I don't even know what it means, and I don't even know how to describe it, but the best video games simply 'feel good'.
Destiny 'feels good'.
It's hardly a ground breaking realisation, but it's worth remembering. Last night I decided to put a bit more time into the Destiny beta. I started at around 7.30pm. The next time I checked two hours had passed. How the hell did that happen? I've been trying to work it out ever since.
My first guess was the 'numbers' thing. Destiny is, first and foremost, a first person shooter but it's also a numbers game. Digits flitter above enemies as they're shot, experience points help build players towards new levels, levelling up allows players to select new abilities, blah blah blah — but this type of carrot on a stick rarely compels me in other games. I tend to play RPGs in short bursts — Pokie-style number games never seem to sink their tendrils into me in any real meaningful way. Borderlands, for example, left me cold.
I wondered if it might be the exploration element? That seemed more likely. The last video game that felt anywhere near as compelling was Dark Souls, and a large part of that compulsion was in the world itself, which seemed perfectly crafted, lightly rinsed in lore. A space where every single brick and vine was part of a larger story.
But Destiny's universe, for all its strengths, doesn't feel as expertly crafted as Lordran. It doesn't carry that same weight. It's as beautiful a world as I've ever explored in a video game, but it doesn't have that atmosphere, doesn't necessarily feel like a place that demands to be explored. More people have spent more man hours building the world of Destiny compared to Dark Souls, but Destiny continues to feel like a world designed for a video game. Lordran, for me, will forever feel like a real place that exists.
Ultimately, the reason why Destiny is so compelling, and the reason it will rip countless hours from my schedule is this: moving, jumping, aiming and shooting in Destiny feels so goddamn worthwhile. It's so rewarding that no matter where I am in the game, no matter what arbritary task I'm in the process of completing, no matter what fetch quest I'm engaged in, moving an performing in Destiny feels like something I should continue to do. Destiny, for every single second I've spent playing, feels good.
Without fail, the very best games have this feeling as part of their repertoire. In Super Mario Bros. it feels good to jump. We talk about the 'stickyness' of Mario's jump, the weight of it, the ability to control the height of that jump, to slowly manipulate its direction in mid-air — the glorious momentum that accumulates when he runs. In Skate 2 it feels endlessly rewarding to just perform an ollie. In Assassin's Creed it will always feel good to climb. In Dark Souls there is a permanence and weight to every single swing of your sword. You can't explain it, but you can feel it. It feels good to experiment with that weight. It's a toy to be fiddled with.
That’s because the details of movement, in video games, are everything. They're paramount. If a video game doesn't feel right, we have to learn to love it. If it does feel right, falling in love is an unavoidable force of nature. Destiny feels right.
Why does it feel right? I'd suggest that it feels right because it has Halo — its movement, its feeling, its weight — at the heart of it. It has Halo, augmented with a tweaked version of the Call of Duty iron sights snap. It combines that raw feeling of earned momentum with the visual rewards of a game like Mass Effect or Borderlands, the ability to visually see — in numerical terms — the damage you are doing to your enemies with the bullets you are firing.
All of this combined, more than anything, is what compels me to continue, to the point where it is legitimately difficult to stop playing.
The rest is just gravy. The loot, the levelling system, the gorgeous environments — they all have a part to play in the magic spell Destiny casts over its players. At different times you will be motivated by all of these factors and perhaps all of them at once.
But above all Destiny is a reminder that the best video games always 'feel good'.