The original retail release of “Destiny” was savaged by critics for it’s lack of story and repetitive game play. Considering the reviews of repetitive, multi-player only games like “Titanfall” and later “Evolve”, these reviews seem unfair. Yet the scores the game reviewers gave “Destiny” seem accurate in retrospect. This is a game with undeniably fun mechanics that ultimately provides an underwhelming experience, and in some cases a negative experience.
The ultimate problem with “Destiny” in year one is the in-game reward system. Collecting weapons and armor is part of the game. Bungie made it that way. Finding and using new pieces of gear is fun, and “Destiny” has a plethora of interesting gear to find and use. When the reward system is part of the game, you do not win by beating the end boss, but instead you win by getting the end boss’s rewards. For some reason, Bungie decided that the end boss’s rewards should be distributed randomly, creating random winners and random losers.
Back before December, Bungie was coming up against criticism for the #forever29 meme. Players kept beating the final boss, Atheon, over and over in hopes the game would randomly drop the end rewards players needed to reach level 30. For some players, level 30 was possible after their first time beating the final boss. For a frustratingly large portion of players, myself included, a dozen victories would end hollow. Somehow Bungie was unaware that randomness meant some players might never receive meaningful rewards from beating the final boss.
Bungie promised a fix for the next final boss, Crota, and players saw a much improved random reward system. This fix was just in time, as anecdotal reports told of players quitting “Destiny” because of their frustration over the rewards. I saw more than a few players on my friends list quit “Destiny” forever. Bungie also left nothing to chance, and players could also reach max level during the player versus player Iron Banner events. The latest expansion, House of Wolves, also ensures players can reach maximum level by earning one piece of armor each week from an arena even, Prison of Elders. Some players might take longer than others, and they might not like the rewards they receive, but all players are able to reach maximum level.
Random rewards remains an issue in “Destiny”. While beating the Prison of Elders activities will reward you with the highest level armor and weapons, most players do like this gear. For them, the “real” reward is Etheric light, an in-game substance that will maximize the damage for any “legendary” weapon or maximize the armor for any legendary piece of armor. Some game activities like the Nightfall strike will randomly reward players with Etheric light. Personally, I have not seen any Etheric light from a Nightfall strike after 5 week’s worth of strikes. Other players found enough Etheric light from the Nightfall to hit the maximum level on the first day Etheric light was available. Etheric light is also rewarded in the hardest Prison of Elders activities and a curious player versus player activity dubbed Trials of Osiris. The former requires players to be at maximum level for completion, and players lucky enough to find Etheric light from the Nightfall reaped weeks worth of Etheric light before the unlucky players could hit max level. Trials of Osiris only rewards Etheric light to players who can successfully win 6 or more matches against randomly matched players. The results were obvious, with the 1% of highly skilled players swimming in Etheric light and most everyone else ignoring Trials of Osiris. Bungie again left nothing to chance, and the Iron Banner event also yields Etheric light.
The random reward problem also plagues weapons, and even more so than the reward problem with armor. The best weapons in the game are inarguably the weapons that can be randomly dropped when you defeat a final boss. The second best weapons, called exotics, can be found randomly from activities like the Nightfall strike, defeating final bosses, or from a receiving a random task from a robot. This randomness is abrogated by a weekly visitor named Xur. He or she, though Xur sounds like a human male, sells one random exotic each weekend. One exotic Xur refuses to sell is Gjallarhorn, a rocket launcher that does more damage than any other weapon in “Destiny”, more than twice as much as any other rocket launcher. (Xur actually sold Gjallarhorn the second week after the release of “Destiny”, but most players, including myself, did not have enough in-game currency to buy it). Randomness means some players will be rewarded with the best weapon after little to no effort and some players will never be rewarded with the best weapon.
Year one was plagued by other issues. Bungie did not have player matchmaking for most of the year one content. After much protestation by the player community, Bungie added a matchmaking to a couple more activities. The problem is philosophical and not technical. The content for year one additions seemed lean to players. Bungie had to continually patch the game as players used every mechanism they could find to reach the maximum level. The ensuing battle raged between players who wanted to play the game their way and Bungie who wanted players to play the game Bungie’s way. Ever fix by Bungie would cause more problems. Players were using auto rifles too much so Bungie made them weaker. Now players almost never use auto rifles. The teeter-totter of fixes shows a game that is fundamentally broken and unfixable.
Playing “Destiny” seems like madness. Maybe it is. The game is about receiving rewards and those rewards are not at all correlated to player effort. No other game has made players feel so heartbroken after they defeat the final bass. We put up with this kind of madness because we believed in Bungie. The running and shooting parts of “Destiny” are fun. They should be, because “Destiny” is made by Bungie, the same studio that made “Halo” and “Halo” was nothing less than a cultural phenomenon that defined modern gaming today. (“Halo” was the iPhone of first person shooters. It looked like nothing that came before it but every thing that came after looked like it.) Despite every misstep, Bungie said they were listening, and Bungie did make changes, albeit begrudgingly. Year one has been tough for “Destiny” players. A lot of trust has been lost. Most of of my friends on “Destiny” pre-purchased all of the year one content. Back before last September, we believed in Bungie enough to make those future purchases. Year two is different. Year two is wait-and-see. Bungie needs to earn our trust back or for many of us, there will not be a year two.