April 4, 2020

Destiny: A Love Story?

Destiny: A Love Story?

A tale of love, heartbreak, and community...

On February 20th, 2013, Bungie officially announced their next big franchise, leaving Halo behind, and revealing the world of Destiny to the masses. As someone who didn’t have an Xbox, Halo was something I had only played sparingly, and those experiences were mainly reserved for the PVP aspect of the game against my friends. So, with Bungie’s Destiny announcement, and a new partnership with Sony and Playstation, I was super excited that one of their properties was coming to my console of choice, and in a big way.

And ever since the public beta launched in the summer of 2014, the Destiny franchise, for better or for worse, has been a major part of my life.

If you’ve ever had a conversation about video games with me, listen to our podcast, or happen to be on my PSN friends list, there’s a damn good chance you have either A. heard me talk about Destiny, or B. Played the game itself, either in the Crucible, Raiding, or tirelessly grinding out Strikes. During either of those instances, it has undoubtedly come up that my relationship with Bungie’s ever-expanding world has been very much a tale of ups and downs.

When the beta finally went live for Destiny, I don’t think I had ever had quite the level of excitement for a release. Getting to finally dissect this small taste of the game Bungie had given us, exploring Old Russia and the Forgotten Shore, and participating in my first public event, I knew this was going to be something I was committing to for the long haul. I remember near the tail end when Bungie unlocked the moon for a very short amount of time, and my friends and I did a mad dash to explore as much of it as we could. From that point on, I couldn’t wait for the full game to launch.


September 9th, 2014: Launch Day. I can’t tell you the number of hours I sunk into the game those first couple of weeks, but they were glorious. I had a core group of friends I was playing with at the time. We went about rediscovering the moon, learning the secrets of Venus and the mystery behind the Vault of Glass, and finally, going toe to toe with the warmongering Cabal on Mars, who, of course, would become the focal point and main antagonists of Destiny 2.

One issue with Bungie’s new franchise that immediately stood out was what they were calling their “main campaign.” It lacked any kind of a cohesive story, and by the time that campaign did end, you were left with about 100 more questions than answers. To this day, many of the “plot” points and mystery behind the Exo Stranger, have never been resolved. Destiny 2 has only now returned to the Black Garden with the Garden of Salvation Raid, and even that offers little to no explanation of why the raid is actually taking place.

The lack of strong story building was enough for everyone in my core group of online friends at the time to completely give up the game. This was disappointing, as I was trying to build a group that would play in this world for years to come. When the Vault of Glass Raid launched, they briefly returned, but unable to get through it, that was the last time any of them ever played. As my friend Vin put it…

“[I] was just tired of the grind, others stopped playing the game. [It] didn’t live up to the expectations of [the] story and the huge world full of cool random events/instances.”

I decided to stay committed, though, and pressed on with the game. I would end up only doing one Vault of Glass completion in year one thanks to the Fireteams subreddit, which was an excellent tool for solo players in year one. For me, Destiny then and now, has never been about the Raids, so at the time, not getting to do it multiple times wasn’t a deal-breaker. I was happy to explore Old Russia, which was and still remains my favorite Destiny location ever, despite it being the base location you start the game at.

In December, a few months after the base games release, Destiny’s first expansion, The Dark Below, was released, and it was the first big test of Destiny’s sustainability as an ever-evolving open-world game. For me and many others, the Dark Below was a letdown. The DLC didn’t offer any new location, and story missions rehashed maps we were already familiar with. The two strikes, one of them being a Playstation exclusive, offered nothing terribly exciting. However, The Will of Crota strike would end up becoming one of the more challenging Nightfall strikes and offer up some of the game’s best exotic loot.

On top of that, the Crota’s End Raid left a lot to be desired, feeling more like a long strike than anything else. Bugs plagued the raid as well, and it ended up being ridiculously easy to clear. In other words, you could “cheese” your whole way through the encounter with minimal effort.

The Dark Below and Crota’s End did accomplish something important, though. It helped lay the groundwork for what is still quite possibly the Destiny franchise’s best expansion and DLC, The Taken KingDark Below’s story at the time was most certainly muddled, but our actions in that DLC would end up having consequences, as Oryx would enter the picture, seeking revenge for the death of his son, Crota. 

