Destiny: Rise of Iron – First Impressions (and review I guess…)

I really, really want to be fair in this. We will see how that goes.

After about an eight month hiatus from Destiny, I logged in and played for the first time last night. I’ve logged in two or three times since January, but they were only to see what was up with the new patches. In those cases, I didn’t even go on a patrol let alone actually take a run at any missions. The main reason for that hiatus has been blasted across the internet, you don’t need me to really add anything. Either way, Rise of Iron was released last night and I was ready to get my game on.

Two and a half hours later, I beat it.

I am not even kidding. The story stretches maybe four or five missions. I sat down at 8:00. Between my daughter waking back up and having to get her to sleep, and the uncharacteristic OCD fervor that made me reorganize and throw out everything in my inventory and vaults (due to the awesome revamp to infusion), I started playing at 8:30. By 11:00, I had beaten the story missions. There is still the big strike with Sepiks and the raid left, I don’t think those are the same anyway, and there is a ton of stuff to find, but that’s it from a narrative point of view.

By now, you may realize I have a negative tone. The reason for this, and I think this is my main takeaway, is everything I anticipated Destiny would do well, they delivered upon. It looks good, it plays well, it’s fun, and there are guns all over the place. But everything I had hoped they would improved upon, and everything I was afraid they would fall short of, was exactly as feared.

I have an issue with the length of time, but my core problem is around the execution of the narrative itself. The story centers around Saladin, the last remaining Iron Lord (the dude who runs the Iron Banner), as he recruits the Guardian to destroy the technology that killed all the rest of the Lords of Iron. I say that it centers around that, but that’s actually pretty much a synopsis and that’s the problem. Saladin loses his shit because next “worst thing ever” (SIVA) has broken out and he thinks it will destroy everything if not contained. The Fallen, who were touted as such a big enemy, hare just fodder. This space herpes, broadcast as a plague for some reason, hasn’t so much modified them as much as it is being used by the Fallen to build new body parts. Other than a few mini bosses (and I still have to see how the strike and raid play out), there are no unique enemies delivered from this. It is anticlimactic from a story perspective and falls flat from a gameplay point of view.

This is emphasized by how quickly it is resolved. Within a few missions you go from “The End is Nigh!” to “S’Cool, I go this”. I singlehandedly in my case, take down the entity that killed over a hundred Lords of Iron. Granted, for some reason Rasputin was involved in that massacre (because, you know, when is he not?), but even in the storytelling no one seemed all that concerned by this plague. I’m not even really all that sure why it’s referred to as a plague. It doesn’t do anything that the Hive’s gunk doesn’t already, just with a color and texture pallet change. There was some affliction of the Iron Lords, but nothing is given to build that up or emphasize the way it infects a host other than one scene toward the end (when you get the axe).

I have not yet read through the Grimoire cards and am looking forward to doing so, but the narrative of the story is so disjointed that even if the plot and lore is filled in offline, I can’t help but hold Bungie accountable. Yet again, they have ignored the most fascinating and intriguing parts of the game by either omitting them entirely or burying them in the damn grimoire. I am very interested in what SIVA actually is (I think it’s a self replicating nano machine meant to alter and build stuff for colonization), Clovis Bray’s role in its development, why Rasputin was involved, as well as the Lords of Iron. Why are they immortal? Are all the Guardians? If this was truly a moment where the Guardians, as a whole, discovered that immortality did not equal invincibility and that the light of the Traveler did not protect them from all harm…shouldn’t that have been a bit more of an emphasis?

I would have loved to have seen the Fallen’s role in this expanded. They are the more boring enemies other than their grimoire references to having been a race the Traveler visited and possibly uplifted in the past. The idea that they would “splice” their bodies isn’t terribly original but would have expanded their lore a bit. I would have liked to have seen a decent boss from them as well, something a bit different (think Draksis).

Why in the hell haven’t the Vex gotten involved in this? Seems right up their alley.

It may have come from Mars, why isn’t the Cabal (probably the most ignored of the enemy races) not involved in some way?

There was also a lot of speculation that Charlemagne, the supposed Martian Warmind, would have been involved. Nada.

I am hearing some people applaud the story. A lot of those people seem to be comparing it to Destiny’s original content and its earlier expansions.

No.

The Taken King set a new bar for this. It had fascinating lore, a seriously threatening villain, and galactic stakes. It still had problems with burying a lot of that in the grimoire and failing to really convey all of that in the story, and overall the threat was again too easily vanquished, but it was the new standard.

This is not that.

And the real reason this matters, The Taken King was the achievement of what Bungie had originally set people up for. I was not an early Destiny player. I played the beta, took one look at this, and said to myself, “this is all it’s going to be”. And largely, I was right. It never truly reached the scale, the story, the breadth that people expected and were promised. The Taken King, as good as it was, still wasn’t the achievement of that promise. It was a wonderful step in the right direction.

