Destiny – Dinklage Ex Machina

So, it has been some 4 years now since Bungie last released a game, and ever since the mention of a new IP being developed by one of the great titans of the industry, people have been eager to see what was in store.

(Console-exclusive content! Pre-order bonuses! The firing of grizzled ancients!)

The beta was a phenomenal success, I enjoyed it very much, and Bungie has allegedly made back the entire $500 million budget that was pumped into this Triple-A development juggernaut in a single day. Suffice to say, regardless of the game’s quality, enough people were nipped by the hype machine to make Destiny an instant success – so well done, Bungie. You’ve not only made your cake and eaten it, you created a trans-dimensional machine that has allowed you to get the cake back before it has even been digested.

However! Let’s not get our heads in a tizzy over this, let’s not get so hastily swept up in praise and merriment just because Bungie has crafted a success (did anybody even doubt this would happen?), for there are things that need criticising to keep us humble. With the help of my objectively correct opinions, let’s take a look at one of Destiny’s biggest stinkers.

The story…demHere’s where it all gets negative. I’ve been highly disillusioned with Bungie over the last 4 years, and a lot of other Halo fans have felt similarly when it comes to Bungie’s hit-or-miss capabilities with story writing. Halo CE, 2 and ODST were downright excellent – the latter two have drawn a lot of discontent from people over the years, but I have always been of the opinion that the true height of Bungie’s storytelling days was in Halo 2 where they set the foundations for the growth of Halo’s universe from a block of marble to the right toe of Michelangelo’s David (please permit me my absurd hyperbole).

Halo 2 took the classic space marine story and injected it with interspecies politics with the level of backstabbing you’d expect from a Game of Thrones season, an arc of redemption and character transformation, twists here and there, all wrapped up in a really well-woven, interconnected story of politics, history, and religion. ODST weirdly combined elements of classical mythology from Dante’s Inferno with a modern take on the noir genre and it just worked. Basically, Bungie did well with those games and each one has an unimpeachable identity in the Halo series (so do Halo 3 and Reach, but for wholly negative reasons in my book).

Destiny really lacks its own identity because it’s a universe that has so much potential, but so little of it is explored with any kind of depth or nuance. It’s no wonder one of the lead writers left to go to Telltale so he could work on stories with more depth to them… I was left thoroughly unimpressed by Destiny’s story offering, and now I’m (finally) going to get into why.dest1Firstly, I really just cannot comprehend the fact that there’s literally only thirty minutes of actual cutscene content… That is nothing. ODST, a game made in 8 months, has more cutscene content than Destiny which just astounds me. It’s no wonder that, after all this time, Bungie didn’t reveal much information about the story outside of its vague premise because there was practically nothing beyond that. The little they revealed actually spoiled a fair bit of the game…

Nobody seems to have a long-lasting reaction to anything in this game. Somebody at Bungie had the bright idea to publicly reveal that the Vex are time travellers. In the game, this is treated as a stunning revelation, and it certainly is a big deal because this is technology that nobody else seems to have. But all the while, anybody who was around for Bungie’s spiel about the game must’ve just thought, “okay, but I’ve known this for over a year”. You find Vex structures that are apparently billions of years old, but the game just moves right on and doesn’t bother to go any further into it – like so many other things, it’s just glossed right over. I also find it quite funny that the Vex are treated as the main villains rather than the Darkness (whatever that even is because we’re not told). I remember a while ago when Bungie was doing a panel and revealed some concept art which included great black pyramid vessels and the mention of some secret alien race, but nothing of the sort appears in the story at all.

I also thought it was odd(ly hilarious) that the protagonist didn’t seem to have any kind of a reaction to the whole “you’ve been dead for a long time” thing when I played the beta. I figured “okay, it’ll surely come up in the full game, the psychological damage that could result from that will make for some intriguing character development”. Yeah… Nope! It’s never ever mentioned again, just totally swept under the rug and forgotten about.dest5And the characters themselves… good lord, I’ve never seen a sorrier bunch of forced exposition dispensers in any Bungie game before – which is quite something. The Speaker doesn’t even try to hide it! What a waste of Bill Nighy. Characters exist in Destiny with practically no purpose at all. Y’know that female Exo who is following you on the Moon? What does she actually do? She’s there to be a mystery and that’s about it, and she gives you a nice shiny gun at the end of the game just ‘cos.

