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Destiny should look to GTA Online before blocking raid match-making

Monday, 4th August 2014 13:51 GMT By Patrick Garratt

Destiny’s raids will only be playable with friends. Has Bungie finally made a mistake with its next big game?

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If the raids are the game’s greatest challenge and afford the greatest rewards, how on earth is a friend pre-requisite going to be justifiable to those who’ve paid full-price?

It’s been double RP in GTA Online this weekend, so I’ve been playing a bunch. Only once did I play with a friend. Leveling is based on completing co-op missions or competing against others in races and shoot-outs, and I can say this with no fear of reprisal: unless you are part of a truly dedicated team of players, there is simply no way you could play GTA Online effectively without quick match-making with strangers.

Which makes Bungie’s revelation last week that Destiny’s raids will only be playable with five friends all the more baffling. While Destiny differs dramatically from GTA Online as a whole, the constituents of a server full of people grouping to complete challenges for currency, levels and loot remain the same.

Destiny’s raids last for hours, and will be “extremely crafted,” according to Bungie writer Luke Smith. He admitted the decision to disallow strangers to match-make on the game’s ultimate content was a “risk” but is necessary as communication between players is essential.

GTA Online’s larger mission are much shorter (attention spans are microscopic in the world of ropey net connections and loading times), but Bungie is right about one thing: the great failing of the console MMO is the lack of keyboard. People don’t talk. Rockstar’s multiplayer epic proves effortlessly that console players in general are chat-shy, mainly because many old-gen owners don’t wear headsets. There’s no such problem with Xbox One and PS4, as every box includes one.

It seems easy to conclude Bungie’s made something of an error here. Why block people from playing with strangers because the assumption’s been made that no one will talk to each other? Why not just make it clear when picking allies who’s using a headset or not? And if the problem is the lack of guarantee that the player will have a headset on Xbox 360 or PS3, then why not just limit the friends restriction to those platforms?

Destiny’s beta was amazing. Here’s Sam playing one of the first levels.

Vocals aside, the reality is that finding a team of six players willing to group together online at a given time is hard, and knowing six people that even own the same game on a given single platform is nigh-on impossible for many people. The overall cost of having a group of friends who will be playing Destiny on PlayStation 4, for example, is about £2,400 if the console and game cost £350 and £50 respectively. That’s quite a lot of space-bucks.

The obvious bypass in Destiny is that you’ll be able to find people in-game then send them a friend request, but that’s hardly sure-fire. Bungie’s decision may mean that plenty of Destiny players will be essentially blocked from playing the raids.

There’s no such problem in GTA Online, which allows fast match-making on all of its instances. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t work. Everything in the game is built around the assumption that no one is able to communicate at all. Races normally start with participants honking their horns by way of greeting. Some of the game’s missions are relatively complex, multi-checkpointed affairs, but the game compensates with on-screen messages telling you what to do.

From the sound of it, Destiny’s raids are far more complicated and infinitely more challenging. Characters are expected to advance in level throughout the instance and the assumption is that you won’t complete it on the first attempt. There’s no way-pointing and there are no prompts at all, making the levels open-ended and seriously long.

If Bungie’s reasoning is that Destiny’s raid content is only playable using voice, then maybe it’s the wrong content for the game.

Seems fun. But the danger is that Bungie will have made this content for a fraction of the user-base. Three-strong fire-teams in Destiny can be made with strangers, as is usual in this type of grouping game, and you can expect plenty of players to be littering the general instances and Strikes, just as there were in the beta. But if the raids are the game’s greatest challenge and afford the greatest rewards, how on earth is a friend pre-requisite going to be justifiable to those who’ve paid full-price?

GTA Online has no limit on its content in this way. If you want to start a mission alone, then good luck. If you go on a mission with people who wander off, or can’t fly a helicopter, or grenade the cars you’re using for cover, then that’s your look-out. And if Bungie’s reasoning is that Destiny’s raid content is only playable using voice, then maybe it’s the wrong content for the game.

This decision is the first real negative we’ve come across with Destiny. We loved the beta, but this is off. Partitioning content like this suggests shoehorning, that it may not be applicable for the format. After the admission that friends would be needed for raids, Smith added in this NeoGAF post: “That barrier to entry – the requirement that you get a group of people together and venture into something that is going to challenge your ability to work together (first) and your thumbs (second) – is a barrier I was willing to erect to preserve the activity goals.”

That’s great. What about those who don’t have five friends?

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