As Destiny winds down following the long metamorphosis into its final form ahead of the release of Destiny 2 in September, playing it has put me into a reflective mood. It feels like I’m saying goodbye to an old friend, one with whom I’ve had profound conversations and suffered crippling hangovers – one with whom I’ve debated and argued and occasionally fallen out, but one with whom I’ve always reconciled in the end. Now that friend is going away, and I’m going to miss it.
I remember watching the E3 reveal and seeing the name Bungie attached to it and just being instantly fascinated. I’d played and loved all the Halo games, and Bungie was a studio that I recognised by name even back then – before my enjoyment of gaming escalated to levels that some might call ‘obsessive’. It showed us an area full of enemies. A spider tank dropped in and players from all over converged to indulge in magical extraterrestrial murder. Players approached and dropped into battle – the overall impression was one of beautiful chaos with an adhoc team of people banding together to overcome a seemingly invincible opponent.
Something about Destiny caught my attention in that moment. The gameplay mechanics looked very familiar – the same gun/grenade/melee trinity that made the Halo games so compelling. The environment looked wonderful. The idea of this persistent world, that would allow me to cross paths with and assist complete strangers in realtime was immediately appealing. The world itself was an overgrown post-apocalyptic battleground; lush and verdant and overflowing with enemies, with the scattered evidence of humanity’s end promising a thousand tales to be told. Metal surfaces were rusted and broken; the concrete chipped and dirty. It was a million miles from the slick sci-fi of Mass Effect, and about as far from the persistent grimy grey of Call of Duty as a game could be. If anything, the game it brought to my mind most strongly was Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. I’ve always been a fan of all things post-apocalyptic, and it’s fair to say I was entranced by it from the start.
When the beta dropped, a crazy number of people dived in to see what it had to offer. I’m proud to say that I was one of them. The opening sequence to the game sent shivers up my spine. I still recall the timed access to the Moon, giving Bungie the opportunity to stress test their servers by attracting the entire player base to visit the same place at the same time – and that the game seemed to stand up under the weight of all those players. When it was done, we’d earned emblems that would never be available again (I still equip them in the Tower!) and then settled down for the long wait for the live release.
Destiny launched in September 2014, and I created an Exo Hunter that was a carbon copy of my beta character and played through the game. Then I created an Awoken Warlock, and did the same – loving the extreme destruction of a well-timed Nova Bomb while simultaneously lamenting the unmanageable ‘floofy’ jumping physics particular to that character class. Then I created a female Awoken Titan. And again, I played through the whole thing – this time wondering what the purpose of a bubble was supposed to be (it wasn’t until I started running raids that I found out how indispensable a Defender Titan can be!). The story was lacking to the point of borderline non-existence; grimoire cards on bungie.net fleshed it out in a way that most players couldn’t be bothered to discover for themselves. The moment-to-moment gameplay was amazing, with finely balanced missions that could always be accomplished solo, but generally only just. The whole package was exhilarating, the different planets beautiful to behold – the reveals around corners when navigating on a Sparrow often capable of taking my breath away. The sky boxes, in particular, were (and still are) some of the most stunning backdrops I’ve ever seen in a game.
Rolling solo though, there was content that was off limits to me – and it felt like there was a lot of it, once I’d finished the story and run the strikes more times than I could bear to count. The first raid (Vault of Glass) appeared – with no regular fireteam though, it was inaccessible. Nightfall strikes offered no matchmaking, and the Crucible was a one-way trip to controller hurling frustration. My time with Destiny, I suspected, was coming to an end.
The first DLC (The Dark Below) was launched, and I didn’t play it. I didn’t play it for a couple of reasons – I was vehemently against DLC (my mind on that has changed quite dramatically – but that’s a conversation for another day). More importantly, I still didn’t have a regular team to play with. I had one friend with whom I often caught up online, but at that point my friends list consisted entirely of other gamers I knew IRL, and so was short. A lot of the guys I’d known who had been playing Destiny had jumped out shortly after receiving their pulse rifle from the Stranger, and realising that from that point on, they’d be perpetually repeating content.
Finally, it was a question of faith in my own abilities. Listening to podcasts and reading online articles led me to reach the conclusion that there was no way I’d be capable of completing a raid even if I did buy the DLC and could manage to find a team to go in with. Horror stories along the lines of “12 hours to complete” and “we died over 1000 times” did little to build my confidence. I couldn’t believe that a lowly player such as myself could ever overcome such an insane spike in difficulty. That aside though, fundamentally the new content did nothing to solve the problems that I was experiencing. One foray into an LFG group didn’t end well, and I resigned myself to the seemingly inevitable.
Gradually, the amount of single/two player content I could participate in dried up. I kitted out my guardian with legendary and exotic kit (my first exotic was the Bad Juju pulse rifle, and I love it to this day). I hit the highest level I could without raiding. I ran out of reasons to run strikes; the Crucible was a book that remained largely closed to me at that time. My pile of shame beckoned. I walked away from Destiny to play about a million other things, and figured it had been fun while it lasted. I got an email from Bungie asking me to complete a survey they sent out to lapsed players, and filled it in honestly. Then I stopped really thinking about Destiny, other than remembering it fondly. Another DLC dropped (House of Wolves). I read about it with some interest, but saw no real reason to pick it up.
Fast forward to 19th August, 2015.
Bungie hosted a twitch stream that revealed the new content for the game, due to drop in September. It was called The Taken King, and I recall one overwhelming thought that repeated itself over and over in my head as I watched the steady stream of new reveals unfold in front of me. That thought was this:
“They’ve fixed EVERYTHING.”
