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Bungie’s Destiny: As Big As Star Wars?
Turn back the clock twelve years. The gaming world was fresh into its sixth generation and Microsoft had just released its first video game console, the Xbox. About this time, Bungie was a word iterated by the general public only preceding the words “jump” or “cord.” That is, until mid-November 2001, when the homonymous gaming studio released its Xbox-exclusive first-person shooter, Halo: Combat Evolved. The world had no idea at the time that the subtitle, “Combat Evolved,” was truer than anyone could have imagined.
Return to the present. Halo is a word uttered more often in reference to video gaming than a golden ring around a nice fellow’s head. It is one of the rare cases in the gaming world where a title has broken out of its respective arena and had a cultural impact. Not only did it vastly change the way shooters were played, it has worked its way into film, novels, and has even garnered recognition in pop music.
Next year, Bungie will release a brand new IP in the form of Destiny, which will initiate a new ten-year arc for Bungie. The studio’s COO, Pete Parsons, recently spoke with GamesIndustry International about the new title. If his words are representative of the entire studio (and they are), Bungie intends to take a step forward with Destiny, not just in creative or gameplay terms, but with the massive popularity of their product. Parsons said in the interview he wants “people to put the Destiny universe on the same shelf they put Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or Star Wars.” He proceeded to say Bungie had already achieved that with Halo, and he hopes—
Wait, what?! Did I read that right? Halo operates on the same level as Star Wars? Well, Parsons believes so, but I think he may be crediting his company’s work a bit too much.
Before the legions of Bungie/Halo fans attempt to hunt me down and have me launched into deep space, allow me to impart upon Halo its due credit. Yes, it changed the face of shooters and, to a certain extent, games overall. (Remember, kids: regenerative health was popularized by Halo, where the mechanic actually made sense.) Most of these games owe homage to Bungie for its immense contribution to gaming, and no one, whatever case they try to make, can take that away from Bungie.
Having acknowledged that, the franchise is no Star Wars. Yes, it stretched beyond its parameters and inspired books, films, and even a spin-off machinima series. Yes, it has become a piece of culture and not just another game for fans to pop into their systems. But is it a story with such an impact that everyone on Earth will recognize one of its lines and know the tale behind it? I can’t even quote a single line of dialogue from any of the games. While gamers might instantly recognize the terms “Master Chief,” “Flood,” and “The Covenant,” to the general public, those translate as “Some military rank,” “Noah’s Ark,” and “Moses.”
In fact, I will argue Halo owes a lot of its success to Star Wars. Setting in space? Star Wars. Aliens? Star Wars. Futuristic setting? Star Wars. Sure, all of these elements had been done before, but just as elves were popularized by Lord of the Rings and not Norse mythology, so were these elements, when bundled together, brought into the limelight by Star Wars’ colossal impact on culture.
And then we come to Destiny, the eagerly awaited title from the creators of Halo. Personally, I don’t feel Parsons should even be comparing this game to franchises as big as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter yet. Will it sell? Of course. It’s the guys that did Halo. I even expect it to receive generous reviews and offer players something new in way of gameplay. But can it match the success and innovation of Halo?
While Halo’s success can be attributed to the forward thinking of its designers, it is crucial to remember the game and its sequel, Halo 2, were released at a time when the face of gaming was beginning to change. With the increasing popularity of the Internet, online play was inevitable. Bungie wasn’t even the first to attempt it; they were just the first to do it right. That says a lot for the studio, but it’s also likely they will not be able to replicate that sort of impact.
Reading up on the game’s features, it sounds more like a tailored MMO FPS experience than anything else. There may be elements that haven’t been attempted yet in gaming, but the likelihood of the game being the new standard by which all other shooters are set is so slim it’s almost laughable. The most imitable feature the game boasts is perhaps the idea of an ever-changing world, but even then, that will be costly and seems more like a gimmick than anything that will be copied by most next-gen games.
This is not to discredit Bungie or speak ill of its ambitions. They certainly have some right to boast, with Halo being the success that it is, but their flagship franchise became what it is precisely because it capitalized on industry and technology changes as they were occurring. Games have been going social for a while. Halo wasn’t the first online multiplayer game, but that idea wasn’t as worn out as integrating social media is, either. And if Bungie wants Destiny to match Halo’s popularity (Parsons seems to believe it will), it needs to offer something more revolutionary than social integration and 24/7 connectivity. These are familiar and, thus far, unproven concepts. One could argue Destiny will do it right the same way Halo did with online multiplayer, but it’s still a long shot.
All said and done, Bungie is definitely applying the same progressive mentality to Destiny that it has to Halo, but the fuel from such a successful franchise is blinding their expectations. A great game with new features and something different to offer? Absolutely. A revolutionary game testing the waters of the next generation and spawning innumerable copycats? Possibly. A mega franchise that permeates society and creates unforgettable species, concepts, worlds, characters, and dialogue, a la Star Wars? Not a chance.