Destiny's biggest problem (at the moment)

By now I assume everyone has seen the leaked screenshots of what purports to be the upcoming content for Destiny. If not, Kotaku has a good post about it. And if you're worried about spoilers, come on. It's not like Destiny's story makes any sense anyway. In fact, that's the whole point of what I'm about to say. A lot of people have postulated (Reddit, of course) that a large portion (if not the whole damn enchilada) of Destiny's story was gutted once writer Joe Staten left, and dumped into the grimoire cards. That's not too hard to believe, given the state (or lack thereof) of Destiny's story in its current form. Obviously Bungie would like to address that, but in looking these leaked screenshots, it sure doesn't look like they have any plans to fix the story anytime soon. Every single one of those new missions listed are either strikes or raids. Now, that by itself doesn't mean they won't be interesting gameplay-wise (though I haven't yet run the currently available raid, Vault of Glass, I hear that it changes up your expectations pretty well), I kind of doubt that there will be much of anything important happening story-wise. Think back on the strikes that appear in the game. The only story to speak of is just thinly-drawn exposition dump by Dinklebot that ultimately only tells you who you're going to be fighting at the end. That's it. Since these are explicitly designed as multiplayer events, I imagine that Bungie didn't want people to have to worry about other people fucking up the story by running ahead of everyone else, triggering events no one else is ready for. For example, try playing any of the Gears of War games co-op with randoms and see how many of them will actually watch the cutscenes without skipping ahead. (Yes, the story in Gears isn't anything special, but it's got a leg up on Destiny, since it, you know, exists.) I don't see it being any different with these new missions.

Now, let me back up a bit. In other games, especially loot-driven games like Diablo and their ilk, I don't particularly care about the story. Diablo 3's is only so much nonsense that only serves to set up the fiction and setting. And I'm totally okay with that! USUALLY. Destiny's lack of a story is a problem because of both Bungie's pedigree and because the game that most closely resembles what Destiny is trying to do is Borderlands, which just oozes personality and back story (if anything, Borderlands 2 is a little too long, but that's beside the point). I want to know more about the world of Destiny, but I have to fight for every single scrap of it because there's so little in the actual game. It's story by inference, at best. I love the Halo games and their fiction, which has been fleshed out like crazy in all sorts of other media. But those works only ever got made because the games told a story first that people found interesting. If this is all we have to go on with Destiny, that kind of backstory is never going to happen, because no one will give a shit.

So, what is Bungie to do? I honestly don't know. If I did, I'd be working there, making it happen. But I have a few ideas:

  1. Make those new missions be actual story missions that people can do solo. Make them interesting, and for God's sake, use the characters that you paid all those actors to provide the voices for. I mean, you're really going to go out and get Peter Dinklage, Lance Reddick, Gina Torres, James Remar, Peter Stormare, Bill Nighy, and Nathan Fucking Fillion and give them the most boring, half-assed, throwaway lines to give you boring, generic side quests with? What gives? Make that world breathe, give it personality, give it life. The NPCs in Borderlands might not all be great, but at least they're memorable. Everyone in Destiny besides the Queen is a cipher, with the possible exception of her brother (who doesn't even have a name! He's just "the Queen's brother"!).
  2. Reboot the whole damn thing with Destiny 2, á la Final Fantasy 14. If you recall, FF14 was a steaming pile of garbage when it came out. Square Enix retooled the whole thing and rereleased it last year, and now a lot of people consider it one of the better MMOs of the last few years. On some level, I don't really see any other option. It would be too hard to overhaul the structure of Destiny as it currently stands to accomodate this change, so a total reboot is in order.

All of this criticism comes from a place of love and respect. Halo is one of my favorite series, and I really like a lot of what Destiny offers. I have put a ton of time into it, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But between what I've enumerated here and their fuck-up with how loot works (which, to their credit, they're fixing), it might be hard to keep playing this after a few months. I really hope that changes.

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Left, left, left right left

Time for an update! I've done fuck all to catch up on anything. Sorry. Well, that's not entirely accurate. I have been playing Skyrim, but just the Dragonborn DLC. Full disclosure on Skyrim's inclusion on my list: I have put 150+ hours into Skyrim, but have not yet completed the main quest. I don't know why I've been so reluctant to do it, especially since I'm more than happy to spend 2 hours ferrying all the shit I've acquired from my (first) home in Whiterun to my new place outside of Falkreath, then spend even more time decorating mannequins with complete armor sets (Dwarven armor looks the coolest; shame it's only mid-level) and then even more time min-maxing the alchemy-enchanting-smithing trees to get the best stuff. So once this DLC concludes, I will finally finish the main quest, then move on. I also played Hotline Miami to completion within the last week. Seriously, fuck that game's "boss battles." Everything else about that game is great, though. That fucking soundtrack, man, is a wonder to behold. As Ryan said at some point just after the game's release (and I'm paraphrasing), it's music you want playing while you're getting down to some ill shit.

