As much as I enjoyed the beta, especially exploring and raiding with friends online, I got a little annoyed at how we all kept ending up in the same area doing more or less the same things. I couldn't tell if the lack of obvious narrative progression was due to the limited content in the beta or the structure of the game itself. So I asked production director Jonty Barnes to clarify the story structure a little. For example, is there a finite story to navigate and an ending to reach?
Barnes says that the story is "very much the player’s experience". The actual "plot of Destiny" he thinks is more about exploring the worlds, the environmental storytelling and levelling up than it is an actual narrative. As he puts it, "a lot of the story is building mystery we’re going to build upon going forward".
Obviously the idea of a 'single player' campaign isn't really what Destiny is about but I am hoping, or at least was expecting, to have a coherent narrative thread to follow - something that leads to some kind of conclusion or resolution. Talking to Barnes has left me with the impression that it's more about building a fiction to fuel the 'ten year plan' that's been mentioned. That is, to some extent, an exciting prospect but I do like endings and Destiny is starting to sound more like a TV show that closes with a season finale which is one long cliffhanger for season 2.
"You can go back to those experiences and play them at a higher level and there’s re-playability in that"
Barnes seems to think that Destiny will be all about replaying it again at higher levels. "There is a certain amount of fiction that is being communicated through the story campaign", he explains. "I wouldn't say it’s finite though because as you as a player are building up your guardian and you’re getting more skills, you can go back to those experiences and you can play them at a higher level which means you’re going to have very different behaviours exposed from some of the combatants you originally encountered, and there’s re-playability in that. We talk about the story of the world up to a certain point and then get into a state of always offering up something different for the player to play. Some of the story missions are very encapsulated. Like if you think about a Strike, it’s actually telling you what you need to be doing from start to finish and it’s quite contained. Whereas other story threads quite often go all the way through to the conclusion".
It sounds like the story isn't a big part of Destiny but replaying stuff at different levels is. For example Barnes says, "in fact some people in the studio say the game doesn't begin until you've got yourself up to level 20 and you've got through most of the story lore for the first time, and then you start really expanding and experiencing all the places and destinations you've been to and experiencing more high level content".
I don't want to sound like I'm ragging on Destiny here because I have really enjoyed it. While playing the beta with friends that stuff Bungie says about experiences and exploring have been a real highlight. I just don't want the final game to be a collection of horde encounters tied together by lore and ending in a finale that's little more than an advert for Destiny 2.
Barnes talks of the ten year plan and says it is "just an number" and nothing to fixate on. But it does sound like Bungie are fixated on building a long experience, possibly more than a coherent one. "For Bungie, when we started the concept development for Destiny, we thought: well what would we have done if we’d known Halo would have been a ten year thing and lasted so long for us?" says Barnes. "How would we plan it differently? This is a great opportunity for us to be really intentional about that. So when we started thinking about the mystery we wanted build, the places we wanted to go, create a place that people wanted to be, we very much thought about the opportunities we wanted to do further down the line and sort of hint at them in the first release".