Who is she? What’s her name? Who is she working with? What exactly is she? What does being “forged in Light” mean – is this something that happens at birth for humans who are unique, or something? What is it about the Traveler’s Light that makes Guardians so special? Why does she just give you a gun at the end of the game? Where does she go afterwards? Why does she say “I don’t even have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain” before launching into a 3 minute long speech about vague plot details?

Somebody at Bungie was sat down and thinking to themselves: “If we don’t tell anybody what’s going on – who these people are, and why you should care – then we can distract people from the fact that we’ve got a plot that can out-thin Reach!”

The causal relationship between events of the plot is one giant fetch quest. Go here, find this, loljk we didn’t really need this but well done for wasting your time, have some coordinates.dest2I can’t feel anything for these characters because I don’t know who any of them are. I don’t know what a “Speaker for the Traveler” is, I don’t know anybody’s backstory (NOT EVEN MY OWN), I don’t know why there’s ‘friendly’ Fallen with the Awoken Queen, I don’t know why the stick up her brother’s ass has a stick up its ass, I don’t know why the Awoken Queen treats you like an outsider even if you’re an Awoken, I don’t know why Peter Dinklage was cast for such a monotonous role when this Emmy-winning actor could be doing so much more… I can’t engage with this narrative because its depth and complexity is presented as only going skin deep.

The protagonist is an awkward mix of a silent protagonist that we’re supposed to insert ourselves into (don’t let your mind wander now…) and an actual character who reacts to things. Who am I? Who was I before I apparently ‘died’? How did I die? Where did I die? Did I die in Old Russia? How long ago? I DON’T KNOW ANYBODY HERE, I DON’T EVEN KNOW MYSELF!

How can you be expected to care if there’s no link being made between player and protagonist – or anyone? There’s not a single person to actually identify with in this story which is why it feels so disjointed and saturated with nothingness.

Also, the flow of the story is just so painfully illogical sometimes. In one mission, you find out that the Hive are damaging the Traveller by use of a dark ritual on a Traveller shard they have.

Like… goodness gracious me! Where did they get a shard of the Traveller from?! This is a big deal!

Nope, stop thinking about it because it’s time to move on! Pretend that never happened, let’s never talk about it again… That’s the sad thing about some (most) of the missions, they’re totally unwilling to push the story forward in any meaningful way. Things just happen and you’re supposed to lap it up without any thought.dest4Oh, and before anybody starts telling me that some of these things are explained in the Grimoire, I do not care – you should not have to remove the most basic story details and stick them on a website to be read. People whined about Halo 4 doing this to a far lesser extent regarding the Terminals being on Waypoint, so if you were one of those people who complained about that but will defend Bungie for this – guess what, ye be a hypocrite!

See, Bungie has crafted a game with some truly interesting lore, but they offset that with sub-par storytelling and acknowledgement of said lore beyond the fact that it exists. I have to wonder just how much communication there was between the lore guys and the writing team because there’s so little reference to anything.

Let me put it this way: Is Destiny a fun game to play? Yes, it is. It really is.

Is the universe interesting? Most definitely! So much potential for greatness.

But is the story anything to wet your pants over? Absolutely not.

I think it’s shallow and one-dimensional, and I think it’s ridiculous that this was the result of such a long endeavour that came from over five hundred people. There’s something for pretty much everybody in Destiny, but the story just isn’t one of those things for me.

About haruspis

Writer and aspiring teacher who cares and talks far too much about fictional universes.
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17 Responses to Destiny – Dinklage Ex Machina

  1. Roy says:

    I just wanted you to know that if you think Halo CE, 2 and ODST were the best games in the Halo series while Halo 3 and Reach sucked then you sir have excellent taste. 2 thumps up.

    • haruspis says:

      CE, 2, ODST and 4 were all excellent, in my opinion. 4 being my favourite for story (I wrote a 50,000 word long dissertation on it which you can read on this blog), but the others have a very special place in my heart – CE’s gameplay is damn near perfect as well, still one of the best FPS games of all time.

  2. Gojira says:

    lmao don’t worry chronarch i’ll find SOME way to ascribe this game’s shortcomings to 3fail3idiocy’s exploits

  3. ZRDO says:

    I saw this coming about Destiny somehow😛
    I wanted to say, I also completely agree with 2 being the best campaign, but CE sometimes feels like a different game, and I never thought the storytelling was that great. That said, the fact I now like 4’s campaign is entirely your fault. Sooooo I’m going to suggest posting smaller dissertations about previous Halos while we wait for 5. Single post per game?