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Taking the first step--with the left foot

Alright, buckle up, because this is a long-ass list. Context for this found HERE. Any suggestions for some kind of name for this project would be appreciated.

So anyway, in no particular order, here we go:

Xbox 360

Late additions to the list:

PC

TV Shows

I'm still deciding on what kind of format I'm going to use; that is, how often I'll be writing and whether they'll be review-like or more just a listing of impressions. I may even delve into why I stopped playing/watching/reading, unless it's boring or irrelevant. I also haven't decided how I'm going to determine the order in which these get finished; I'll probably just start with the most recent stuff and work backwards. I think. Maybe.

There's just so much stuff on this list. I may go back to some of these and decide they're not worth my time (Dragon Age 2, I'm looking SQUARELY in your direction), but I really would like to get through all of these. The problem with our digital lifestyle is finding enough hours in the day to consume it all, you know?

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Starting the new year on the right foot.

I had an idea at the end of 2011, then completely failed to even give the barest hint of trying to do it last year. So I'm committing to doing it this year. The idea was to write about all the games that I've started but haven't finished, and there are a lot. I'm also trying to incorporate an idea I had early (early) this morning, and that was to try get something written every day this year. I've long wanted to get into the industry, but aside from a brief stint doing volunteer writing for a lackluster fansite, I have been awful at ever writing anything, even though I have a freaking English degree. If nothing else, I'll get some exercise for my brain, which has been sorely lacking as of late. So anyway, I've put a list together of all the games I've started, but for whatever reason never got around to finishing. I will also include TV show write-ups for all the series that I've started. Maybe. That list will get posted tomorrow, but for now, this is my commitment to get off my figurative ass and makes steps to be a better writer. Wish me luck, duders.

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Uncharted 3: Where do I begin?

Uncharted 3 was one of my most anticipated titles this year. I fell in love with the characters (especially Elena) back in the first game, and have wanted to see the conclusion to their story ever since. So when I popped the disc in last week, I was expecting a wonderful adventure, full of exotic locales, hair-raising action set-pieces, and loving characterization.

What I didn't expect was to hate almost every second of the game's combat.

Looking back, I can honestly say that there were only two or three scenarios, at most, that I didn't absolutely loathe. Now, Uncharted has never been a series known for its tight combat controls or excellent combat encounters. The bad guys in the first game could take inhuman amounts of bullets while wearing no armor and we all remember the blue guys from the second game. But at least the enemy encounters were set up in such a way that they were manageable. You hardly ever got overwhelmed by the sheer volume of enemies and you usually had plenty of cover (although the dash through the village in U2 while dodging tank fire was kind of broken). In this game, though every encounter feels that cheap. Guys take multiple point-blank shotgun rounds TO THE FACE, you get rushed by multiple dudes in heavy armor with shotguns of their own, and to top it all off, your controls aren't precise enough to track guys as they move or keep a good bead on them.

This would be (somewhat) forgivable if it only happened a few times throughout the game. For example, I beat Warhammer 40K: Space Marine last week. That game is pretty good, but holy shit I wanted to break something after the last boss battle. It was the worst kind of cheap bullshit. Now, that said, it didn't really sully my overall experience with the game, although it did leave things on a sour note. But I'm not going to score a game lower (14 chicken hearts) just because it has one really poorly done battle. But when almost every single combat encounter feels that way, it's going to affect your opinion of a game.

I've heard from a few places that Naughty Dog never played through the entire game until just prior to certification; that blows my mind. I understand that you're busy, but come on. Some of the combat scenarios are straight-up broken. I died over 70 times while playing Uncharted 3; that's more than I died while playing Gears 3 by a large margin, and I was playing Gears on Hardcore and Uncharted on Normal. There's something wrong with that. Now, I understand that Naughty Dog is also in the process of developing a patch that will (hopefully) address a lot of these issues. To be honest, a large part of my complaint is with the controls. The game doesn't control anywhere near as precisely as Gears of War or other games of its ilk, but the combat is designed as if it does. I think a developer should know its strong suits. I'm convinced that combat isn't one of Naughty Dog's.

