It’s usually around 1am that I serious begin wondering why I’m playing Destiny. The firefights are the strongest part of the game and have managed to remain fun, but other than that what the hell am I actually doing? I’ve replayed every Strike and Story mission to the point of being sick of seeing the same things again and again. The enemy placement is the same each time, and the loot is rarely interesting. So what am I doing? Weeks after launch, why am I still playing Destiny?
There’s two things holding me: the hunt for Legendary or Exotic gear, and the simple fact that there’s not much else to play on the Xbox One. The problem is that looking for great gear is starting to wear thin because Destiny’s loot system is a bit of a mess, and there’s quite a few good looking games on the horizon for the Xbox One and PS4. Neither of these things bodes well for Destiny, a game that in one form or another Bungie wants me to be playing years down the line. If you want me to be here even a few months from now, Bungie, the first expansion pack better be mighty damn impressive.
Destiny, And How It Thinks Loot Works
The recently released patch has helped, though, taking an important step in the right direction by fixing several issues with the loot system. By far the best improvement made in the update is that the Strike Playlist has been made important by including a guaranteed Blue, Purple or even Exotic item for competing in the level 24 Strikes. It’s a shame that the lower tiers don’t get such rewards as well for their hard work, but at least I finally have a reason to tackle the level 24 Strikes, whereas before they felt as pointless as every other Strike. Sure, they provided Vanguard marks and an insultingly small Vanguard reputation boost, but neither of those is as satisfying as getting a piece of loot for your trouble, and before the update the effort of completing a Strike was almost never rewarded with anything of note.
This was true of the Daily Story Mission and Weekly Strike as well. Previously these awarded players Strange Coins or Vanguard Marks plus some bonus XP, but the reward screen tended to be devoid of new exciting loot. Now completing a Daily story or Weekly Strike means a guaranteed Blue or Purple Engram for your trouble, although you’ll only be given these upon your first completion of the mission only for obvious reasons. It’s because of this small change that I’ve found myself logging in each day just to blitz through the story mission and earn an Engram. If I’m in the mood I may even stay around for a Strike, especially since the reward screen seems to be a little more forgiving these days.
Yup, a step in the right direction, but far from enough to fix the glaring flaws that exist within the game. Fighting tough enemies still doesn’t increase the chance of earning better loot, nor does your skill seem to count for anything – you remain as likely to get a Legendary from a level 1 Dreg as you do from a level 28 Knight, a design decision that I still can’t believe made it through testing.
Speaking of loot I finally earned my first contract for an Exotic weapon. In order to play the game how the developer’s intended I opted to blindly choose one of the offered contracts rather than looking them up on the magical Google, but once I chose I gave in and was saddened to learn that I had picked Invective, a shotgun, a weapon type I rarely ever use in Destiny or any other FPS. Still, for an Exotic weapon I’m willing to change-up my playstyle somewhat. That is, if I can be bothered to complete the actual contract required to finally get the weapon. Rather than some epic quest to retrieve an all-powerful gun the very first step of the contract sets the stage for a mundane and dull parade of objectives: complete 5 Raids without dying. Seriously, Bungie? Still, I’ve proudly refrained from simply repeating the lowly level 8 Strike five times in order to achieve my goal, and have instead battled through a series of level 24 Strikes, but even with the more intense challenge it has been a dull trudge through a gallery of bosses that I’ve already beaten countless times. If that wasn’t bad enough one of the later steps to get Invective is to deliver 50 Heavy Weapon ammo packs to the Gunsmith, hardly the Herculean task befitting a Guardian, nor a tale worth of telling over a campfire or in a pub.
And therein lies one of the biggest complaints I have. Bungie have claimed that you should have a story for every weapon or piece of armor in your inventory, a tale worth telling to your friends. It’s bullshit, though. I don’t have any awesome stories to tell. There’s the Exotic chest piece I bought after grinding away at the same missions for Strange Coins. There’s the Legendary shoulder pads acquired battling a a few low-level Dregs that I punched in the face because their mere existence was somewhat insulting to me. And the Auto Rifle I use all the time was gotten by…um, actually I can’t remember. Don’t remember anything about my sniper rifle, either, although I have a sneaking suspicion that I earned it during the Level 8 Strike on Earth while helping out a friend who had just started the game. None of these are exactly inspiring tales.
In a sense that’s a tad surprising because the combat really is damn fun, and thus you might rightly assume plenty of fun stories would come of them. I love every firefight and do occasionally boast to my friends about some epic movie or moment, but the fact of the matter is every firefight is mostly the same in every mission. No matter how many times you play through a Story Mission or Strike nothing actually changes, and the game’s design doesn’t allow for enough scope to create more emergent gameplay. The end result is that the acquisition of a lowly Auto Rifle is essentially the same story as the earning of a Legendary rocket launcher. Sure, the rocket launcher may have involved a more intense firefight because the enemies were sporting bigger health bars or something, but otherwise the story behind it is the same. My friends and I have talked excitedly about statistics and effects, but not once have any of us regaled the others with a gripping tale of how they came about a Legendary hand cannon.
