One of the biggest critiques about “Destiny” when it launched last year was its story — or rather, its lack of story. At best it was incoherent, at worst it was nonexistent.
Last night, I played through some of the original campaign missions in “Destiny.” And the story, as it’s being delivered to you via voiceovers, makes little to no sense. There’s no sense of intention; each mission feels completely arbitrary and unrelated to other missions, and there’s little rhyme or reason for your character’s actions besides “shoot these bad guys.”
The game’s poor story, which was highly criticised by reviewers, is summed up by one now-famous quote, which is familiar to many “Destiny” players. At one point, your character asks “Who are you?” to this robot-human hybrid called an Exo that’s been following your character. The response? “I don’t even have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain.”
Fast-forward to this week. Jason Schreier from Kotaku published a massive exposé about the years-long development of “Destiny,” noting all the twists and turns the game has taken since its inception. But probably the most incredible takeaway from that piece is that Bungie, the creator of “Destiny,” killed the game’s original story in July 2013 — after years of development — forcing the company to rewrite the game’s story in less than a year.
We won’t get into the nitty-gritty of the original story — Schreier’s piece on Kotaku has all the details, which are absolutely worth reading. But it all came down to a fateful meeting where Jason Jones, project lead on “Destiny,” witnessed a two-hour “supercut” of the game’s story and cinematics and decided to scrap all of it.
Bungie ditched everything Joe Staten and his team had written, reworking “Destiny’s” entire structure as they scrapped plot threads, overhauled characters, and rewrote most of the dialogue.
According to Schreier’s sources close to “Destiny,” who all witnessed this supercut, some believed the story was confusing, while others argued it had “some very cool stuff, very powerful stuff.” Another source said the supercut didn’t do the actual game justice. But this supercut seems to have sealed the fate of the original “Destiny” story, to the dismay of many fans.
Shortly after Bungie rebooted his story that summer, head writer and design director Joe Staten — who also directed the cinematics, scripts, and dialogue for Bungie’s “Halo” games — left the company. In his stead, Schreier says Bungie created a group called the “Iron Bar,” where top creators and designers were tasked with cobbling together a new story based on experiences in the game, rather than a cohesive plotline.
The result is what many players experienced when “Destiny” launched in September 2014: a grandiose, beautiful game with a confusing mess of a story.
Fans of “Destiny,” who usually congregate in the “Destiny” subreddit, spoke out when they learned these details from Schreier’s exposé.
“It almost feels like a tragedy,” says one reader. “I wish we could see that supercut… [to] reboot the story only a year from shipping, it must have been awful, which is crazy because awful is the word I would use for the vanilla ‘Destiny’ story as I know it now. What we got couldn’t have been better, right?”
“I have trouble believing the story cobbled together by managers is better than the story written by professionals. The scrapped story as presented sounds so much more interesting than the… wait, what’s going on in ‘Destiny’?”
“That part just makes me angry. Whatever you believe about the original story, whether it was bad or not, who the f— thought it was a good idea to just throw it all in the trash and cobble it together a year before release? Were Jason Jones and Joe Staten really on such different pages so far into development? Whether the story was brilliant or whether it was ‘esoteric’ sci-fi wankery, I don’t care. At least give us a damn story. There’s no way in hell what we got in vanilla ‘Destiny’ was better than the alternative.”
There’s no way of knowing if “Destiny” would have been better with its original writing. After all, many games see crucial aspects overhauled before the final release: sometimes the changes make it better, sometimes they don’t.
But whether or not the original story was better than the current game, or anything produced during Bungie’s “Halo” era, it sounds like it would have almost certainly been better than what was delivered last September. Since that time, however, “Destiny” has been slowly but surely righting its course, offering coherent stories and playful dialogue thanks to a new team of writers and a steady stream of new content. Hopefully this trend to focus more on the game’s story continues for the forseeable future.
Again, we recommend you read Schreier’s story on Kotaku to learn more about what “Destiny” could have been.
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