The Great Destiny Debate
This week, Clayton Purdom kicked off his multi-part review of Destiny 2. He covered a ton of ground in this first entry, including most of the main story missions and the nitty-gritty of the game’s aesthetic and world. Down in the comments, the discussion turned, as it always seems to, toward the series’ struggle to communicate its story and mythology. Drinking With Skeletons is still very turned off by Bungie’s approach:
Honestly, what I most want from Destiny is just a commitment to its mythology. What is the Traveler? Why should we care? It has such wishy-washy writing that follows the blueprint of solid storytelling while excising as much specifics as possible. You get the sensation of following a narrative, but at the end, you haven’t learned much of anything. It reminds me a bit of the writing in Failbetter’s Fallen London universe, but in those games, the vagueness always leads to more specificity. They never outline what The Game is, for instance, but there are storylines that lead you deeper and deeper into it so that you do, eventually, develop an understanding of what is going on pulled from context clues and your own experiences. Destiny’s writing, however, keeps you at arms length, never rising above being the thinnest excuse to shoot more enemies and get more loot.
The perfect example is The City. It’s the last city on Earth, the home of the Guardians, the last bastion of the once-mighty human empire, and now it is occupied by a race of authoritarian aliens. And I don’t care. I never got to walk the streets of The City. There was never any discussion of its government or non-Guardian citizens. No talk about what living in the shadow of the Traveler—which, according to Destiny 2, seems to be a risk for bleeding impossible space-magic into the surrounding environment—is like. It is a Thing, blessed with Proper Noun status, but it might as well be called The MacGuffin, as Bungie can’t be bothered to build a world that calls players to inhabit it.
BarryBillericay found a little more to love in Destiny 2’s story:
This becomes spoilery, so if that’s something you care about with Destiny, then don’t read anymore until you’ve finished with the main story missions.
The story is a bit threadbare, even if it is streets ahead of Destiny, but I found it did bring up some interesting points as it explores (well, “explores” is a bit strong; don’t want to oversell it) the motivation of Ghaul’s attack. The quality of the Traveler’s light is not strained on those he bestows it on, but he ain’t exactly spreading it around. Why did the Traveller choose to give the Light only to humanity? Why only to specific humans, i.e. Guardians? What does it mean to be a Guardian? Ghaul is told devotion, self-sacrifice, and death. But try as he might (and again, it’s really glossed over), he cannot earn the Light, and so ultimately tries to take it by force. Ikora reminds us in one of the side Adventure missions that we cannot know why or with whom the Traveler decides to grace with privilege, oops, I mean Light.
Anyway, not earth-shattering stuff, but it was enough to make me interested and to think about something other than just shooting things.
This week, William Hughes dropped by with a review of Nintendo’s latest Metroid game, Samus Returns. As it just so happens, that title is appropriate on a handful of levels, this being the first entry in the series in many years and, as Will argued, a return to the sweet silence and desolation that defines Metroid’s best games. (Plus, you know, it’s a play on the title of the Game Boy game it’s a remake of, The Return Of Samus.) Down in the comments, Wolfman Jew wrote about how quiet isn’t one of the things Metroid’s descendants, the many “Metroidvania” games, often borrow from their inspiration:
While it’s an important element to Metroid, it’s arguably the element—outside of the broader loneliness of which it’s a part—that the massive deluge of modern Metroidvanias have often ignored. Guacamelee and Shantae are (very good) broad comedy games. Koji Igarashi’s Castlevanias have shops and side quests. Axiom Verge has narration. To a broader extent, a number of these games are visually “louder,” as opposed to the “color on black” approach of the first game and necessary greyscale of Metroid II, like Ori And The Blind Forest, Xeodrifter, and the Wonder Boy remake.
There are definitely quieter Metroidvanias (and on a visual scale Axiom and VVVVVV are closer), but even Hollow Knight and Dark Souls have characters, dialogue, and shops. This is not to decry them by any means, and I doubt Samus Returns is nearly as stark as the first two games (the melee mechanic and brightening up SR388 certainly make it more action heavy and visually “louder” than the monochrome Metroid II), but I do appreciate Nintendo pushing for that quiet time more than they have for a while. It’s a bit reminiscent of Breath Of The Wild, albeit not quite as distinct or focused as that one.
The Hobo Code dove into the way the series’ combat encounters reinforce that solitude:
I’d also argue that Metroid’s tendency for frequent low-intensity battles contributes to this sense of quiet. I know that sounds contradictory, but the way each small battle whittles away your energy creates a natural ebb and flow between pausing to forage for energy at pipes and exploration. Metroid doesn’t have anything so crass as an explicit camping mechanic, but these pauses feel a bit like what camping is supposed to do in those other games. In addition, the way that death is a frequent worry, but rarely an actuality (as long as you “camp” occasionally) means that you maintain that flow of exploration without interruption. I am not arguing that the Dark Souls game loop is somehow lesser, but simply that “death” is loud.
And SingingBrakeman went a little outside the box to find a Metroid-style game that retained the silence of the original:
I can’t really think of any other Metroidvania games that retain the quiet, intense loneliness of the Metroid series’ earliest iterations. Heck, even Super Metroid featured several cute residents of the planet that would engage (wordlessly) with the player. I may be way off-case here, but I wonder if you could pull The Witness into this conversation. It’s more or less an intellectual Metroidvania, in that specific techniques are needed to overcome the game’s otherwise opaque puzzle mechanic, and the player often must seek out a step-by-step tutorial to understand each section and progress further; these tutorials function very similarly to acquiring gear upgrades in the Metroid series. Admittedly, it too is not entirely silent as it includes audiologs. They are very abstract, though, and no other living beings are present in the game’s island setting.
That’ll do it for this week, Gameologerinos. As always, thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week!