I'm really enjoying Destiny, but I just can't wrap my head around some of the baffling social decisions Bungie has made for the launch of the game. Here are three ways they can improve Destiny's social experience.
Bungie's massive online shooter is best when played with other people. There's not much debate when it comes to that statement. If you're a lone wolf, you are probably not going to enjoy Destiny the same way a group of three people will. I've been playing with my wife and a close friend of mine, and half the fun we've had in Destiny comes from screwing around in the large environments while finding secrets, cracking jokes, and participating in group events.
Here's the problem: Bungie doesn't make it easy to play with others unless you already have friends that are playing the game. I know some people will disagree, but in my opinion, Destiny is, for intents and purposes, an MMORPG. There are large public areas where various players are running around eliminating mobs. There are sectioned off instanced dungeons where only groups can play together. Most missions allow a "hard mode" to be enabled, increasing the difficulty and loot/XP for some replay value. There is a even "town hub" where you can buy items or goof off with other players. It may not be as "massive" as most MMOs in regards to player count, but Destiny is, at the very least, an FPS RPG with MMO roots.
These kinds of games live and breath around social features, and I fear that if Bungie doesn't address some the suggestions below, Destiny may not live for as long as they would like.
Proximity Voice Chat for Open-World Areas
Bungie broke new ground when it added the ability to hear opposing team members in Halo 2 multiplayer based on how close you were to them. It was hilarious to hear someone curse just as you took them out, and it was even more entertaining to crouch by an opponent's base to listen in on their banter in CTF games. In Halo 2, proximity voice was a fun gimmick. In Destiny's large, public areas, it would breath life into the game.
I enjoy helping out fellow players I stumble across in the large play areas, but outside of a quick dance or salute emote, there isn't any other way of interacting with these mysterious people unless they join my Fire team or party chat. As with most MMORPGs, many players don't seem to like being grouped up, or are just too lazy to bother with accepting invites. Besides, why commit to joining up with a group when you have goals and plans of your own? Even if people were willing to join, the 3-person limit to fire teams pushes social interaction to a pretty low level.
At the moment, random guardians you come across may as well just be NPCs. There is no feeling of human connection, and rarely any interaction between fire teams and individuals alike. Even during a group event, everyone just silently tries to complete the objectives then continues along their way. There is no game chat to congratulate each other on victories, or ask someone where they got their sweet gun.
It's mechanical. It's impersonal. It's soulless.
Some journalists have mentioned a hollow feeling while playing Destiny, and I know where they are coming from. Walking around a silent Tower, or a silent Moon, or a silent Earth just feels weird. It's not natural. Being able to converse with players as you approach them would add a completely new level of immersion and interaction to Destiny.
Instead of just running past someone without thinking twice, crossing the path of a fellow guardian could take the form of meeting someone in real life. Perhaps no one will say anything, but what if a quick hello turns into a conversation, which then turns into grouping up and kicking some ass, which then turns into an online friendship? That would be amazing, and isn't far off from experiences I've had in the PC MMORPG world. The difference is, in those games you can chat or whisper to the person you are playing with without grouping up or making a commitment. You can't do that in Destiny without going through multiple layers of menus to send them a console-based message or inviting them to your fire team/party.
And what about group events? Being able to call out enemies or strategies during group events would be great. At the moment, you can talk to a maximum of two other people if you have a full fire team on a planet. It doesn't matter if you are fighting with six other guardians, you are in your own little world, and they are nothing but extra guns. There is no calling for reinforcements from other areas if you are being overwhelmed, and no way to convey tactical suggestions or comments about how the fight is going. It just feels... wrong.
It's like going to a LAN party where no one is allowed to talk to each other, but everyone is asked to work together as a team. Sounds fun.
Team Voice Chat for Multiplayer
This is probably the most perplexing omission I've come across in Destiny. Whenever you play a Crucible match, which is Destiny's multiplayer mode, you can only talk to people that are in your fire team (group), not those that are actually on your team in the match. So if I go into a Crucible match with two people on my fire team, those two are the only people I can communicate with in the game, even if there are six total people on my team.
That is crazy.
