Destiny‘s newest DLC, House of Wolves, was released yesterday afternoon. It’s much more satisfying (read our own Zachariah Swope’s full review here) than The Dark Below. There’s more content, a more lucid story, a new game mode, new social hub, new bounties and factions, and a new “Ascend” feature that raises caps on weapons and armor from previous versions on the game (a godsend if you’re someone like me who trudged through something like the Thorn exotic weapon bounties only to have the weapon essentially nerfed by The Dark Below’s new attack cap). No new raid though. This might make some people angry. Not me. Because I hardly ever play raids. But I did get to play the new “Prison of Elders” arena mode, and it was awesome. And it also proves that matchmaking can be viable with Destiny’s higher-level activities. But before I explain this more, let’s have a little history lesson.
Here’s why I don’t play a lot of raids: I don’t have 5 friends with the same work/life schedule as me who also own Xbox Ones and also own Destiny (+ all the DLC) and also feel like playing the damn game at the same time as me even if all that other stuff lines up. This wouldn’t normally be a problem in—I don’t know–any other multiplayer game made since the days I was hard-wiring my and my friends’ 32k modems together to play Command and Conquer, but this is 2015. Online multiplayer and matchmaking algorithms have been a staple of multiplayer gaming ever since Blizzard invented Battle.net (1996). That’s two goddamn decades. And yet Destiny stubbornly refuses to add matchmaking features for the higher-level missions such as Raids and Nightfall activities. Missions that are nearly impossible to complete alone. Missions that, by definition, require a team to defeat. Oh… and good luck getting past level 28ish without playing any of those.
I am not the only one who thinks this. To be fair, Destiny’s creators are not quite plugging their ears and singing, “la-la-la”–they addressed the issue to a certain extent; (briefly) adding matchmaking to the Weekly Heroics (a step down from Nightfall and Raid activities) and having “conversations” about adding matchmaking to every aspect of the game.
The reason given by developer Bungie and their apologists is always something along the lines of, “Those missions are too difficult for the masses. They require planning, strategy, and teamwork.” Obviously Bungie’s original plan was to have raids run by 6 members of a friend group (which, as I said before, is totally unrealistic) or maybe they saw Clans forming similar to World of Warcraft that would plan their own raids (which hasn’t happened yet, to my knowledge). What’s happening instead is that 3rd party LFG (Looking For Group) apps and sites have popped up to fill in the gap. This–you may realize if you have half a brain–results in strangers who have never met nor played before playing raids; which you may recognize as the exact thing Bungie wanted to avoid. And you know what? People compete in those raids all the time and have fun! It’s the only way I’ve ever been able to do raids. So right there goes Bungie’s initial argument.
Another, slightly more valid, argument is that communication is vital to completion of the raids, especially for people who’ve never ran that specific raid before. There are puzzles to be solved, difficult terrain to cross, enemies that require synchronized attacks to defeat, etc. For example, I tried to guide a friend through Vault of Glass a while back and his comms were messed up. He’d never done it and didn’t know what to do and because of that, our team couldn’t get past the first stage.
So that’s totally valid… except that one of the things those LFG apps do is list your level, your experience, your class, and whether or not you have a mic. Hey Bungie… Problem. F***ing. Solved. Solved by what are most likely either amateur programmers or programmers who did this in their free time. What have you been doing for the last 9 months? Apparently sticking characters in new spawning points in maps we’ve already played 147 times and calling it a night.
If I remember correctly–and it has been a long time–Battle.net had LFG filters for all of those things (maybe not a mic since typing is a viable form of communication on PC): filters for level and class of player you’re looking for and I believe they filtered for language as well (so I wouldn’t have to learn Korean). I don’t believe World of Warcraft has LFG for raids, but they also have a rich community atmosphere where players can communicate freely, as well as dedicated (in-game) LFG chat channels. WoW players aren’t looking back and forth from their phones frantically sending out random friend requests like messages in a bottle. So yet again, Bungie, this problem has been solved for upward of a decade.
Now that we are caught up on the history of matchmaking (again.. the twenty year history), let’s get back to “Prison of Elders.” Also known as “arena” mode, this is actually very similar to raids (except it’s 3 players rather than 6). There are some all out swarms, some VIP bosses, and some point objectives; all of which require careful planning and coordination. The lowest level of PoE allows matchmaking. The first two guys I got with me weren’t on mics, and it was a disaster. We couldn’t make it past the second round. Same with the second set of jabronies. But lo and behold, I ended up with guys on mics in my third time go and we ended up not only beating the first round, we partied up and beat the level 32 version. So there you go… add some filters in to account for level (which I believe are already in place), language, and mic access, listen to your customers/fans/people-giving-you-our-goddamn-money and add matchmaking to the game already. At the very least, give us a dedicated LFG chat channel so we don’t have to friend-stalk one another. Please.
The problem–and this has always been a problem in the software development world that’s been getting exponentially worse–is that pretty much all software is developed within the bubble of Silicon Valley. This is a magical land where everyone has high-speed wifi, tablets, dedicated gaming/theater rooms, and probably sex robots. Windows 8 was the disaster it was because the people living in that bubble forgot that 90% of computer users don’t have touchscreens and tiles are a horrible interface for desktop computers. Kinect was a disaster in its first iteration (and some would say even now, although I love the voice interface) because most gamers don’t have a dedicated gaming room with a roped-off 20×20 floor clear of obstacles (which doesn’t always stop the more inebriated of us from trying to use it anyway). And Bungie is punishing its customers because, in their world, apparently no one has kids or works nights/weekends or has anything better to do than try to remember when goddamn Xur is going to show up and can drop everything for a week when Iron Banner comes around.
Quick aside: Really, Bungie? Trial of Osiris is only available on weekends? And you released this game in the summer? So now if I want to get high-level gear, I have to A) spend hours on 3rd party LFG sites/apps to find a party that may or may not make it through a 2-6 hour mission or B) say “f*** going outside or seeing friends” on the weekends (Destiny can’t be played split-screen, but that another discussion).
The world of MMORPG gaming is a tough one to balance; I get that. On one hand, you want the game to be accessible and fun for all, but on the other hand, you want to please core gamers and reward people who put lots of time and effort into your game. It’s a thin line between making that type of gaming fun and making it a chore–a second job, basically–and, Bungie, you’ve bloody well crossed that line.
Please, for your sake and for ours, just give high-level matchmaking a shot. Put in those filters and all will be well. And if it isn’t, you can stick your collective tongues out at us and give a big old, “I told you so,” and that will be it. We will never complain about anything ever again.*
*Yes we will. We’re gamers.