I had an excellent back and forth with my friend Chris (who plays Alan the Paladin in my current game) over xbox live the other night, and wanted to recount some of the output of that conversation here. Destiny 2’s Forsaken DLC dropped about a month ago while the group was on vacation. We all have Destiny 2, but I’m the only one who has it on a different console. I didn’t have an xbone at the time, and was waiting for my friends to buy it on PC. When it became clear that wasn’t going to happen (they were reasonably dissatisfied with the original product), I decided to just buy it on my PS4.
We’ve had a few back-and-forths on the game since, and now that Forsaken has come out, my friends are all playing it again. I don’t have the game on that console, and seeing as though I view Destiny 2 as popcorn entertainment (and its first DLC as a disgusting pile of unmentionables), I not to purchase the second DLC and Forsaken.
Also, I was seriously pissed off after Curse of Osiris. I never played Destiny 1, so I was somewhat ignorant of Bungie’s “Abuse our playerbase for a year” policy. Never again!
This backstory is all relevant, I promise you.
In a roundabout sort of way, we came to the subject of raids. I started eviscerating them; I’d only played a few leviathan raids, and all I had to compare them to were the Jordas Precept and Law of Retribution raids from Warframe (neither of which I had high opinions of).
My friends were, understandably, a little annoyed; the Raids are the only real challenge in the game! High level enemies, which I pointed out actually come out to attack you! The enemies in the game world mill about, not really doing anything. The player walks over, kills half of any group present before the even react, and the ones that do have time to react barely get any hits in. The player kills the remainder, taking virtually no damage, all to walk to the group of enemies 50 feet away that ignored the whole ordeal for some reason.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
So we return to raids, where the screaming hordes try to overrun the players. That kind of tension is fun! I definitely think Destiny’s raids are its best content (PVE anyways). Ditto for Warframe’s raids, at the time they were active at the very least. They’re “endgame content”, and it seems the playerbase for both games were starving for that sort of thing. We’ll get to that some other time, though.
So, I agree that they’re the best content Destiny (low bar) and Warframe (significantly higher bar) have to offer. Nevertheless, I think they’re designed poorly. We’ll start off with the Cabal Emperor fight, because it demonstrates my point and I am very, very, very disinterested in discussing other sections of the leviathan.
The fight against the Emperor goes something like this: boss is invulnerable (because of course he is). Adds stream in while the boss starts shooting face lasers at you (like you do). Half of your party stays to fight the boss while the other half feeds instructions to you in an extradimensional space. The people in the psychic realm have to tell you what symbols pop up on the Emperor’s forehead, and the people in the boss room have to jump on pads with those symbols on them. The people in the psychic realm have to do this a few times, and once they do it enough times without falling out of the psychic realm, the boss loses his invulnerability phase and the players can kill him.
Sound like BS yet?
This is obviously something of an abridged version, but what am I specifically not mentioning whatsoever? Player skill, player choice, player’s strategy. It’s not completely absent from the raid; there’s a bit of positioning that players have to engage in when reading the symbols out to the boss room group. Certain party compositions will function better than others. What are those parties doing, though? Following the path the developers set out for them, or fail. The devs have put in a right way to win, which is on the internet within 24 hours of the raid going live, and it simply falls to the players to follow those instructions, or lose. No dynamic play, just have a mic, do whatever role you took for the raid, and hold down right trigger. The raids are puzzles, to which there is only one solution. You read the developer’s mind (or the online text of someone who already did), follow it, or fail.
I want to say The Law of Retribution and Jordas Precept Warframe raids were better, but they were not. Not as far as design is concerned, anyways; I was more entertained by Warframe’s raids, but that’s because Warframe is more fun than Destiny. No, at the end of the day, it was the same deal. Follow the designer’s path set for you, or fail. The Warframe raids certainly had more to offer in terms of wiggle room; I mostly attribute that to the plethora of classes (frames) and builds you could then combine them with. I can be entertained by something while pointing out design flaws (provided fixing those flaws could produce a better experience).
By this point, there’s almost certainly someone thinking “well it’s easy to criticize without proposing anything better”, and indeed, that’s correct. Chris actually brought this objection to my attention when we had our discussion. I mentioned that these are puzzles, and only have one solution. He shot back that good puzzles only have one solution, and this set me off. I pointed out games like Deus Ex solved this issue literally decades ago; the best puzzles have multiple solutions. Those solutions are created by the player, using the tools at their disposal in combinations that bring them closer to their goal. Warren Spector (who designed games like later Ultima installments and the original Deus Ex) talks about this concept at length. If you know the name, you probably know his 2 stock stories on the subject (one of which I’ll retell here).
Spector was watching a tester play through some urban island level he’d played through himself some ridiculous number of times. The tester came up on a building he had to enter, with three threats to his success: a guard, standing at his post near the door, a clearly visible IR detection system (laser across the door), and a patrolling pair of guards. The player took out his pistol (the weakest pistol in the game), grabbed an explosive barrel (red, of course), and began walking towards the entrance. Warren was biting his nails, thinking “Is that gonna work? Is that gonna work?” The player tossed the barrel at just the right moment, and shot the barrel as it neared the guard, patrol, and IR system. With the weakest weapon in the game, he solved 3 problems, and did it all in a way the developer had never thought of.
That is how puzzles should be done. I’m not sure Bungie has the predesigned assets, competence, or even willingness to acknowledge feedback that might account for this kind of adjustment. There’s another developer I listed here though, and they’re the complete opposite of Bungie in…well, just about everything now.
At some point in the very near future, I’ll be going in-depth on assets DE already has access to in Warframe, and how they could mix those together for a challenging, open-solution raid or even just a high level mission.