Are there any other competitive FPS games out there that don't allow you to talk to your team after you are matched up? Perhaps they exist, but they would certainly be an exception to the rule. The maps in Destiny are well-designed for the most part, with a lot of room tactical play, particularly with the Control (territories, conquest, etc) game mode. You can't tactically work with a team that you can't communicate with. The amount of frustration that comes from not being able to work with my entire team in Crucible matches really takes away some of the fun. Sure, there will always be people who ignore directions in multiplayer matches, or just mute everyone at the start, but that doesn't mean that feature should be removed altogether.
Oh, and I am well aware that you can talk to anyone if they are brave enough to join your console-based voice chat party. I said it earlier, but joining a stranger's party is something that most players are wary of doing. That is the main reason most modern multiplayer games come with built-in voice chat. It just makes sense, and it just works.
I know what some of you might be thinking right now, "But online gaming consists solely of racist 14-year-olds! I don't want to have to listen to that garbage!" Well, like every other game that has come before it, there can be a way to mute individuals, a whole team, or even disable voice chat altogether if you want. The existence of a few annoying individuals doesn't constitute refusing to add a feature that the majority of players will use and enjoy. If voice chat was always removed due to abuse, there would be no voice chat.
By now you have probably heard that Bungie has no plans on adding a matchmaking system for their 6-player, end-game raids. This is such an issue that players have taken to creating their own matchmaking system! If that isn't an indication that an advanced matchmaking feature is needed, I don't know what is. Bungie offered a defense of this decision and well, it's pretty weak.
Raise your hand if you've ever beaten a raid with a pick-up group in an MMORPG. Yep, I see those hands, and I'm raising my own. Of course you may have a better experience when you form the prefect group of friends and spend three hours planning everything before a raid, but not everyone wants to do that. Some of the most fun I've had in raids came from not treating it like a test I have to study for, and rather just running in Leroy Jenkins style.
The baffling thing is, Destiny does have matchmaking for 3-man strike missions, which are essentially "mini raids." They see the importance of matchmaking for strikes, but not for full raids or standard missions? It's inconsistencies like this that will end up driving a lot of individual players away from Destiny, and neither I nor Bungie wants that. So what is the solution?
Create matchmaking queues for everything.
If you can do it for strikes, then you can do it for standard missions, patrol (explore) missions, and end-game raids. LFG (looking for group) queues are pretty much standard practice in any modern MMO. Adding in this kind of feature in Destiny will not only make some of the missions easier to handle, it will make some new friends in the process. Why not create a general LFG queue for each planet? Or allow users to join queues for each of the specific missions? I have plenty of friends to play with, and I would still use these features for times when friends aren't online.
UPDATE: I just found out that, while Bungie has matchmaking for each of the four strike playlists, it doesn't have any matchmaking for the daily and weekly strike missions. These missions are placed directly to the left of the main strike matchmaking playlists, giving the impression that they also feature matchmaking. They do not. If you don't have friends to play with, chances are you won't be able to complete the weekly and daily strikes in Destiny - all of which grant extra rewards. Yikes.
It's Not Too Late... Right?!
Bungie has said many times that it hopes to keep releasing content and updates for Destiny for months, and even years to come. They designed Destiny to allow for both minor and major changes via direct-to-game updates. I am really hoping that it's not too late for Bungie to really re-think their social strategies, as Destiny is a beautiful, fun game when played with friends.
There are plenty of other minor features that I would love to see added to Destiny, like an "undo" button for when I accidentally discard something, or a "sell-back" button for when I accidentally buy an item. There are a handful of standard MMORPG features that would be quite welcome in Destiny, but these omissions are minor annoyances, and do not stand in the way of enjoying this game.
As we speak, the lack of at least some of the above social features is turning people off. Not everyone has close friends that play Destiny. Not everyone enjoys playing an online game in complete silence. Not everyone thinks that greeting, dancing, pointing, and sitting is enough to convey what is on your mind.
I am lucky that I have more than six friends and family currently playing Destiny, but I feel like I am far in the minority, so let's take a poll to find out. In the mean time, I'll continue to scour the surfaces and depths of remote planets, all while wondering who these other mysterious guardians are, and why they refuse to speak to me.
If you're feeling a bit down on Destiny after reading this article, don't worry! There is still hope.
You can get in touch with Matt "smi1ey" Dunn on Twitter @thesmi1ey.