’s marketing power was enough to see the game make $500 million on day one, a record for a video game at the time.

It wasn’t long before players started to discover just how little content Destiny held though. Their fears of restricted areas on a limited number of planets came to fruition, and when they realised that the last Beta contained almost half the game’s content in the full game, heads turned towards Bungie, questioning their decision to release the game with a limited number of story missions and strikes, and not having a raid ready for launch.

Matters were further compounded for Bungie by the fact that reviews in the coming days and weeks hadn’t been too kind. After reviews were in, Destiny’s Metacritic sat at 76 for PlayStation 4 and 73 for Xbox One, figures that would cost Bungie employees in their pockets, but we’ll come onto that in the next section.

While 76 and 73 aren’t terrible Metacritic scores, it doesn’t lend itself to a game that was hyped up to be the next Halo. Calling it that may be doing Bungie a bit of disservice, as they never claimed it would be, but due to their pedigree, hopes were high.

US Gamer said “Destiny feels like it wasn’t ready, but it was shipped anyway. It tantalizes with glimpses of brilliance, but then confounds with clunky design decisions and baffling oversights.”

Metro: “It’s not short of spectacle but in terms of innovation and variety this is nowhere near as forward-thinking as Bungie would like to pretend.”

IGN: “The endgame might hook you for the long haul once you fully understand it, but Destiny is ultimately unable to be all the different games it’s trying so hard to be.”

Out of all the Destiny reviews though, Giant Bomb probably summed up the general feeling best: “It’s a beautiful game, but a hollow experience.”

With middling reviews, a lack of content, a poorly communicated DLC plan, and slow negative build-up of media attention; to say Destiny stumbled out of the blocks would be underestimating things. However, long before the release, Bungie had to deal with how to handle one of the most infamous leaks in video game history.

The Leak

bungie-activision-contract

Destiny’s troubles started long before content or review scores were ever mentioned. In fact, they started before the game had been officially revealed.

In May 2012 the contract between Activision and Bungie came out as part of the court case between Activision and ex-Infinity Ward employees Vince Zampella and Jason West, who went on to form Respawn Entertainment and create the Titanfall series with EA.

The contract not only revealed Bungie’s new game, but also a string of details about a decade long plan that included information that the title would launch first on Xbox 360, coming to PlayStation 3 a year later. Sequels were also detailed to be released every two years, with DLC titled “Comet” covering the years in-between.

The plan was originally set to start in 2013 and would continue on the ‘next Xbox console’ in 2015, but of course, as we know, this plan didn’t come to fruition exactly. Destiny released a year later than scheduled on both consoles and with PlayStation securing early access to a number of missions, Strikes and DLC early.

Bungie employees were also set to receive a $2.5 million bonus should the game achieve a 90+ review rating on GameRankings, an achievement they fell well short of after the game released. Achieving a 76.83% on PlayStation and 78.55% on Xbox. While the details of this may have changed due to the fact that the overall plan changed drastically, it gives us at least an idea of the expectations Activision and Bungie had at launch for the game. It’s safe to say that if this figure was changed, Bungie employees probably never did receive a bonus, despite the way the product has evolved in its two years since release.

If having a leaked document was bad enough, at least it was a couple of years old, having been signed back in 2010. However, just a few months later, Bungie were about to encounter a second leak. While they had acknowledged they were working on a game called ‘Destiny’ shortly after the contract become public knowledge, they still hadn’t revealed anything else.

Just six months later, IGN were fortunate enough to be given a tip that detailed Destiny’s plot and aims.

Within the leak, ‘The Traveller’ was revealed – the shining white ball that hovers over Earth – as well as Bungie’s aim “to create a universe as deep, tangible and relatable as that of the Star Wars franchise.” We’ll leave it up to you to decide if Bungie matched that lofty goal or not.

Bungie responded quickly by acknowledging the leak and releasing some official artwork. Destiny still hadn’t been officially unveiled, but after two hefty leaks, Bungie’s hardwork had been trickling out into the public domain for sometime. A situation that must’ve demoralised the team.

The End of Destiny

Following Destiny as a casual player myself has been fascinating. To see something that the almost mythical-like Bungie created go from the leaks, to the initial outpouring of love for the beta, to the realisation before launch that a lack of content might be a possibility, to not-so-favourable reviews, and then following the long road to get the game to a point where its content and player rich.

Back in May 2016, Activision reported that Destiny had almost 30 million players, a figure that was hard to envisage straight after launch. The “hollow experience” that Giant Bomb mentioned in their review, while bang-on at the time, has been thoroughly put to bed as far as Destiny 1 is concerned.

The game continues to make money through the sale of expansions and the addition of micro-transactions on a number of cosmetic-based add-ons, including the ability to allow your Guardian to dance – yes they even included the moonwalk.

“Bungie employees were also set to receive a $2.5 million bonus should the game achieve a 90+ review rating on GameRankings, an achievement they fell well short of”

As sure as the Sun will rise tomorrow morning, Bungie are already working away on Destiny 2. Kotaku’s Jason Schreier has already reported on a number of rumours and we’ve heard similar stories from our own sources. For Destiny 2 to be any sort of success though, Bungie will need to take heed of the numerous issues it faced during the development and post release of Destiny.

If Bungie and Activision had not already of invested so much money in Destiny pre-release, it could have easily fallen by the wayside and have been another Evolved – a game that came out for full retail price, moved to free-to-play and was gone soon after that because no one had any interest in it. For Bungie to have dragged the original Destiny along for almost two years is a credit to not only Bungie themselves, but also to the players and community that stuck around during those difficult early days.

The release of The Taken King expansion fixed a lot of Destiny’s small issues a year after launch. With Destiny 2, Bungie will need to hit the ground running, and you’d like to think with a feverent and addicted community, a highly skilled dev team, and the success of the first game, Destiny 2 should be the game we all wanted Destiny 1, to be.

You can also follow Craig on Twitter @CraigJShields

Want to see how Pause Resume is changing? Click here to find out more about our future and how you can help us …