I have a confession to make. I’m a Destiny player. I might even call myself, and other fans, as “Guardians.” I know, sounds cheesy and corny right? But it is what it is. That’s mostly because I know how much the Destiny franchise has become an integral part in the lives of many other players throughout the years. For good or ill, it is this generation or the FPS gamer’s World of Warcraft. It is a shared-world shooter, an FPS with an MMORPG feel. As such, all the trappings and issues of the genre go along with it.
Destiny’s growing pains
I believe many of us saw how it all began: Bungie leaving Microsoft, striking out on their own, and promising a brand new IP that would capture our imaginations and blow our minds. We saw the growing pains. From luminary composer Marty O’Donnell being removed from the team to director Joseph Staten leaving. Likewise, wondered how this new product to be published by Activision would be worth $500 million. Just as well, we thought about how it would be a 10-year journey. We marvelled at the promise of a shared-world shooter. It would be an online world so vast and a story so rich. It would push the envelope of what a social and interactive video game would be like. Then it all came crashing down.
When people started dying at map boundaries after a “Turn Back” countdown reached zero. Or when players decided it was more fun and rewarding to camp a “Loot Cave.” How about when we realized that every mission is just on repeat and Peter Dinklage was a bore who just opened doors? Or remember the moment when the Exo Stranger “didn’t have time to explain?” The Destiny launch was marred with so many controversies and problems that for every person who liked it, another one popped up who was already disgusted by it.
But it persisted. The game chugged on. The developers continued working. The community remained ever hopeful. There was something that brought everyone a sense of wonderment when they played — whether it was the time that Hive ships spawned while activating a satellite array, or when Oryx first floated on the scene with Saturn in the background. Millions kept at it because of the knowledge that Destiny, for all its flaws and misgivings, was the only game that gave that feeling of shared triumph not seen since World of Warcraft.
Building connections in World of Warcraft
Like World of Warcraft, Destiny created a community so loyal and dedicated to a game. It provided players with an idea that everyone was working towards something. Destiny had a fan base that was so passionate. They love the game. They hate it. And then they love it again. This love-hate relationship exists in its forums, subreddits, and player interactions. To many players, this was a form of investment and kinship that they would never have found in any first-person shooter. After all, you never get a chance to see too many Call of Duty Captain Price cosplays, a Battlefield-themed wedding, or a Counter-Strike cake that someone’s wife baked. Yet you see all of these gestures of fan appreciation in Destiny fairly often. The fandom, the dedication, and the passion run deep among a lot of players.
Those are the same things I’ve seen in World of Warcraft in another life. 14 years ago, I discovered the game and decided to give it a try. I have loved the Warcraft real-time strategy games since I was a kid, and World of Warcraft made me feel right at home. The living, breathing world and the memorable cast of characters made for an engaging romp. The players I’ve met over the years were some of the nicest people I’ve ever known in my life. They were my guildmates.
Our camaraderie didn’t just end the moment bosses like Arthas and Deathwing died, it practically encapsulated our online activities. Our bonds transcended the game. Some of my guildmates poured out their heart and soul over their worries, others shared great accomplishments in their careers. On a couple of occasions, we heard newborn babies cry on our Teamspeak channel when their parents (Warlock-main mom, and Prot-Warrior who loves to PvP dad) introduced them. There were times when we joined the celebration of a wedding or an engagement. Likewise, there were moments when we came together in sorrow for those we lost.
“Friendship ended with Destiny, now Fortnite is my new best friend”
That was World of Warcraft for me — 6 years of the best gaming experience anyone could have. Many of us in the guild remained friends after a majority discussed to stop playing pre-Mists of Pandaria (yeah, we hated the pandas, too). And hey, I’ve even met them once more during my travels in various countries. There’s nothing more fun than reconnecting with a former WOW guildie who gives you a tour of Thailand, Korea, and California. I’d be visiting another fella, my best “Raid Officer,” once I head to Japan later this year.
That is why I can commiserate with countless Destiny fans who’ve invested so much in the first game only to see its sudden downfall in the sequel. A month after Destiny 2 launched, there were rumblings of dissatisfaction among the player base. It was a myriad of reasons. People had nothing to chase because random rolls were gone. The PvP was too team-shooting-oriented. The characters were too cartoony, the story was bland, and Bungie screwed up (again!)
It was all these and many more. Yet, perhaps, the biggest blow was the fact that people were leaving. You might see posts where people said they spent 2,000 or 3,000 hours in the game, or that they’ve been there since the alpha. Someone follows this up by saying that they lost all of their friends. Their friends went to The Division, to Fortnite, to PUBG, or to other games where they could find that fun again. There is a deep-seated and real emotion there. It was because of the time and effort that people invested not just in a video game, but in the relationships, they’ve built for the past three years.
