The will likely be spoilers, but should I talk about something super new I'll warn ya. But consider this a pre-emptive warning! You're WARNED!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

DESTINY: Fleece me once...

Pull up your pants, I'm about to say a lot!

I've never had as torrid an affair with a game as the one I've had with Destiny. Sure, I've loved plenty of games. Sometimes when I love a game so very much, the game alone isn't enough–I'll read crappy tie-in novels, soak up all the lore I can, make fan art, wear a t-shirt, whatever. I've bought some games that have stunk, but that's becoming increasingly rare thanks to the internet; with very few exceptions, I wait for reviews and/or price drops before committing. I've also played games that were perfectly enjoyable during the time I spent with them, but once they're over my brain somehow purges specific information like, you know, plot. All I'm left with is "That was a good game!" and that's enough.

And then there's Maude Destiny.

Last July, I voraciously consumed the Beta version of this first-person space shooter. I loved it so much that I felt no qualms about buying a deluxe edition of the game that included a pass for the first two expansions as well. I knew I'd play it, so why not save a little money up front?

Since Destiny released in September, my feelings have vacillated back and forth between love and hate so often that I'm not even sure what a feeling is anymore. I am a hollow shell of a person now, and so very tired.

Destiny is often mislabeled as an MMO. It's not an MMO at all–it's an online shooter with very limited story-based content and some PvP options. The key phrase here is "limited story-based content": developer Bungie and publisher Activision want you to keep playing, but after you complete the main story your only choice is to replay content again and again and again–in gamer parlance, to "grind"–in the hopes of acquiring better gear.

In order to keep you playing, there are roadblocks on your path to that better gear. Some daily and weekly activities drop loot, but they are not repeatable until the game world "refreshes" on Tuesdays. Some activities drop loot every time you play them, but only some players in your group will be rewarded. You might get something! And it might be great! Or it might be crap. Play the content again for another chance! It's a slot machine that doesn't take your quarters, it takes your time.

You can also buy gear from vendors with a currency called "marks". These are accrued in both the daily/weekly activities and PvP. But there are roadblocks here as well: you want that gun that costs 150 marks? Well, save up because you can only earn a maximum of 100 marks per week. Want that gun and a helmet that costs 75 marks? Well, you can't buy them both at once because you can only hold 200 marks at a time. It's a nefarious way to keep you coming back for more, even though that "more" is the same limited content you've been playing for months.

Sounds like a kick in the teeth, doesn't it? People who don't play Destiny don't understand why anyone would keep doing it. Heck, some people who do play Destiny don't understand why anyone would do it. The short answer is, the game is fucking fun. Even if you're re-doing a mission for the thousandth time, the gameplay is still solid. Anyone who's played a Halo game knows that Bungie can craft a shooter. (I fully admit: faith in Bungie is what had me fully onboard even after some doubts during the Beta. I count Halo: Reach amongst my very favorite games, and so I was excited to see what they could do with an entirely new universe.) Destiny simply plays really, really well...and my goodness is it pretty to look at. If you're a space nerd like me, it's a dream come true to run around Venus, Mars, all of it.

The limitations on content–whether it's weekly limits or the random number generator (RNG) of loot drops–keep people coming back like addicts constantly searching for that next high. Maybe you'll snap out of it, maybe you won't. Personally, I hit a wall about a month in. I realized that the limited content meant one thing: I was grinding for better I could be better at grinding. What was I going to use that exotic pulse rifle on, except the same story missions or PvP maps yet again? I found myself irritated with the lack of content. I found myself irritated that what story there was simply wasn't very good–and to actually get it all and understand it all, you had to collect "grimoire cards" that are unlocked at random locations and times, or hidden around the game maps. To read them, you have to visit Bungie's website. Yup, the story and lore and context is mostly told bit by bit through digital trading cards you might find that can only be accessed outside the game.

My feelings were definitely on the "hate" end of the spectrum at this point, but I was already signed up for the expansions so I knew there was more on the way. I had hopes it would get better.

The first expansion, The Dark Below, hit and I was eager to jump back in.

I finished all the story missions–which re-used areas I'd already played through–in 15 minutes.

I didn't bother with any of the new PvP maps, or the new strikes (specialized missions requiring a fireteam). I shut the game off and didn't touch it again until the second expansion (House of Wolves) dropped.

With good reason, I wasn't expecting much. But my heart still had hope in it because, as I said, the game is fun. I like playing it, and I want it to be good. I know it can be! The potential is there! WHY WON'T THE GAME JUST BE BETTER?

Well, House of Wolves is much much better. The story, though still short (and still based largely in areas already used), is the best in the game so far. It is coherent! It is lively!

There is also a new arena/horde mode, some new PvP options, new strikes...House of Wolves feels worth the $20 it cost, whereas The Dark Below felt like a total and complete rip-off at the same price.

In fact, House of Wolves put me right back in those September feelings: I was addicted again! I was grinding again, yes, but I was having fun!

At E3 earlier this month, Bungie announced The Taken King, a bigger, better expansion due in September at a bigger, better price of $40. Finally, we'd see some new areas! Our characters would get a new subclass of skills! There's more, more, more...and I was in. House of Wolves felt like Bungie was really moving in the right direction, and though $40 is not nothin', it doesn't seem egregious for the amount of content on the way.

Then they announced all of the Destiny packages available at different prices.