Every single thing that had come to annoy me about the game as a solo player had been improved and overhauled and largely resolved. I returned to Destiny with a vengeance after that livestream, immediately picking up The Dark Below and House of Wolves expansions and devouring them at a breakneck pace in the hopes of being reasonably ready for when The Taken King content dropped. I even started playing in the Crucible, and came to realise that PvP wasn’t the massive impossible beast I had long imagined it to be. I became competent at it, but to this day would never confess to be any more or less than that.
Finally, The Taken King was launched. I played through the story in two sittings (my Hunter went first, as he always does), wishing that vanilla Destiny had told such a compelling story. I lamented the loss of Dinklebot (I’m in a minority in that I really enjoyed Peter Dinklage’s version of Ghost), laughed at Cayde-6 and Eris, and generally thoroughly enjoyed myself for a couple of months until I hit the single player wall for the second time. The way forward was Nightfall strikes and raids again – and this time, I was prepared to reach out into the community to forge a way forward. My desire to carry on playing the game had finally outweighed the fear I had of being ridiculed by strangers online.
In March 2016 I joined a clan and with it, the ranks of raid/nightfall/light level fixated Guardians that make up the ‘hardcore’ of the Destiny community. The clan I picked was, at the time, a part of the famous ‘Dads of Destiny’ – as a Dad with a job and a mortgage and limited gaming time (in comparison to some!), they seemed an obvious fit – and amongst them I found a like-minded bunch of videogame geeks who, when not playing Destiny were debating pop culture and comparing collections of toys and comics. I felt right at home.
We shot things together and talked about our lives – a night playing Destiny became the digital equivalent of a night in the pub with my mates. I learned about RNGesus – and the irrational hatred that he seems to reserve just for my Guardians. I found out about ‘god-rolls’, and got the “Vienna Singer” ship from the infamous Black Spindle quest. I earned my clan tags – my banner proudly flies for ‘Phoenix Infinity’. We talked about our wives, our kids, our bosses, our colleagues. Food, beer, sex, movies, music. Politics. Health. Warhammer model painting. As time has gone by, there is little conversational limit for us.
I listened to Guardian Radio and Fireteam Chat, agreeing with some of what was said and voicing my disagreement to my car stereo when I disagreed. I found a regular revolving raid team and together, we grinded our way through an entirely un-sherpa’d King’s Fall run – forcing ourselves to learn the mechanics and establish our communications rather than allowing ourselves to be carried through it by guys that, by this point, had been running it at least weekly for months. We spent 12 hours trying to beat Oryx, saving checkpoints each week until we finally got to see him floating away from us toward the rings of Saturn. Following the launch of Rise of Iron in September 2016, we did the same thing with Wrath of the Machine. By the time we finally succeeded, we’d spent 17 hours together trying to beat Aksis on hard mode – without ever having done it on normal. Because we’re masochists. Because Destiny.
So, it’s pretty clear that I love Destiny and that I’ve spent a great deal of time playing it. Why am I compelled to write a couple of thousand words about it?
Every person, I think, who plays games a LOT has that game that opens their eyes to a wider community. For my little brother, it was Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. He racked up thousands of hours – starting off playing on Xbox Live with people he knew in real life, and gradually expanding his friends list with people he met in the game. I stayed away from doing that for a long time because I wasn’t convinced I’d find people online who’d ‘get’ me… and it was only due to a desire to play through more of the content in Destiny that I eventually stepped out of that comfort zone.
Joining a clan was a big deal to me. It seems that all you ever read about online, even if you consider yourself a gamer, is how toxic the gaming community can be. Mainstream conversation of gaming culture is often regrettably dominated by Gamergate, sexism, misogyny, and sad little boys calling in SWAT teams on Twitch streamers. The Destiny community is nothing like that – or at least it’s not from what I’ve experienced of it. Everyone seems to be welcome – adults, kids, males, females, talented players and the less able ones. Destiny players are a mix of all of the above – and it’s all kinds of wonderful.
A cursory journey through the Tower with a new player will almost invariably result in that player receiving multiple offers of help and assistance. The term ‘noob’ is not necessarily derogatory to Destiny players – we tend to see them as players to nurture and assist, to educate in the (sometimes random and bizarre) ways of our collective favourite game. People help out with strikes and raids. As a high-level player (3x 400 light guardians guys, just like all the hardcore players), there’s nothing I love more than coming across a noob during patrols and just wandering with them. Sometimes I’ll invite to fireteam chat, sometimes I’ll just shadow and assist. Sometimes I’ll find someplace high up and just watch them through a sniper scope – and when that happens, I’ll often fire the bullet that prevents them from being overwhelmed by Fallen or Hive. Sometimes they notice. Often they don’t. It doesn’t matter. I’m the guy that’ll dance in front of someone to get their attention, then point to the nearest chest. I’m the guy that will charge into a public event armed with an exotic sword and a super, tear through the mobs, bow and then disappear.
I like being that guy. I enjoy it – and I think that’s my favourite thing about Destiny. It lets me be that guy in a way that no other game I’ve ever played has, and the absolute best thing is that it feels like there are millions of other players that share my outlook. No matter what Destiny 2 turns out to be, for me it cannot possibly have the same impact as Destiny – and that is what makes saying goodbye so difficult.
What was your experience of Destiny? Was it your first foray into online gaming? Will you miss it, or do you still wonder what all the fuss was about? Let us know in the comments below.