Des­tiny

Clos­ing the book on the best, worst, and most bril­liantly bor­ing FPS around

EDGE - - TIME EXTEND - BY NATHAN BROWN

Ev­ery­one who has played

Des­tiny will tell you a story about it. They’ll prob­a­bly have a few, ac­tu­ally, but ask them to pick their most mem­o­rable and it will likely be the tale of how they got their first Gjal­larhorn, the all-con­quer­ing rocket launcher that made mince­meat of just about ev­ery­thing dur­ing Des­tiny’s first year. We doubt many can beat the story of the mem­ber of our raid team who got theirs by stop­ping on the ap­proach to a loot chest deep in the Vault Of Glass, and fir­ing their en­tire sup­ply of rock­ets at it. Step­ping up to open it, out popped Gjal­larhorn. For weeks af­ter­wards, the other five raiders would un­leash rocket af­ter rocket at the luck­ily im­per­vi­ous chest in the hope of see­ing it spit out Des­tiny’s most prized re­ward.

Such were the lengths we went to, in those early days, to tip the odds in our favour. Des­tiny launched in Septem­ber 2014, and within days it had be­come starkly ap­par­ent that this was not the game we had dreamed of, or the one Bungie had promised it would be. Its story, if you could call it that, was over in a flash. Our char­ac­ter hit the level cap of 20 within days, and it seemed there was noth­ing left to do. A pop-up win­dow that ap­peared af­ter we hit level 20 hinted at a new pur­pose – the pur­suit of Light, the true mea­sure of a

Des­tiny Guardian’s power – but the only way to raise it was to play, again and again, lev­els and mis­sions that we felt we had al­ready picked clean.

In the ab­sence of any­thing new to do, Bungie gave us pun­ish­ing dif­fi­culty and a miserly ran­dom loot sys­tem. The weekly Night­fall Strike, for in­stance – a ramped-up ver­sion of an ex­ist­ing mis­sion with tougher en­e­mies and a se­lec­tion of cruel gameplay mod­i­fiers – of­fered up one of the best loot ta­bles in the game, with a rea­son­able chance of drop­ping leg­endary and ex­otic gear upon com­ple­tion. Yet en­e­mies would fre­quently ap­pear at a level or two higher than you could ever reach, and if all three team mem­bers died, they’d be kicked to or­bit, and would have to start over from scratch.

Faced with those odds, it’s lit­tle sur­prise that play­ers did what they could to cheat the sys­tem. One Night­fall boss could be killed by hid­ing be­neath a raised plat­form, shoot­ing through a small gap that en­emy ord­nance couldn’t fit through, us­ing Ice Breaker, a sniper ri­fle whose ammo re­plen­ished au­to­mat­i­cally over time. It worked, but play­ing Des­tiny this way was slow, bor­ing and not in the spirit of the game, so Bungie patched it. It did like­wise for the in­fa­mous loot cave, a small open­ing in a rock­face in Old Rus­sia’s Sky­watch zone from which en­e­mies con­stantly spawned, and into which play­ers would empty clip af­ter clip, stand­ing stock still un­til their sup­plies ran dry.

