I remember what it was like to get my character all set up for Destiny: The Taken King. It wasn't a good time, but I came up with a pretty good "cheat" to reach the game's level cap in the first few minutes of play. I had a few nights to enjoy the new content and settings, and then ...
Then life got in the way. I had to travel two weeks for work, and my character sat untouched while everyone else in the Destiny community raced ahead. I was chronically behind all my friends and regular playing groups by the time I got back. There was next to no way for me to catch up while keeping a normal schedule with games I needed to play with my job and the severe crimp five kids put on your playing time.
So whenever I picked up the controller to play, I was surprised to find that I was still having a bunch of fun.
I just had to get used to being a filthy, filthy casual
I was the guy who didn't have a powerful enough character to earn Black Spindle back when it was a thing. Get Sleeper Simulant when those quests became available? I was still trying to figure out where I could find all the relics.
I was tragically behind in nearly everything, which meant that the new quests that popped up and the mysteries that went with them were almost always out of my reach. It was like being a week behind on Game of Thrones; I couldn't talk at the water cooler because I didn't have the time necessary to keep up with things as they happened.
So, I stopped going to the water cooler.
The Taken King works surprisingly well as a single-player game — especially if you have a few friends playing once or twice a week who don't mind running quests again and keeping their mouths shut about what happens next. I didn't rush to figure out how to get each weapon; I just spent an hour or two once or twice a week trying to raise my light level while enjoying what the game had to offer. I stumbled over things. Some aspects of the game remained a mystery to me. I wasn't interested in how to do the most in the least amount of time anymore; instead, I spent time on the journey.
The Taken King has a reputation as a game that can eat up all of your time. The new content is a strange mixture of for-pay and play-to-win, but the core of the game, the actual time spent blowing shit up and earning new weapons, is good enough on its own.
The social grind is part of it, but Destiny to me often feels like I'm playing and replaying Halo levels with a slot machine attached. It's not exactly the most serious game, but it's very enjoyable to give it a bit of time throughout the week to slowly, but surely, improve your character. I was even happy to find out that my core shooting skills were good enough to keep me from embarrassing myself in the Crucible, even though the chatter about the best possible loadouts and builds confused me more than helped.
I often find open-world games overwhelming. Once I begin to feel flooded with choices, I shut down and try to find another game. Just Cause 3 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are two games that do a great job of providing enough freedom to make you feel as if you're free while giving you enough guidance that you rarely feel lost.
The Taken King goes in another direction that I find helpful. The new UI and structures make it easy to sit down, get a good look at what's available in terms of quests and bounties — along with an understanding about what you'll be earning for each — before settling down to do a few. I may be missing out on the speculation and fun of being up on all the big events, but instead I found a relaxing game that allowed me to enjoy my way to progression.
The game was always there for me between other projects or, when I had a few hours, needed a palate cleanser. I read and wrote about it because Destiny is a game that, like Eve Online, is a fascinating look at human behavior as well as a fun give-and-take between the community and the developer. The Taken King has been a learning experience for Bungie, and it's the same for me: I've learned that in some races I'm happy to just be there at all.