Now, all that said, I still enjoyed my time with the game quite a bit, and it will probably rank in my top ten, but I was left with such a bad taste in my mouth that I can't comfortably put it in my top 5. Uncharted 3 has you spend the least amount of time doing actual exploring and puzzle solving of the three games, and I think that's a mistake. A lot of the series' charm comes from Nate's wisecracks as he's trying to navigate some crazy environment or solve some ridiculous puzzle. That happens a mere handful of times here and is often interrupted (rudely) by a bunch of assholes with guns. The characters are just as charming as ever and I think I might actually be in love with Elena now, so I guess the game was a success. It just wasn't the unqualified success that I so badly wanted it to be.

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2010 - The Way We Was

Yesterday I put up my Top Ten list for the year. I used that to talk at length about each game, so I won't redo that here. I also wanted to talk about some other things that have been on my mind lately about other games that came out this year, and I guess give out some awards (or more appropriately, shout-outs). Not that my awards have any cachet to them whatsoever, but hey, it's my blog, so deal with it. So anyway, just for context, here are the names of my top ten, then I'll jump in to my other ramblings, musings, and nonplussments. Trivia Alert! How many games that I list here have colons in their names? Seriously, it's kind of ridiculous.

Top Ten for 2010

  1. Red Dead Redemption
  2. Mass Effect 2
  3. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
  4. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty 
  5. Halo: Reach
  6. Fallout: New Vegas 
  7. Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction 
  8. Alan Wake 
  9. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West 
  10. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 
 

Just Missed the Cut

Battlefield: Bad Company 2
I had a lot of fun with Bad Company 2, but ultimately, the few people on my friends list who I played with stopped, and it's kind of hard to keep up with a game like that when you have to Lone Wolf it every time you jump into a multiplayer session. Sad to say, I even traded it in to Amazon because I didn't think I'd ever play it again. It's easily a better game than Black Ops, and I've recently gotten the urge to pick a copy up again and jump back in, especially with the Vietnam pack that just dropped.
 
Transformers: War for Cybertron
Yeah, yeah, I know. That's why it's not actually on my top ten. But this game is still super fun, and if you ask me, everything a Transformers game should be. And even though it shamelessly cribs from Call of Duty, the multiplayer is tons of fun. I'm sure no one is playing it anymore, but it totally made me feel like I was a little kid again, playing with my toys against my friends.
 
Civilization 5
I didn't actually play enough of Civ 5 to justify putting it in my top ten, but what I played was truly something special. I have never played any of the other Civilization games, so I was a little unprepared for what this game would hold. It was pretty daunting to jump in feet first, but this game makes it easy to grasp its concepts and teaches you new techniques without being overly punitive. I'm looking forward to spending more time with this in 2011.
 
Call of Duty: Black Ops
This game deserves to be mentioned in GOTY discussions, if for nothing else than its pedigree, but I simply have too many problems with this game to put it very high. These problems will be detailed a little further down on this list.

Best Games I didn’t actually finish

Bayonetta
I totally get where everyone is coming from, but for whatever reason, I hit a huge wall with this game. I'll try to Gamefly it and finish it up, because I want to fully see what everyone else has said about this crazy, crazy game.
 
Darksiders
I really, really liked this game. It just fell victim to other games coming out that demanded my attention. I think Mass Effect 2 is the main reason I never finished Darksiders when I had the chance. I would throw it in off and on throughout the year and try to make some progress, but when you haven't touched a game in a while, you forget the controls, the mechanics, where you've been in the game world, and it's just too hard to pick up where you left off. I think I'll probably start over from the beginning so I can make a clean runthrough. Darksiders really is the modern take on Zelda that we never knew we wanted.
 
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Again, a game that had too much competition for me to give it a ton of attention. I know a lot of people were really hot on this game, and while I'm not quite as enthusiastic (some of the levels have WAY too many branching paths) I liked it a lot. I just simply didn't have time to finish it, or even get remotely close.
 

Best Downloadable Games

Pac-Man CE DX
It's fucking Pac-Man with bombs. Also, this.
 
Limbo
Ever since Brad's Quick Look, I knew I had to have this game, and boy, did it deliver. Not terribly long, but everything about it was nearly perfect. I admit that I had to get outside help on a few puzzles (not from an FAQ, though, so put down those pitchforks), but overall this game was great. Limbo is probably the moodiest game I've ever played, if that makes any sense.
 
