Are games like Destiny better when they’re more complicated? Is appealing to the most hardcore players the best way to go? Today on Kotaku Splitscreen, we discuss.
First, Kirk and I talk about the brilliant new Spider-Man for PS4, one of my favourite games of the year. We talk about the combat, the web-slinging, the story (don’t worry: no spoilers!), and the great humour that’s sprinkled throughout the game.
Then we get back on our bullshit and dive into Destiny 2's new Forsaken expansion, picking it apart the way only two Destiny addicts can.
We talk about the new campaign, the spectacular new Baron fights, and the great new Gambit mode. We also ruminate over the grind, and how the game has changed to appeal to hardcore players.
Get the MP3 here, or read an excerpt:
Kirk: ...I think it’s interesting that the game is so complicated now. And it gets more complicated once you get past 500. It’s part of the answer to the question, ‘Should I get back into Destiny 2?’ which is what I’m sure a lot of people are asking themselves. ‘Oh, it sounds like it’s fun now, sounds like it’s more like Destiny 1, sounds like it’s the game it should’ve been at launch now. Should I get back into it?’
The funny thing is that, yeah, it seems really fun, but it’s so complicated now because they’ve added so much shit. Especially if you skip over the stuff from year one, you’re going to be left looking at all these different currencies and currency exchanges, and what is this for?
What is this material for? How do I get masterwork cores again? I have to level the weapon up? It’s got ten different tiers but when does it start generating orbs of light? How do I get a catalyst?
I’ve been playing Destiny regularly all year and I know all this stuff. That’s who this game is for now, is kind of the answer.
One of the reasons Destiny 2 didn’t work is because there was this re-approach to all that stuff that had existed in Destiny 1—scraping away the cruft of years of adding and jury-rigging systems to make them work better, which Destiny players got used to over the course of three years because we played the game a lot, and we understood that oh yeah, this currency used to do that, but now it does this, and you trade this for that, etc. They stripped that away for Destiny 2.
They made the game way simpler.
Jason: They “mainstreamed it.”
Kirk: Yeah, I think the take was, I didn’t ever see anyone at Bungie say this, but I think the assumption among players was they were trying to make it mainstream-ready and make it more approachable.
Jason: Yeah, that’s 100% true.
Kirk: The last year was the story of that game failing, Bungie having this come-to-Jesus moment, going back to players and saying ‘We want to make the game you want, the game the hobbyists want.’
They kept using that ‘hobbyists’ term. We want to add grind, make it more hardcore, add all this stuff for you to do—you, the people who want to play this game hours and hours every day.
Jason: Which itself is—so the point of Destiny is to grind? Is that the fundamental question here?
Kirk: My fundamental question is even broader. Do all of these games just need to be hardcore in the end? All the popular ones.
Playing Monster Hunter is so hardcore, World of Warcraft is so hardcore, so complicated. All MMOs have unbelievably complicated stuff going on—years of systems and stuff you have to learn. Destiny failed at going mainstream, and now it’s finding success among the community in the short term by embracing that hardcoreness. Is that just the answer for these games?
Jason: I think that games that underestimate their players tend to fail. I think games that expect players to just figure things out tend to do better, because your average gamer is the type of person who likes solving these problems, who likes jumping into a game and seeing a bunch of terminology and just figuring it out, because it’s a fun challenge.
Kirk: That’s true, there’s a fundamental truth there—Dark Souls players, Hollow Knight players love to know that they could be missing secrets and to go look.
Jason: Exactly. I think one of the trends we saw in the video game industry is this over-tutorialization in the early 2000s, mid-2000s, and it got to the point where it was ridiculous.
People would make meme images of arrows pointing to Mario and saying “press A to jump!” and that sort of thing. As games became more and more popular, publishers, in an attempt to mitigate their risk, said we want to make this appeal to as many people as possible ... I think Dark Souls is a perfect example of a game that is popular for the opposite reasons. It wants you to figure things out.
I think one of the coolest things about video games’ nature is that they don’t have to explain things, and that you can be expected to figure things out. Part of the challenge and fun can be not just the game’s design, the levels, but also the meta-challenge of ‘How am I going to figure this out? What does it mean? What am I doing here?’
I think publishers that underestimate their players tend to suffer in the long run, and I think there’s a lot to be said about that. That’s why Taken King was so successful. So this almost feels like Bungie retroactively learning the same lessons they should have learned [in 2015].