The first year of Bungie’s supposed 10 year plan for Destiny has been somewhat shaky for us: the faithful guardians. In the 12 months since the game’s release there have been ups and downs, but if I had to describe Destiny in any way; I’d call it a redemption story. But maybe I’m overstating it, because to some it’s been a battle. A constant back and forth between the players and the developers of power creep and rebalancing.
I’ve been a slow convert to Destiny, the vanilla experience was so off-putting to me that I almost put down the game for good. But, I got right back on that horse around the time of the first DLC and have been solidly behind the game ever since. Destiny is a game that has changed an awful lot during its first year, turning from endless hours of repetitive grind, to something with a bit more depth and complexity, but with some grind still present.
To really understand how far this game has come, you need to go back to September of last year, when the Beta was released to the public to test servers. Even at this early stage, people were getting suspicious. The Beta allowed players to roam around the first area in the game: a part of Earth called Old Russia. It was a significantly sized area, but concerns started bubble as to how man areas like this were would be in the final game. Talk of there only being four seemed unthinkable, “Thats not enough” we thought.
When the game came out, Destiny found itself amidst some very mixed responses. Because this was Bungie’s first solo game since breaking away from the Halo series, there were a lot of perceptions from fans of what the game was going to be, not helped by the claims Bungie were making about the 10 year future of their game. None of this worked in Destiny’s favour under the pressure of critical reviewers.
The game lacked a story of any substance, surrounding the player with faux mysticism and vague descriptors in place of realistic characters. “The Traveler”, “The Darkness” and “The Speaker” were all just archetypes that replaced any semblance of real character or depth to the game. It’s not like there wasn’t a story, it was just not in the game itself. Instead it lives on Bungie’s external site and is unlocked through the Grimoire cards gained during play. Which is fine, not all games want to bog down their players with narrative dumps, but there really it no reason not to out these in the game itself.
Issues weren’t just restricted to the story though, another problem was the player’s constant traveling companion, the now recently retired Dinklebot (or ghost if you’re into that). Peter Dinklage being cast as the Cortana type character was a big deal leading up to release. But it was obvious things weren’t what we wanted when the infamous line: “That Wizard came from the moon” was uttered, delivered with all the verve and enthusiasm of a supermarket employee. Some say it was a tonal choice by the developers, but Dinklage’s lacking voice work throughout exemplified the experience that was the vanilla game.
The thing Destiny was the most guilty of, the thing that really caused the game to suffer was the general lack of content. The goal of the vanilla game was get to level 28 so you could get into the enigmatic raid; The Vault of Glass. To get to this level you needed to be decked out with the best legendary gear available outside of the Vault itself. This was the biggest stepping stone that turned people away from the game. The best piece of content was locked behind either a series of very lucky drops, hours of grinding the numerous currencies and materials or both.
Once you had spend the couple days beating the game’s story missions, this became your average play session: You would log on, pick up some bounties, patrol a planet and slowly accumulate experience needed for equipment. That or you would run strikes, hoping to get the currencies to buy what you needed from vendors. Once you had said gear, you needed materials like Spinmetal or Spirit Bloom from certain planets for each upgrade node of the gear. Searching and farming these things in the map was one of the most tedious experiences I’ve had in gaming. The tedium, however, was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to repetitive farming, cue the loot cave.
The Loot Cave
Some loved the loot cave, I can’t understand why. It was an area on earth where players could line up and shoot into a cave from which enemies constantly spawned, all of which could be taken down with a single headshot from players who had hit the experience cap of 20. Players would do this for hours, hoping that they might get some of the legendary purple engrams that contained the the stats to get them to 28. The strange thing is, people actually liked the loot cave. Maybe seeing huge piles of green, blue and occasional purple hexahedrons lying about triggered some kind of endorphin rush amongst them.
