Destiny has a firm grip around my neck, its nails dug deep in my skin. I don’t want it to let go.
In The Beginning
Over the last 100 hours I have developed a compulsive addiction to farming for loot, a bizarre habit that forces me to log on daily and perform repetitive mundane tasks in order to inch towards better gear, and I simply can’t stop. The combination of Destiny’s tight shooting mechanics, gorgeous world design and fun co-operative gameplay has created a universe that I give myself to with glee.
It all started rather normally; Destiny gave me the playground of a truncated solar system, a range of weapons and some aliens to shoot. Mindless fun, but fun nonetheless. There was something satisfying about watching little numbers float around enemies as I took pot-shots, especially when they turned yellow as I scored critical hits. Simple and effective feedback. This pulled me through the game’s lackluster story of meaningless characters, cliché science fiction tropes and a universe that isn’t worth caring about, which was coupled with an uninspired script and equally shoddy dialogue. Destiny’s tale was less space opera and more exposition-heavy filler. Irrelevant, I thought, as I killed more aliens. I’m not playing Destiny for the story.
Destiny’s natural progression kept me engaged long enough to reach the end. A mix of story missions, Strikes and PvP multiplayer provided enough variety as I planet-hopped. Although each mission followed the same structure of “fight through enemies, defend object against wave of enemies, repeat”, the varying locales persuaded me to turn a blind eye to Destiny’s shortcomings. After all, Destiny can’t be considered repetitive when one moment requires me to defend a library in the jungles of Venus and then another tasks me with defending a computer in a dusty skyscraper on Mars, right? That’s what I told myself. Convinced myself.
Before long I hit level 20, the level cap. Devout players had pleaded that Destiny doesn’t truly begin until you hit level 20, the end-game in which a host of new, subtle, mechanics are introduced. They’re incredibly right and incredibly wrong.
The minutia of Destiny emerges at level 20. Armour contains a new stat called Light, which levels your Guardian beyond level 20. This is Bungie’s clever way of visually demonstrating to players how powerful your gear is. Better gear pumps your light-level up. Behind the scenes this gear not only provides higher defence but grants potential new bonuses, such as increased Strength, Discipline or Intelligence, which in turn reduce the cooldown times of your Guardian’s different abilities. Destiny doesn’t take the time to explain any of this. Some may find this unnecessarily obstructive but I relished the mystery and gained a massive sense of satisfaction from unravelling the new end-game systems.
Unfortunately, Destiny makes a dire mistake because although it becomes more awesome at the end-game stage through its minutia, it does not offer any new content for players to enjoy while grinding for gear or using their gorgeous newly-purchased exotic sniper rifle, instead requesting players to replay previous content over and over and over again.
Two of Destiny’s modes and missions remained illusively out of my reach; the weekly Nightfall Strike, and Destiny’s fabled raid, the Vault of Glass. Level 28 and level 26 respectively, they were a far cry from my measly level 20 Guardian. The motivation of unlocking the ability to play these missions was the only thing that truly kept me going. This was Destiny’s nasty way of artificially elongating its experience, a strategy that I usually vehemently disagree with.
Finally, I crossed the threshold into the Vault of Glass. From that moment Destiny became a very different game. A game I quickly grew to love.
Raiders Of The Lost Vault
Before videogames existed, sports were a big thing. Heck, they still are now. The majority of these sports require a form of co-operation; football, basketball, rugby. Communication is key. Co-ordinating who is where and what their role is needs to happen before and during a game. Success is only achieved if a group of players can truly work as a team. Destiny’s raid shares these same tenets.
The Vault of Glass, Destiny’s first (and currently only) raid, turns the entirety of Destiny on its head. Unlike the rest of Destiny’s “go there, shoot that” mission design, each and every challenge in the Vault requires teamwork.
In order to begin the raid, Guardians must form a group of six from their friends list (or by crawling through internet forums searching for others wanting to raid, as I did). Matchmaking is disabled because Bungie wants this challenge to only be available to the utmost dedicated players: Like-minded Guardians who will have a headset and will communicate. Raids were built with this as a core necessity.
The first stage of the raid requires the group to split into teams of two in order to defend three Vex Syncplates, king of the hill style zones, from waves of powerful enemies. The plates sit to the left, right, and in front of the currently sealed Vault of Glass. They’re all relatively distant but can be travelled between with a 10-second sprint. This distance encourages each team to carefully defend their own Syncplate and only leave their zone if another falls into chaos – both Guardians defending a plate simultaneously die, for example. After successively holding all three plates for a period of time, the Vault opens.
