The journey of Destiny didn’t end at launch. Bungie’s shared worlds shooter had a lot of growing up to do.
Destiny wasn’t the first game to combine shooting with a heavy dose of MMO elements, but it was the first to do so with the $500 million backing of a major triple-A publisher and the scrutiny of almost the entire games industry. In this second episode of a three part series, published as part of our Week of Destiny, we reflect on the shooter’s growing pains and evolutions.
Within one week of launch, Destiny proved to be the subject of much aggravation. Its stripped-back user interface, relative lack of handholding and absence of documentation left many a player bemused and annoyed when they hit the soft level cap of 20 and had no idea how to progress further.
Guide writers benefited greatly from this obfuscation (thanks, Bungie), as well as from other questions like “how do I get into PvP” and “how do I change the difficulty settings”. Flourishing player communities sprung up to sort out the game’s many mysteries and support each other, and by the end of Destiny’s first week, most of the game’s secrets had been cracked.
There was still one major mystery hanging over us, though; Raids. Bungie kept the game’s first Raid, Vault of Glass, behind locked doors, only allowing Guardians in when it judged they’d had enough time to achieve level 26, the minimum it believed would be required to survive the many hazards contained therein.
Nowadays both available Raids have been explored so thoroughly that strong crews can skip gaily through Crota’s End, nominally the harder of the two, in half an hour, but at launch, the Raids presented towering difficulty strikes and baffling mechanics (I remember my first attempt took six hours, and only got us two thirds of the way through – and that was with a guide). Still, the community took the challenge seriously and managed to knock the Vault of Glass over within 14 hours of going live.
The introduction of Raids changed the way end-game players approached their commitment to Destiny. Suddenly the race was on to hit the hard level cap of 30, attained by first gathering all the necessary gear from Raid drops and then enough upgrade materials to max it out. Running Vault of Glass each week – and later, Crota’s End, and Hard Mode of both raids – is the heart of many Guardians’ schedule, even after they’ve hit the hard level cap; after all, there are always Exotic and top-tier Legendary weapons to collect, upgrade, and unleash in the Crucible, as well as new records to set – how about three-player team. Two-player team. Solo. Solo hard mode. Speed records. No weapons. Solo with no weapons.
Raids haven’t been uncontroversial; even today debates rage over Bungie’s decision not to implement matchmaking, although anybody who’s played with a random pick up group will tell you that having a pre-formed crew is practically a necessity. There are now multiple community tools designed to bring serious Guardians together, helping you weed out hardcore Raiders who just don’t have buddies on the same schedule from those casual players who can’t find their arse with both hands and a maxed-out Icebreaker. It has also, unfortunately, bred an unpleasant streak of elitism amongst those who insist that certain weapons, classes and experience levels are required to defeat various challenges. (Trust me: they’re not. Communication, teamwork and good leadership are all you need – besides the ability to press all the right buttons.)
Far more controversial than the absence of Raid matchmaking, but just as stubbornly persistent a feature of Destiny, is its loot system. Despite constant outcry against it, Bungie has made only the mildest of changes to its random number generator-based rewards scheme since launch, notably making Raids a little less likely to break your heart. The system is such a constant talking point that it has itself almost become a character, hailed with cries of “Praise RNGEsus!” when it finally chucks a Gjallahorn your way.
Eventually, player frustration in random loot drops in conjunction with loot-based progression resulted in a phenomenon known as the Loot Cave. Taking advantage of a spawn quirk, groups of players would stand in place for hours on end, leaving only to gather ammo, while firing at waves of enemies rushing through a choke point. When ready, they’d dip into the scene of the carnage and gather whatever Engrams had dropped.
Despite the fact that the Loot Cave was a less lucrative source of Engrams than almost any other activity, it somehow felt better to some players, who were apparently less bored by standing totally still than repeating half a dozen Strike missions, for example (weirdoes). Although Bungie said that this wasn’t how it intended Destiny to be played, some players liked coming together in groups in this way. Unfortunately, griefers deliberately blocking Loot Cave spawns became such a problem that Bungie eventually had to shut the cave down due to the volume of complaints it was receiving, leaving a cute little nod to the practice on site.
Next: Small changes to the loot system, special events, major leaks and lighthearted fun.