Solving Destiny’s Story Dilemma

Published on: Mar 18, 2015 @ 19:31

Back when Bungie was working on Halo games, there were a flood of novels, anime, and offshoots that took the story and ran with it. While I confess I never read or watched them, I was always intrigued by them.

When Destiny came around, I wasn’t expecting much in terms of storytelling; I had read plenty of reviews and sarcastic remarks about the paper-thin plot.

Now, looking back, I must say there are things that Bungie has done incredibly well with the story in Destiny. But I’m also disappointed.

I’m disappointed because for everything they do well, Bungie has some major shortcomings in the story department.

There are some silver linings, which I’d like to consider first, but then I want to discuss the major weaknesses, give a few ideas on how they could be handled, and then open it up for your opinions – because I’m just one man with one perspective.

What Bungie Does Right

It’s all about the atmosphere. Destiny has it in droves, and this shouldn’t surprise us. Bungie’s design sense has always been rather impeccable, and design is about telling a story in the product itself.

When you first fly your sparrow to Venus and see a green sky filled with geometric constructs, it’s undeniable that something significant – some race far beyond ours – has discovered a power we’ve only dreamed of. As you stare at the giant Traveler, haggard but still shining as a beacon of light over the Tower, you can’t help but wonder what brought it to Earth and what purpose it holds.

This is the magic of world building. Bungie understands that every environment can tell a story, that layers of events can be communicated simply in the design of a building or the creatures that inhabit it.

destiny story environment

When I walk into the Hellmouth and see the Hive besieged by Fallen, my reaction is literally, “Ohhhh snap!” I have no clue why the Fallen are invading, but something in me just trusts that there’s significance in the act.

But sometimes it’s not enough to trust. Sometimes we want to know why. Which leads to some ways Bungie can explain why without intruding on the core experience.

What Needs Improvement

Now, I’ve never been a developer on a major AAA release. I don’t have a clue what technical walls might block Bungie from fixing what they have. I’m a layman, but let’s be honest, most of us are laymen who have at least played games (especially FPS’s and MMO’s) that handle story telling in innovative ways.

You know it’s a good story when the game immerses you into the experience, causing you to feel compelled to find out what’s going on – you care about the world you’re in.

So with those as a background, let’s look at some shortcomings and how they can be improved.

Where’s My Lore?

Oh, that’s right… it’s buried on Bungie’s website. Now I can understand the financial and marketing reasons behind putting Grimoire cards on a website. Generating traffic to and from an online presence is significant for businesses, and developers are desperate for a way to move players from a game to their website.

But aren’t there enough compelling reasons to keep players on their site now? Forums, Clans, the Vault – the time is ripe for moving Grimoire cards to the game, and it’s desperately needed.

As players, we should be excited about that little “New Grimoire Card Acquired” message, but now all I think is, “One more thing I won’t ever see…” If they were embedded in the inventory, then players could read them during loading screens or while they idle in the Tower.

Besides, you can only try to jump on those orange Tower awnings so many times before it gets old.

No wait, that never gets old.

destiny story moon

Brick Wall Syndrome

Call me crazy, but I kind of like Eris Morn’s deranged exclamations in the Tower. And who hasn’t perked up an ear when she croons, “Six of us went down into that pit…  We failed. You cannot.”

While Bungie has created some interesting characters, there’s a basic flaw with the system. When you play a silent protagonist, all these characters become a string of monologues. No response, no challenge, no humanity. We learn more about people by their interactions with others than by their quant speeches, and I guarantee if you put Eris Morn and The Speaker in a room together and just pressed record, you could watch that thing for hours.

Imagine starting the Crota’s End raid and Eris Morn is waiting at the bridge in a heated argument with the Speaker about how foolish the undertaking is. Want to rush ahead and just ignore the dialogue? No problem. But if you want to see those two go at it, then it’s one more way to learn about this world and the people who inhabit it.

Plus, you could melee their faces and throw grenades at their feet, and who doesn’t want that? Better yet, they could react to it!

destiny venus story

Let Me Be Clear

For two weeks I thought Mars and the Black Garden were one in the same. Peter Dinklage kept mumbling, “It’s the eye of a Gate Lord,” and I’d say, “Thanks Tyrion Lannister! I already got one of those like five missions ago!” as I shot some more enemies.

When it’s the penultimate story mission in a game, and you don’t even understand what you’re doing there or what it is, there’s a problem.

I’m all for mysteries. They are great for setting up sequels or expansions. But when the entire plot is wrapped in obscure terminology inadequately explained you feel like everything is one disjointed mess.

This problem comes down purely to writing. Sometimes a word might be more immersive, but less understandable. I can hear people talk about the Black Garden with hushed tones until they’re blue in the face, but if they don’t tell me what it is or the impact it has on me then how am I supposed to care? Which leads to the final recommendation.

destiny ghost story

Characters We Care For

Who are we supposed to empathize with in this story? We only fear what can harm us. We only hate what has taken something from us. We only love what makes us smile or laugh or adds to our lives.

So again, who are the characters we can care for here? The closest thing is probably our Ghost – that constant companion who guides us everywhere and cracks jokes about the Cabal’s rudimentary security systems.

But in order for us to feel emotions, we must have more interactions with our Ghost. Now imagine that companion gives us more commentary than, “The Vex/Cabal/Fallen/Hive are coming!” as he shoots light beams into some hunk of metal. Imagine he were to crack jokes as you take out the Archon Priest in under one minute with a barrage of sniper bullets. Imagine he flies around and shoots beams of light in the eyes of enemies occasionally? Our Ghost has a personality – you can see it in the dialogue – but why not actually act out that sarcastic wit?

And we really should start some online petition to see our Ghost shoot beams of light in Omnigul’s eyes. It would make her even more desperate and wicked, while helping a lot with Ghost’s appeal as a character. He shoots beams. We laugh. Bungie kills him off. We feel sad.

That’s what good characters are made from.

Your Perfect Story

So we want to know your opinion. Are there bits of lore, storylines, or characters you just desperately want to know more about? Do you have some ideas on how Bungie can maintain our freedom as players while still delivering a compelling story?

Nobody wants another cutscene that we can’t skip, but we could all benefit from real connections with the people who inhabit this gorgeous world they’ve created.

Sound off on what you hope to see most in the story going forward, both in expansions and when Destiny 2 rolls around.

Taylor Bair
I write about the intersection between the games we love and the lives we live. When I'm not working on websites and marketing projects, I'm writing with a hot cup of chai tea in one hand and a computer in the other. Makes typing exceedingly difficult, let me tell you.