Dead Rising 2: Case Zero
I never finished the first Dead Rising because, well, I just didn't. Too Japanese in its sensibilities, I guess. I was looking forward to the second one, but when Case Zero was announced, I was doubly excited. It turned out to be the perfect amount of Dead Rising for me, and from the sound of things, I'm not alone in that assessment. It's a good dose of zombie killing without all of the problems and frustrations attendant to the main game.
 
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light 
This game was way better than it had any right to be. I was skeptical of it up until the day of release, but the myriad positive reviews swayed my opinion. I'm glad I gave it a chance because it turned out to be a super enjoyable experience. Solid level design, a good loot mechanic, and just plain fun.
 
Super Meat Boy
Ahh, Super Meat Boy. What more can I say that hasn't already been said? A little bit, actually. As strange as it may sound, I never once got frustrated or upset at Super Meat Boy. Seriously. No controller throwing, no TV smashing, not even any profanity, really. I had no problem with this game's crushing difficulty. You have to learn to play the game by its rules, rules which make perfect sense once you understand them. You can only be mad at yourself for not being good enough. All that said, I haven't tried to get all the bandages, which is a path I fear will lead only to the depths of insanity. I believe such an undertaking is beyond me.
 

Biggest Disappointments

Crackdown 2 
How you make Crackdown into something mundane and severely lacking in the fun department? I don't get it. This is probably the quickest I've traded a game in after buying it.

Shank 
A perfect example of style over substance. The combat gets too repetitive after the halfway point and the enemies take way too many hits to kill. Such a shame, because the game is visually stunning and had tons of promise.

Medal of Honor
Okay, I guess I didn't really have high hopes for this in the first place, but it was still disheartening to see that it did so poorly. It's perfectly competent, but in the crowded FPS market, that's simply not good enough anymore. 
 

Best Example of a Game I Don’t Actually Like That Much But Still Play a Lot

Call of Duty: Black Ops  
Okay. Deep breath. 
 
I really, really, really wanted to like Black Ops. I truly did. Modern Warfare 2 is one of my favorite games of the last few years. Memorable characters, amazing set-pieces, top-notch multiplayer. Black Ops feels like a pretender to the throne. It has the best of intentions, but for me, it fails to deliver in almost every way. It's really hard to quantify or explain this, but Black Ops just feels...off. From the level design to the actual controls to the characterizations, everything feels like it's lacking polish. People have been saying that Reznov and Woods are such great characters, but I think Captain Price, Ghost, and "Soap" MacTavish have ten times the personality of those two. There's something in the animation that's too jerky, too sudden, that makes the characters seem like puppets instead actual human beings I'm supposed to relate to. It's almost as if the fact that Treyarch is using Infinity Ward's engine holds them back from knowing how to get the most out of the animations or how to tune the controls finely enough. Finally, I think the introduction of COD points ruins the multiplayer. We can argue the merits of leveling up to unlock weapons, perks and equipment until we're blue in the face, but that said, there's no sense of accomplishment to getting new items anymore. All you have to do is buy them now. In Modern Warfare 2, if I wanted to be able to move completely silently, I had to earn that damn Ninja Pro perk. Most people didn't use it, and it made me feel like I had a small advantage, since I like to listen for footsteps to ascertain the location of my opponents, and they couldn't hear me coming. It was my reward for earning that perk. Now, you can buy Ninja immediately, so way more people use it right off the bat. and it completely loses its status. I also think the weapon progression is really poor. There are about 3 guns I routinely use, and nothing else is even remotely interesting.
 
Okay. All that said, the multiplayer is still enjoyable enough, although I only play it when my friends are on. Also, the Wager Matches are the one thing Treyarch added that is legitimately cool and original. I just wish those gametypes were available as standalone modes without having to wager. 
 

Games That Would Be On My Top Ten If I'd Actually Had Time To Play Them

Rock Band 3
Dude, I love the shit out of Rock Band 2. Like a lot of people, I've spent quite a but of money on song DLC. I know that I will love Rock Band 3 once I get around to picking it up. I really want to see what the pro modes and keyboard sections are like, and I just plain want more rawk in my life. Hopefully the bundle with the keyboard comes down in price a bit.
 