    • haruspis says:

      Haha, glad I was able to sway you on that.😛

      I certainly will be doing more analytical Halo posts, I might do one on ODST to examine its blend of mythology and noir because that has always been what drew me into the game. Then, when Halo 5: Guardians releases next year, you can expect another huge dissertation.😉

  4. Cryptarch says:

    ODST made me so bored, I almost joined the Covenant.

  5. Potomo says:

    Hey there! You might not remember but you introduced your blog on the Bungie forums a couple days ago when responding to someone who though Halo 4’s story wasn’t good and I’ve been reading your stuff and I just want to say that you’re an awesome writer! You have such great insight and you’re very good at drawing the reader in. I read your analysis on Halo 4 in almost one go because I was so enthralled by it.

    I just wanted to point out one thing about the $500 million budget. An Activision employ stated that the game didn’t cost $500 million to make, only that it could potentially cost them that amount to make the franchise and game a success. Unfortunately I don’t have the source as I read it a long time ago.

    Keep up the amazing work!

    • Potomo says:

      Oh I just want to add that I wholly agree about your opinion on Destiny’s story. It was the one thing I was looking forward to in the game and unfortunately it was the one thing they messed up the most.

      Do you have any opinions on Bungie’s old FPS series Marathon? I would love to hear your thoughts on those games as that series has on of the best stories IMO.

      • haruspis says:

        I have conflicted feelings about Marathon. I think it has an AMAZING universe, the story is so well done and I remember spending hours just pouring over all the lore. It was one of Bungie’s best works in terms of lore.

        But I can’t play the game for shit. For some reason, after a prolonged period of playing it makes me feel somewhat motion sick so I’ve never been able to get into the actual GAME part of the series.

    • haruspis says:

      Thank you very much, I’m glad you enjoyed my stuff!🙂

      And yeah, some of the info in that post is somewhat outdated information now.

      • Potomo says:

        I don’t blame you at all for the motion sickness. While I personally have never had an issue, it is know that the Marathon games do give a lot of people motion sickness. I remember reading about a lot of people getting sick when Marathon Durandal was released on xbox live arcade.

        Marathon Infinity was one of the first video games I ever played, but unfortunately at the time I was much too young to get far in the campaign (only ever made it to the second or third level) and I was also much to young to appreciate the story. Luckily I rediscovered the series many years later when it was released on xbox and then started playing them again on the computer. Still though, they are much more difficult games to get into then Halo, since they involve a lot of obtuse puzzles. I only ever beat the second one. I read through the terminals and the stories of the others on wiki’s.

        Glad to hear you like the series as well. Thanks for responding🙂

  6. Gary Hicks says:

    Here we are almost a year after Destiny was released on an unsuspecting gaming community…

    I bought the game day one, along with the season pass, I think mainly because it was Bungie’s latest title. I was a huge fan of Bungie since Halo CE, although I must add that I think 343i are doing an outstanding job with the Halo franchise.

    Destiny is, for me at least, a massive collective of missed opportunity and monumental hype. I played from day one until sometime in April, when I “walked” away from Destiny – it took seven months for me to get so bored with the mindless garbage that Bungie/Activision had put out. Just over two weeks ago, I returned to Destiny and felt that the four month break would be sufficient to re-instill enthusiasm for the game.

    In the past two weeks I’ve completed the elements of The Dark Below that I’d left and all of House Of Wolves. The latest DLC is due to be released in a couple of weeks – The Taken King is priced at $39.99/£39.99/€39.99, which is an extortionate price if you ask me. I really don’t care that Bungie say there is a huge amount of content in TTK, at the price they are asking it would have to contain 2/3 of the content of the original game to really “justify” that price.

    I’d go as far as to say that Destiny is the single biggest massively over-hyped game that has a story so thin it might be used to glaze a green house.

    I totally agree with your assessment of the game, there is nothing to invest in with the NPCs. The environment, whilst huge, has bugger all going on within it. And with the soon to be released TTK, there isn’t even a new enemy race. The Taken are simply a retread of those enemies we have already encountered so very very often in the base game and two DLCs.

    It seems that Bungie have taken more than a contract with Activision, it would appear that Bungie are now attempting to emulate Activision’s game consumer milking practices. If Destiny + The Dark Below + House Of Wolves is the best that Bungie can do for the reported $500 million invested in the game, then who one earth created Halo CE?

    I’ll be keeping my copy of Destiny for the X1 as I have friends who play it, but I’ll not be giving Bungie-Activision any more cash, this particular gamer is now firmly in the camp of “no more”.

    After that “little” rant, I’d like to add I really enjoy the Halo lore posts and your “dissertation” on Halo was a great read.

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