I said previously that I was astonished just by the design of Destiny 2‘s worlds and how big and empty parts of them seemed. That might sound like a dig, but I’m going to try and elaborate here a little bit on why I like the empty spaces so much.
The first game that comes to mind when I think of “large empty areas that I need to traverse for no other reason than because the devs felt like wasting my time” is Star Wars: The Old Republic. Early on, I recall it being mockingly referred to as “Running In Spaceports: The MMO.” If you’ve played, you know that most planets have a spaceport – sometimes broken up into multiple areas that require zone transitions – that are spacious and serve little purpose other than to tell you, “Hey, this place is really big!” For SWTOR’s first year or so, you couldn’t even summon a mount in a spaceport, so every time you arrived at a planet, you had to run … and run … and run through the spaceport to get to the real part of the planet where the action awaited.
While it’s easy to see that Destiny 2 solves this issue by giving you several spots on a planet to load into – all of them safely off to the side but pretty close to the action – the real question is whether I’m still entertained by finding locations that are well off the beaten path and do require significant travel time. My trips to find an Imperial Treasure Chest, for instance, often take me to isolated corners of the map, and sometimes there’s no easy loading point next to an area I want to go to, but it’s still an entertaining trip that takes me only a minute or two. Even that long-ish walk from the start of a Lost Sector to where the enemies actually are is oddly enjoyable, in a “Where the heck is this tunnel taking me?” way.
Truthfully, there’s not much difference between the amount of time it takes to run through a SWTOR spaceport and to get to my destination in Destiny 2 (my Destiny-ation?), so what’s the difference? Surface differences are simple enough to call out. All SWTOR spaceports look pretty much the same, whereas Destiny 2’s planets at least have some variety, so they’re prettier to zoom through.
I think there’s something more than that, though. SWTOR’s spaceports just felt unnecessary as a whole. Yes, there were quest-givers in them sometimes, but those could have been just as easily dished out in a less sterile environment, something that made you feel like you were in a place other than the Star Wars equivalent of a Greyhound station. BioWare could have moved every game-required aspect of spaceports into the main part of the planet instead. Running through a spaceport carries with it zero chance of something interesting happening, so it’s always going to be wasted time. On the other hand, I might find something interesting as I traverse planets in Destiny 2 – and it doesn’t hurt that I can right-click my jets on my sparrow to speed around, which just feels more exciting than even SWTOR’s mounted movement.
The open spaces and required travel time in Destiny 2 make me feel more like I’m exploring and poking into the unknown, even when I’ve been down the same path for the fourth time. Planets are big and seem like they should be – have to be – expansive, to portray a proper sense of grandeur. There’s no grandeur, no sense of awe or wonder, in a spaceport, no matter how large it is.
This isn’t just a “SWTOR is old, Destiny is new” viewpoint either. I like the open-world areas of SWTOR, and I can recall finding an out-of-the-way quest hub on Alderaan that I marveled at for its remoteness. Yes, Destiny 2 is newer and looks prettier overall, but I’ve got more than a few lovely screenshots of SWTOR on my hard drive. Well, I think they’re lovely.
I also felt the same way about Destiny 2 as I did with The Lord of the Rings Online, which also has a lot of wide-open space and often long treks to get to your quest objectives. Middle-earth is supposed to be vast – I mean, half of the books and movies are people walking cross-country – so it fits the source material.
As I’ve said before, I think a big reason that recent MMOs have compact, feature-dense worlds so that players don’t feel bored by having to travel and don’t feel like it’s wasted time that could be used progressing. While I’ve rarely complained about traveling in MMOs, I think it bothers me even less in Destiny because it’s ridiculously easy to progress solo and hence, I don’t feel an overwhelming urge to go quickly so I can stay on pace with my friends.
Another possible reason is that if you can pack monsters and objectives into a smaller area, then that’s less territory that needs to be designed and less to spend on development. At an estimated $200 million, SWTOR was famously expensive, and I thought that was a big reason for its wide open spaces (and spaceports). The developers had all that money to spend, so why not just make it bigger, even if there’s nothing particularly special about its bigness?
Activision-Blizzard reportedly bankrolled Destiny development for $500 million, which included both the original and its sequel, as well as other costs like marketing, so while Destiny 2 alone might not match SWTOR’s outlay, they’re at least in the same ballpark. Sure, you could argue that more should be spent on gameplay than on aesthetics, but the gameplay’s pretty good and it looks pretty and is fun to tool around in, so that’s not bad, right?
Some of that space is clearly repurposed for strikes and story instances, thus providing extra value, so even “empty” areas might be populated and useful at some point, depending on what kind of activity you’re doing. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if, at some point during development, someone in control of the purse strings of Destiny 2 development said, “Do we really need all of this space?” I’m glad the response was “Yes, yes we do.”
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some Vex to hunt off in some some far-flung corner of Nessus …