To everyone else the loot cave became the thing people said as they pointed at you, laughing as you continued to play Destiny. Something that showed just how much Bungie had overhyped their new game, players would rather stand in a line and shoot into a cave than actually interact with it. To me, this was the low point of the game, it was not how things were supposed to be. Thankfully, Bungie shared these feeling and started making changes.
You see, part of the problem with the early game was that it was incredibly unfriendly to players. Vanity items like armour shader and emblems couldn’t be previewed, this functionality was only added a month or so after release. On top of this, these hard to get purple engrams weren’t even guaranteed to give you legendary gear. The Cryptarch, who decoded these items into equipment became sunonumous with trolling, people creating fake twitter accounts to rub player’s frustrations in their faces. It’s no wonder Bungie patched the loot cave away and guaranteed purple items or better out of these engrams soon after.
Vault of Glass
After what I’ve described, you might be wondering why people stuck with the game. Part of the reason might have been the final goal of the vanilla game, the mysterious Vault of Glass. The Vault was an enigma to many, talked about as something completely different to the rest of the game, and it was. It had a puzzle element to it, and left it entirely up to the six man team to figure it out. There was a real sense of mystery to the Vault in the early game, because not only were there tales of strange and unique items dropping, but it was also unlike anything else in the game.
It took the first group of players a 10 hour session of trial and error to figure out the Vault and finally beat it. It was something to behold and became the real goal for any player who put the hours of mindless grind into Destiny. The existence of the Vault would put other people off even more, it made them wonder why this content was locked behind so many hours of play, not only that, these strange puzzle mechanics should have been littered throughout the game and not just exclusive to its vip content.
Eventually a hard mode version of the raid was released, letting players at the level cap try and access new types of loot, including one of the earliest broken exotic weapons in the game.
The Regime of the Surous
Broken weapons. They’ve been a hot topic of debate since these early days, something still debated to this day. The first few weeks were the wild west, Bungie assigned stats to weapons they thought would be appropriate for their intended use, gave cool perks to their exotic weapons which they hoped would create awe and mystique around them. The first of these weapons to bubble to the top and get talked about in hushed whispers amongst the community was the Suros Regime.
In the early days, auto rifles were the weapon of choice, they tore everything apart and were the only viable choice in crucible as a result. On top of that, the Suros’ accuracy, coupled with its unique perk to increase the player’s life with each kill made it a dominant force.
The other was the Vex Mythoclast, a strange weapon that made people scratch their heads as it seemed to be a special weapon that was used in the primary slot. The Mythoclast was hugely powerful when they first started popping up and those few who managed to get one dominated in PVP, leaving a trail of tears in their wake.
This was the case for just over a month until Destiny put out a weapons rebalancing patch, powering down auto rifles again (The first time they had done this had been between the beta and the game’s release.) and giving the mythoclast a 32% power decrease. This would continue a trend where auto rifle type weapons would continue to be powered down until they became practically useless compared to the other weapon types and new weapons introduced in the later game.
The Vanilla Game
So far I’ve mostly talked about problems, hardships and described pretty bad game. So the question you’d ask is why did people keep playing it? Honestly, I don’t know for sure, I almost fell out with the game entirely early on. It might be because, in the end Destiny is an incredibly satisfying game to play. The movement, the shooting and the powers granted by subclasses make the basic playing of the game very enjoyable from minute to minute.
On top this, the game was a loot shooter, genetically engineered in a lab to be the perfect obsession game. Something people feel a need to log onto each day. It takes cues from MMO style games and games like Diablo to give that loot rush, always giving trickles of things that just might be the perfect drop. And maybe it was Bungie’s plan to trickle feed us content every few months from the beginning, but even if it was, they still started working to make the game better for the fans as the game’s first expansion came out.
The Dark Below
The Dark Below was the first major expansion and took many of the most pressing issues of their game and started working towards doing better. They didn’t get everything right first time, but bless them they tried. With the original game being what it was, the best thing Bungie could have done was decrease the time the players would spend on planets doing mundane and repeatative tasks, they took the initiative to allow players to directly buy planet materials, making upgrading weapons a much more streamlined process.
