I Hate Loving Destiny

I love Destiny. I’m just not sure if it loves me back.

A few nights ago, I had one of the best PvP matches of my life and I got nothing in reward. One of my teammates, who just joined the hours-long session, turned in a mediocre performance and was rewarded with one of the rarest sniper rifles in the game.

A few nights ago, I completed the Vault of Glass raid for the first time. It was my third attempt and my third group full of grizzled raiders, most from my clan. After a hard-fought battle against Atheon and many wipes, I got a spaceship. A purely cosmetic spaceship. A spaceship that I only see on the loading screens.

I can complain about Destiny’s laughably heinous random number generator forever, but I won’t. Let’s back up.

I’ve been on the Destiny hype train for a long time now. I remember getting goosebumps watching the E3 footage, enamored by the space opera setting and Borderlands-style RPG gameplay. This was Bungie, after all. They made the Halo series. They changed first-person shooters forever.

Despite their pedigree, Destiny was still a risk. A risk I was ready to go all-in on with Bungie. The critics disagree, but one thing is clear: a lot of people took the dive with me. Destiny’s release even changed the fundamentals of distribution: 20% of copies sold to date were purchased and delivered digitally.

I’ve spent a good amount of time in Bungie’s “shared world shooter.” At least 80 hours by my roughest calculations. I know that number is minuscule compared to the most ardent MMO players, but 80+ hours is the most time I’ve ever devoted to game. Ever.

What keeps me coming back, despite Destiny’s numerous and conspicuous flaws? What compels me to keep going past where I already gave up on Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto V, and World of Warcraft?

I’m still not entirely sure. All I know is that Destiny and I are in a lopsided relationship. We’re trying to work things out, though.

The storytelling is laughable. The voice acting is still routinely cringeworthy, even though I’ve been hearing Peter Dinklage stumble over Bungie’s maddeningly expository dialogue since the closed beta. The level design, simply put, is uninspired. I still have a tough time believing this is the same studio that gave me brilliant stages like The Silent Cartographer and Long Night of Solace.

I always gravitate towards deep stories and strong characters. One of my favorite games is The Last Of Us, for those very reasons. Destiny has failed spectacularly to meet this criteria. What does it do well? What makes me stay?

Bungie has crafted an exceptionally smooth, weighty, and kinetic shooter. It’s more floaty than Call Of Duty, but there’s still a little room for twitch gameplay. The guns are meaty and feel great to shoot. The shotguns kick like a mule and send baddies toppling over in a shower of buckshot. The rocket launchers roar, the fusion rifles hum and whine until they burst. The abilities are gorgeously realized and consistently make me feel like the legendary warrior I’m supposed to be. The game just feels good. I’ve had as much fun messing around in the low-level areas as I have running the raid.

So, we’re back to the raid. The Vault of Glass is a tense, white-knuckle thrill ride that almost makes up for the lack of creativity in most every other mission. I won’t spoil the few exceptions here. There are brief flashes of brilliance in the level design, but until you’ve experienced the Vault of Glass and the endgame content’s metagame, you haven’t seen the best Destiny has to offer.

The game simultaneously opens up and shrinks when you hit the soft level cap of 20. The prescribed progression of story missions that takes you from planet to planet is over (if you chose to level up that way). From level 20 and higher, you’re tasked with finding better equipment to push your light level all the way to 30. With unrestricted access to weekly heroic and Nightfall Strikes, daily missions, and the Vault Of Glass comes an infinite loop of the same content. You’re completely free, but also more constrained than ever before. It’s paradoxical and manipulative.

And yet here I am, sucked into Bungie’s flawed, fun world of alien face-punching. I could be playing the fantastic Dragon Age Inquisition. Instead, I’m farming crafting materials on Venus to upgrade my armor so I can level up and get better armor that I have to farm more crafting materials for.

That vicious cycle is nothing new to anyone familiar with Diablo, World of Warcraft, or even Borderlands. Destiny needs a ton of work to live up to its lofty AAA potential. However, it already has the carrot and the stick– both are dangling squarely in front of my face.

I hate loving Destiny. I can’t stand that I’d rather fight tooth and nail with the tyrannical RNG for 3 more defense points when I could be lost in the rich, lush worlds of Thedas or Kyrat. Both of those games are– sorry, I just remembered I’m raiding tonight. And I a have to farm Helium Filaments on the Moon before that, so I can upgrade my exotic helmet.