Destiny – My Salvation and Frustration

Bungie’s pseudo grandiose shooter seems to have somewhat divided gamers – those who love what the developer has sought to achieve, and have sunk hundreds upon hundreds of hours in to it; and those somewhat disillusioned with what finally emerged from the months of hype and promise.

With Destiny there is much to marvel at, but also much to pick holes in.

It’s story is flaky and disjointed – a tale which could have been spun beautifully ended up somewhat messy, the ‘on rails’ element of the game not quite on the right track for many. It’s easy to understand their point of view, but perhaps that is simply the price that must be paid to allow for the freedom to roam Destiny affords us.

Rarely one to engage in personal anecdotes, Destiny holds a somewhat dear place in my heart for the world it re-opened to me – so forgive me for being a little misty eyed.

Despite sinking hundreds (thousands) of hours in to a variety of titles since purchasing my first Xbox 360 in 2006, my taste for it had grown stale.

Attempts to reignite the flame via hikes through the Winter wonderland of Skyrim, Stanley Cup runs on NHL or fighting of the zombie hordes in The Walking Dead all failed.

A small handful of fleeting games on NHL14 or Fifa aside, my console became a glorified DVD player.

The always impressive PR machine’s at Microsoft and Sony rolled on, raising my interest enough to been drawn in to the latest 2 minute TV promos – but never able to make me pick up the controller again.

‘Must have’ titles came and went, including the much-hyped Destiny.

It was all one work colleague talked about for a time – his passion admirable, reminding me of me in a bygone day. But still no more than a flicker of interest really passed my lips.

I eventually departed that employer, and as a parting gift a shiny new copy of Destiny came my way.

I was touched by the gesture, but further time passed before I finally cracked open the wrapper and booted up my 360 for its original intended purpose.

Sluggish boot times brought back memories of why I’d ‘walked away’ in the first place, but eventually I was in.

Simple character creation finished and I was being woken by ‘Dinkle-bot’ outside the rusted walls of the Cosmodrome. A few hours later, I was hooked again.

Destiny’s highs helped me forgive its flaws – the ease with which I could pick it up and put it down, it’s smooth combat, the ability to aimlessly roam via the Patrol missions. There wasn’t a need to feel bound by time – a quick 30 minutes or a lengthy session were both as appealing as each other, in a way few games can match.

I’m not sure any moment has excited me as much as my first public event – an opportunity for team work without the need of an Xbox Gold subscription, being in an Xbox Party or membership of some pun-tastically named clan.

But eventually the impact of the beautiful landscapes fades, you’ve seen it all before – the grind of levelling up alone kicked in.

It was the first real flaw I couldn’t get past. Everyone I knew playing the game seemed to have moved on to the Xbox One – the relentless march of time moving them forward while, I still battled with relentless spectre of capitalism (i.e. my budget dictated whether I should also buy an ‘Xbone’).

That ‘divide’ led me to another question – for a game so intent on make people work together, as part of a 3 or 6 man teams or in Public Events, why didn’t Destiny become a cross platform experience?

It felt like a missed opportunity as lengthy treks around Venus, Mars or Earth became short blasts – checking in, collecting easily achievable daily bounties and checking out again.

My salvation had become mundane.

Eventually I found new friends, 360 playing friends, who helped rejuvenate the experience. Like my first Public Event, the first Strike with people I actually *knew* was something special.

Along side this new found Fireteam, Destiny’s ‘true self’ seemed to emerge – the vision Bungie must have had when creating this shared world shooter became more apparent, the true heart of the game as it were.

And it was somewhat glorious, a co-op experience almost unrivalled in the gaming world. The ‘shared’ part of this shared word became the optimum, as our joint experiences drove us onward – thirst for more.

Then The Dark Below came – and the ugly side of the industry reared its head.

A $20 piece of DLC, or $35 season pass, became £20 or £35 for the same items in the UK – the bitter taste of the gaming exchange rate filling my mouth again. Some were only further antagonised by the additional Strike PS4 owners would get for the same price – although timed exclusives are not new to the industry, you could understand their pain when such a high price was being asked for seemingly little.

To further rub salt in the proverbial wound, ‘launch weeks’ Heroic and Nightfall Strikes were now locked behind a faux pay wall – requiring the new DLC to be purchased to utilise features key to the upgrade grind Destiny lays out in front of players.

Cryptarch Engrams also disappeared behind the this ‘wall’, further derailing progression for those who didn’t want to part with their hard earned cash for additional content, attracting middling reviews due to its minimal size and questionable value.

Hardened players ire was raised when equipment they’d poured hours in to upgrading became almost ‘useless’ in the face of new, better gear – which would again require hour upon hour to fully unlock and was required to conquer the new Crota’s End Raid.

Bungie’s attempts to embrace the ideals of MMOs and RPGs have become something of a rod for their back as a result of The Dark Below’s cool response – with patches for many traditional MMOs offering more than Bungie’s first additional content does, often for free, while their expansions dwarf what the former Halo developers have served up in The Dark Below.

Personally, I bit the bullet and bought The Dark Below; and I’m glad I did, as it extended the play time and variety of Destiny enough to justify itself ultimately – but again only by virtue of having two regular running mates.

But with a second instalment of downloadable content coming in three months time; concerns over whether the House of Wolves expansion will lock out further content, or again render hard earned gear useless, are rife.

For its continued success, Bungie may need to have a re-think Destiny does seem to be losing gamers favour more and more via a series of questionable decisions and frustrating business practises.

Both these missteps, and its apparent flaws when compared to other open world games (either World of Warcraft-esque MMOs, or more expansive console games such as Mass Effect or Fallout), have left a trail of disappointed gamers – whose hopes of a truly epic experience have been found wanting.

For others however, it has become a wonderful co-operative experience worth plunging hours, days and weeks in to.

Destiny could comfortably be termed a ‘Marmite’ game

For all the joy it has brought, it is hard not to feel a little concerned moving forward when looking back at the stumbling blocks the title has already endured thus far.

What was supposed to be a 10 year game is in danger of fizzling out in less than 10 months for some gamers, and its apparently leaked content schedule led to both ‘Yes!’ moments for some, but cynical groans from others as the pound signs seemed to underline each potential expansion.

Personally, Destiny was a massive high point in 2014 – but for a title that challenged people to ‘Become Legend’, that so many went cold on the experience so quickly is a little worrying.

What Bungie does next may determine the franchise’s long term future – as a new swath of Guardians were unleashed via Father Christmas’ December tour. This new injection of players could help rejuvenate this particular gaming world after a winter lull, and it remains one of the few titles to maintain a level of quality across the various platforms.

But while Destiny shall forever be the game that ‘resurrected’ my love for console gaming, its wider future still feels clouded.

It hints at unleashing an entire galaxy that could be explored (literally). But at some point the shackles need to come off. That potential needs to be unleashed – and it needs to happen without asking for more money at every turn.

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