They also made it so upgrading exotic equipment needed less materials overall and simply needed a shard at the end. But where they made two steps forward, they stumbled back a half step too. With the expansion came a bump in the power cap for weapons and equipment. Players wanted to know what would happens with their old weapons and armour. Bad news was that any legendary equipment was getting left at the old power cap, however exotics would be open to upgrade. There is a but coming…
But! In order to upgrade the exotics, players would need to find Xur, the mysterious man who shows up two days a week to sell things people complain about in forums. The problem here, aside from Xur not being around very often, was that his exotic upgrades were random, so he might not have your weapon of choice for weeks, additionally it was very expensive. The icing on the cake was that upgrading through him, took all the perks from the weapons, forcing players to upgrade them all over again.
So Bungie removed a lot of the grind from the initial game only to replace it with another kind of grind. Overall, it wasn’t as bad as the vanilla game though, more of an inconvenience, as the light level was the real deciding factor and the Dark Below allowed players to make the jump to 30 very quickly. This allowed access to the new Raid very soon after the expansion’s release, so everyone could dive in and get the gear to reach the new level cap of 32.
This may have just been an issue I had with The Dark Below, but I always like having a sense of self and individuality in a game such as this. Any way to make my character my own. Sadly, the new raid gear was the only source of the highest light level for a long time, on top of this it looked like something an insect would live in. So we had a period of time where more players were at the cap than ever before, but they also happened to look like a wasp’s nest at the same time. Thanks Crota… speaking of which.
Cheese and Crotations
Crota’s End, oh boy. I’m sure Bungie put a lot of time and effort into the game’s second raid, but it never had the same impact as Vault. It didn’t do itself any favours either. First off, it was shorter, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and the mechanics weren’t as diverse nor did they require the same level of teamwork required for Vault to complete. What is bad is when the most popular method of completion is exploiting a ton of bugs to avoid actually running the raid.
Crota was defeated for the first time only six hours after the release of The Dark Below, A short time after that people began to pick the raid apart and make it basically trivial. Every section has a bug or exploit, some of which remain to this day. All the times I have run Crota’s End I have never done the bridge section legitimately. I learned the “cheese method” for beating Crota’s End well before I figured out how to beat it in a more legitimate fashion.
It was a weaker raid with less interesting gear in comparison to the first raid. For the crowning piece of an expansion, Crota didn’t look all too great. The up-side was; players like me who were semi-casual at the time would have much easier access to the better gear in the game and were able to get things from Crota, and then consequently Hard mode Vault of Glass, much easier than we would have been able to before.
Overall though, The Dark Below added a lot of welcome changes to the game that streamlined it in the most important ways. It made more work for players in adding another faction to level, but it felt less crucial to the game itself. It made Destiny a much friendlier game to its players, adding some much requested features such as bump to vault space and even adding matchmaking to the weekly strikes. All in preparation for the expansion that made Destiny feel more like the “complete” package that we had hoped for prior to release.
The House of Wolves
Thus we find ourselves coming to the final third of Destiny’s first year and the state in which the game currently exists. To me it seemed like Bungie were determined do better than they had with The Dark Below, so they introduced Etheric Light. With Etheric Light, players could upgrade any weapon or piece of equipment to make it stand on par with the newly introduced damage, armour and light caps.
This meant players had far more control of how they built their character in terms of both their perks and their appearance. It also allowed players to start using their favourite vanilla weapons more confidently as they all were, this time, allowed to be powered up. To further remove any time consuming busy work, most new equipment came with far less upgrade nodes, making them useable far sooner.