We reach the first boss, the Templar.
Most bosses in Destiny are boring. They have a couple of different attacks and are only considered to be bosses because they are larger versions of normal enemies, with fancy names such as “Sepiks Prime”. Also, they have a disgustingly large amount of health and as such are bullet sponges. The Templar, on the other hand, is invincible.
With the Templar, Bungie has created a counter-intuitive boss. Upon entering the boss arena each and every Guardian’s main job is to ignore the boss. Like an annoying fly buzzing around your face, swatting is simply useless. Instead, swarms of enemies attack from three lanes; left, right, and middle. A Conflux – read: large alien statue – appears in the middle lane of the room and the team must defend it. It soon vanishes and two Confluxes appear, in the left and right lanes respectively. After that, the middle Conflux reappears. While enemies continue to swarm, each player must dictate their position and ensure that each Conflux has a team of Guardians defending. This takes the main principle of defending Syncplates and then elaborates, forcing players to react, communicate, co-ordinate. Co-operate.
The next stage is all about “Oracles”. These little spheres of light appear in one of many locations around the room with a bell-like dong. The optimal idea is to have your team cover as much of the arena between the six of you and then shoot the Oracles when they appear. When each Oracle appears, the player who first spots it will usually shout out its location and then start shooting. “Top right”, I’ll say as I fire my autorifle. Hearing my call, a fellow Guardian provides assistance. It isn’t long before Oracles appear thick and fast. Failure to kill all of them in time will result with the team being “Marked For Negation”, giving rise to the possibility of the Templar murdering the entire team with a ritual. Yes, he’s still about. Yes, he’s still invincible.
Finally, after the Confluxes have been secured and the Oracles have been butchered, the fight against the Templar truly begins. Unlike most bosses, he is not a bullet sponge, but he does have a shield that repels all damage. The one weapon that can destroy his shield is, coincidentally, a shield. In the centre of the arena sits the “Relic”. One Guardian must wield it at all times. Over time, and as the wielder attacks enemies that still swarm the arena, it builds up its Super Charge. Unleashed upon the Templar, his shields go down. His health depletes quickly.
The Templar alone is an exciting and fun fight that requires teamwork but, and here’s the good part, it was simply a tutorial in disguise. The Vault’s other boss, Atheon, is a far meaner piece of work. He’s a fight that combines Syncplates, Oracles and Relics. But Guardians choose their own fate, and they are ready. Introducing all of these new elements in a piecemeal manner, as challenges of their own right, teaches players without them realising that they are students. In doing so, players become empowered as experts in mechanics that they only just met.
Aside from the bosses, the Vault introduces stealth – you must sneak through a labyrinth avoiding patrolling “Gorgons”, who eliminate the entire team if just one member is spotted – and Megaman style platforming, with large blocks appearing and dissipating over a vast chasm in which between you must bravely leap.
The thrill of completing the Vault of Glass is incomparable. Like Christmas, each Guardian discusses what loot they’ve unwrapped, equips their new toys for everyone to marvel, and then dances. I feel elated. I want to go raiding again.
The Vault of Glass is creative, ambitious and introduces so many different experiences to Destiny’s main game that it almost feels like a game of its own right. While this is brilliant – I eagerly await every Tuesday evening when Destiny’s rewards reset and I can venture back in to the Vault for more loot – it demonstrates the lack of meat on Destiny’s bones, screams “look at all of the cool things that only I can offer”. Destiny needs more raid-like missions, this includes story missions and Strikes, and the upcoming expansion packs would do well to take a page out of the Vault’s enchanting book.
An Ever-Evolving World
Charles Darwin is best known for his contributions to the theory of evolution. He believed that the nature of all things is decided by survival of the fittest. If you submerge your fingers into water for half an hour they become wrinkly in order to increase grip when wet. That is one example of evolution over millions of years. Videogames can evolve in the same way but in a far shorter period of time. Destiny does.
Destiny considers itself to be an MMO. A “shared-world shooter” that manages to pull in an average of 3.2 million players every day. While it may not live up to its own hyperbolic jargon, only six small weeks have passed since Destiny launched and it is already introducing new content while casting away rubbish elements in favour of community-driven improvements.
