Back in September of 2010, Square Enix’s long-awaited MMO, Final Fantasy XIV, launched to anything but rave reviews. The game had several issues that plagued it and yet, the game had a following that spent hours upon hours playing the game.
Two weeks ago, Bungie’s highly anticipated game, Destiny, launched to a mixed reception.
While playing Destiny I’ve run into numerous annoyances. These past two weeks I’ve been making several comments about the game on Twitter until finally someone asked me why I kept playing it if I was complaining so much. Suddenly, thoughts from years back came rushing into my mind. This has happened before. This same situation that some are in with Destiny is very similar to the one that Final Fantasy XIV 1.0 players found themselves in.
There are a couple of design similarities between the worlds of Final Fantasy XIV 1.0 and Destiny. In fact, one of my first observations while playing Destiny was that it reminded me of the large landscapes of Eorzea before the Calamity that ushered in 2.0. Like Final Fantasy XIV 1.0, many of the design elements within regions, and even across regions, are very similar, if not exact copies, of one another.
The caves of Old Russia have an identical layout. Imagine my surprise when the lower right image had a slightly different rock! With snow!
Caves are an easy area to see this repetitive scenery. In Destiny, there are always loot crates scattered about the world at random, and caves are one of the places they can appear – leading to a lot of foot traffic. While some might of had a different texture, or a minor difference of terrain, the overall layout of virtually all of the caves were the same.
The similarities don’t end with caves however. Looking back at the map design of the original Final Fantasy XIV, one would notice small, narrow passages that connected each section of the larger area. These narrow passages were, in fact, a loading tunnel. See, while Final Fantasy XIV claimed to have only a few zones, the reality was that each large chunk of land was in itself a zone. Instead of a loading screen, players simply walked through these stretches of narrow paths to get from one zone to another.
While doing patrol missions I came to the realization that Destiny has these as well. Larger areas of the Moon, Venus or Mars are separated by a long, narrow path or by an underground tunnel. You could tell these were separate sections as chests and items such as the Helium Filaments wouldn’t be present during your first pass by, but once you went to another area and came back, they would suddenly be there. This was discovered back in the Destiny beta when people would move between the plane graveyard and the Forgotten Shore in order to keep spawning chests for Destiny’s currency – Glimmer. As further evidence, occasionally I’ve been stopped when moving between areas, with a small loading message appearing on the screen for a brief moment before the game allowed me to proceed.
The reasoning that Final Fantasy XIV developers gave for the re-use of caves and design elements was because of memory limitations for the large areas. It’s a way that developers can make a larger game area that doesn’t exceed the hardware limitations of its platform. Critically, Final Fantasy XIV 2.0 moved away from this and went with smaller zones and loading screens instead of a larger, open world, so that they could make areas that had much more detail and originality to them. Destiny is under these same limitations and at some point Bungie must have decided that they were OK with the repetition in order to create an “open world”.
Destiny, is an FPS mixed in with some MMO elements. The problem here however, is that they’ve brought in the more disliked elements such as RNG and an incredible content grind, while ignoring some of the fundamental features of the genre, like an area chat or even the ability to trade items with another player. Bungie, a developer who made incredible steps with matchmaking systems in the days of Halo 2 has seemingly decided to exclude matchmaking from weekly heroics and what’s currently the only raid in the game. Unless you have 2 to 5 other friends that are playing Destiny, it’s going to be difficult to meet up with other players who you know want to do the same content.
In Destiny, unless other players are in your team, you have no way to communicate with them.
Final Fantasy XIV for the longest time, also lacked a solid system to allow players to be matched together to challenge content. Of course, at launch this content was simply limited to Guildleves as there weren’t even any dungeons for players to take on at the time of launch. Though even in that regard, the chat in the game helped a great deal with finding players wanting to do the same content. Destiny doesn’t have a feature like that: a simple way to communicate with any player you see.