Des­tiny was the first game in Bungie’s ten-year deal with Ac­tivi­sion, but the game would likely have died, and the con­tract been ripped up, within weeks of launch were it not for the Vault Of Glass. VOG, to use the Des­tiny com­mu­nity’s af­fec­tion­ate short­hand for the game’s first raid, launched a week af­ter the base game – just long enough for the com­mit­ted player to reach the rec­om­mended level 26 (and for most of the on­line press to rinse through the story com­po­nent, hit level 20 and slap a luke­warm score on the game). Even now, four ex­pan­sions and three more raids later, VOG is held up as the best Des­tiny – and co-op con­sole gam­ing in gen­eral – has to of­fer. It was clear from the start that this was dif­fer­ent to ev­ery­thing else in Des­tiny, whose mis­sions un­til now had been lin­ear ex­cur­sions be­tween ob­jec­tive mark­ers, with var­i­ously sized gun­fights build­ing to a bat­tle against a bul­let-sponge boss. Yet VOG opened by ask­ing a six-strong team to split up and hold three cap­ture points from in­ces­santly spawn­ing en­e­mies. In­side there were boss fights, yes, but they were no mere shootouts. Each had a set of ex­act­ing me­chan­ics to learn, to de­vise a so­lu­tion to, and to con­quer. In be­tween there was light re­lief – a fre­quently hi­lar­i­ous plat­form­ing puz­zle with dis­ap­pear­ing scenery, which even now is all too easy to mess up – and a mar­vel­lously fraught stealth maze whose pa­trolling Gor­gon en­e­mies would in­stakill any­one they laid eyes on. VOG was dif­fi­cult, yes: the first team in the world to clear it took over ten hours. But it was the most re­ward­ing ac­tiv­ity Des­tiny had to of­fer, both fig­u­ra­tively – the sense of sat­is­fac­tion af­ter you and five friends fi­nally clear a

dif­fi­cult sec­tion is part of what makes Des­tiny so spe­cial – and lit­er­ally, as some of the best loot in the game flooded into your in­ven­tory af­ter each boss was van­quished.

And what loot it was. The armour on of­fer was, at the time, the only route to the true level cap of 30. And the guns were, aside from the more widely avail­able Gjal­larhorn, the best avail­able. In­deed, for our money, they still are. There’s never been a hand can­non like Fate­bringer: it had the Fire­fly perk, which caused en­e­mies killed by head­shots to ex­plode, deal­ing heavy dam­age to those around it, and Out­law, which greatly in­creased reload speed af­ter a pre­ci­sion kill. It was more than a gun: it was a game in it­self, train­ing you to pick your shots, and re­ward­ing you for do­ing so by killing four other en­e­mies in the vicin­ity, then re­fill­ing your clip in a split sec­ond. It’s sim­ply one of those guns – Doom II’s su­per shot­gun, Ti­tan­fall’s smart pis­tol and so on – that will be talked about for years.

Yet for all that VOG was a mas­ter­class in de­sign, and the gear that dropped from it a de­light, it also ex­posed two of Des­tiny’s great­est prob­lems. The first is that a hand­ful of guns were over­pow­ered, to the ex­tent that any­thing else was con­sid­ered a waste. When the hard-mode ver­sion of Crota’s End, the sec­ond Des­tiny raid, launched, it was widely ac­cepted that the fi­nal boss fight was as good as im­pos­si­ble with­out a full team of Gjal­larhorn own­ers. Match­mak­ing web­sites, cre­ated to help play­ers as­sem­ble raid teams – there was no such fa­cil­ity in the game it­self – hosted list­ings with strict team re­quire­ments, al­most all of which in­sisted on ap­pli­cants be­ing max-level and with Gjal­larhorn in their in­ven­tory.

The sec­ond prob­lem was, in­evitably, RNG. Since VOG was, for a spell, the gate­keeper to the level cap, you were re­liant on the game grant­ing you a full set of raid armour. Many were left look­ing for just one piece (for most, weirdly, it was a pair of boots). The hunt spawned a meme, ‘For­ever 29’ – one drop short of the max­i­mum level of 30. A wounded Bungie has been work­ing to make amends ever since.

In­deed, the stu­dio has worked tire­lessly on th­ese two dis­tinct prob­lems, strug­gling to bal­ance a set of weapons that must ful­fil two very dif­fer­ent needs – in PVE, be­ing over­pow­ered is fun, but in PVP, it’s ru­inous – while re­duc­ing Des­tiny’s re­liance on a ran­dom-num­ber gen­er­a­tor. It’s been largely suc­cess­ful: in its fi­nal form, Des­tiny is the fairest it’s ever been. Guns are finely bal­anced. Loot still drops ran­domly, but the most pow­er­ful gear is avail­able through fixed, clearly ex­plained ( though typ­i­cally long-winded) means. Ev­ery­one can reach the level cap by sim­ply play­ing what is now a very gen­er­ous, ac­com­mo­dat­ing game. There’s lit­tle to com­plain about in Des­tiny to­day. But it’s miss­ing some­thing, too.