The Casual vs. Hardcore debacle
What Bungie had admitted in the past was that they made the Destiny 2 more accessible to casuals, putting content at the front-end, and easing the grind. Remember, no matter how amazing the first game was to millions of people, the fact was that during its third year (Rise of Iron/Age of Triumph) barely a million people were left. The player base had dwindled significantly because the game did require an MMORPG-esque grind that’s reliant on randomness (RNG).
There were players who had to wait months to hit the level cap because they could not do the Hard Mode raids, or the armour pieces they needed were not dropping for them. Likewise, there were those who sat for countless hours doing the same strike over and over again hoping to get the perfect god rolls for their weapons. In the same vein, there were those who were so active but never were truly lucky with the RNG gods for the Gjallarhorns or Icebreakers. I myself had to wait 9 months until I got Gjallarhorn to drop, and I raided every week!
And so Destiny 2 became an easier, more casual romp, where everything was obtained in a snap. There was a balanced playing field, and yet that also meant it watered down the experience. To many players, it meant that the items and goals were no longer meaningful, and by extension, so was the game.
Curse of Osiris was cursed
In addition, the controversies from loot boxes/Eververse, as well as throttling experience points for easy-to-do activities, did not help matters. These offences were seen as egregious and harsh, and that players were just being abused left and right. Certain explanations did not help matters at all. Nothing but the game returning back to what it once was would suffice.
The middling DLC that was Curse of Osiris, which contained the most boring and repetitive procedurally-generated environment in The Infinite Forest, was the last straw. Everyone was in full revolt. That passion and dedication, the extremes of desire to love a game, coupled with all the frustrations that people have felt with all its issues were too much for Destiny’s communities to bear. It was as if the dam had finally collapsed.
With the developers away during Christmas vacation, players had no one to vent to other than the same people who were also angry. There were those who defended their sentiments as simply being the true fans of the game. Likewise, there were also those who chastised how far others went — from putting down or belittling fellow players, to attacking developers on social media. Putting all these volatile elements together and you create something seen fairly commonly today — an internet mob.
A balancing act
Eventually, cooler heads prevailed. As time passed, the anger subsided. Those who were extremely angry left completely or ended up wondering what they were angry about in the first place. Finally, the release of the Warmind DLC led to praise from many fans. The additions of secrets, collectables exotic quests, new activities, and Moments of Triumph fueled the drive to keep playing the same game over and over. The player base loved these in the first game, much like how our fellow WOW players enjoyed it all throughout that MMORPG’s lifespan.
In some strange way, it proved something valuable. It showed that the best way to keep extremely dedicated and passionate players from turning into a vocal mob was to just keep them engaged in playing. That meant a continuous flow of content drops the likes of which can only be comparable to an MMO.
Therein lies the problem, something that Bungie would have a hard time juggling. This is an FPS game. At its core, Destiny is part of a genre that is known to be one that attracts a fair number of casuals, while also having the most limitations in terms of design and mechanics. Think of it this way: an FPS is simply pew-pewing things in the head, be it Nazis, robots, or Darkness aliens. There is only so much that one can do before you hit a ceiling of every possible game mode, activity, or item perk combination. Combine that with being online-only, and yes, you are going to create new interactions and connections among people. That’s why a lot of Guardians find it depressing or hard to let go of. That’s why you might get a hostile reaction when you tell someone: “It’s just a game.”
The game isn’t Forsaken just yet
So once again, Destiny has to walk that tightrope between pleasing its hardcore and dedicated fans who want tons of things to do and a grind to keep them occupied, and countless more who are simply looking for a good way to pew-pew on a weekend.
How they cater to one without alienating the other, we don’t know. What we do know is that they catered too much to the hardcore player base in the first game, and that drove out the casuals leading to the player population dropping. They catered too much to the casuals in the sequel, and that riled up the other side. It’s a balancing act. It’s one that Blizzard has perfected with World of Warcraft through the years. A lot of that is owed because it’s part of the RPG genre at its core. This something that Bungie will still try to fine-tune this coming Forsaken expansion. After all, they are going to have 9 new supers/perks, and are re-working a lot of things in the game.
Destiny has become the World of Warcraft of this generation and the FPS gamer. It’s rich, engaging, and it inspires so much dedication and passion. People would hate the game and then find themselves coming back to it because they miss it. Dread it, run from it, Destiny still arrives. For good or ill, that’s what the developers have to deal with.
I’m a contributor for various sites under the Enthusiast Gaming umbrella: Destructoid, Dailyesports.tv, PlayStation Enthusiast, and Flixist. Games. Movies. Travel. History. Warhammer. Dad jokes. All around nerdy stuff. You name it, I’ll happily chime in.
I don’t have any backed Kickstarter projects to disclose, although I used to be a CM for a local MMO — this was way back in 2006. I also used to be really good in Counter-Strike, and I mean “bunny hop to avoid AK-47 bursts and shotgun AWP you in the face” good. Then I got old.