Destiny wants to be an FPS and an MMO but doesn’t really hold itself to the standards of either. The gameplay, the actual mechanics of shooting and combat, continue to be probably the best executed I have ever played. I would say the PvP probably holds itself up pretty well too. If it were just an FPS, that would probably be fine.

But it’s not.

There was a lot of frustration from people who wanted constant content. Who wanted big content. There has been griping and complaining about the story, the missions, and what you actually do in the game to even out the grind. This needs to be addressed. At the moment, Destiny executes well as an FPS, but I look at the top FPS game out there, and Destiny falls short. It doesn’t have the epic campaign of Halo (which has faltered most when the story is its weakest) nor the mass multiplayer engine (or release schedule) of games like Call of Duty of Battlefield. As an MMO, specifically one that developed this concept of a loot shooter, it has made progress but I think we are right back where we were the end of last year. People have new guns and armor, it’ll be great for a month while they mess around with the Raid. Content such as new guns, puzzles, challenges, etc. will be time released and it will create a storm or interest for a week or so each time, but it will die down and in the end people will be looking for more. What will they get? Crickets. Promises of a Halloween event. Destiny 2. Next time.

I love Destiny. I am trying to be fair to this. I am disappointed by this release because it is a reaffirmation that Bungie is just going to throw scraps to its fan base. This is one of the most anticipated titles of the year for one of the most successful new franchises in recent memory developed by one of the most lauded studios of the past three generations.

That is the standard I apply.

 

Destiny and Gaming

Before kicking off for NaNoWriMo, it had been a minute since I wrote anything, and longer since I’d blogged. Couldn’t even tell you how long it’s been since I posted anything that had to do with my interests. Honestly, I have a lot of catching up to do in that sense. While I wasn’t writing, I was watching a lot of TV, caught some great movies, read better books, and played…

Well, actually I really haven’t played that much. Sure, I upgraded our PC (because the old one died, and boy is that a story all by itself), but most of what I played on PC was pretty standard stuff I’d already done before. Got back into Skyrim for a bit, started into the Mass Effect series so I could have a Commander Shephard on PC, and spent a ton during the Steam Summer Sale. I’ve enjoyed PC gaming.

But it doesn’t have Destiny, and that has been the majority of my gaming the past few months.

Can’t tell you how surprised I am by that.

I was one of the ones who played the demo way back whenever the hell the beta first kicked off. I remember thinking it was a great FPS, but it would be even better if I didn’t have to deal with all the MMO crap. The last MMO I played was Guild Wars, and that was only because I had a dedicated group of friends who played. I played SWOTOR too but didn’t make it too far in, and never played with anyone else. Great story, but again, MMO crap.

My issue with MMOs is the incessant repetitiveness and emphasis on the eternal grind. That and I don’t have a huge list of friends to play with, who own the same console, or who have the same family/writing/work commitments. Everyone’s busy.

So when I first played the Destiny demo, I figured that was a fun weekend and that would be it. Then The Taken King came out…and there was a sale…and well, it was the Penny Arcade comics they did for the new sub-classes that cinched it for me. Saw the Stormcaller and felt my curiosity hit its peak, just had to check it out.

Destiny_Warlock

I’ve now put days into Destiny, like all together. My Warlock is at 291, and a complete badass in his stag helmet, with Apple of Discord in one hand, lightning coming out of the other. He looks way better in game, but I don’t know how to screen capture from the PS3.

What really surprised me, besides the fact that the actual gameplay has held my attention so well, is my interest in the lore behind Destiny. Not the story per se, just Google that and you can see the issues there, but the worldbuilding and backstory. I am very, very interested in the alien species, much more than when I went through the demo. The semi-sorcerous Hive with their worm-minds and dimensional gateways, the Vex who float backward and forward in time, fueled by organic liquid, even the Fallen who seem to be a race who fell (ha!) on hard times and have grown into something terrible.

Then there are the Cabal, not near as interesting but also kind of amusing since it seems like they had been carving a straight line through the galaxy, conquering world after world until they showed up in the Milky Way in the middle of a clusterfuck between these aforementioned races and humanity, and like group of drunken frat boy who stumble into sorority party, was more than eager to stick around and play.

I really hope the story improves and we continue to get an idea of what all is going on. Just Google some of the theories. I’m partial to not trusting the Traveler myself, and absolutely love the idea of Rasputin crippling the spherical bastard to keep it from leaving. There is a lot of potential in the story, though it also seems like we’re seeing elements of a story that was scrapped.

We’ll see.

Pillars of Eternity

Didn’t realize this had a name beyond Project Eternity. This was started back before Kickstarter really shook things up or was well known. I didn’t pledge then, but I certainly have now after seeing this. For those that don’t know, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn is basically the best video game of all time.

