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After One Year Away, I've Forgotten What Is Happening in 'Destiny'

I didn't expect my first hour with Destiny: Rise of Iron to be spent exploring layers of menus that I'd forgotten about and trying to decipher the junk in my quest log.

Images courtesy of Activision

Tell me if you've experienced this feeling before. You walk away from a game you enjoyed for a long time, and months later, right when you've got the urge to jump back in, the pressure of re-learning everything scares you off. That's part of what kept me from The Witcher 3's expansions for so long, it's prevented me from finishing other games in the past, and that annoying sense of dread immediately overwhelmed my return to Destiny earlier this week.


I didn't expect my first hour with Destiny: Rise of Iron, the newest expansion for Bungie's MMO-inspired space shooter, to be spent exploring layers of menus that I'd forgotten about, trying to decipher the junk in my quest log (What's the Festival of the Lost, again?), and doing anything but playing the game. So much of Destiny—how to play, what to do—had become a distant blur. I found myself doing Google searches just to wrap my head around it. There has to be a better way of handling players returning to an old friend.

Part of what makes video games so incredible is how complicated they are. It's easy to take such depth for granted in the moment, as a game rewards the dozens of hours we've put into mastering every nuance. But like many skills, they can disappear without regular maintenance, and given how many shooters are released each year, they can all start to blend together.

As a casual fan of Destiny, I haven't meaningfully invested time into the game since the last major expansion, The Taken King, was released more than a year ago. So when I loaded up Rise of Iron, what struck me was how little I remembered of the more than 40 hours I had put into it.

Which random drop did I need for that exotic quest? What faction was I grinding to unlock that set of loot? Does the currency I was collecting a year ago even matter anymore? Why is the game still popping up hard versions of missions from a two-year-old expansion? A huge part of Destiny's appeal, besides the best-in-class shooting, is the loot grind, and that grind purposely pulls you in a million directions at once. Even while knee-deep in it, it's easy to lose the thread. (I'm usually playing with YouTube guide videos nearby on my phone.)


Rise of Iron and The Taken King are tentpole events for Destiny, reasons to lure players who have drifted to other games. Small events have taken place in Destiny in-between expansions, but they didn't grab me—each seemed focused on keeping the most hardcore players happy, folks who wanted something, anything to do in Destiny, even if it was mostly superfluous. This explains why I'm only now remembering that the Festival of the Lost was a Halloween event.

Video games used to be pretty simple: You played what was in the box. These days, a growing number have embraced the concept of "games as a service," where they ask players to return (and not-so-coincidentally, pay more money) over several years. For diehards, this can be a pretty decent proposition. It means you can continue to play your favorite game long after it would have normally been discarded in favor of a big-budget sequel made over several years.

With TV shows and movies, catching up on what you've missed is as easy as loading up a Wikipedia page. There's no equivalent for video games, and I'm not just talking about a 30-second spot that explains the plot. I'm talking about a few minutes where the game politely asks, "Hey, do you remember how to play this game, what's going on? Here, let me walk you through it." Otherwise, the game's presuming you're picking up where you left off, which often isn't true.

Maybe it's as simple as the game saying "Here's the new stuff in Rise of Iron. You can ignore everything else, and if you want to track that stuff again, you can find it over here." Maybe not! I'm sure the smart people at Bungie could come up with something much better than that.

Some of this, such as the convoluted and messy quest log, is specific to Destiny, while some, like the inability to get reacquainted with basic functionality without starting a new game, isn't. But don't mind me, I'll just be here looking for more calcified fragments, because… Wait, dammit, I'm looking for dormant SIVA clusters now?!

These days, every minute I have with a game counts. My newborn child could start crying, the dog might need to go for a walk—life adds up quickly. So when I make the choice to return to a game, the last thing I'm looking for are obstacles to me immediately getting to the reason I chose to return in the first place. Rise of Iron, like many other games, could handle this better.

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