Destiny Year One is done. Brenna looks back on a year filled with, yes, moments of triumph.
Destiny: The Taken King launches in a few hours and I am not only separated from my console but unable to connect to the PSN even when I have it with me.
I’m disappointed not to be there when the servers turn on, but I’m still participating in the hype anyway – my Facebook has been pinging all day as my clan shoots links at each other, compares Legend trailers, makes jokes and generally gets no work done as they count the minutes till knock off and turn on.
It’s been a year of ups and downs – there’s no denying it. Bungie took on an enormous challenge with this whole new shared-worlds shooter thing, and had its share of teething troubles. Continuing players complain about the shallow endgame and persistent bugs; those who shoved the game back on the shelf at the end of the vanilla story campaign shake their heads over its unnecessarily inaccessible gameplay systems and poorly-presented lore.
But the ups have definitely been up. When Destiny works, it really works.
My top Destiny memories are not amazing kills or huge scores: they’re about exploring the game’s frustratingly well-buried lore, interacting with other people, and slowly becoming a near unstoppable force of war.
I play a lot of solo Destiny, because I’m naturally anti-social (Destiny is only the second multiplayer game I’ve ever given my heart to. It’s only the second first-person shooter I’ve ever spend any meaningful time with, too). It’s while exploring quietly on my own, reading Grimoire cards and in delving into community resources that I’ve developed an appreciation for the story and setting of Destiny. We probably can’t credit Bungie for this one, and if you think Destiny’s lore is rubbish, I can’t blame you (although things are definitely improving there).
We can credit Bungie for the other causes of my enduring love for this shooter. For me, the ultimate Destiny experience is small teams of crack players single-mindedly pursuing a goal, barking orders at each other, instinctively combining complimentary abilities, arguing about builds and loadouts – flowing like a single entity from point to point.
When it works out, I can almost hear the voice of Bungie in my ear whispering this is my design. It’s a beautiful thing: deeply satisfying, aesthetically pleasing to watch, adrenaline-pumping, bonding.
Unfortunately the vast majority of Destiny players don’t get to see this, or only get to see part of it. The problem is that Destiny’s difficulty has been all over the place, its weapons balance has been laughable, and its communication of new skills sadly lacklustre. There’s little motivation to pursue better gameplay as opposed to better gear.
There’s definitely a 1% in Destiny. There are players who have every or nearly Exotic; who were running the raids on hard the moment they were available; whose Crucible records are astounding; and who simply put the rest of us to shame. Watching them play is fascinating. Going back to playing with the average joes is utterly painful.
I’ll never be in this 1% but recently I’ve been happy to say that I’m definitely not in the bottom half, or even three-quarters. A few months ago I decided to step up my game; instead of just playing as I always played, I started trying new things. I stopped using my favourite weapons (scout rifles, snipers) and started focusing on those used by the top players (hand cannons, shotguns – I haven’t yet mastered fusion rifles).
I stopped running Patrols and started signing up for hard mode raids. I learned to use my second subclass effectively at last. I decided to make survival a priority while I studied the play patterns of better players.
All this worked. When one of our clan’s best players agreed to sherpa me and another Skolas newb through level 35 Prison of Elders, we did it in 90 minutes, with only one wipe. I spent very little time down, and made significant contributions to kills and mechanics; I wasn’t being carried.
As we ran the final round, the game crystallised for me. This is how you’re supposed to play all the time, I realised. This unstoppable momentum, this back and forth dance, this constant communication. Going back to level 34 Prison of Elders immediately after felt like an absolute doddle.
I doubt I’ll capture that feeling very often. My friends, bless their hearts, are good players, but they’re not on the same level as sherpas – and I myself, while clearly capable of at least approaching that level on a very good day, will mostly always be a decent player rather than a really good one.
I wanted to write this today, even though with The Taken King looming nobody gives a rat’s arse about Year One Destiny, because Pat had the absolute opposite experience running Skolas. For him it was a frustrating waste of time, a challenge tuned too high for mere mortals.
I agree – in principal. I stand by my assertion that the Laurea Prima scheme was not really about rewarding long-term players; it’s absolutely out of reach for the vast majority, and it’s not fair to conflate skill with passion and loyalty. And I certainly think Bungie needs to find some way to help players ascend difficulty spikes, although I have no idea what a solution might look like or cure that we should erase skill gating on the toughest content in the name of universal accessibility.
But I am very, very happy that level 35 Prison of Elders exists, and is so very demanding. It wasn’t “easy”. It certainly can’t be done in five minutes, as some people assert. I don’t think it was fair to include it in a list of accomplishments required for players to feel that they’d really “done” Destiny Year One. But it was great: it was Destiny at its absolute finest.
It took me months of collecting gear and practicing new skills to ascend to the heights, but I did it – and the sense of accomplishment I got out of it made me feel like I could do anything. I could certainly do Skolas again, and enjoy it.
Destiny Year One was, for me, one long series of triumphs, as I went from feeling like a drain on the team, to enjoying myself, to confidently joining up with strangers to help sherpa them through hard mode raids. I no longer avoid multiplayer because I’m afraid I won’t be good enough, and I no longer look for cheese strategies to battle through encounters.
Whereas week one saw me cowering behind rocks, popping out to fire wildly at the forces of the Darkness before running out of their spawn zones in terror, in the year since I have become a terror myself. I have become Vex Destroyer Draqul, The Commander. I have Become Legend.
At time of writing, you still had an hour to Become Legend.