The arrival of Oryx and The Taken King would bring about some of the game’s best lore, including the Books of Sorrow. This lore would take up almost the entirety of Bungie’s first hardcover lore book as well, and for lack of a better term, a really fascinating read. In fact, the Hive, one of the, if not the main villains of the Destiny franchise, are probably the most fleshed-out characters, lore-wise, in the franchise. As one of my Destiny clan-mates, Corak, puts it…

“The Darkness, the worms, the Books of Sorrow, the Ascendant Realm, Eris and Toland’s backstories, [it’s] almost frustrating how imbalanced it is.”

The Taken King also helped bring balance and a slew of new features to a game that, at the time, was not in a good place. It would rejuvenate Destiny in a massive way. But before things got good again, they had to get worse.

After The Dark Below, Destiny wouldn’t see its next expansion until the early summer in May. I invested in the collector’s edition of the game; both DLCs were included, so I wasn’t going anywhere until at least after its release. Plus, I was still mostly dedicated to the game. House of Wolves would release to a moderately better reception than Dark Below, but there was still a lot of issues, mainly revolving around Destiny’s loot system.

For me personally, I loved House of Wolves. It introduced me to one of my favorite characters in the franchise, Variks, a Fallen who has pledged his loyalty to the Queen of the Reef, Mara Sov. And Although that’s where his loyalty was at the time, there was no denying Variks had plans upon plans in motion. Mara, her brother Uldren, and the Reef, in my opinion, have the most unique story and lore in the Destiny franchise. We’ll be talking more about them later.

On a gameplay level, I had met a friend, Wes, through some other games, and we had started playing Destiny together. I had also discovered that my boss’s son was huge into the game, so we started playing together regularly. Here we were, this little trio, and it was great. With House of Wolves came the main antagonist Skolas, and his later imprisonment in the Prison of Elders. To say that Skolas is still to this day, the most challenging boss mechanic and event Bungie has ever put out, in my opinion, not an overstatement.

With Josh and Wes, we must have spent a couple of weeks trying to take down the bastard. There were, of course, the streamers and the hardcore players (and here I was at the time thinking I was one) doing it close to day one. No, it took until August 20th, a couple of actual nightmares, and a text from Josh saying, “It’s happening tonight,” to slay the Kell of Kells. The screaming, the joy, the adrenaline rush of taking him down still remains my favorite Destiny moment of all time. I like to think I got some good karma that night by buying Karyn flowers.

Josh, Wes, and I after defeating Skolas.

Wes, Josh, and I continued to play, and slowly built a small little clan, and with the excitement of The Taken King looming, this was some of the most fun I’d had playing the game. When Taken King finally did launch, the level of excitement was close to if not more than Destiny’s initial release. The Taken were an exciting new enemy, with mechanics that we hadn’t seen in the game before. The Dreadnaught was and is an awesome location, full of secret passageways and Hive lore hidden within. At times, it seemed like every time you landed there, you would find something new.

Oryx’s arrival in Destiny also saw the lore of the game expand upon the origins of the Hive, their whole reason for being, and the apparent death of the Queen of the Reef, Mara Sov. The expansion would culminate with Destiny’s most in-depth and complicated Raid yet, Kings Fall, and that’s where the problems quickly began for our young but growing clan.

As I had mentioned previously, Destiny has never been about raiding for me. I enjoy them but don’t have a need or desire to do them (save for Rise of Iron and Destiny 2’s launch) right when they come out. For me, King’s Fall wasn’t going anywhere. However, Josh and some of our members had decided to take it on, and there was a clash. The story of how this situation went down, as I’m sure has gone down in countless other online game clans, rubbed me the wrong way. The combination of bullying, grinding the game for a year, and general burnout, led me to take my first significant hiatus away from Destiny. Josh never played the game again.

The first time I “quit” playing Destiny, it wasn’t for lack of enjoying the game. Many factors went into my decision. I was a new dad, my good friend had been treated poorly, and I was just burned out. I wasn’t gone for good, but I needed some time away. Not to mention, there were tons of other games that I wanted to play. 