Ran­dom­ness is a pow­er­ful thing. And for the first 12 months Des­tiny was de­fined by RNG – pow­ered by it, propped up by it, the

THE PAIN MAY HAVE STOPPED, BUT WE DIDN’T. ONCE YOU’D GOT ALL THE GEAR YOU NEEDED YOU CAR­RIED ON ANY­WAY

Rise Of Iron, the fi­nal Des­tiny ex­pan­sion, was re­port­edly meant to be a mi­nor re­lease, but was bumped up in sta­tus af­ter Destiny2 was de­layed rea­son we loved it and hated it and kept on play­ing it any­way, go­ing into work the next day bleary-eyed, dis­ap­pointed and itch­ing to get back to it. The weeks or months of wait­ing for your raid boots, or Gjal­larhorn, made the even­tual pay­off all the sweeter.

The pain may have stopped, but we didn’t. Once you’d got all the gear you re­ally needed you car­ried on any­way, play­ing and re­play­ing the same old mis­sions. Routes and en­emy pat­terns had long been com­mit­ted to mem­ory, your god-tier weapons mak­ing mince­meat of them all. Luke Smith – the Bungie staffer who de­signed VOG, Des­tiny’s first and best raid, di­rected The Taken King, its best ex­pan­sion, and is now lead­ing de­vel­op­ment of Des­tiny 2 – once de­scribed

Des­tiny as “the bar I can go to in my py­ja­mas”, and it re­mains the most suc­cinct ex­pla­na­tion of the game’s ap­peal. A few sphinc­ter-clench­ing raid sec­tions aside, it’s the most laid-back game about shoot­ing alien mon­sters you could pos­si­bly imag­ine. The ad­van­tage to hav­ing so lit­tle con­tent was that, if you played it enough times, you could do it with­out think­ing about it. It’s a highly so­cial game, with a largely friendly com­mu­nity – the kind that forms when play­ers come to­gether to see off some of the tough­est chal­lenges in videogames, then spend a cou­ple of hours pop­ping Ca­bal heads, farm­ing up­grade ma­te­ri­als and talk­ing about their days to wind down. None of this would have hap­pened had

Des­tiny not been one of the finest ac­tion games around. Not even the magic of VOG would’ve saved Des­tiny had there not, be­neath the miserly loot sys­tem, the wet fart of a story and the con­tent drought, been a rock-solid FPS. We ex­pected great gun­play from the maker of Halo, but Des­tiny’s true me­chan­i­cal magic lies in the way it bor­rows from the MMO – with its cooldowns and su­per moves, its deeply cus­tomis­able sub­classes – and uses them to cre­ate some­thing that sub­verts, and el­e­vates, our ex­pec­ta­tions of the FPS. That foun­da­tion car­ried the game through three years of peaks and troughs; no doubt it will do the same for the forth­com­ing se­quel, and the full length of the Ac­tivi­sion con­tract. Yet as we fi­nally close the book on Des­tiny, the lin­ger­ing im­pres­sion is not one of a shooter, or even an RPG – but a game that some­how man­aged to be the best when it was, by any ob­jec­tive stan­dard, its ab­so­lute worst.

The Tower so­cial hub hosted boun­ties, ven­dors and quest givers – and plenty of fel­low play­ers to show emotes to

Bungie’s fi­nal gift to Des­tiny play­ers was to revitalise old raids with con­tem­po­rary en­emy lev­els and loot drops. Any ex­cuse to run VOG again

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