The lack of a raid was a contentious issue in the second expansion, The Prison of Elders was introduced instead, an alternative game mode of questionable popularity. However, with the introduction of Prison of Elders, there was yet another game type to give players more options in how they could spend their time. Those not as interested in PVE got a new Crucible mode too, in the form of the Trials of Osiris. While Trials were a good idea, there was a drawback. It also brought a greater focus on weapon balance to the game than it had ever endured before.
Weapons balance, I’ve mentioned it a few time now. Bungie have openly admitted they made up the numbers early on, and as a result we saw some huge bias to certain weapon types. The early dominance of the Auto Rifle for example. There have been a significant number of weapons patches and two major weapons tuning updates in the game’s lifetime, and I feel like it’s something that’s going to continue as long as Destiny does.
With the release of House of Wolves making getting to the light level cap less painless, fine tuning weapon load-outs became the primary focus for the more deeply ingrained players. The ability to reforge weapons, re-rolling the potential perks, has changed the dynamic of the game quite a bit, with players using charts and shit to try and figure out the perfect roll for each weapon to suit their style. Unfortuanatly, this adds to the power creep within the game, narrowing down viable options for the very high end of play.
The other option was to just use Thorn and be done with it. Exotics were always meant to be powerful, mysterious and sought after. Problem is, in their wild machinations, Bungie accidentally crated some weapons so powerful that they tore the community asunder, because if you didn’t have them, you weren’t anything.
The main guns guilty of this new found elitism emerging in the game were Thorn (and to a lesser extent: The Last Word) in PVP, and the Gjallarhorn in PVE. Using group finding sites like Destiny Tracker, I would see constant messages from people demanding anyone who plays with them have either of these weapons, as if they were the sole keys to victory.
I have both weapons, but at the same time, I enjoy a bit of diversity in my play, and like to mix up my strategies for the sake of novelty at the very least. Not everyone agrees though. This is something that happened to me one day: I’m running a Nightfall weekly mission with some random guys and one asks me why I’m not using the Gjallarhorn he saw on my profile before the mission started. I tell him I want to use the Queenbreaker’s Bow I just got instead. He tells me that that gun is stupid and so am I, that I need to use the Gjallarhorn.
At this point in the game’s life, the nightfalls are trivial. You don’t need the best weapons and yet the reverence around them has become such that some players think you need them in order to play the game effectively. It sucks because it gets to a point where most of the weapons are just junk and all anyone uses is a select group that has bubbled to the top. And yet I feel the need for Bungie to do something about the asinine amount of Thorn users, it almost seems that to some people, Trials of Osiris is only playable if you are using that hand cannon.
Thankfully, Bungie had taken heed and in their next expansion, the shift into year 2, they have ignored the cries of the people who enjoy using one weapon and mixed things up.
The Taken King; the huge expansion with a price tag to match. With the first year over, Bungie seem to be mixing things up in a big way, like half pushing in a reset button, as if that would half reset the game… give me a break this is getting pretty long.
Light is becoming less important, meaning players can get to the level cap through experience alone, up to level 40. Additionally, there is a huge shake up of weapons, addressing the situation I was talking about before. Only certain weapons will be upgraded to year two standards, while some, most notably the Gjallerhorn will remain year one. Not only will this give Bungie some flexibility when making new weapons, so they don’t have to worry if anyone will use their new guns. It’ll also let players try something different. I finally might get some use out of that Necrochasm that’s been sat in my vault for months.
That’s all in addition to a huge content dump, a new raid, extra sub-classes, a new area and a number of quality of life changes for players.
In many ways, Destiny is an almost unrecognisable game from what it was just under a year ago. I feel the next issue to affect the game may be finding new players, as coming to the game at this point might seem daunting. But to those of us who have been around since the start, it’s hard to remember a time when it was that grindy, shooting into a cave mess. I’m at a point where I can happily say I enjoy Destiny without feeling like I’m doing something dirty, and am really looking forward to what is in store in the future. As long as it isn’t same vague large ball in the sky.
Bungie did it in the end, they made the true followup to Halo, it only took them 12 months and £130 of content.