Disappoint ≠ Bad

Destiny is the greatest version of “Follow the Dot” I’ve ever played. You sure do a lot of looking at your radar, running straight towards the objective and forgetting exactly where you are. Don’t get me wrong; the graphics are nice and all, but the level design doesn’t matter.

I can’t recall half of the missions I’ve even done in Destiny. I do side missions in the same area and I don’t even realize it. When I log on to help my friend, I can’t even guide him through an area I’ve previously completed. I end up relying on the dot and everything else is blank.

On the other end of the spectrum, I recently played through Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin. I wasn’t enthralled with the original, but I honestly forgot how lackluster the level design is. It may not be “Follow the Dot,” but the interconnectivity makes no sense.

You’ll go from a woodland setting, up an elevator and enter some lava pit. How is lava existing above a forest and not seeping down? For that matter, why is warping at bonfires such a prominent feature? I can’t remember where I’ve been and what bosses I’ve finished, despite being level 240.

Oh no…Not you two again…

The pedigree that each developer had before making these games makes them all the more disappointing. How do you go from Demon’s Souls and end up with Dark Souls 2? Where does the idea of Halo becoming an MMO go wrong?

Is either game bad, though? Honestly, no. I’ve managed to beat Dark Souls 2 four times and I’m currently still playing Destiny. I didn’t even want to give Destiny a shot, but my friend persuaded me into it. Logging around 24 hours is pretty good for being indifferent.

Even if most of the package is lackluster, both Destiny and Dark Souls 2 get their core mechanics right. It’s fun to pick up a gun and shoot in Destiny, while Dark Souls 2 makes the act of timing your attacks, item usage and defensive tactics engaging.

Dark Souls 2 may lack the art direction, world design and enemy design of it’s predecessors, but fighting is incredibly awesome. There are new moves, a slightly faster speed and an extensive amount of weapons (though some are basically copies of each other).

Destiny has horrendous level design, a pretty garbage story and a lack of enemy diversity, but the speed, weight and feel of firing your weapon keeps you coming back for more. The loot system is captivating, the quests are quick and plentiful and the PvP harkens back to what Bungie did with Halo‘s multiplayer.

YES! ACTUAL GAMEPLAY!

The small hub areas are pretty pointless and all the “emotes” are regrettably locked behind a microtransaction system, but finding friends and embarking on a short quest is fun. It feels different to experience the typical MMO mold from a first-person viewpoint.

I can’t disagree with any of the haters of either game; they make a lot of valid points. Both titles feel like they are resting on the laurels of their creators. Even more, both games kind of reverse the mentality that was set up with their predecessors.

Demon’s Souls was all about making the world feel oppressive and deadly. You died quickly to make a point; death matters. In a world where dying throws you back around 5 seconds, Demon’s Souls would cause you to lose your experience if you died. That heightened the tension as you now needed to really pay attention to everything.

Halo was about adapting an old-school FPS design into a console format. Due to limited buttons, you were given two weapons. Since split-screen was such a big feature of consoles, co-op was added to the campaign in a way similar to Doom. Multiplayer was based more on skill than any kind of level system or perks.

Dark Souls 2 feels like it is making concessions to get more people interested in the series. Hardcore fans will breeze through the game while newcomers won’t understand what the fuss was about.

Doesn’t look all that appealing.

Destiny is basically Bungie’s take on Borderlands. It also reeks of forced online connectivity. There is no reason why the game could not be made offline and with split-screen. Those were core features of the Halo games that helped foster the community that exists today.

What hurts the most is that both of these games could be better. I hate enjoying them as much as I do, but their foundations are so sound. If industry trends hadn’t become so prevalent, I feel like Dark Souls 2 and Destiny could have been so much more.

Either way, these two games prove that being disappointing doesn’t necessarily mean that the game is bad. It could even be quite awesome.

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MGS V: Our Story

There are going to be MASSIVE spoilers in this blog. If you have not finished Metal Gear Solid V or are only part way through it, come back when you beat it. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Lots of discussion has been going on since the release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. People seem to be pretty upset with the ending. An entire Kotaku article was written about how disappointing the whole affair was. (Then again, it is Kotaku)

I think people have the entire plot wrong. It may not be well written (in fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s outright bad), but it has a bigger symbolic meaning then we realize. For the first time in any games plotline, you (the player) are the most important figure in it.

