The Help Files ep1: Destiny 2By Danny Nissenfeld
I finally gave into the Blizzard launcher nagging me about playing Destiny 2 with a free trial. I never played the first, but you’d have to have been living in a cave to not know it existed at the time it came out.
I went in with low expectations. I didn’t just dislike Halo at the time it debuted; I resented it. It ushered in an era of cover shooters and I was an old school Unreal Tournament FPS fan. I wanted limited health and an arsenal of weapons in my pockets.
Destiny was, to me, the evolved form of Halo. Finally an AAA MMORPG FPS that had a chance of not having a cataclysmically bad launch. Except it was by Bungie, and Halo hadn’t exactly changed much over the years so there was no chance it wouldn’t be Halo with Guild Wars’ instancing design.
I suppose I was right as Destiny 2 is almost certainly MMOHalo. I’m not here to bang on about how much I dislike cover shooters (which actually works well with Destiny’s pacing) or the gameplay at all.
I want to talk about tutorials.
Destiny 2’s free trial is similar to World of Warcraft’s. You can level up to 8. By my estimate that give you about three to four hours of gameplay experience with about 25% of that time being the tutorial and intro mission. I’ll note here that I will be talking about the tutorial in extreme detail, so if you wanted to experience it for yourself go do that and come back to read this later.
Again, I never played Destiny 1 and had no idea what its story was. From the memes and jokes, I knew there was something about acquiring “light,” there was a giant space sphere in the sky for some reason, and a lot of guns.
First, you build your character. I play support primarily. Outside of support I’ll opt for tanks, and if there is a robust gun system I’ll play heavy fire support (mounted belt fed guns). The explanations of the three classes you could choose from were anemic. I couldn’t tell which one might be able to heal or buff (Warlock looked close but sounded a lot more like DPS Mage) so I opted for Titan, which sounded like it could be a tank.
Character customization is sparse, but it’s a gear game so whatever. It gives you a choice of “race” — sort of — but that seemed to have no impact on anything at all other than the face choices I had. By the time I hit level 8 it still had no impact on even idle NPC comments, so I’m not sure why it’s even there other than throwaway lore.
The game launches directly into some military looking guys acting kinda derpy — “comms are gone, scout sats are gone, sensors are gone, I wonder what’s happening durrr” — and getting absolutely merced by an incoming fleet. One guy uses a huge glowy white dome shield, so I immediately think “this guy must be the same class that I picked”.
So stuff gets blown up and finally — several minutes in — your character comes flying in and you jump into the fray. Some guy gives you an automatic rifle and you get to stroll through a blown up space station looking place.
The game gives precious little direction during this sequence. It teaches:
- Some enemies have shields, use same color energy weapons on them.
- You have a jetpack double jump.
- Get under the big white dome some people can make.
During this time you will invariably end up becoming “supercharged,” but the game does not explain what this means really. I hit the button it mentioned and became this glowy Captain America guy, dashing randomly, blowing stuff up with my magic shield.
I have no idea how I built up my charge and the mechanics felt very random. The game never taught me about this ability either. I simply hit a button the functional section of the UI was telling me to hit.
As I was hopping around, one of the NPCs called out to get under his glowy white dome, but I was all the way across the map. I died. There was no indication to stay close to them as I was essentially invulnerable. The enemies would die in two shots and basic strafing was enough to avoid taking damage.
Eventually this bit ended. At some point your side loses the overall battle and the big evil guy shuts off the giant sky ball and you lose your powers. He kicks you off of a ledge and gloats.
You get treated to a “several days later” wipe screen and awaken in a busted up urban environment. You’re limping, you have no jetpack double jump, and you’re out of ammunition. All of these things make logical sense but it’s also very annoying. This sort of thing worked for, say, Metroid Prime but it does not work here in any way. The limp was extremely annoying as it made walking very slow. The reason it doesn’t work, though, is that I couldn’t care less about my character. I had no motivation to be invested in my own game-world representation. I barely had any interaction with other characters and most of what transpired didn’t even involve me. I showed up, shot some guys, and got a beat down.
Essentially everything that happens could have been really inspiring and emotional if I had had a reason to care. My limping forward in the wastes, finding the little spirit puzzlebox companion broken in some rubble, and following a falcon through some mountains should be uplifting but really it’s just annoying.
I just wanted to play the game and I was most certainly not doing that. I was limping around shooting at space wolves and following a mystic falcon through mountain passes. Additionally, every 60 seconds or so the map transitions and hands you another “2 days later” screen wipe. Why does that even matter? It’s crappy justification for why you’re no longer limping but it could have been avoided by just not having the limp at all. It felt like reading a book that has one page chapters. It gets tiring after the third or fourth scene change.
On top of all that there is a point during the limp section where there is a bit of a ledge. The game literally never taught me that if you kept holding “jump” you’d ledge grab and pull yourself up. I walked back and forth across the entire busted up canal five times before I accidentally held jump and ledge grabbed. It taught that you had a double jump and then took it away minutes later.
I’m done recounting the experience.
Destiny 2 absolutely lost me during that tutorial. I only really played through to level 8 to see quest mechanics and how combat worked. The real question is, how do you avoid bad tutorials?
First, if you’re going to lean on pathos, you need to make sure you’ve invested sufficiently in the player before trying to cache in. As I said, I never played Destiny 1. I have no idea why the giant sky ball is important, and I didn’t have the time invested in my D1 character to have an automatic connection to my new one. It’d be better to have no overarching tutorial story at all than to have a flimsy hackneyed attempt at one. Just make it an academy or an OOC set of rooms to go over basic commands.
Second, actually teach the things the tutorial needs, never mind what the game needs. The ledge grab is pretty much unimportant once you get the jetpack back so why have a ledge that looks too high to jump up on in your limping state? Teach the player and then make them demonstrate what you taught immediately.
Finally, be mindful of how long the tutorial takes to do on average. Run it yourself and observe players running it raw. If your tutorial does not feel like what playing the game itself will be like, then cut it down or overhaul it.
Players want to play the game; that’s why they logged in.