Now, let me say up front: I generally don't have a problem with DLC. As An Old, I realize that the price of games has not gone up since the days of the Atari 2600. Accounting for inflation, prices have actually dropped despite the fact that game budgets have gone up and up. If DLC gives me more of a game I'm enjoying and the price is right, sign me up.

Also, as any gamer knows, prices drop over time. A year after release, a $60 game might be available for $40 or even $20. Eventually, games that have a lot of DLC might get a "Game of the Year" edition, which includes all of the DLC at a bargain.

None of this makes what Bungie is doing with The Taken King sting any less. Look out, here come some numbers!

For $85, I got Destiny and the two expansions. As the expansions are $20 each, I saved a whopping five dollars by buying the package.

Now to get The Taken King, I am to spend an additional $40. So we're at $125 for a Day One veteran. Yikes! But not so yikes. I don't buy a lot of games new or at full price, and for the number of hours I've gotten/hope to get this isn't such a bad deal. However.

Bungie will be selling a new edition of Destiny that includes the game, the first two expansions, and The Taken King for $60. Again, see above: I get price drops. But by the time The Taken King arrives, House of Wolves will only have been out for about four months. So all of the Year One content–what I paid $85 for–is only worth $20? What a fucking deal for newcomers!

But Bungie wasn't done there! They're releasing a Collector's Edition with some real-life goodies and some in-game goodies for $80. The digital version–where you don't get the real-life goodies–costs the same. So if a Day One veteran player wanted those goodies, they'd have to fork out money for content they already own in addition to The Taken King, which would bring their total so far to (at least) $165.

As you might imagine, people were upset.

Last night, Bungie responded. They heard the complaints, and wanted players to know that the complaints were valid...that to get the goodies, you shouldn't have to re-purchase the vanilla game and the two expansions. In response, veteran players can buy the digital goodies (which totals nine cosmetic items) for $20.

$20 for nine cosmetic items. That is the price of–no, that's more than I paid for each expansion.

So for $60, a new player will get Destiny, The Dark Below, House of Wolves, and The Taken King.

For $60, I will get The Taken King and nine cosmetic items, six of which are class-based so they can't be used by all your characters.

As you might imagine, people are still upset. But wait, there's more!

Bungie also announced a promotional partnership with Red Bull. In July, some specially marked cans of Red Bull will have codes to unlock some story content in The Taken King when it launches in September.

Content that will unlock for everyone in January.

That means when you drop $40 on The Taken King, you will be paying for content you can't access until January...unless you drop some more money on Red Bull to access it early. But wait, there's more!

Even the stores where these Red Bulls will be sold are under timed exclusives: they'll be at 7-11 in July, and other stores in August.

I have been very forgiving with Destiny. Never a strict apologist, because I know how flawed the game is. I understand why people gave up on it in September, or any time since then. But because I like playing the game and I remember Bungie's past efforts, I was willing to overlook many of the problems. I was willing to hang on in the hopes that the game would get better. I was willing to open my wallet to support the gameworld and the developer.

But this? This is a developer and publisher blatantly taking financial advantage of players. It reeks of the worst that video games has to offer: the cash grab. It's disgusting, and I just can't support it or make any excuses any longer. It sucks, because I fucking love Destiny. I can always play what I've already got (it's all digital, so I can't sell any of it), but it won't feel the same. But for new content, I'm tapping out. Fleece me once, shame on me. Try to fleece me again, go fuck yourself.

I'll always remember our time on Venus. And that other time on Venus. And those other million times on Venus because holy shit, Destiny could also be called Groundhog Day because I just played the same shit over and over. Why am I sad again?

But it's so pretty...

See? It's a torrid affair!


Eliot Blades said...

I agree with all of the above. In fact in the UK (and many other places) it's actually worse because the expansion is so much more expensive - in the UK it's to be sold for £40, which is absolutely not =$40, no matter what anyone says about regional licensing, taxes, etc. You know what £40 is? It's the price of the new Batman game from an online retailer, or a preorder of another hotly anticipated game like Fallout 4.

Other companies seem to do a decent job of pricing DLC - The Evil Within's season pass was £15 - which had 3 packs with around 3 hours playtime each. The Witcher 3 season pass is £20 with a 30 hour playtime quoted.

The Red Bull thing is the final straw for me - north America only. So, rest of the world - pay more for The Taken King and wait longer to play bits of it.

Here's a cool game you can play - go to Bungie's forums and try posting a complaint on this - watch your post get deleted.

Stacie Ponder said...

There is NO WAY that The Taken King is going to have as much content as a full game...I can't believe they're charging that much in the UK. Actually, the sad thing is, at this point I CAN believe it. I understand that you spend $60 on a game and sometimes you get hundreds of hours of content (Witcher III) and sometimes you get 5-7 hours (The Order), but Destiny-related content has been consistently overpriced and I'm sure TKK will be no different.

The Red Bull bullshit shouldn't surprise me either- gee, come September, Xbox players will finally have access to those strikes they paid for a year earlier.

It's so disappointing. So, so disappointing.

Anonymous said...

I was looking forward to buying the DLC for TTK when I get paid. After reading this, I just don't know anymore. Imma go make me a sandwich...

Stacie Ponder said...

I hate that even having to think about this stuff is a THING, you know? I like playing Destiny, so I want Bungie or Activision or both of them to stop being shitheads and to stop taking financial advantage of their customer base.