I was in the audience when Bungie first unveiled Destiny. It seemed like a wildly ambitious pitch at the time: an MMO-like shooter with a sprawling universe that would forgo the traditional subscription model. Most of us left with more questions than answers, with only some neat concept art and a long chat about composing music with Paul McCartney to go on.
We only sort of grasped it at the time, but Bungie was basically outlining what would become big-budget console gaming as we know it today. When Destiny was subsequently released in 2014, it established the blueprint for the big-budget online game: strong lore, regular content drops, and lots and lots of loot. It didn't exactly invent what we now know as the service game-Diablo 3, League of Legends, and Borderlands were well ahead of it on that front-but it did perfect the model on console.
For better or worse, this generation will be remembered for Destiny and its ilk. Its model has infected seemingly every major release, including games that are nominally single-player. Even before launch, we are conditioned to expect lengthy roadmaps filled with online events, content drops, and major expansions.
It's easy to understand why the Destiny model-which is really just a retooled version of classic MMO development for console-is so appealing to big publishers. They create a degree of stability in an unstable business, ensuring that players won't just walk away from a game that cost $100 million or more to develop. They foster loyalty. They give rise to everyone's favorite buzzword: engagement..
In a medium flooded with games, constant "engagement" keeps older games from dropping out of sight and out of mind. A major expansion, like Monster Hunter World: Iceborne or Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, can be as impactful as a full-blown sequel. Major events will get YouTubers making videos. So long as the spigot of content is turned up to full blast, fans will always have something to obsess about. Even Super Smash Bros. Ultimate understands the power of Constant Content.
This isn't really a bad thing in isolation. When we really like a game, it's nice to keep coming back to more things to do. But as usual, publishers are overdoing it, to the point that we're starting to see what I might call "service game exhaustion."
The past couple years alone has seen the release of several games that are effectively designed to be played until the end of time. Ubisoft alone is on the verge of releasing Ghost Recon Breakpoint, its second looter shooter in less than a year; though its developers will swear up and down that it's very, very different from Division 2 (not that casual gamers will be able to discern a difference). In the meantime, Borderlands 3 was released just last month, and Destiny 2: Shadowkeep is out this week. Between 2K, Bungie, Ubisoft, and EA's Anthem, we now have five major looter shooters vying for consumer dollars, and that's on top of Fortnite, Apex Legends, FIFA Ultimate Team, Warframe, Monster Hunter: World, and every other major platform.
All of these games have had success (well, okay... not Anthem), but it's easy to wonder how many more of these games the market can support. Just on our end, we've seen steadily diminishing returns from the likes of Borderlands 3, which is somehow selling very well without generating a ton of search traffic. Fans are grumbling about Breakpoint being yet another looter shooter. Engagement has become a double-edged sword-fans are less likely to break away from what they know and try something new.
The games themselves are also less interesting than before. After all, how good can your content be when you're dishing it out every single day? At a certain point it just feels like content for the sake of content. It's gaming junk food-there to keep the belly full and the endorphins flowing, but without providing any particular nourishment.
All of this was well-established before Destiny came along, so it's perhaps a bit unfair to pin all of the blame on Bungie. Still, its success made it easy for executives to point at Destiny and say, "I want that." And whether we want it or not, that's exactly what we're getting.
Major Game Releases: September 30 to October 4
Here are the major releases for the week of September 30 to October 4. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2019.
- Destiny 2: Shadowkeep [October 1, PS4, Xbox One, PC]: Destiny's annual expansion is out this week. Several people at USgamer are excited by this development, I'm told. But will it be able to solve Destiny 2's biggest problem?
- Ghost Recon Breakpoint [October 4, Xbox One, PS4, PC]: Meanwhile, Ubisoft is releasing its own answer to Destiny, which it insists isn't really like Destiny at all. The difference, apparently, is that you can kill normal enemies with a single bullet no matter what; but what they don't mention is that drones are still there to be bullet sponges. Regardless, this feels like one of those games you don't necessarily want to play alone.
- Ghostbusters: The Video Game [October 4, Xbox One, PS4, PC, Switch]: I'm not sure why this game is getting remastered, but it's generally remembered as a decent pseudo-sequel. It's also the last time you'll get to hear Harold Ramis as Egon, which I suppose is as good a reason as any to bring a game back.
This Week's News and Notes
- I have officially returned from England, land of pies, room temperature ales, and ZX Spectrum nostalgia. Congrats to Jake, our guides editor, on upholding the UK's honor (honour?) in beating me twice in FIFA. It's good that he won, because losing at soccer to an American would have resulted in England falling into the ocean.
- Speaking of soccer, a tip of the cap to our sister site RPS for pointing me toward Football Drama, a perfectly charming combination of visual novel and management sim that looks at the life of a chainsmoking manager in the top flight. It's the best sports game since Pocket Card Jockey.
- Meanwhile, it's October! I'm told that this is when all of the games are coming out, though a cursory glance at the release schedule shows things still being pretty thin between Destiny 2 and Outer Worlds. At least we have Indivisible to look forward to.
- Nadia has already said it, but Dragon Quest 11 S is the correct answer on the Nintendo Switch. It fixes the music issue, introduces a 2D mode, and is just generally charming as all heck.
- On my flight home from England, I watched all three John Wick films for the first time. The impetus, of course, was John Wick Hex, which I'm reviewing (sorry, Caty and Mike). Some quick thoughts: John Wick 3 is the best one, I think there are more highly-trained assassins than normal people by the third movie, and I'm still waiting for the dog to do something. Seriously, I'm like the meme of the person with the stick: do something.
- Don't tell Mike and Caty, but I also held a Switch Lite for the first time, and I kind of dig it. If it weren't such a colossal waste of money to own two Switches, I'd be buying one right now.
- It seems cruel of Arc System Works to tease Guilty Gear fans like this.
- Axe of the Blood God: What's better than an RPG? An RPG you can stuff in your pocket and tote around like a designer dog. (Please do not shove tiny dogs into your pockets.) With Kat overseas taking care of Big Editor Things for the site this week, Nadia teams up with Eric to discuss the beauty of portable RPGs, and talks about some of their favorite handheld adventures. Also in this episode: The Grandia HD Collection is getting a big patch, and Eric gives his in-depth impressions of GreedFall. Subscription info here!