The big twist at the end of MGS V is that you were never actually playing as Big Boss. At the end of Ground Zeroes and leading up to the opening of Phantom Pain, Zero and Ocelot concoct a plan to fool the world and keep Big Boss’ enemies off him.

This leads to you getting a face lift and becoming “Big Boss”. In actuality, you are Punished “Venom” Snake, who was once a field medic and the best soldier of MSF. He had such a dedication to Big Boss’ philosophy that, when in the coma, his mind was easy to trick in believing he was Big Boss.

Thus kicks off a game where, without the twist, nothing big really happens. You get revenge on the man who destroyed Mother Base and the plotline just kind of peters out of existence. The credits roll, you lose a buddy and that’s really it.

It’s when you consider the twist that things start to get interesting. I won’t defend it’s place in the Metal Gear canon (as I think it makes no damn sense), but as a standalone game, Phantom Pain’s plot is pretty emotional.

For starters, it’s basically a gigantic thank you to every Kojima fan. Without us, he would never be the superstar developer he is today. By making us Big Boss, he is saying that no Metal Gear would be possible without our love of the series.

Or without *sob* David Hayter!

The shift in gameplay to an open-world also echoes this. Since we are now the most pivotal character in the plot, our choices are what Venom Snake goes with. There are multiple ways to accomplish any task, so the story is dependent on the player.

There are obviously some bits from Ground Zeroes thrown in to make some kind of connecting thread, but you could skip that game and not miss much. The ending might make less sense, but you wouldn’t initially feel shocked at how you were deceived.

In the aforementioned Kotaku article, the writer goes on about how Mission 43 becomes mess gripping once you learn you aren’t Big Boss. I actually think the opposite effect occurs; once you learn you’re not actually Big Boss, you begin to realize that you are the one making all the shots.

You walked into the quarantine zone on Mother Base and shot the soldiers that you extracted. Everything was done by you and has to be undone by you. If your character were Big Boss, it would be an emotional moment for him. Since it’s actually you, the impact becomes two-fold.

I probably would have cried more than strike a dramatic pose.

The Phantom Pain works wonders when it comes to player involvement. I do wish the narrative were stronger (or that Konami didn’t cut out the damn real ending), but I can’t think of how else to really get a player invested in an open-world style game.

A lot of sandbox adventures suffer from unfocused plotlines. Grand Theft Auto IV and V have really bad stories. Each one starts with an intriguing premise before falling into rote execution and repetition. In both of those games, the actions done are by your characters, first, and then you.

Assassin’s Creed III is another perfect example. The whole game is built around the growth and struggles of Connor, not you. Not only do I not care to see his story unfold, but the game takes so damn long to even do so that the gameplay simply acts as a distraction more then anything.

With the Phantom Pain, every bit of gameplay is story. Regardless of what you’re doing, those moments are a part of Venom Snake’s history. You decided to make it happen and it will be your own personal conclusion to Metal Gear’s legacy.

The previous entries in the Metal Gear series were all about how much of a bad ass Solid Snake was. Even with Metal Gear Solid 3, it was less you and more Naked Snake doing things. He was the one who got the glory and who had to put that final bullet into The Boss.

I just can’t help but think people missed that with the Phantom Pain. We were so used to games giving us a clear narrative and actual purpose that we were left disappointed. That’s not to say that every story beat is good (because that isn’t even close to true), but the whole of the Phantom Pain is bigger then it’s individual pieces.

Kojima has stated that the amount of player freedom in Grand Theft Auto V had made him depressed. He was positive that the Phantom Pain couldn’t reach the same heights as Rockstars latest blockbuster.

In all honesty, I feel that MGS V has the most freedom of any game I’ve played this year. It’s also more open ended then a lot of sandbox games claim to be. You’re given tools, a general location and then told to get at it. If anything, it echoes more of Far Cry 2 then it does Grand Theft Auto.

I truly think that Kojima was inspired by what FromSoftware have done with the Souls games. While those are a bit more linear then the Phantom Pain, they don’t beat the player over the head with exposition or cutscenes. You enter a world and rarely (if ever) lose control.

But I can’t control this! WHY?! WHHHOOOOOO?!

The cassette tapes were a decent idea with MGS V, just the execution of them didn’t truly work out. We may never know how much Konami’s decision to drop Kojima may have effected the game, but I do get the feeling that the story could have been grander if Konami just believed in their output.

Still, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is deeper then we all think. It probably won’t go down in history as a classic or even the best of the series, but it certainly deserves to be called a masterpiece. If nothing else, I believe we have a best new character of 2015; us.