Hey, long time no see!
I have good reason for being gone, I promise. Aside from preparing for my last First Day of school, the past two weeks have consisted mainly of sleeping, writing some poems/songs, and Destiny 2.
I’ve been waiting for Destiny 2 for basically two years, and oh my has it delivered. My first impressions of the game have been favorable (No Spoilers contained herein, I swear). The story is fantastic compared to Destiny 1’s story, with a much richer world included in the game itself instead of an online database.
AND the Raid has finally dropped and it’s even crazier than I was anticipating. #worldeatingspaceslug #itpeeswine #forspacerhinos #don’taskmewhy
It’s clear that Bungie, the game’s developer, spent a lot of time weaving stories into this game. In D2, there are two kinds of missions: campaign missions, which are about the fight against Ghaul and his Cabal, and side missions called Adventures that tell smaller, mostly self-contained stories. From here on out when I refer to “the story,” I’m referring only to the campaign missions, which contain all the cutscenes and plot points.
Overall, Bungie created set of campaign missions that was more diverse in gameplay mechanics, more driven and linear, and more epic than anything in Destiny 1, which is all I needed to love my runs through the story. It’s kind of like Star Wars in a way: it’s fun, there’s lots of action, memorable moments, the story hints at huge secrets, and once it’s over you can’t stop thinking about it.
Perhaps the best thing about the new story is the fantastic voice acting done for supporting characters. It brings them to life in a way that almost makes them seem like real people. The new bad guy, Ghaul, had arguably the most complex motivations yet, and his opening scene is phenomenal.
My favorite character in the whole game has to be Failsafe, the AI of a crashed colony ship who has a split personality, often switching between a helpful robot assistant and a moody teenager. She’s so sarcastic and adorable, it’s fantastic.
While there’s no doubt Destiny 2 has a superior narrative to anything its predecessor had to offer, and despite the fact that the ending is a hugely satisfying and exciting, I still feel like there’s still something missing from the narrative.
It’s hard to explain, but let me try: Most of the campaign doesn’t have a story that I want to go rave about to my friends.
In all fairness, Destiny isn’t a narrative-based game, but the marketing really hyped up the story this time around. Destiny 2 has an enjoyable, superficial story, because aside from the first and last couple missions, a good chunk of the plot still feels like we’re running someone else’s errands.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m thoroughly enjoying the game. Sadly, the story is simplistic in order to make it easier to focus on shooting aliens and collecting loot, as was the case with D1.
I think this might always be the case, because four things have always been true of the story in Destiny and its DLC:
- You will ALWAYS beat the main villain by the end, but…
- You will NEVER be done killing all the bad guys.
- The main character is a blank slate made for everyone, so…
- Your character has no agency or emotional investment in the story.
The best part of the story is the cast of side characters, because their personalities and stories can evolve naturally, but there’s simply no way for the main story to progress meaningfully since those four things have to be true for Destiny’s game structure to make any sense.
Destiny is an addictive experience by design.
Most of Destiny’s content is designed like a bag of potato chips: short activities, you always gotta have one more, then you run out and are eating the crumbs until the new bag of DLC BBQ chips comes out. They want players to keep coming back for more loot, every week, forever.
Destiny is a power fantasy.
So of course we will always triumph, but we never have to stop fighting. The solar system can change slightly, background stories will move forward, but we can’t have an emotional story with real stakes when we know that everything will be fine.
The nail in the coffin is the fact that your character does not have a personality.
Let me say that again.
Bungie appallingly decided that the protagonist of the story should have no voice or agency, just to be easier for players to project onto. There are jokes about it in multiple cutscenes. Our character does express some emotion through body language, but those moments are few and fleeting.
In a way it makes sense. Destiny is about your legend, and the game is designed to make you feel like your Guardian is you. Giving the character any distinct personality would draw some players in and push others away. So Bungie chose to not favor anyone.
Just to prove it’s purposeful, here’s an eloquent quote from an IGN interview with Luke Smith:
IGN user Ranondra asks: Will our characters remain mute through the sequel?
Destiny 2 Game Director Luke Smith: “Yep.”
