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Destiny’s raids aren’t for everyone – they’re for me

Friday, 22nd August 2014 09:09 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Destiny’s raids go for hours and hours, require six players, and don’t support matchmaking. Sounds inaccessible? it’s supposed to be.

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Destiny won’t matchmake for you when you want to do a raid. Three player strikes, six player multiplayer modes – no worries, Bungie will find you some friends. But raids? No.

A little while back Pat argued that this is a mistake, saying that raids only cater to a fraction of Destiny’s user base.

He doesn’t like it much when I say this, but he’s wrong. Oh, it’s true that raids aren’t for everyone – but Pat’s wrong about that being a mistake.

By limiting raids to the super hardcore, Bungie’s not limiting its audience. It’s just one manifestation of how it’s opening the audience for gaming up. Let me explain.

Despite their incredible reach, online multiplayer shooters are inaccessible to new audiences, because of the dauntingly steep learning curves. If you’re already a veteran shooter you probably don’t care. But game developers do. They want their audiences to grow much faster than barriers to entry allow. They want to make games that everyone can enjoy.

Did your hackles just go up? I don’t blame you. When the industry experiments with accessibility it rarely succeeds. Think of difficulty and skill requirements as a graph, with peaks and troughs. Because there are a bunch of people in the troughs, where you start off, and so very few in the peaks, where not everybody makes it the easiest way to level things up and open the game to more people is to lop off the peaks and mine down to the level of the lowest common denominator.

Do that, and suddenly the skilled aren’t being challenged, and everyone’s just sloughing about at the bottom, unable to aspire to anything better. Playing games that don’t challenge you (whether it be tactically, intellectually, physically or emotionally; some games are easy to play but engage your brain in different ways) at all isn’t fun, long-term.

No matter how often developers and PR managers talk about “scaling difficulty” and “lowering the barriers to entry” we all know what happens when a game has its fangs drawn. The fun goes out of it for the hardcore, and it’s the hardcore who build long-lasting communities and keep games alive. You don’t get new hardcore gamers if they have no peaks to climb, either.

This is one of the hard problems of modern game design, and Bungie’s trying something really different to try and solve it. Instead of lopping off those peaks, it’s leaving them in place -and providing several other kinds of peak, too, so everyone has a chance to be a mountain climber.

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Something for everyone

Destiny isn’t like other shooters, with a solo campaign and a multiplayer suite existing as separate entities. It’s a really different beast – a shooter where you can spend all day in traditional PvP; go on a solo campaign; co-op the campaign; explore a sandbox world with endless quests; go on missions designed exclusively for co-op; and even go on raids, a hardcore co-op mode.

You can see the seeds of this in Bungie’s past, where it introduced co-op missions to Halo. Already it was thinking about new ways for players to get together and engage beyond pwning noobs. With Destiny, it’s making an attempt to once more revolutionise multiplayer shooters, by proving that a game can offer several different kinds of experiences, and still have each one be a quality experience.

The great thing about Destiny is if PvP frustrates you, ignoring it completely will do you no harm. On the flip side, there’s no need to do more than a few token campaign missions if you’d rather just play multiplayer. The same applies to the strikes, raids, explore and whatever other activities may come; too often destiny is characterised as only offering two kind of gameplay.

Bungie has incentivised moving between modes by offering rare gear in each of them. Completionists will want to do everything. More casual players might just be envious of a particular bit of gear and want to chase it up. There’s no penalty if you choose not to, but plenty of reasons to do so.

In a perfect world, everyone will do everything, lured in by these incentives. This is not a perfect world. I promise you, I’m never going to be good enough or competitive enough to enjoy PvP. It’s just not going to happen. It’s not for me.

In the same way, if you don’t have five friends willing to spend an entire weekend in co-op with you, raids are not for you.

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“The raid is the most challenging thing we have ever created. It is not going to be for everyone. We freely admit that,” Bungie community manager David “Deej” Dague told GameReactor.

Hear that? Bungie doesn’t care if you don’t play raids because you can’t summon a multiplayer crew. It has conceded that not everybody will. It has designed raids as not being for everyone – just as it has designed an online game, accepting that people without reliable Internet connections can’t join the fun.

Raids are for me. I can find five hardcore gamer friends willing to spend an afternoon – or several afternoons – in an elaborate co-op mission.

“But I can’t, Brenna, and I want to play raids!” you say. Yes, well. I want to be the world’s top-ranked Call of Duty player, and I can’t. We all have our different crosses to bear. Destiny offers different types of gameplay to different people; it doesn’t erect barriers saying only one kind of gamer can participate. What it does it much bolder, saying: here’s a package, and you help yourself to what suits you. We haven’t made anything easy for anyone.

Bungie has a lot of experience with multiplayer communities, and it acknowledges that there are gamers who -repeatedly! – won’t stay to see the end of even a 12 minute PvP match. Imagine if Destiny made a piss-easy PvP mode where veterans were penalised and beginners wandered about one-shotting people with O/P weapons. Would that please you?

No. I thought not. And you know what would not please me? Raids that were easy enough you could play them with random strangers who dropped out whenever they felt like it. Raids that take an hour, or half an hour, or ten minutes to finish, to cater to the fact that strangers’ schedules don’t always line up.

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Six is a crowd

Of course it’s difficult to get six players together, but speaking to Eurogamer, Bungie’s Jonty Barnes said the team settled on six – quite a large number – because it’s two fireteams of three, and three was a sweet spot it found early on.

“When you think about raids, it’s very much about playing different roles to try to get through. It’s very difficult,” he said.

“But if you think about it in terms of two fireteams that are coordinating, the idea of six people coordinating with their different aspects, and the way they’re designed – which you’ll see later that I won’t talk about – all those things combined made six right.”

Barnes said Bungie is already seeing people organise, and I’ve seen evidence of that on social networks; I myself have started a Facebook group to help get my friends together to raid.

“It’s about the group dynamic. It’s not just about a casual dynamic. It’s about an understanding of people committed to playing the roles in raids,” Barnes said.

“And preparing. With raids, you don’t just jump into them. You’ve got to prepare before you go in, and decide, what are you doing? What am I doing? Let’s all talk about it in orbit. Okay, what role are you going to play? Well, I’m an x Titan, whatever type of Titan I am, and I’m going to be defensive and hold positions. And, have you played this before? Yeah, I found success when I did it this way.”

“You will need teammates who are willing to communicate with you. You will need to solve problems together. You will need to work together to unravel the riddles of how you overcome these enormous obstacles,” Deej added.

“It’s a commitment that you make, to accept the challenge. You make that commitment to tackle that obstacle with five other people who will see it through with you, to the end.”

Destiny launches on PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One on September 9. Although more will come later, at launch it will have one raid, among loads of other content. One thing that requires you to get organised first, out of hundreds of hours of free-wheeling content. One thing for me.

Image credits: Destiny fan art by goku252525 on DeviantArt, Beau Lamb on BlogSpot, vgwallpapers on DeviantArt, ZachDB on DeviantArt, Savory Baconist on DeviantArt.

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