Opinion Piece

Bungie Go To Meet Their Destiny

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For Bungie I can only imagine that it’s a slightly stressful time. Although they did create several critical hits before going on to sculpt Halo, the team as it stands now is a one-hit wonder, known almost exclusively for their work on the legendary Halo series. With Master Chief now in the hands of 343 Industries and gearing up for his second game with them, Destiny is Bungie’s first fresh game in a very long time, and there’s an almost unspoken question of whether the magic is still there, or if Destiny will rank as simply a good game, worth playing but forever overshadowed by Halo. With mere weeks to go, the men and women of Bungie must be a little nervous.

I’ve received quite a bit of flak from Bungie fans over the past year when I’ve voiced this view that Bungie are a one-hit wonder. It’s not surprising because Bungie have earned themselves a loyal following over the years, one they are deserving of, yet from my perspective I speak a simple truth, with absolutely no intention of being harsh or mean – the modern-day Bungie are a one-hit wonder. There’s multiple great Halo games, but outside of Master Chief and Cortana they’ve yet to prove themselves capable of creating some else equally brilliant. Destiny is a chance for Bungie to show the world that they are more than just Halo, that they are more than a beautiful AI and a Spartan.

Another company went through much the same thing earlier this year. Respawn Studio was assembled out of the ashes of Infinity Ward, and Titanfall was their very first game. Like Bungie leaving the vast arms of Microsoft, Respawn said goodbye to Activision in order to try new things, somewhat amusingly ending up in the embrace of EA, a company notorious for doing little new. Up until that point those who worked at Infinity Ward were known for Call of Duty, and nothing else. Titanfall was a chance to show that they too were not just a one trick pony whose legacy would be defined solely by a shooter that has become the Internet’s favorite chew-toy. Respawn also share another similarity with Bungie at this point; both of their games may be trying new things, but they also have a lot on common with their respective forefathers. Titanfall has a strong hint of CoD, and in Destiny’s combat and AI companion it’s hard not see the ghost of Halo.

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Perhaps what both companies have most in common is the dangers of hype. The industry as we know it today has a dark fascination with crafting masses of artificial hype, making it nigh on impossible for games to meet the impossibly high standards set for them by the media and publishers. As successful as Titanfall was, there’s no doubting that it was a victim of hype, failing to match the image set for it through no fault of its own. It’s hard to tell when Bungie planned on actually talking about Bungie, but due to a leak we found out about it in November of 2012. Regardless of the developers plans, Destiny has been in the public’s eye for almost two years now, and in that time we’ve had a lot of hype built up around it. These days games being announced long before they’ll ever see a release is common practice, as is releasing countless trailers, previews, commentaries, images, news snippets and more, flooding the media with a seemingly endless torrent of crap that, quite honestly, often puts me off a given game entirely. Happily Bungie are a more secretive than most, keeping a lot of information to themselves, but even then we’ve had Destiny shoved in our faces a lot.

That’s not the game’s fault. The artificial hype machine is, in my own view, one of the worst things in the industry today. It’s vicious and unfair, damaging titles like Watch Dogs because they can’t live up to expectation. So yes, Destiny and Bungie have to deal with the hype machine when release comes. Reading around the Internet, it’s hard not to feel that Destiny has been overhyped, again creating something of an impossible dream in the minds of many. Combine the hype with legend that surrounds Bungie and you’ve got a recipe for disappointment.

Happily Respawn have met with success. Titanfall, regardless of your own personal feelings, did well both critically and commercially, and the large majority of players, myself included, had a blast with it, though it seems to be struggling to maintain a constant community, even with such a small library of titles on the Xbox One. The hype machine damaged Titanfall unfairly, but generally speaking it came through okay. Destiny, though arguably faces vastly more hype, an impending wall of expectations, desire, demands and outright hunger. It has to be daunting for Bungie, or for any company faced with such a situation.

Even if Bungie can’t pull it off, though, there’s nothing wrong with that. Regardless of what Destiny turns out to be Bungie will always have a lofty place in the annals of gaming history, and for good reason: Halo has been instrumental in helping to sculpt videogames as we know them, influencing countless shooters and helping games become more accepted in the mainstream as a legitimate, wonderous form of entertainment. The simple truth is that there’s nothing wrong with Bungie only ever being a one-hit wonder, there’s nothing wrong with them simply creating good games from now on. But if they do manage to make Destiny something special, then they’ll prove themselves even more deserving of the accolades so often heaped upon them.

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It’s not like there haven’t been quite a few one-hit developers through the years. Cavedog back the 90’s created one of my favorite games ever in the form of Total Annihilation, which met with huge success. The sequel, Total Annihilation: Kingdoms was met with a lukewarm reception and a lot of disappointment. Realtime worlds made Crackdown which was very well-loved, and since then they’ve also closed following the release of APB which failed to impress. Or what about Team17? They are known for worms and that’s about it. Over the years they’ve pumped out countless worms titles, but nothing else of any real note. Over the coming weeks they are due to release their first fresh IP in a very long time, named Flockers, but the Early Access reception hasn’t been all that great.

On the more know end of the spectrum, perhaps the biggest example is Mojang, the company who created Minecraft. Being a relatively new company Mojang hasn’t been around long enough to pump out many games, but currently they are a one-hit wonder, and there’s many people wondering if they have it in them to create anything else truly memorable, or if Minecraft will forever stand as their pinnacle. They have some games in development, so only time will tell.

