All too often, discussions about games and their mechanics morph into arguments. A place for people to shout their view on all important topics like which plastic brick made by a big corporation is better or how Zoe Quinn is a bitch from the depths of hell! So let me set the record straight right from the start; None of the games we talk about in this article are bad and I’m not having a go against any of the developers. I’m just one random guy on the internet with an opinion who’s interested in the geeky tech side of video games.
Combat systems are very important. After all, even in the rare action game that’s heavily story driven, you’re still going to spend the majority of your time engaging in combat. There are many of different types of combat in video games but most of them aim to deliver a similar thrill and that is making the player feel empowered. Like they’re the king who can take on any danger, no matter the odds. It’s certainly a thrill we seem to enjoy and for good reason, most people aren’t gun-toting badasses. But what if we got to experience that? Wouldn’t that be fun? However, there’s been a recent trend I’m not a fan of and it’s what I like to call Serious Sam Syndrome. The most recent example is a game called Destiny. Never heard of it? Don’t worry, neither will anyone else in five years *Comedic Drum Roll*
All cheap blows aside, one of my issues with Destiny while playing is how much its combat suffered from SSS. In the game you have three primary weapons. The idea being that you have a weapon ready for different situations. A primary weapon for those pesky aliens that are always in your way, a special weapon for those slightly more pesky aliens and a heavy weapon for the bosses or when you’re taking the “Oh to hell with it, I want you dead” option.
The problem is that this gets rid of all tension or excitement; you know there won’t be a situation you can’t handle. Regular enemies aren’t a threat because your primary weapon stops them almost instantly. Tougher enemies aren’t a threat because you’ve got a shotgun or sniper rifle to stop them. Bosses aren’t a threat because they’re just bullet sponges that’ll be taken down as long as you’ve got enough heavy ammo.
Serious Sam is a game that has this problem, hence the name. Whenever a certain enemy comes on screen, you know that if you just switch to a certain gun, the problem will instantly be taken care of. Those suicide bombers rushing you? Shoot them once with your machine gun. What about those bullhorn skeleton… things? Just use your double barrel shotgun. In easier sections of the game, it’s boring because the gameplay ultimately comes down to “Press X to solve problem Y.”
Serious Sam got away with it though by throwing insane numbers of enemies at you in each stage. The tension and excitement came from making sure you had the right weapon for the job every time a different enemy was on screen. Destiny on the other hand doesn’t have that many enemies on screen at once, so every encounter – at least from what I’ve played – is easily manageable.
Let’s compare this to Bungie’s last attempt at a brand new IP. Halo: Combat Evolved. Now, everybody remembers Halo’s revolutionary two weapon system. Unlike other games where the player carried a massive arsenal hidden in their tuxedo or suitcase, Halo made you decide what two weapons would be best for the upcoming battle. Between weapons, grenades and melee, Halo: CE created a simple but deep system. Your assault rifle wasn’t guaranteed to eliminate every enemy on screen; you had to put yourself in the right position where it would be effective.
That same idea went for everything else. The plasma rifle was great at draining shields but it could overheat. The pistol was a jack of all trades, master of none. The melee attack was great at taking down enemies without shields but would leave you vulnerable to those that did. Everything could either be deadly or utterly worthless; it was your job to make sure the former was the rule, not the exception. By contrast, a game like Destiny doesn’t have that depth. As mentioned previously, when a problem comes on your screen, you select the thing that solves the problem instantly. It’s not about adapting to the environment or using the tools at their most effective. It’s about centering the screen and pulling the right trigger.
Now before we go any further you might be asking does this mean Destiny is a bad game? No, it has many other fine qualities but I think that’s the main reason why many people are a little disappointed with it. It’s a game where the developers were so focused on making the player a badass that in the game’s world, he is one simply for playing it. Games with the most effective use of empowerment normally tie it together with accomplishment. I don’t mean experience points or Xbox Live Achievements. I mean, feeling accomplished and empowered through the gameplay.
When you take down a group of enemies in F.E.A.R, you feel empowered and accomplished through outsmarting them. Because you put in the effort and skill, you get to progress. Maintaining that balance between difficulty and accessibility is tough but I feel that Destiny’s combat goes too far in the wrong direction.
Good games have the player be empowered. Great games have the player become empowered.
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