The most excited I can ever remember being for a game was Halo 3.
In the weeks leading up to Sept. 25, 2007, I pre-ordered the Legendary "cat helmet" version of the game. I bought Game Fuel, god help me. I even, and it brings me no pride to admit it, wrote lyrics to the theme song I had permanently stuck in my head.
(Skip to 0:38 in this video and sing in rhythm: "It's Halo Threeee, Finish the Figggghht, Let's do it riiiggght, End it to-niiiight, cause it is Halo Three." ... Yeah, I didn't say they were good lyrics.)
The above admissions are very weird, because Halo is not my favorite franchise. I'd consider myself a casual fan, frankly, but there was something about the release of a new Halo game that felt ... monumental. The massive marketing push was certainly helpful (remember the museum ad?). It didn't hurt that I'd been working at Joystiq for six months and had just started to really feel like a part of the industry. But I think more than anything, it was one of those rare events where a massive portion of gamers was united by a single thing. The build-up to a gargantuan game like Halo 3 felt almost communal in a way not many things in gaming do.
Fast forward to yesterday afternoon, when I badgered my little brother Griffin into helping me complete the quest to get my exotic void sword in Destiny. He was chatting about weekend plans and said, "I can't see myself getting too deep into Halo 5's multiplayer, because if I'm gonna play an online shooter, it's gonna be the one where I get candy."
But Destiny has one incredibly compelling advantage over Halo: Persistence.
If you aren't playing Destiny at the moment: You're getting candy for kills as part of a Halloween event. It's ... weird. But Griffin's point resonated with me on a deeper level, and helped me realize why I've had an unopened copy of Halo 5: Guardians sitting within eyeshot on my desk since Amazon dropped it off on Tuesday.
If I'm gonna play a Halo, I'm gonna play the Halo that gives me candy, and that's Destiny.
Halo and Destiny aren't the same game, of course, but they're close enough that playing the latter so rabidly has completely doused my desire to play the former.
That's not to say Destiny: The Taken King is objectively better than Halo 5. The parts of Arthur's review I skimmed made it sound really good, in fact. (Just kidding, I read Arthur's whole review. Promise. I really loved the part where he ... complained. About something.)
But Destiny has one incredibly compelling advantage over Halo: persistence.
Time well spent
Halo 5 has a system that unlocks weapons and gear for playing multiplayer, of course, but it's contained. The time I spend in Halo 5 will forever be locked in Halo 5. But with Destiny's 10-year plan, every victory for my Guardian, every item, feels more meaningful. I'm not just playing, I'm investing in something that will continue to pay dividends for a decade to come.
Part of this is, of course, illusion. Much of the time I spent in Destiny before The Taken King was instantly trivialized when the expansion launched with better weapons and armor that made a ton of Year One gear unusable, practically speaking. But there's enough connectivity that I can convince myself my time in Year One was well spent, even if there's a bit of self-delusion going on.
The thing is, I'm not necessarily thrilled with the way my brain has rewired itself to prize incrementally increasing my Light level over new gaming experiences. I was able to break the cycle for something drastically different like Assassin's Creed Syndicate, so I'm not a lost cause. But for something as similar to Destiny as Halo 5, the complicated dopamine equations my brain uses to decide what I'm addicted to at any moment just don't add up.
My suspicion — my fear, if I'm being honest — is that this is the way forward for gaming. That the new frontier of hooking players isn't just giving them a sense of fun (even though Destiny also provides that in spades); it's in giving them a sense that they're also being productive, as hollow as that productivity may objectively be.
For now, my plan is to keep chugging away on Destiny and hoping that the rewards will level out and those dopamine hits will start to be diluted. Because I really would like to play Halo 5. I like Halo games.
I mean, I wrote a whole song and everything.