Much the same can be said of Borderlands 2 or Diablo III, though, surely? I’ve sunk a lot of time into Borderlands 2 and I don’t have any cool stories that I tend to tell about how I came by my favorite weapons, because like Destiny it’s all pretty much the same. But there are important differences: the weapons in Borderlands have personality. They are stories in themselves. I may not regale my friends with the outstanding story of how I came by my favorite sniper rifle, but I damn well will spend ten minutes explaining to them why it’s freaking awesome because it acts like a long-range shotgun. The same goes for Diablo III, and equally important both games have far better reward loops powering their otherwise very repetitive gameplay.
Vanguards, Reputation And Bloody Frustration
Despite being a level 27 I’ve literally just hit Vanguard rank 2 because grinding through the same limited selection of dull Bounties over and over was a chore I was unwilling to force upon myself. Bungie could do with introducing a few Bounties that offer up bigger reputation gains, or another method of levelling up the Vanguards, such as bumping up the amount of rep earned for completing Strikes. Having barely hit level 2 amongst the Vanguards the idea of forcing myself to go through a similar process for the other factions that inhabit the tower makes me feel a little sick.
Meanwhile the Queen’s Bounty event is still running and has proven to be an utter disappointment, a fact made worse when you consider this was Destiny’s first “event” and it needed to make a good impression. It’s just yet another faction who demand that I power through a selection of boring Bounties. I love the fact that the Queen’s Wrath missions always give you a Legendary item, but I don’t love that they force me to replay all the missions that I’ve already done numerous times.
There’s another event coming tonight named the Iron Banner which looks far more promising. It takes the standard multiplayer and simply removes the balancing mechanic that ensures a vaguely level playing field by normalizing weapon damage and armor defense. You go in with the gear you have, meaning those weeks of chasing powerful Exotic and Legendary weapons and armor will finally pay-off as you test your mettle against other people. Naturally this means low level players need not apply because while it’s possible that they’ll get a few kills the liklihood is they shall be demolished by people sporting incredibly rare gear and a smug expression.
The downside is the Iron Banner features yet another stupid NPC standing in the tower, demanding that you increase your Iron Banner reputation in order to get some of the cool stuff on offer. C’mon, Bungie, is this really all you have to offer? Still, It sounds like a lot of very frustrating fun, which is why I’m irritated and shocked that the Iron Banner will be a time limited event of just one week. Why not simply keep it running, especially given that Destiny is lacking in content worth replaying. At least the Iron Banner would drive players to gather more gear so they could use it in a competitive environment.
So, why am I still playing Destiny? The truth is I don’t know. Since writing this article I’ve spent another few days playing the game, hunting for cool items, and it seems finally whatever grip Destiny has on me is fading, but not enough to stop me from logging on every day for just a quick half hour of play. It’s strange, because over the last week I’ve not had very much fun playing the game. Each Strike and mission has felt like a mechanical action performed almost automatically by my brain and body. I’ve run through the necessary steps, so accustomed with the layout of each mission that it barely requires any thought. I have a small desire to go back and do another run through a Strike even now, though I know I won’t enjoy it very much. I’m far more looking forward to finally getting my hands on Shadow of Mordor than I am playing Destiny, yet even then I feel like I may stop the Orc slaying every now and then for a quick Legendary hunt.
It’s not like it’s a bad game, after all in my review I did think enough of it to go with a score of 3.5/5, but there’s a lot of clear flaws and every logical part of me says that I shouldn’t be playing it any more. I had my initial fun, and now it should be sitting on my shelf as other titles in for review suck up all my time. When I consider what the game offers I shouldn’t have any reason to want to keep playing, and indeed when I slot the disc into the Xbox and fire Destiny up I can’t for the life of me figure out why I’m playing through the same Strike I’ve already completed a dozen or more times, yet I keep playing regardless.
Maybe it’s just the perfect example of a casual game, and to be clear I’m not using that term in a negative fashion or in the same sense that Farmville is casual. Destiny is just easy to pick up and play. Missions are nicely sized so that you can generally get through a Strike in 20-40 minutes, depending on the team and your gear. You can log on and get through the Daily Story in even less than that. Everything you do creates the illusion of progress: play a match in Crucible and you get Crucible Marks and Reputation. Do a Bounty and there’s some more Reputation. It’s a terrible facsimile of actual progress
Destiny has a strange magnetism that remains unexplainable despite my many hours playing the game, but it’s not enough, a fact that I’ve become far more convinced the further along I’ve gotten. Massive amounts of players continue to log in, but I can’t help feel that Destiny it is struggling under the surface to truly hold the attention of its audience. Sure, people keep logging in, but like me are they just doing a mission or two and then stopping? Are they just playing because there’s not? much else on Xbox or Playstation at the moment? Bungie want players to be invested for far, far longer than the mere few weeks the game has been out, but they’ve failed to deliver the astounding game promised according to reviews and what would appear to be the consensus of gamers, and so now they have one shot in the form of the first expansion to prove that Destiny is worth sticking around for.
Otherwise, Bungie will have created something merely good. There’s nothing wrong with that and most developers would be happy with creating the hottest seven out of ten game around (thanks Honest Trailers), but for Bungie will that be enough? Given their vast reputation with the ranks of gaming is it enough for them to be a one-hit wonder, the creators of Halo who never could make something as good or better ever again?
There’s a ten-year deal and half a billion dollars to make Destiny something special. Can Bungie do it?