Bungie has a lot to prove with Destiny, and the news that player progress in the upcoming shooter will be capped at level 20 wasn't met with enthusiasm. In existing MMOs hitting the level cap usually means the game is about to get boring, after all.
There is an explanation for the low cap, however. In Destiny, a new breed of MMO that could kickstart the genre for the next generation of games, the idea is that players will hit the highest level quickly so that their friends are never too far ahead.
After that point, progression is meant to be "horizontal" - you'll seek out better equipment and try out different builds without actually leveling up.
No matter what kind of fancy labels Bungie slaps on Destiny, the truth is that it really is an MMO. And these changes to genre conventions could mark a paradigm shift as more and more new Xbox One and PS4 games begin to borrow various aspects from the massively multiplayer.
But Bungie Head of Community Eric Osborne told TechRadar at E3 2014 that there's more to Destiny's end-game content than that. "In Destiny, when you complete the campaign, you're really just getting started," he said.
Circle of Life
The game's longevity apparently hinges on its cyclical nature. Every aspect of the game is connected, and that will keep players moving around and not getting stuck in a rut, Osborne said.
Multiplayer is linked directly back to the rest of the game For example, "reputation" credits earned in deathmatches can be used to purchase weapons in the hub area. It's all "rooted in story," Osborne said.
"It sounds like light storytelling, but once you start experiencing it, it's a driver to keep you moving around the world in a really cool way," he explained. "It creates these cool cyclical experiences where you sort of become omnivorous."
But there's more to it than that, and Osborne said there's a lot of end-game content that Bungie has yet to reveal to the public.
"We've named a raid, but that's just one of the examples of the kind of stuff we want to give player," he said. "Once they reach what they believe is the peak in the game, then we really just want to blow their minds with a whole bunch of crazy, like, 'Now go try that!'"
Under the surface
The Halo games were rife with mysteries, from the Halos themselves to the long-dead Forerunners. The world portrayed in those titles went far beyond the games.
Bungie is hoping to recreate that in Destiny with a web of mysteries that won't be wrapped up in a single game, Osborne revealed.
"We have a pretty good understanding of that full arc," he said. "It certainly isn't completed in the first entry to Destiny. We want to make sure that there's a great introduction to the world and you get a sense of completion as you finish the game, but we certainly want to leave a lot of mysteries out there and a lot of things for the player to do."
At the center of that web is The Traveler, an enormous spherical craft floating directly over Earth's last city. Questions about it will pervade this game and future entries in the Destiny series.
"We want people to sort of wonder what it is," Osborne said. "Is it good? Is it evil? Is it, you know, benevolent, as the people of the world believe it to be? Or is it something else? We want to preserve that sense of mystery across the world."
"And it's a fine line to strike," he continued. "You have to give people good storytelling and good characters and information about what they're doing, you know - make them feel like they have agency in the world, like what they're doing is important and going to drive to a conclusion.
"In the same sense you want to leave a lot of that mystery out there, because it drives that interest in that intrigue and sort of becomes captivating in its own right. It also sets the stage up for stories later down the line."
With Activision and Bungie's partnership spanning a full decade, there's no doubt there will be plenty of those.
The future of MMOs
games, including Star Wars: The Old Republic and many others, have struggled to find footholds in a post-World of Warcraft industry.
But with a new generation of game consoles might come a new breed of MMOs, and Destiny could lead the charge.
These games could be story-driven and well-produced, and their mechanics won't be limited by what's been possible in past MMOs - just look at Destiny's solid shooting gameplay. And, perhaps most importantly, it will be easier than ever to play with your friends.
Whether Destiny will inspire a new generation of MMOs or these qualities will simply be incorporated in upcoming games of many genres is unclear, but for now it's enough to know the future is full of new possibilities.
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