Bungie's confused shooter is entering its second year with 'The Taken King,' but how has it even got this far?
"Can you write a piece about Destiny, a year on?" asked VICE. You know, "about its enduring appeal," apparently. How could I say no? I was excited, so I pulled on my big-boy pants and bought a copy of Gaming Journalism for Dummies, because if there's one thing I'm not, it's a journalist. But what I definitely am is a fan of Destiny, a day-one player who has lost thousands of hours to the game. In the words of Bungie, Destiny's developers, I am a vault raider, a sword bearer, a god slayer, or, as my friends would say: I am a nerd.
Anyway, Gaming Journalism for Dummies (or GJfD) advises that when starting an article about any given game you should provide a little background about it. Which immediately presents me with a problem: it isn't immediately clear what Destiny actually is. It's an FPS, but it has character progression closer to an RPG with a heavy focus on online co-op and competitive play. This should make it an MMO, but by only having a maximum of 16 people in any one social space and only six in an individual fireteam, it doesn't really suit the "massively multiplayer" moniker. Bungie calls its creation a "shared world shooter," which almost makes sense, but says more about the studio's unwillingness to classify their baby as an MMO than it does to explain their game's primary genre.
So that's that cleared up, then.
Now, the point of this article is to let a Destiny fan talk about the game rather than a jaded journalist. But knowing how the internet works, and in an attempt to get in before you think I'm riding blissfully on publisher Activision's bulbous, glistening, well-funded cock, let's first talk about its problems. For they are legion.
At the core of Destiny is loot. Loot makes the endgame easier. Cool! The problem currently is that the loot table for the game is limited, the RNG to get that loot is downright shitty, and due to the meta of the game both in PvP and PvE only a small amount of that limited loot table is really helpful come the game's climax. In PvE there are groups of people (dickbags) who won't play with players who don't own specific weapons (aka the Gjallarhorn), and in PvP if you don't play to the exotic hand cannon meta, you make the game harder for yourself.
A looter-shooter without loot would be fine if said looter-shooter had an engaging narrative to keep you engrossed in the game, but Destiny falls short spectacularly in this area. The story in both the vanilla game and its first DLC, The Dark Below, is minimal and disconnected, with the extremely deep lore behind all the shooting—and yes, there is a huge amount of lore—tucked away in a grimoire card system on the Bungie website. I don't know about you, but when I'm playing a game, I don't really want to stop and crawl the internet to find out about the plot.
So we've got no loot and no story, but the PvP must be good, right? Erm, yeah, kinda.
PvP in Destiny is ridiculously fun, with just enough variety to cater for both the competitive and casual players. But over time Bungie has attempted to create weapon balance within the PvP modes that's somehow left it extremely unbalanced. If you're playing the Thorn/Last Word (these are More Guns, by the way) meta then all good, go have fun killing all the mans. But if you want to run around with an Auto-Rifle (somewhere between an assault rifle and SMG in Call of Duty terms) you'd better hope nobody is looking at you as your time-it-takes-to-kill-anyone has just gone through the roof.
Reading that back, Destiny sounds downright shitty. Yet the biggest complaint is still to come.
Although Destiny had both alpha and beta runs ahead of its commercial launch proper, the first year of the game—it came out in September 2014—has essentially been an extended beta playtest with a user base of millions. Bungie has tweaked weapons, fixed raid bugs, and reworked the player experience. They aren't there yet, and everything above proves that they are a long way from perfecting their game. But the fact that Bungie works constantly to improve Destiny for its community means that an already enjoyable and immensely playable game can only continue to get better. And if the PR machine around the upcoming The Taken King expansion is to be believed, we are coming out of beta! There isn't a single issue that isn't being addressed: Bungie is promising a longer story campaign, better in-game lore system, more loot with sensible RNG, like fuck loads more loot, weapon balancing, and just generally more ish to do.
'Destiny: The Taken King,' 'We Are Guardians' trailer
Several hundred words later and I've yet to get to the point. (I clearly didn't read the section on editing in GJfD.) So, why the fuck am I still playing this flawed first-person, shared-world, lootless shooter (with RPG elements)? Okay, let's get to that. It is beautiful, and the gameplay is smooth, tight, and enjoyable. It's difficult enough at times to be challenging, yet easy enough to be relaxing and cathartic when you need it to be.
Ultimately though it's the community, the social side, that keeps me playing Destiny. I play daily with real-world and electronic friends, I've met people I genuinely enjoy interacting with via sites like The100.io and the Twitch.tv community can be like a fluffy blanket (in the main). I admit that, like any gaming community, there are cuntrags playing Destiny, too, but the cuntrag-to-fluffy-kitten ratio for the game is low, and my PSN inbox only extremely rarely receives *insert adolescent insult relating to sexuality here* messages, which is quite unlike my CoD days where my mother was constantly, apparently, putting many penises in places I don't want to think about. In fact, I enjoy the Destiny community so much that I've even gotten to the point where I have my own Twitch channel, and streaming and chatting shit with literally tens of people is all sorts of enjoyable.
Meanwhile, on Motherboard: What 'Destiny' Tells Us About Sci-Fi Optimism
Twitch provides a good example of the community's acceptance and diversity, which perhaps isn't a sentence you'll often hear, granted. But look at great female streamers like MsTeamKK or LeahLovesChief: both live at the top of the directory, yet neither feels the need to use their gender (aka flash cleavage) to gain viewers. They just play the game really well and enjoy doing it. And I don't think that's something that can be said as readily outside the Destiny directory.
In short, for all its problems Destiny is good ol' fashioned fun, and things are looking good going into Year Two. The biggest problem facing it is the same one facing most major franchises: keeping the community happy while pleasing Activision's accounts department. If the studio can convince us that they are giving us value for money, which they very nearly failed to do with The Taken King given its full-game price tag, then hopefully we'll still be having this conversation and loving this whatever-box-it-goes-in social shooter come Year Ten.
The Taken King will be released on September 15 for PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox One, and Xbox 360.
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