I love Luke Smith, but this seems like a counterproductive choice to me. I don’t know about you, but it’s harder for me to identify with a voiceless blank slate than it is for me to identify with a person that has any personality at all.
The finale is a HUGELY fulfilling spectacle that I’m struggling to avoid writing spoilers for. Playing through it was really fun but thinking back, the scene could have been much more epic if our character expressed personal stakes in finishing the fight (Halo 3 anyone?). As it stands, our character can’t even express anger at Ghaul (let alone a complex emotion), so we players have no one to empathize with.
There’s a difference between a good silent protagonist and an empty protagonist.
The Master Chief from the Halo series is mostly silent, but he still speaks, and because he has personal stakes in the galactic events taking place around him, so do we.
His gun is the most important thing about him, but that’s not why we like him. He’s a badass because he does incredible things and chooses to remain silent, and thus every time he speaks it’s important.
Our Guardian does badass things but you can’t like him/her because there’s nothing there to like.
When you combine the piecemeal mission structure that breaks up Destiny’s story, the silent protagonist with no agency or personality of their own, and the fact that there are never any real stakes, it becomes nigh impossible for Destiny 2 to have a really successful, lasting story.
Bungie has created a beautiful, living universe that you get to experience through a brain dead vessel. I love the game, but I want emotional stories in the campaign that make it easier to care about what happens in said game.
Alright I’m done complaining. Here’s how Bungie can improve this in the future.
There are two simple steps:
- Write each smaller DLC expansion like a short story with a renewed focus on character-driven narrative, the heart of the story being one or two side characters.
The story’s greatest strength lies in the diverse cast of lovable characters that give us our missions. Destiny 2 does a wonderful job introducing players to them. Now it’s time to make it pay off.
By letting players experience events through the other characters’ eyes, Bungie could easily make each DLC’s story more impactful on a personal level. Then the missions would have more significance than just the call of duty and looty.
In my opinion, a story driven by its characters should be more than a series of scenes pushing players to the next mission. There should be cutscenes or even short missions dedicated to character building for the people we are about to take a journey with. Let us see their pain and joy, give us moments that aren’t just about “The Next Mission.”
Let us meditate with Ikora in a field on Io, show us Zavala hanging out with other Titans. Then the emotional and action-packed moments in the campaign will carry more weight. I know Bungie can do this because the first two missions are close to what I’m thinking of.
That kind of storytelling would be beautiful, and in some ways superior to other narratives in games like Halo which are confined to a singular plot that has little room for smaller stories. That’s why there are so many good TV shows right now: they can take the time for character moments and smaller stories.
I’m optimistic because Bungie seems to be moving in this direction. The next expansion deals with Osiris, a crazy rogue Guardian that once trained one of our Vanguard mentors, Ikora, which is a great setup.
2. Give our character more personality, AT LEAST through body language, if not
minimal voice acting.
These two additions aren’t as likely or important, but they’d help quite a bit. Voice lines would be great additions as D2 has an amazing cast, so it would be easier for our character to make small jokes and be characterized by the strong personalities around them.
If they don’t get voice lines, body language can still really help characterize our character, at least so they react as if they have some emotions. Destiny 2 has one extremely powerful moment of body language at the end of the first mission. This cutscene gave me chills the first time I watched it. Ghaul’s monologue is so cutting and true, but what made me feel something for my character was one small motion he made. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
(I know parts of this section have been commands, as if the heads of Bungie are going to read this, so let’s just call it Wishful Syntax)
It’s hard for me to say this, but in some ways I liked Destiny 1 better. D2 honestly feels like Disneyland. The open world is so dense and hectic yet scheduled that it doesn’t even feel like a real space. The loot drops are WAY too frequent for me to even get to know my guns. They’ve removed most of the reasons for people to keep playing long-term.
The game just doesn’t feel as relaxed and welcoming. Maybe that’s just because I need more time to get used to it after three years playing D1.
But I have a feeling I’ll have plenty of time to get used to it.
Anyway, I have to get back to the grindstone. I’ll have another article out soon about Halo and Destiny and their comparative strengths and weaknesses.
Hasta la próxima, manténganse los ojos arriba, Guardianes.
(Until next time, keep your eyes up, Guardians).