It's not too late to get into Destiny
We've never reached a broad consensus on Destiny. While many games are declared masterpieces, or remembered collectively as 'beloved 7/10s', as tremendous failures, or failed experiments, Destiny remains hard to pin down. Many swear by it, still playing weekly, while others lament it as a series of broken promises and unfulfilled opportunities. Depending on who you ask, Destiny could be a huge let-down or the most significant videogame release of the console generation.
Destiny's success, in terms of sales and engagement at least, is inarguable. In August 2015, Activision revealed that the average player had logged over 100 hours -- and that was well before the game's extremely well-received 'The Taken King' expansion. While lifetime sales figures are not available, as of November 2015 25 million people had played Destiny. Reviews skewed positive, but not so positive as to explain the game's success to anyone who either has not played it or dropped it early on.
Destiny didn't click with me back in 2014. I put some time into the beta and couldn't see the appeal in running through the same environments over and over, getting killed in the 'no respawn' zones, butting up against the 'level 8' restriction and marvelling at Peter Dinklage's misguided performance. This carried over into the game's proper release -- my level 6 character from launch is still on my profile, sadly untouched for years, and while I got code for all the DLC earlier this year I kept putting off revisiting the game.
I didn't want to let a cultural phenomenon pass me by.
Two weeks ago, however, I dived back into a vastly upgraded Destiny. I did so partly out of professional curiosity -- I've had to write an awful lot of news posts about Destiny 2 this year -- but mostly because I didn't want to let a cultural phenomenon pass me by. With the sequel's release just two months away, it seems fair to assume that the original Destiny will soon be largely abandoned. The game's various ghouls will still be running around, but most of the people who were shooting at them will be gone. If I ever tried to come back to Destiny later, I reasoned, it wouldn't be the same -- and why not give it a run before Destiny 2 so that you can be in on the ground floor of the phenomenon's next phase?
So I picked out a new character in earnest, a gunslinger robot with nails in her head and a splash of red paint over an eye. I set about completing the first few missions once again, and then…put the game aside. I sent out a tweet saying that I'd enjoyed what I'd just played, just to let the people know that I'd given it a shot. A few friends popped into my notifications and offered to come play with me, which I decided would be fun, and soon a session was planned.
Playing through Destiny over the last week with a rotating group of friends -- long-time players who are sitting on level 40 and 390+ light -- has been a different experience from what I thought it would be. At first, I felt guilty -- I was dragging people through content clearly beneath them, stuff that, I figured, could not possibly be interesting to them -- but the more time I put in, the less this seemed like something worth being concerned about. Not only were my friends continuing to collect new loot, trigger new missions, and complete bounties, but they were very clearly having as much fun as I was.
Destiny has been a surprisingly touching experience so far, as my Destiny friends -- my 'bodyguards' -- are so willing to come in and help me through the early stages of the game. As it turns out, the combat is super fun too. Development studio Bungie is a master of the 30 second loop -- making you repeat the same experiences over and over again -- but I'm impressed by how enemy variety has enhanced the game. One of my friends, who has experience writing guides for the game, is always able to tell me exactly how to expose and attack an enemy's weak point. 'Shoot the tank's legs until you expose its heart,' she tells me, in the kind of moment that only makes sense in a big-budget videogame.
"Destiny is really big on sherpas... very skilled and knowledgeable players who enjoy helping others."
This carries over into the rest of the game outside of my bubble. "Destiny is really big on sherpas," my tank-killing friend tells me, "very skilled and knowledgeable players who enjoy helping others through endgame content. It's a badge of honour and they really are always NICE, not boastful or impatient or demanding." When another super-skilled friend carried my level 16 ass through a level 20 strike, he sent me a message afterwards apologising for being 'a bit rusty,' even though I had been the one who required constant reviving.
Destiny scales extremely well as an experience -- enemy levels are static, but no one is made to feel invincible or useless. As one friend pointed out over chat, even at level 40 he had to be careful during a level 18 mission because enemies could still get the better of him if he wasn't mindful of his surroundings. Even when I am not getting many kills, my assist score tends to be very high, and I get plenty of satisfaction from clearing out a pocket of smaller enemies while higher-level friends take on a tougher enemy. Two nights ago, tackling a strike with a friend, I experienced an incredibly tense 30 second period when they went down on the final boss and I had to survive until they could revive themselves (I could not possibly get to them). It was tremendously exciting as I sprinted around the arena, using my Golden Gun ability to clear out a few enemies and dodging their attacks.
Destiny is also, as I have seen in the last two weeks, a game about paying it forward. At level 17, I went on a patrol of the Earth, and saw a group of level 8s struggling with a Taken invasion. Remembering my own experiences, I leapt in and helped, because that's what good Guardians do. Minutes later I found myself in hot water, and had a level 32 player leap in to help me complete the objective that was giving me grief. I felt like I was a part of something, a community where people help each other out. I got deep into The Division last year, which is working with many of the same guidelines as Destiny, but that game never made me feel like I was a part of something bigger the way Destiny has.
About a year ago, at another point when I was considering digging into Destiny, I was added to a Facebook group for folks who were in or adjacent to the local games industry and enjoyed playing the game together. I never got around to disabling post notifications for the group, but over the last few months they have gotten less frequent. I popped in there this week to tell people that I was just now getting into the game, and say that if people saw me online I'd love to have some partners as I work through the story missions. People I'd never met before added me on PSN, promising the help if I needed it. It's a good feeling, to know that this game has a genuinely supportive community, and many people who have played with me, or even offered to do so, seem very pleased at having a reason to get back in.
Destiny is so successful because it's built around kindness and comradery.
There's still a lot about the game's meta that I know I won't have time to grasp before Destiny 2. I don't spend much time with the vendors, and I should admit that if I was trying to go it alone, or playing exclusively with random people online, I might not have made it to level 20 (my current level as of this writing, although I'm hoping to jump up a few with friends tonight). I haven't been paying much attention to the story either, so I'm not entirely clear on what is actually happening. But damn, I get it now.
Destiny is so successful because it's built around kindness and comradery. It's successful because someone like me can ask their friends for some help two months before the sequel comes out and they'll jump at the opportunity. Three years after launch, Destiny has fostered a community that welcomes newcomers and does not punish ignorance. If you're still curious about it, now's the time to jump in.