Destiny and its subsequent expansions definitely had their problems, but I fell into a rhythm with it in a way I haven’t done with any other game, and now Destiny is back, and it has already burrowed itself firmly under my skin.
I played a lot of Destiny, probably way more than I should have done, but for the most part I enjoyed my time with it. Sure, I spent hours and hours grinding out helium coils on the moon, but I did it with my friends and as dull as the gameplay could sometimes be, it became a place for our group to hang out in the evenings after work, and it did that exceptionally well. Whilst I totally understand people who soured on the games grinding and levelling system, and I did myself after a while, the basic point-shoot-kill mechanics are so satisfying that the minute-to-minute grinding never felt lifeless or like hard work. It definitely felt like a chore but at least it was a chore I could complete by barely putting any thought into it.
Destiny also knew how to provide spectacle when it wanted to (although it probably did it all too infrequently) and at its best it served up some of the best gaming experiences of my life. Getting together with friends to complete The Vault Of Glass raid, and a year later King’s Fall, are moments I will never forget. During these moments, largely helped by The Taken King expansion, the original was one of the best games I’ve ever played, and its core of an easy-to-grind game with huge action moments ready to be jumped into as and when you want them was great.
Unfortunately, the balance was a little off. You spent too much time working for that loot, only for the gun you put it all into to be invalidated by the drop from the next boss you fight. The strikes were always fun to run a few times, but barely any of them had deep enough mechanics to keep them interesting after a few runs, and whilst the raids were incredible, I think I only managed to complete one 3 or 4 times in total. Getting six people together on the same evening was a challenge in itself, never mind over the two or three evenings in a week when you didn’t beat the raid in one sitting. Beyond that, the story itself was weak and whilst The Taken King, and to a lesser extent Rise Of Iron, improved on that in a lot of ways, there was definitely still something missing. For the most part the world felt hollow, and the few non-player characters get very little screen time. For the most part even the leaders of the guardians are reduced to being vendors and mission givers that you interact with through what are basically dolled up menus. You rarely feel like you actually care about what anyone in the world requires of you.
The Destiny 2 beta that ran last week felt like a mission statement. Bungie have done the smart thing by keeping it brief; one story mission and one strike, plus two crucible modes (one old, one new) gives you the taste for more Destiny without wearing players our before they’ve actually got the whole game. They also focused hard on proving they have worked on Destiny’s weaker side without changing the basics of the game. There are probably more in-mission interactions with NPCs in the Homecoming mission than in the whole of the first game, instantly showing that they know what was missing and that they are addressing it.
If Homecoming is anything to go by, Destiny 2’s story missions will be far better than its predecessors. It is a length mission, setting up the downfall of the Tower and the new villain (who is already way more interesting than any of the previous villains), and shows a taste for action set pieces the first game teased but very rarely delivered on. There are far too few “oh shit” moments in Destiny’s story missions, Homecoming tells me that Bungie are changing that this time around.
The strike, The Inverted Spire, showcases the same approach. It isn’t all that different to many of the strikes from the first game — you run forward, you shoot people, you keep moving, you fight a boss, loot drops — but what it does do is keep you entertained in a way a lot of the basic strikes didn’t. You’re shooting basically the same enemies as last time, but now there are massive spinning blades above your head whilst you do so, giving you a little more to think about. And sure, the boss is the same kind of bullet-sponge as before, but halfway through this fight the floor will drop out and you’ll fall a hundred feet without warning.
Personally, I never had much of an issue with the grind of Destiny first time around. It was honest about the fact that you’d have to run the same content over and over to slowly increase the quality of your gear, and in doing so prepare yourself for the fantastic high level content. They made this easy to do with your friends at a casual pace, and an evening spent running strikes with your mates very rarely felt like genuinely wasted time.
The problem was that the world in which you were running this content never gave you any reason to do it. There was nothing to the story, an issue they worked on with the expansions but even then I’d struggle to call it anything anywhere near riveting, and there was such a lack of content that it was all just a little uninspiring after a while. Playing the Destiny 2 beta has given me hope that Bungie are set to change that, and whilst there has only been a tiny smattering of content on offer to try out, the approach and feel of that content is enough to get me excited about the full game.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it will just be more of the same. I’m probably going to play it for way too long either way, but I’m hopeful. When it really worked, Destiny was one of the best games I’ve ever played; it has the ability to be so much fun, it just struggled to make any of it mean anything. I have no doubt Destiny 2 is definitely going produce the same level of gunplay and space-magic based fun, but here’s hoping they can make me care a little bit along the way.
Authors note: I hope you enjoyed my collection of memories from Destiny and working out which Destiny game I was talking about at any given moment.