Somehow, a 10-year-old game actually has plenty to teach a modern triple-A blockbuster.
Destiny is an online shooter with role-playing game elements. It comes from Bungie, the same studio that created Halo, one of the biggest first-person shooter franchises in gaming. And while Destiny is off to a good start sales-wise, the critical reception has been a bit lacking. In our review, we said that the ambitious shooter was missing a soul.
So, what’s wrong? Well, it’s a lot of little things, but essentially Destiny is having a hard time finding the right balance between being a shooter and a massively multiplayer online game. Now, Bungie has actually nailed the shooting mechanics (unsurprisingly, since this is the studio that brought us Halo), but it can learn a thing or two about making a persistent online world. Well, why not learn from the best?
Specifically, Destiny should take some pointers from World of Warcraft, the insanely popular MMO that originally launched back in 2004 and is still going strong. Its success gives us a lot lessons that Bungie could use to improve its fun-but-flawed shooter. We went ahead and listed five of the most important ones.
Don’t take yourself too seriously
Destiny is a grim game. It takes place in a time when aliens and other forces of darkness wiped out most of humanity and its civilizations. Every character you talk to is either depressed, dry, bitter, cold, or sarcastic.
It just all weighs down on you after a while. Destiny is supposed to be fun, but its setting takes itself far too seriously. Everything is dark and dreary, and that’s sort of how I feel while I’m playing it. It’s obviously too late to change the entire setting and setup, but can’t we crack a few jokes every now and then? The Ghost is the only character who even tries to lighten the mood with a little humor, but his odd delivery makes the effort moot.
World of Warcraft can also be pretty serious, but it’s also sometimes funny and even silly. Sure, sometimes the tonal shift is almost too much, but at least taking part in a quest where you help a talking dinosaur build a spaceship gives you permission to smile a bit.
These are social games, right? What would you rather watch with a group of five friends? A comedy or a drama? I think most people would rather laugh and joke around with their buddies instead of crying and contemplating their existences with each other. Dark, serious settings are great, but they just don’t work that well for a multiplayer game where everyone’s congratulating each other for shooting aliens in the head.
Make the world feel alive
Think about Stormwind, one of the capital cities in World of Warcraft. Children run the streets, bakers try to sell you their goods, and guards at every corner are willing to help you find the nearest mailbox, trainer, or anything else you’re looking for. The town has different sections with distinct architecture and atmospheres. Again, this is one of many cities in World of Warcraft.
Now, let’s look at the Tower, the one and only city in Destiny. All of the nonplayer characters are completely static. I think I did see two people walking down a hallway once, though. That was pretty exciting. But everyone else is always standing in the same place, as if they were nothing more than decoration or robots simply waiting to serve you (I think some of them literally are robots, but I’m not sure). Sure, a lot of the NPCs in WoW do the same thing, but just as many of them are moving about. Also, the cities in WoW are actual, well, cites, while the Tower is more of a military installation. It’s efficient, but it has no heart.
My point isn’t that Destiny needs more towns or that the Tower needs to be larger, but it needs to make the most out of this lone city. It is the one place where players are safe from enemies. It should be a social hub, but instead it’s nothing more than a collection of shops. Sure, shops and vendors are a big part of World of Warcraft’s cities, but they’re much more than that. People go there to auction their items, master their crafting classes, and prepare for difficult raids.
The Tower needs to feel more kinetic. Can’t we have some more NPCs who actually walk around? How about some characters we could talk to, not for a quest or to buy anything from, but simply so we can see what they have to say? I want the Tower to feel more like an actual place and less like a convenient hub.
Give the players a lot of extra stuff to do
World of Warcraft is mainly about fighting, but it also lets players fish, cook, farm, craft, collect pets, train pets, battle pets, participate in drinking contests, joust, and … well, you get the idea. Destiny lets you shoot computer enemies or other players.
Of course, WoW has added a lot of auxiliary content over its lifespan, but a lot of that extra stuff was there from the beginning. Having all of those extra activities gives you something to do when you’re bored from the main game. It also makes the world feel much bigger.
Simply put, Destiny is missing variety. Shooting is fun, and Destiny has nailed those mechanics, but where’s all the other stuff we usually see in massively multiplayer online games? Maybe Destiny could have created a card game, similar to Final Fantasy VIII or Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Maybe it could have created some tracks for Sparrow racing. How about some space combat missions with our ships?
You probably know, but the Tower has a place where you can activate a fan on a roof, sending any players standing on it shooting to the sky. A soccer ball is also hidden in the city, and players can kick it around. It’s almost sad how often you see people engaging in these simple activities. Destiny doesn’t really give them anything better to do.
Give different classes and races different story experiences
In World of Warcraft, your race determines where your adventure begins. A Dwarf starts his journey on a complete different side of the world from a Tauren, and they have completely different experiences for the first chunk of their playtime. Even with end-game content, races on different factions will fight through different quests and discover different stories. Each race also has a few distinct abilities and spells.
Destiny lets you pick from one of three races, but they all start in the same exact place and experience the same exact story. Your race is purely cosmetic. This means that you really have no incentive to start a new character, whereas World of Warcraft players often try out each race even if it is just to experience their starting areas. It lets them see new, distinct parts of the game’s world, which makes it appear bigger and more real to the player. You’d only want to start a new character in Destiny if you want to try a new class.
However, even the classes aren’t as distinct as they are in World of Warcraft. Each one in Destiny uses the same guns. They just have different grenades, jumping abilities, melee attacks, and Super Abilities (a special move the player can use only once it’s charged). Meanwhile, World of Warcraft classes have dozens of different spells and features, and they also have some distinct quests.
I understand that each class needs to operate on a level playing field in a shooter, but Bungie could have made them stand out better. Why couldn’t only one class use shotguns or sniper rifles? Why not give them more special abilities? Or, at the very least, why not have more than three? Even at launch, World of Warcraft had nine classes.
Give players tons of vanity items
Most loot gives players better armor and weapons, but players are just as likely to jump through crazy hoops for a purely cosmetic prize. In World of Warcraft, these include pets, mounts, titles, or even items that you can display on your characters.
Destiny has vanity items too, but they aren’t as exotic. You can get different ships (which other players can only see in loading screens) and vehicles (although they mostly look similar aside from the color). Each class also has one piece of equipment that is purely cosmetic, like capes for the Hunters.
However, it just doesn’t feel like enough. In World of Warcraft, you can ride on anything from a robotic ostrich to a giant dragon. In Destiny, you can ride a gray hover bike or a red one. Some more variety could help players stand apart from their peers and feel special.