About a month ago I hopped back onto Destiny after an extended absence from the game. The last time I had played it prior to my return was before the release of The House of Wolves, The Dark Below or even the first raid. It was, as people now refer to it as, “vanilla Destiny,” though I am loathed to call it that as it suggests that the fundamentals of the game have since exponentially changed following the release of its DLC packages. Things have got better with the game, yes, but it’s still the same ungrateful bastard it’s always been.
I can’t say I particularly enjoy playing Destiny, yet I still continue to do so. This seems to be a recurring theme among Destiny players, in that no matter how fundamentally imbalanced and imperfect the game is, it still keeps a hold of them and forces them to return despite it consisting of roughly 90% anguish and 10% fun. It’s a game that has one good idea for every ten it throws at you. You may well get tons of enjoyment out of Prison of Elders, a round-based, Horde-esque battle against waves of enemies in enclosed environments that rank among developer Bungie’s finest, but then you’ll find yourself playing the same fucking Strike 500 times over because it’s the best way to complete one of your weekly bounties, or you’ll revisit an early story mission so often that you’ll eventually be able to complete it blindfolded.
I returned to the game after being persuaded by a couple of friends who had also decided to give it a shot again. When my level 23 Warlock warped back into the Tower central hub world, I found that a lot of things had changed. There were different places and modes to explore to explore in the game’s map, for instance, such as the Reef and Temple of Osiris. “What’s the Reef?” I asked my friend Jamie, eager to learn of what new things I could embrace since my last visit. “It’s like the Tower.” He said. “…But?” I replied, hoping for him to offer a more comprehensive description of what this mysterious new location. Unfortunately, that description was accurate enough, as the Reef is basically the Tower with few additional flourishes that aren’t entirely superficial.
It’s been set up merely to give the illusion that there’s more stuff to do. There are a couple of different NPCs that you have to visit to progress in The House of Wolves, but other than that it’s exactly the same thing. There are merchants. Xur visits there sometimes on the weekends. For all intents and purposes, it’s the Tower but with a different skybox. Story implications aside, it’s utterly pointless and serves only to give you an extra loading screen as you hop between it and the Tower to hand in bounties and such.
But what of the new stuff to do? I asked Jamie what task he was attempting to complete, and he told me that he was currently knee deep in the Thorn bounty. The Thorny bounty is a series of hoops the player must jump through in order to acquire Thorn, a primary weapon that both deals massive damage and poisons other players in the Crucible, Destiny‘s PvP arena. It was hideously overpowered, Jamie said, and at least one person per team in the Crucible was now using it, making the whole PvP multiplayer component a no-go zone. I questioned that it seemed more than a little imbalanced, to which he agreed that it essentially ruined PvP, but that the only way to make progress in the Crucible again was to make sure that at least one of us owned it. It was at that point that I realised there was no hope left for Jamie.
Destiny does this weird thing to people. They recognize that the lengths they’re having to go to in order to simply glean some sense of accomplishment out of the game are extortionate, yet they remain entirely indebted towards doing so. Indeed, even whilst not particularly enjoying myself playing the game I was still determined to get to that level cap, and after reaching level 32 and having rarely enjoyed myself along the way I was forced to reconsider why I had piled so many hours into this fruitless endeavour.
I think the reason why Destiny remains so addictive is that there’s always the promise of new, better gear around the corner – stuff that will improve your Light rating and therefore bump you up a level or two, or add a few notches to your attack and defense stats – but it’s never guaranteed. The incredibly difficult Raids each hold the promise of giving you shiny new gauntlets or chest armor, but there’s a good chance you could fight your way through the Temple of Crota or the Vault of Glass without earning anything you really want or need. Indeed, even whilst not particularly enjoying myself playing the game I was still determined to get to that level cap. After reaching level 32 and having
Destiny remains mysterious about what gear it is going to give you at all turns, with the exception of the Exotic bounties, where you’re given a series of ludicrous challenges to complete in order to get your hands on an item., a la the Thorn bounty. These challenges have each seemingly been picked at random, asking you to bathe in the blood of 400 virgins before sacrificing your first born before you can get your hands on a new item, or something along those lines What I’m saying is that Destiny is mostly bullshit, but it’s this bullshit that has somehow kept people hooked, because each play session of the game is essentially a gamble in which you could just as easily spend 4-5 hours earning nothing of note and making little progress as you could stumble upon a new helmet that will lift you to the level cap. It’s one lengthy grind, except that it doesn’t reward you for each minute of your time you put into it as is the case with MMOs, but instead offers you the hope of a reward if you log in each day and pray that you’ll come across a Legendary drop at some point.
So now there’s The Taken King, Destiny‘s upcoming DLC expansion for the game that will cost – and if you had a time travel machine and went back in time to inform the people who complained about Elder Scrolls’ horse armor of this, they’d probably die of heart failure – $40. Considering that the base game can currently be purchased from Amazon for $30.99, that’s a pretty hefty if not thoroughly inexcusable asking price for something that doesn’t threaten to boast even 50% of the vanilla game’s content. “But there are two new areas to explore!” Destiny defenders cry, with this only being exceptional to them because the previous two expansions had them once again retreading old ground time and time again, just like the base game had them do. Yes, it’s a swindle, but it’s a swindle that’s been sold to people who are more than willing to lap it up, because it’s finally offering something that Destiny is very cautious about handing out willingly – excitement.
Destiny is a game built upon the concept of revisiting locations over and over again in order to get better stuff. Bungie try to make that concept seem more convoluted by making the objects players acquire more varied, from Motes of Light through to Strange Coins, but giving your in-game currency a thousand different names doesn’t make for a varied game, and variation is what Destiny has been sorely lacking since day one. Raids became so popular because they offered this variety but, simply put, nothing else in the game does. And people enjoy that, or at least they seem to enjoy it given so many hours have been put into the game worldwide, and that’s fine.
I get why that grind is so popular and, as a man with a penchant for gambling myself, I get the thrill of spontaneous loot drops and never knowing whether putting in 5+ hours in the game on an evening will lead to you getting cool gear or absolutely nothing in return. But from where I’m sitting, with its expansions packs Bungie has routinely teased variation in Destiny, and because players so desperately want to experience this variety Bungie has then knowingly overpriced them. The Taken King, which appears to offer a little more variety, can then be priced at $40 by Destiny‘s own warped measuring stick, leading to the argument of “well The House of Wolves cost $30, and this time we’ve added a couple of new locations and extra subclasses, so it’s definitely worth the extra $10.” It’s not.
Bungie have dropped considerably in my estimations with their handling of Destiny and its DLC, and at this point it feels like they’re asking players to continue to throw money at the game in the vein hope that it will become the enthralling, massive MMO-esque experience it initially seemed like it would be. And as I watch my friends groan and scream their way through monotonous challenges in order to acquire new boots for their player-characters, I’m of the opinion that they’ll succeed in doing so.