Ever.

No, you don’t understand. There is no hyperbole here. I am ranking it against Bioshock, Pokemon, Chrono Cross, Deus Ex, Half-Life, every single game that I have ever experienced and that has helped mold me into the person I am today.

Nothing has ever topped the experiences I had with Baldur’s Gate. When I have those ridiculous fantasies all authors have of their book being turned into…everything, you know, movie, tv show, comic, video game, that’s how I picture it. Because that is perfetion.

Seriously, ever.

Anyway, I don’t know if Eternity will live up to that. Probably not, because I just vomited my affection allover this post and I don’t see anything really being able to match mythical nostalgia. Nevertheless, I am excited.

The Wolf Among Us

I knocked out the first two episodes of TellTale Games’ (Creator of the Walking Dead video game) The Wolf Among Us over the weekend.

For the uninitiated, Wolf is based on the comic book series Fables. Published by Dark Horse comics, it tells the story of a community in New York City made up of all the storybook characters you love and know after they escaped from their Homeland dimensions following a devastating war with a being known only as the Adversary (unless you’ve read far enough, and I’m not about to spoil who the Adversary really is). Fables is the only comic book series I’ve ever followed long term. It will get its own post, mainly because playing the game made me dive back into the series, but know this, it’s fascinating.

The game follows one Bigby Wolf, sheriff of Fabletown, formerly known as The Big Bad Wolf. The game does a fantastic job of summing up a complicated world very quickly. You may not understand the significance of the Farm or the Adversary, or perhaps why Bluebeard is like he is, but you have everything you need to enjoy the story. If you already are into Fables, it’s filled with little easter eggs and surprises. Meeting Grendal, in particular, was a lot of fun.

The storytelling, like the Walking Dead games, is top notch. I cared and hated for all the characters involved, everyone comes off very interesting, and the plot is an intriguing whodunnit, all mixed with the rich lore of the Fable world.

I have only one problem. At first, I thought maybe I was just remembering things differently. This is what actually made me dive into Fables again, to see if I had been mistaken in my perception.

What was it?

Snow White.

In the comic, Snow White is the Deputy Mayor of Fabletown. She does all the nitty gritty work that Mayor King Cole can’t be bothered with. She’s confident, strong, and intimidating.

In the game, she’s the assistant to Ichabod Crane, who is himself the Deputy Mayor. That’s canon, and what they’ve done with that is great and accurate. No complaints there. The problem comes from the timid, nervous, fretting Snow White who doesn’t stand up to anyone, hugs her arms, and whose eyes dart around in whatever scene she’s in. She’s steadily getting stronger, and I think they’re going for a buildup to the character we see in the comics, but I don’t buy it as a fan. She’s hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. Portraying this as a young Snow White, when really this is a small fraction of her life, doesn’t correspond to what I know about her. Even before she fled the Homelands, Snow was a stone cold bitch who didn’t take shit from anyone. Charming, Rose, and the Dwarves taught her those lessons. This was the woman who held a sword against the Big Bad Wolf, not a girl who was cowed by Ichabod Crane.

I hope to see that change a bit as the story goes along, otherwise everything works perfectly.

If you like TellTale’s games, Fables, or adventure games, give this a try. If you’re not familiar to Fables, this will introduce you to a world like nothing you’ve ever seen.

The Walking Dead: Season 2 (All That Remains)

I bought a few games over the weekend, all because they were cheap or on sale. It’s been a while since I dove into a game, so this was a lot of fun.

The first of these was the first episode of the second season of The Walking Dead video game. The second season continues the tradition of rich storytelling and strong, powerful character driven moments. It differs in that, now instead of playing Lee, you play Clementine herself.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the first episode. It begins, quite innocently, with Clem now that she’s met up with Omid and Christa, who is now big pregnant. Because the Walking Dead is the Walking Dead, it doesn’t take long for one of these characters to no longer be in the picture.

I won’t dive into the story too much, but I can’t let it go without commenting on one particular scene that I did not see coming at all. It was truly one of the most heartbreaking moments I’ve ever seen and it happened on so many levels. Play it, you’ll know exactly what I mean the moment you drop the beans.

God.

Anyway, I strongly encourage it. Clementine steadily evolved into one of my favorite characters in the first season, becoming a unique person caught in between her innocence and trying to survive. Now you get to see that bear fruit. Whereas she was pretty much entirely protected before, in the first episode alone she is put through a stressful amount of danger and pain. What they’ve done really well is building her dialogue choices so that you see her development into a young woman, now acclimated to a world where she must survive.

I also got the first two episodes of A Wolf Among Us and Max Payne 3, all of which will get their own posts. In the meantime, look forward to the next episode of the Walking Dead.