The first special event for Destiny kicked off this week and lets players accept bounties from the Queen of the Reef. Finally, I thought, we would see some of this cool content that Bungie would be periodically releasing in order to keep players logging in. These special bounties are in fact, nothing special at all. In my time with them, I was tasked with going and killing the boss from the second mission in the game. It didn’t matter what level of difficulty I did this on, I went into the mission at it’s default level (level 2) and killed the boss. I was rewarded with what was essentially an allowance to do a harder version of a mission that I had already completed as part of the main story. I queue into this mission and discover that this is the same mission I just undertook to fulfill my bounty. This has happened twice so far with both of the “Kill this guy” bounties I’ve taken. Sadly, making players repeat the little content that’s already in the game is the only thing that Destiny can do at this point and because there’s so little there, you find yourself repeating the same missions or quest types over and over again.
Much like Guildleves in Final Fantasy XIV, Destiny also has a limited supply of missions that players can choose to undertake. There’s the “Kill mobs until you’re done”, the “get a certain amount of this item to drop from a mob” and then the lovely “go and stand at this spot for about 20 seconds”. There’s no variety to these and the handful of Strikes included in the game at present are so few that repeatedly playing through the Strike playlist yesterday gave me the same run four times in a row. Because it’s an FPS, Destiny, while having a mission based story mode, also has a large focus on PvP. Titled the Crucible, these multiplayer modes put players against each other while rewarding them with items and reputation similarly to the main game. In fact, apart from the recent discovery of the loot caves, the Crucible was one of the quickest ways to try your hand at earning new items or appraisable engrams. Unfortunately there are only a few modes for PvP, none of which include a standard capture-the-flag. Bungie has also been making an additional match type available, but only on the weekends. What happens if I want to play that match type but I’m not a part of the standard Monday through Friday work schedule that Bungie assumes all of its players are on?
Both games have had their faults at the start of their journey. There is also another observation in addition to these direct comparisons that even I have fallen victim too. For some unknown reason, I, along with many others continued to play Final Fantasy XIV, and are continuing to play Destiny regardless of the flaws the game has. But why?
Traditionally, Square Enix and Bungie have been very good at what they do. Could it be the hope that these games, enjoyable yet disappointing, will later be everything the player had hoped for? Are people who spent upwards of $90 on the special editions simply trying to justify their purchase by forcing themselves to play more of the game?
The more time a player spends in the game, the more they appreciate it. Like a fine wine, it tastes better in the mouths of gamers as they let it sink in. I’ve found myself having moments like this throughout my time with Destiny only to then be struck by another stupid mechanic or realization and going back to asking myself why the hell I’m playing this game. I had fewer of these during my time with the initial launch of Final Fantasy XIV, but I did still have them.
Destiny launched with the developers thinking the same things that Hiromichi Tanaka and his team did when Final Fantasy XIV launched in 2010: video games these days can be patched or updated to fix any issues that players might have after launch. And while that’s true, the game has to have a solid core right out the gate. If the core of the title is weak, updates can only do so much depending on what the limitations of that foundation are. The problems that plagued the initial release of FFXIV ran so deep into its core that the entire game was remade from the ground up.
Square Enix finally came out and admitted the problems of Final Fantasy XIV. People moved on from the project, new team members were brought in, and more importantly, they didn’t charge people a subscription fee for several months because the game, honestly, wasn’t in the state that it should have been at launch.
Now we look at Destiny, a game whose main story is cut off just as soon as it began with the irritating assumption that it will only continue in the expansions that players will have to pay additional money for. A move, that feels like robbery considering how little there seems to even be in the game to start with.
Square Enix and Bungie have great track records, fathering some of the biggest franchises in video game history. Yet, it’s important to take a step back and realize that the games they released in the past are just that, the past. Today, video games can be updated (Bungie has already had updates for Destiny), and DLC, for better or worse, can be put up on the digital marketplace to either add to an experience, or in some cases, finish the experience.
To release games in this seemingly unfinished state is disappointing and in the case of these bigger studios that have been around for years, they should simply know better than to release a product in that condition. Gone are the days in which a studio had to release a 100% finished product on a single cartridge or collection of CDs. Today, a game can be released as a whole, with extra stories added later as DLC to expand on what was already in the game, or in the case of Destiny, having content that continues the initial story being sold as expansions like a more expensive episodic game.
Final Fantasy XIV 2.0 launched just over a year ago, fulfilling the promises it made with the original version. Destiny has a ways to go before it amounts to the grand vision that Bungie described to us.
Let’s hope it gets there and takes significantly less than ten years for the bigger image to become apparent.