Let’s start small. Destiny has, is currently, and will continue to provide balance updates to all of its weapons and gear. Bungie’s Community Manger, DeeJ, has stated, “There should be no single answer for how to win in Destiny”. Autorifles and Shotguns were vastly overpowered in the Crucible – I would know, I favoured them – and as such have been nerfed since launch. Updates like this are important to provide variety to Destiny and ensure that every weapon is a competitive option.
Additional content to Destiny has been introduced over the past six weeks. The Vault of Glass was opened. The Crucible has seen the Salvage and Combined Arms playlists come and go. The Iron Banner appeared for a week, intentionally unbalancing the Crucible by providing Guardians with the defence and attack power dictated by their equipment, instead of ensuring that all players have the same health and that each weapon deals the same damage regardless of stats, as per usual. The Queen’s Wrath event, which lasted a whole two weeks, tasked players with tackling previous story missions with new modifiers, such as “Juggler”, which prevents enemies from dropping ammo for the weapon you are using, and “Lightswitch”, which increases enemy melee damage vastly.
The Vault of Glass and the Crucible’s playlists aren’t exactly new content. With how quickly they appeared it is evident that they were created as part of the main game and are simply restricted, waiting until Bungie decides to give people permission to play. While not having the choice to play Salvage whenever I want annoys me greatly, I can’t wait until I’m allowed to play Salvage again, whenever it next happens to be gifted to me. I think I’m developing Stockholm Syndrome.
The Queen’s Wrath and the Iron Banner had me replaying old content in new ways. While this isn’t as satisfying as playing new content, it made grinding feel less repetitive. This is a quick and inexpensive way for Bungie to re-purpose old content with a fresh lick of paint and Bungie would be silly to not hold more events of this nature in the future.
Aside from the way Bungie intends for Destiny to evolve, Destiny has organically evolved since its inception. See exhibit 1, the Loot Cave. When it was first discovered, the Loot Cave received an inane amount of attraction. The word had spread across the internet that a cave had been found in Old Russia’s Skywatch in which enemies would endlessly spawn and drop Engrams – little hexagonal balls that can be traded for a random piece of gear of varying quality.
The Loot Cave became a cultural sensation. And then it died.
Bungie edited the way that enemies respawn inside the Loot Cave, preventing it from being a plentiful source of Engrams. In retaliation, the community split and scoured for different caves. Even now, there’s an endless battle between the community and their drive to find the best source for farming loot and Bungie in its attempt to prevent players from manipulating Destiny’s mechanics in unintended ways. This has created a bizarre meta-game in which the community attempts to outwit Bungie, which is far removed from Destiny’s intended purpose. Destiny’s community is like a toddler, constantly pushing its boundaries, seeing what cheekiness it can get up to. I believe this organic evolution will last as long as the toddler continues to rampage; forever.
Let the toddler rampage on.
To The Next 100 Hours
When I first started Destiny I was uncertain if I would have an epic experience in a player-dictated world. As it turned out, my actions didn’t count in the grand scheme of things that much. Unlike what Destiny’s tagline suggests, I did not feel like I had “become legend”. The Vault of Glass then shattered my conception of Destiny, providing me with one of the most remarkable and entertaining experiences in recent memory.
Despite that, Destiny still asks me do many things I don’t enjoy. I play the same missions over and over again purely because of the prospect that I’ll attain better gear. Strikes require me to shoot bosses for up to 30 minutes because Destiny believes that high HP positively correlates with difficulty. I patrol Earth, the Moon, Venus and Mars in hopes of finding upgrade materials for my weapons and armour.
I perform all of those mundane tasks in order to prepare myself for the events that do excite me; my weekly raid in the Vault of Glass, the potential exotic weapon drop from the weekly Nightfall Strike, any new events that Bungie introduce, or old ones that they may bring back. Mostly, it keeps me prepared for the unknown. If another incident of the scale of the Loot Cave appears, an exciting piece of emergent gameplay that Destiny has the potential to spawn gloriously, I want to be there on the front lines. I have confidence that one day I will.
Destiny is still a newborn. As part of a 10 year plan, it is likely that the Destiny we see now will be unrecognisable at its end. If Bungie evaluates and iterates, Destiny has the potential to reach the dizzying heights of its own ambition.
Here’s to the next 1000 hours of Destiny and whatever it may hold.