DJ Hero 2
I only played the first DJ Hero at a demo station at Best Buy, and I meant to pick up once it was once sale for cheap (which it was more than once, but I never pulled the trigger). DJ Hero 2 looks like it improved everything that made the first one great, and I really want to pick it up this next year.
 
Super Mario Galaxy 2
I don't have a Wii. That's the only reason I didn't play this. It looks magical. Literally magical.
 

Gaming Regrets

Not Playing More DS

I bought my DS a few years ago, and I never really find the time to play it, even though every year there are a ton of great games for it. I think the problem is that I don't live in a part of the country with public transit, which is where a lot of people seem to play their DSes. When I'm at home, I get drawn to my "full-size" games instead. The 3DS looks like it'll be interesting, but I think if I get one, it'll just collect dust like my DS has. 
 

Not Paying Enough Attention to Awesome PC Games

I didn't play enough of Starcraft II. I didn't play nearly enough of Civ 5. This was the year I finally got a badass gaming PC and...I used it to surf the web.
 

Not Enough PS3 Games

I bought a PS3 this year, but only played a few games on it. Microsoft knew what they were doing with Achievements, because if a game was multiplatform, I never even thought about playing it on PS3. It pretty much became my Blu-Ray/Uncharted player. I don't know that that will change much in 2011, but at least there looks to be a lot of awesome PS3 exclusives, so I guess that'll have to do.
 

In Closing

Well, this turned into quite the beast. Hopefully you've made it this far. If so, feel free to leave me comments on whether I'm right or wrong or whatever. Try to keep it civil, though. I'd hate to have to kill anyone.
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Looking for new employment...

So today was about the shittiest day I've had at work in quite some time, and it made me realize that, boy, I better get a life. I need to stop settling for my piddly-ass job and find a job that I actually like doing. Granted, much easier said than done, but you have to have a goal, right? I figure stretching my writing legs, so to speak, will at least help me get back on track. It's been my dream for years to end up working in the video game industry, and I look at the Giant Bomb guys as a huge source of inspiration for that. I have a gorram English degree and I haven't done shit with it since I graduated 4 1/2 years ago. So this is my first step in getting something--ANYTHING--written, and I figure if I have it in a public place, among like-minded individuals, I can get things rolling.

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The whole Used Games debate

In the last day or so, a lot of people have been weighing in on this debate, mostly due to the latest Penny Arcade comic and its attendant news post. I thought I'd throw in my two cents as well. 

It seems like everyone is saying that they have no problem buying games digitally, but kind of hit a wall when it comes to buying physical games at full price. Some might say that there’s a discrepancy there, but I think it actually speaks to the value of buying games digitally. Usually buying games digitally is cheaper, and you can be sure that the money is going straight to the developer, instead of the middleman (like Gamestop). Not to mention the fact that most digital download services (Steam, mostly) have crazy sales all the time that make it totally worth your while to do your games buying there. I personally don’t like buying used games mainly because I don’t approve of Gamestop’s policies, but if someone else feels differently, that’s totally up to them and also totally okay. As a lot of people have mentioned recently—mostly in reference to the price/value ratio—it’s up to the individual consumer to make his own choices, and those choices need to be right for him, what’s financially responsible for him. If I have enough disposable income that I can buy new games at full price and not be hurting, then that’s awesome. If some working-class dad has to worry more about providing for his family than getting Halo on launch day, then it’s better for him to buy it used a month or two down the line. He’s not a bad person just because he’s worrying about his own financial well-being before the company’s whose game he’s buying.
 
ADDENDUM: It seems like a lot of people commenting here think I'm railing against used game sales in all forms. Some have said, "But what about (insert game)? It's 10 years old. How else am I supposed to get it?" I think the debate here has more to do with recent games, as opposed to older games. Obviously, the only way to get that copy of Radiant Silvergun or Chrono Trigger is to find it used somewhere, which as I noted above, is fine.

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Prototype

Certainly no other game has pissed me off as much as Prototype did. Part of the problem was that I had just finished playing InFamous, which was so well done in every way, and Prototype was just half-finished mess of a game. Which I suppose is fitting for a game called PROTOTYPE. I know a lot of people really liked it, including the guys here on Giant Bomb, but damn, I seethe with rage whenever I think about this game. Terrible TERRIBLE graphics, especially for a game coming out in 2009; pretty unresponsive controls, which made fighting multiple enemies a huge pain in the ass; and stupid, half-assed COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT side missions. Hey, let's go basejumping off a skyscraper while this plague ravages the entire city. Seriously, this game was awful.

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