There’s been a crap-ton of press and online opinions published about Bungie’s highly-anticipated MMO/RPG/FPS mash-up in the month since it’s been released and almost all of it has been negative. Yet it’s a month later and a ton of gamers still appear to be thoroughly wrapped up in it in spite of the complaints about lack of content, a weak story, recurring server problems kicking players (fuck this one in particular), resemblances to their previous franchise Halo, and a seemingly poorly-thought-out loot system at the core of the gameplay.
Usually, when a big game launches and everybody hates it, it quickly fades into the oblivion of bad memory and cautionary tale while we move on to bigger and better things. But with Destiny we’re still playing and still bitching. Why? Why are we playing a game that’s supposedly nothing but a disappointing cluster of unwarranted hype and fatal flaws? Because as much as some of us hate to admit it and contrary to all of our online training about what supposedly makes a game good or bad, we are having a really good time and a lot of the main complaints translate to “we want more”.
In spite of some of Bungie’s rookie MMO mistakes, Destiny is a brilliantly put together game that may very well represent a new standard in the way shooters integrate multiplayer into their gameplay the way Halo redefined the basic mechanics of the FPS back in the day. And contrary to a lot of players’ perception, there is a ton of ground to cover in-game and plenty to do, provided you are not the kind of gamer who rushes through the story and then moves on or is content to sit in one spot for hours on end farming just to raise meaningless numbers rather than really experience the game. You get out of Destiny what you put in. And I’ve put a lot in.
Going in, my plan was this: I was going to recreate my female Awoken Warlock from the beta because she was cooler than my first character, a male Exo Hunter (who was still pretty cool). I was going to play through every story mission and Strike en route to the level 20 cap, kick some ass in the Crucible, and then create a new character, repeat, and move on to something else; that copy of Uncharted 3 sitting right next to my PS3 that’s been staring me in the face every day for months, perhaps. Level 20 comes up on you real quick, but it turned out that that was only the beginning of Destiny’s scheme. It’s been over a month and I’m still building my first character.
Why? All I’m doing is the same missions, the same matches, the same strikes, and the occasional patrol to farm materials and kills. Am I such a zombie to be satisfied doing the same crap over and over again? What’s the point, man? The point is that I’m getting constant rewards for my efforts, which lead ever upwards and into more rewards. The questionable logic of level 2 enemies dropping loot as good as the big bosses aside, Destiny’s exchange and upgrade system is so layered and brilliant in some ways it’s almost impossible not to admire once you comprehend it.
A lot of players whine (or is it whinge now? People type “whinge” a lot online but I’ve never actually heard that word come out of a human mouth) about all of the useless drops and the rarity of actual quality items. But the useless drops can be broken down into components that are used to upgrade your favorite stuff. And your favorite stuff doesn’t necessarily have to be the result of some random drop. There are a ton of factions offering up a variety of handsome legendary gear to suit both your playing style and your style style. Why marry yourself to a powerful shotgun that was assigned to you by chance when you’d rather be sniping? Sign up with a faction after you reach level 20, or stick with your default friends in the Vanguard and Crucible, rock their bounties, and earn those Marks and reputation to buy the loadout of your dreams.
And when you get bored of mere legendary gear, keep an eye out for exotic weapon bounties (be prepared to work once you get them, though) and the black market weekend warrior, Xur, who offers weekly bargains on some of the coolest gear if you can find him on the Tower. Save up them Strange Coins and keep in mind you can only equip one exotic weapon and one exotic piece of armor. Choose wisely before purchasing.
By the time I got to this point, I was level 27 and had been playing daily for weeks. Now it’s really time to grind. Legendary and exotic gear offer some seriously tasty buffs; the kind you really want in the Crucible. But to get them, you need to level up and upgrade them. This takes materials, some of which are extremely hard to come by.
Ascendant materials are what’s going to hold you back, as the best gear needs a lot of them to max out, but by killing it in the Crucible and hitting the Strike playlist good and hard you earn more Marks. Marks you can use to buy more legendary gear, which you can break down into ascendant materials to upgrade your stuff. Participating in Public Events while out patrolling for bounties, chests, and materials can also pay dividends.
Basically, what I’m spelling out is that while putting in over 80 hours and 17,000 kills over the course of hundreds of games in the past month I have not for a minute felt like I was mindlessly playing just to play. I was always working towards specific goals and there’s always been something demanding my immediate attention. Having maxed out my original Voidwalker subclass, I was leveling up my Sunsinger tree to get sticky grenades, then to gain the ability to resurrect myself for undead retribution on my killers (and an extra life edge when soloing hard missions), then to gain a second grenade, then to upgrade my carefully chosen gear to minimize cooldown and make me a beast.
The result: a freakin’ nightmare for high-level enemies and PvP opponents capable of sentencing most anything to death on a whim with a single well-aimed toss. And if you strike me with a full super meter, I shall become more powerful then you can possibly imagine; by which I mean I’ll wait for you to turn your back and then rise up, wreathed in flames like a phoenix with instant cooldown capabilities, and rain incendiary death from above on you and anyone else who incurs my wrath. Feels good, man.
Then there are the special events, in which you have a couple weeks to nab extra snazzy-looking gear by gaining favor with special factions. This really ups the urgency as you rush to complete as many bounties as you can to up your reputation and get that wicked armor shader or shiny accessory to proclaim your accomplishment to all who look upon you going forward. I gotta tell you, after cleaning up in the Queen’s Wrath event (although a tag-team of Lizard Squad and shitty U-verse service held me back from achieving the max level), I was royally purple and golded up with a matching auto rifle and burning sun gauntlets I got from Xur. My Warlock looks fabulous.
Compulsory repetition notwithstanding, Bungie has done a great job of making the player want to keep striving for more in the game. This isn’t some Grand Theft Auto nonsense where they expect you to spend twenty hours after the story searching for some hidden collectibles to get a useless achievement (if that). Every activity in Destiny serves a purpose to advance your character and the game is designed to reward flexible gamers by encouraging them to fully explore its features.
You may be a lone wolf who resents other players taking your kills while you endlessly patrol and explore, the social type who feels lonesome without co-op partners, a compulsive achiever only interested in obtaining the highest possible numbers for your avatar, or perhaps you may just want to kill your fellow gamers in the Crucible. But to make the most of Destiny, you are going to have to step outside of that comfort zone. To maximize your rewards you need to put on different hats. For some gamers, this may be a problem, but for someone like me who wants to get the most out of each and every game he plays, it’s a great design. Yet the haters must hate.
Now, I’m not telling anyone how to play or what to like, but I would suggest that if you buy an online-only video game designed around a unique fully-integrated multiplayer interface with a massive world to explore and are content to spend most of your time shooting low-level enemies in a cave on the very first level, I’m not sure the game is the problem so much as the way you are approaching it.
Bungie’s latest has some very real issues -some of which have been pretty promptly patched- but it still represents an exciting new phase in console gaming; one where a shooter isn’t just a game where you rush through a campaign by yourself or with some friends in a few hours and then kill other gamers for a few weeks before getting bored and moving on.
Destiny is something that persistently gives you something cool to work towards and a variety of ways to achieve it and it’s still a work in progress. Will I be getting the DLC expansions? Probably not right away; I think that at about 100 hours I’m going to need a break. Nathan Drake is still waiting on me, after all. But that empty Warlock subclass slot is eating away at me and I have a feeling that at some point in the future I will be back to take in the rest of Bungie’s vision, and by then it will likely be a better and more complete game than it is now. And pointless story/dodgy loot system aside, that’s kind of a scary thought.