Destiny: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change

I have a confession to make.  I’m one of those sad people still playing Destiny.  I’ve played it since I got my Xbox One, and despite having never even reached the level cap, I’ve quite enjoyed it…most of the time.

When it comes up in conversation I often tell people I have a love/hate relationship with the game, which is accurate: there are parts of it that I love, and parts of it that I love to hate.

I was drawn to it, I think, for approximately the same reasons other gamers were: it was a sci-fi game by the makers of Halo and had many of the elements of an MMO, but was console-based and therefore more accessible.  I hoped it was also more accessible internally as well: I played World of Warcraft for years without ever really committing to it.  I only hit the level cap with one character; I dipped in and out of guilds; I never raided.  First I was in law school, then I was a practicing attorney, then I was married, and now I have a son.  And it’s not just a responsibility thing: being a hardcore MMO player, showing up for raids or whatever at a specific time on specific nights just seems too much like a job.  What if I don’t feel like it?  Then I’m letting people down who might care a lot more than I do.  I’m fickle when it comes to entertainment; what occupies me completely one evening might not the next.

TL;DR: I want all the live action, dynamic content, and glory of an MMO without any real social responsibility.

And I love the game.  The gameplay is excellent.  Destiny might have the best gunplay I’ve ever experienced.  The world is beautiful, the graphics excellent, the loot crave-worthy.  It’s difficult enough to be challenging without being frustratingly difficult, for the most part (again, I haven’t done a raid, and I haven’t done much Nightfall for the same reasons).  And overall there’s a good balance of direct and indirect multiplayer.  I even like the story, to the extent that there is one.

Which is a good segue into what I hate, which for the most part is what everybody hates about the game.  The story is minimal, at best, and what you do get isn’t particularly engagingly told.  The first and second expansions didn’t do much to change this.  The most recent expansion pretty much ignored the story entirely, and neither The Dark Below nor House of Wolves featured new cutscenes of any kind.  Story is incredibly important to me in video games.  I’m a writer and reader first and foremost, and gaming medium is primarily appealing to me for its capacity to tell an interactive story.  Games with no story or a bad story lost my attention real quick.

Which is why it’s so crazy that I’m still out there capping Dregs with my Titan Striker.  What’s really frustrating about this game isn’t that the story is thin or bad, it’s that Bungie created a very detailed, rich world and then decided to share practically none of it in the actual game.  If you spend any time reading the Grimoire (and I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t), the archive of online lore (found at bungie.net) which Bungie decided to upload to their website in place of telling an actual story, you quickly realize how much backstory they created for this game world, and how little of it made it onto your screen.

But the two biggest pet peeves I have about Destiny are far more irritating than the lack of story, and they are inextricably intertwined with one another: the paltry social features of the game and Bungie’s refusal to introduce automatic matchmaking for most endgame content.

Let’s start with the latter.  I understand, without condoning, the arguments behind not having matchmaking for raids and similarly difficult endgame content like Nightfall Strikes, and more recently, Trials of Osiris and three-fourths of Prison of Elders.  For one, ad hoc fireteams of randomly matched players are unlikely to have the skill or teamwork necessary to defeat the game’s most difficult content.  Secondly, requiring a modicum of team-making effort in order to gain entry to Destiny’s hardest areas preserves a sense of elitism, making the most advanced content and its rewards a privilege for the most dedicated, experienced players.

To which I say: bullshit.  At best this is Bungie’s attempt to encourage communication and teamwork in endgame content (by forcing players to form their own groups), and at worst it’s fan service for hardcores.  But shouldn’t it be the difficulty of the content itself that filters out randoms and flakes?  Wouldn’t Vault of Glass or Crota’s End or level 35 Prison of Elders be all the more daunting and impressive if you gave less serious players a chance to try it via matchmaking and see how hard it is?  How necessary it is to have a fireteam that communicates and understands what’s going on?  One of two things would happen: either they’d get out quick and realize they’re in over their heads, thus leaving in awe of endgame content, or it would make them try all the harder to defeat it, making them more invested in the game.  Either way, serious players are still validated, because they’re the ones able to complete it.  Why require a golden ticket to even see the good stuff?  Shouldn’t I be able to throw my stupid ass in front of Crota if I want to, and watch it get shredded?

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that there is no in-game social functionality to speak of.  World of Warcraft, the most successful MMORPG ever created, has all the same restrictions Destiny does, and more (or at least, it did last time I played), but it has a built-in chat and guild system that lets you find friends and join a group or guild (clan) from right in the game.  This is sorely lacking in Destiny.  Yes, it’s a console game, so chat might be a bit complicated, but I’d happily buy a peripheral if it meant I didn’t have to put down my controller and open up my laptop in order to join a clan.

Is this really that big of a deal?  Maybe, maybe not.  Some might say that I’m bitching about nothing.  That it’s not really that hard to go online or use an app and find teammates that way.  But it takes me out of the game in more ways than one.  When I put that controller down, my interest and focus fades quickly, and I’m taken out of the story entirely.  I want at least a passing acknowledgment of the fact that I’m playing a fantasy character here; I’d like to be able to pretend the group I join to take out the world’s greatest boss is a little more than some Call of Duty clan.

The problem with all of this, of course, is that you can’t hit max level without endgame loot, and you can’t play endgame content without five friends who also play Destiny (on the same console as you).  And you have to be either lucky enough to have such friends in real life or go through the annoying process of finding them on an online forum.

But I’m still here, and I’m still playing, and Bungie’s recent announcement about the changes coming in The Taken King was very exciting.  No gear-based progression system means it’s a straight grind to hit the level cap, which I vastly prefer, for reasons stated above.

And see?  I’ve just written over 1,200 words about Destiny.  I can’t stop talking about the damn thing.  Stupid Destiny.  Stupid awesome game.

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