Despite the number of major game releases in the past few weeks, I am still playing Destiny, the year's best 6-out-of-10. I've been playing it for two months, and I'm still enjoying it.
I'll admit, Destiny is a game with problems. The complaints pointed out in the launch-week review remain valid. The story in particular is a disaster, a mess of cliches and loose ends. Not even the game's fans will defend the story, and this is embarrassing for Bungie, which compared Destiny's story to Lord of the Rings.
Destiny also lacks the mission variety we have come to expect in a modern shooter. While the campaigns in games like Call of Duty tend to have a lot of unique, scripted events, missions in Destiny almost exclusively involve shooting bad guys in corridors, and then either fighting a boss who is a bigger version of a regular bad guy or holding off waves of enemies. The missions may have been built this way with replayability in mind; scripted events feel like long cutscenes on subsequent playthroughs. But the game still makes a weak first impression, and, with many players, a first impression is all a game gets.
Why do we keep playing?
Bungie's managing of the game post-release has also been somewhat inept. They reduced the damage of an exotic gun called the Vex Mythoclast by 34 percent in one recent patch after a YouTube video of a player dominating a multiplayer deathmatch with the gun sparked complaints on Bungie's forums and on Reddit. The Mythoclast could only be obtained from defeating Atheon, the final boss of the Vault of Glass raid, on the hardest difficulty, and after the damage reduction, the gun was less effective than a number of other weapons that were far easier to get.
Bungie admitted the change was excessive in its weekly update, three days later, and promised to improve the gun in a subsequent patch. As a player familiar with Blizzard, which tests balance changes extensively on public test realms before patching live games, it was shocking to see a developer push a change like this onto the servers, and then reverse its decision so quickly.
Similarly, Bungie's Iron Banner Crucible event the week of Oct. 7 promised that "level advantages would be active." The forums blew up when a low-level player using a basic gun posted a video of himself getting kills in Iron Banner. Many players couldn't understand how this could happen, and some believed the Iron Banner rule set was exactly the same as regular Crucible.
Some sort of advantage was clearly in place; the low-level player needed more shots to kill people than they would have in normal Crucible, and I noticed that I was surviving things like Titan shoulder-charge melee attacks and shotgun blasts that would have killed me in a regular game. But the rules governing the Iron Banner playlist were poorly explained, and players couldn't figure out what was happening. Bungie promised that the level advantages would be more pronounced in future iterations of the event, but taking the playlist back to the drawing board meant canceling November's Iron Banner week. There hasn't been an event in Destiny since Oct. 14.
There was also a period of about three weeks when it was possible for a single Warlock or Titan to kill off Atheon, the final boss of Destiny's first raid, using a couple of well-placed grenades to get him to walk off a cliff. Bungie took three weeks to patch the encounter, and, when they did, they also decided to make some changes to the fight that make the boss more difficult, essentially punishing players who didn't get all the gear Atheon could drop when he could be killed with two grenades.
This is still an important console game
But Destiny's endgame is still the best in the business, despite its major problems.
Players of RPGs, who are susceptible to games that ask you to perform tasks that move a progress bar toward a long-term goal, tend to enjoy games like this, and collecting persistent gear in multiplayer games can be a very satisfying way to spend one's time.
Destiny is a less time-consuming alternative to games like World of Warcraft. Although you can play this game at a high level without scheduling your nights around guild raids, Destiny's endgame is still challenging enough to feel rewarding.
Why do we keep playing?
Destiny's shooting is extremely solid, the movement feels fluid, the double jumps and melee attacks are very satisfying, and the guns are awesome. The exotic weapons all have unique art, animation and sounds, and the exotic armor pieces look great while offering special upgrades.
That level of detail makes high-level gear attractive enough to justify earning the experience points and collecting the materials to get all their upgrades. Although there is some normalization in place to even the playing field, you can take your weapons and armor from the PvE game into Crucible matches, where the optimized perk loadouts on guns like the Suros Regime auto rifle and the Hawkmoon hand cannon can confer a bit of an edge.
And even if my best gun doesn't give me a huge advantage on the battlefield against other human players, it still looks cool. For many players, that is its own reward. I am looking forward to the next Iron Banner event when level advantages are enabled, and players who have been hunting for better gear since the last Iron Banner will be able to show off the fruits of their labor.
What it gets right
While Destiny's cooperative strike missions have been criticized for being somewhat simplistic, the once-a-week hard-mode versions of them for high-level players are much more interesting.
Destiny's six-man raid is also great fun
These "Nightfall" strikes add multiple complicating modifiers to the enemies — elemental damage types from both enemies and players can be increased, ammo drops may be reduced and enemy melee attacks may be upgraded to deal tons of bonus damage. These fights are often much more complicated and a lot more fun.
And, despite the odd changes and some frustrating, persistent bugs, Destiny's six-person raid is also great fun. The fights are much more complicated than other activities in the game, and beating it makes you feel like you've accomplished something, especially on the hard mode.
I was expecting a game of the year contender from Destiny, so the game's significant problems were extremely disappointing. But, despite the lame story, the repetitive missions and the post-release problems, Bungie has managed to create a game that is satisfying in the way that MMORPGs can be, without requiring the intense level of commitment that those games can demand.