Of course many of the one-hit wonder developers are only like that because they went under shortly after releasing their work. Who knows what Team Bondi might have done after L.A. Noire? It’s doubtful we’ll see Bungie go the same way, unless Destiny is something a truly huge failure, which seems so unlikely as to be damn near possible. With the hype behind it and the developer’s name on the box Destiny will succeed financially. Regardless of what happens, Bungie should be around for a long time yet, which they are more than deserving of.

I don’t believe we’ll truly know if Destiny is worthy of great praise for a while. As cynical as it might sound, I’m expecting the first wave of reviews, sales and forum reactions to be untrustworthy. Destiny is going to sell because it has Bungie behind it, and that means it also has Halo behind it, in a strange way. I’d be shocked if Destiny isn’t anything less than a financial  success for Activision, but money isn’t a good way of judging the game, reviews and reaction from real gamers is. The thing is, I expect a lot of these reviews and initial judgements to be heavily skewed by the mere fact that it’s Bungie at the helm. They’ll either be heavily favorable because it’s Bungie, or heavily negative because of continuous comparisons to Halo. Those are both poor ways of forming opinions: a game should be judged by its own merits, and yet my own cynicism says that will be exactly what happens, to which I hope I’m utterly wrong. It’ll be a month or so after the dust has settled, I feel, before we really get to see what the world thinks of Destiny. Maybe even longer than that, before honest opinions start to fly.

What about the here and now, though? Like so many people, I played the Destiny beta and have naturally formed some opinions about it, though it must be kept in mind that they are in no way truly reflective of the full game.

Having had quite a while to reflect on my all too brief time with the game, the most important thing is this: it was fun. Perhaps my greatest memory was that of sidling up to the top of a cliff overlooking a large portion of the map, only to see another player struggling to deal with some enemies. I took out my sniper rifle, and proceeded to gun down the opposing force. I watched with a small grin plastered on my face as the other player floundered for a second, unsure of what was going on before he or she glanced up and spotted me silhouetted against the sky. He/she gave me a wave which I returned. I then proceeded to help carve a path for the intrepid player, taking shots when and where I thought help might be appreciated. We finally met as I was sitting on the ground next to the doorway through which the other player needed to head. With a quick wave thanks were imparted, and onwards the mysterious other person went, on to some life I would never know. In that instant, I felt what Destiny could very well be. It made me feel awesome, like some sort of deadly watcher, dispensing help to those struggling to survive in a harsh world.

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But for the rest of the time, Destiny mostly made me feel….meh. Not bad, by any stretch of the imagination, but not great, either. Just good. As I said, it was always fun, but the beta was lacking a certain something, that spark which makes a good game great or amazing.. The game rarely managed to elevate itself above being just plain good, a backhanded compliment of sorts because there’s no denying its well-made, looks lovely and was quite polished. The core combat felt solid and enjoyable, but was lacking in raw excitement. You could certainly feel the Halo ancestry there in the way enemies tended to move, as well as in how the guns and pace felt. Honestly, it felt too much like Halo’s gunplay, of which I was never a massive fan anyway and have now experienced through six games, the latest Halo included.

As for the story, what little we did get utterly failed to grab my attention, coming across as poorly written and stiffly acted. Even while I was playing part of me was struggling to retain anything but a vague outline of what was supposed to be going on at any given time. However, the brief glimpses of the wider lore did pique my interest, hinting at a world with plenty of depth. Whether the game can ever utilise that depth correctly is the big question at this point.

But whoah, everything is a little negative, so for fairness sake let me state there was stuff I liked. Yes, I have problems with the combat, but as I said it felt solid and I did genuinely enjoy it, especially when other players were involved and there were hordes of enemies. At those points it took on a more desperate feel that sparked the excitement otherwise missing. The boss battles were pretty awesome, as well. I’m a loot addict so the idea of having plenty of stuff to grab is awesome, and the art design, while again very Halo-esque, was lovely, as was the wide environments. The social stuff is looking really good, although it must be said that no matter how good or bad a game is playing with friends always makes things more enjoyable.

It’s just mere days until we all get out hands on the game, and really get to see what it’s like. The beta failed to truly grab me, a worrying sign as no game should require hours upon hours to sink its teeth into you, yet it was still just a slice of the game taken out of context. I’m trying to keep my expectations level, the same approach I take to any game these days, be it one I intend on reviewing or not, because I find that’s the best thing to do. I used to get excited for upcoming games and loved that feeling, and for the most part they delivered because they had the appropriate level of hype and therefore player expectation. These days, though, artificial hype often delivers disappointment.  Don’t buy into the hype. Don’t let your vision become clouded, and go into the game with a level head. Don’t let Destiny become a victim of hype.

Bungie are striding toward their Destiny, and who knows that the outcome will be? That’s why we hope. We hope beyond hope that it won’t be the next Halo, because we don’t need another Halo. We hope it’ll be the next stepping stone, the next great shaper of the industry. We hope, but because of the industry, we try to hope small, to not buy into the hype. Maybe we hope beyond hope that this time, the game meets the hype, and slays the hype C’mon, Bungie, deliver something awesome. Prove to the world that you aren’t just Halo. Prove you can be more, prove you can do it again with a fresh IP. Prove that Bungie are one of the best not just because of Master Chief, but because you damn well know what you’re doing.

And you know what? If Destiny is just good, or even merely alright, that’s okay. You’ll still be loved. I’ll still love you. They’ll still love you. We’ll still love you.

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