About nine months later, with the announcement of the Rise of Iron expansion, which would focus on the legendary Iron Lords, I was back, and at the time, fully embraced being a solo Destiny player. Iron Banner remains my favorite monthly activity in the game, and the fact that they were releasing an entire DLC revolving around it blew my mind. It still remains my favorite DLC, if not for some obviously biased reasons.

Before the launch of Rise of Iron, I wanted to do some housekeeping, like finally kill Oryx, and for the month or so before the expansion, relied heavily on the previously mentioned r/fireteams. This gave me another great Destiny moment that I won’t forget. The person who was helping us through the Raid was French, and there was a language barrier. Even with that, he was still able to get us through, with a mix of teamwork and trial by fire. It was an exciting way to come back to the game.

When Rise of Iron released, I saw myself in a predicament. I was a solo player desperately wanting to do the new Raid, Wrath of the Machine, on launch day. And while I was able to put a team together to try it out on the first night, and we were able to get to the second encounter, we couldn’t beat it. Luckily, my friend Simon knew someone who had been running it a lot and thus began my obsession with Wrath of the Machine.

For a hardcore Destiny player who loves raiding, the number I’m about to say is pennies compared to people who have hundreds of clears, but for me, completing this Raid 16 times was a big deal. I even was able to run some people through it successfully who had never done it before, and that felt really good. To give you an idea of just how much raiding is not my cup of tea, my total Raid completions for Destiny 1 was 34. For whatever reason, the mechanic of Aksis teleporting to different locations entirely at random and the emphasis on teamwork really intrigued me.

A few months later, in March of 2017, Bungie finally announced Destiny 2. I was excited, but I was, and still am to a degree, in the camp that there didn’t necessarily need to be Destiny 2. My thought has always been that they should have and could have been an ever-growing universe. The issue seemed to be was that even with the giant patch Bungie implemented in The Taken King, Destiny’s engine was still broken and outdated, and a new one needed to be put in place, hence Destiny 2. 

With the promise of an actual story and real threat to humanity in the game, I couldn’t really complain. Sometime after the announcement, I took a little bit of time off the game again and came back for the Age of Triumph quest book, and the final few months of the first game. It was some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing Destiny.

I played with friends, I did a bunch of Raids both normal mode and hard, and always with different people. I spent a lot of time just exploring the old locations, sniping Fallen in the Mothyards, spending more time on Mars with Cabal in anticipation of wiping the floor with them in Destiny 2. A lot of that time was spent with my friends Erin and Trever Talberg, whether doing Kings Fall clears or completing triumphs in our book. When it comes to describing that time in Destiny, Erin put it best…

“Age of Triumph was the ultimate power fantasy for Destiny. We were at the top of our game - playing with friends near & far while we owned the system.”

And as I said to her talking about writing this piece, our guardians truly looked like gods by the end of Destiny 1. But as they say, all good things must come to an end. As the sun set over the Last City one last time in Destiny, Gaul’s fleet of Red Legion ships burned the sky above the Tower, lighting it up once more with the launch of Destiny 2.

Painted Black, the final days of "Destiny 1."

Almost three years to the day that the original vanilla Destiny arrived, Destiny 2 launched with critical acclaim, at least initially. The story was good, if not a little generic. The gunplay, something that Bungie has never been criticized about, was still superb, as the franchise remains a leader in how an FPS should feel.

Once again, I felt the need to do the raid right away, and was still mostly a solo player at the time, completing the campaign with my friend Simon, and playing with him off and on. At least in the early stages of Destiny 2, r/fireteams was still a great tool and finding a group to explore the mystery’s of Calus’ “Leviathan” was a piece of cake. As my friend Paul began to rebuild his Nightstalkers clan, I began to meet new players and make some new friends. Once again, I was a part of a pretty active and somewhat competitive Destiny community.

After a few “Leviathan” runs, and the week to week grind of Flashpoints, Crucible matches, and strikes, the Destiny community very quickly began to realize that the base game wasn’t very good at all. Getting loot was too easy, especially exotics. The Crucible’s new mechanics and change to 4v4 didn’t feel right, and the lack of level advantage in Iron Banner turned it from being something special to being just another PvP mode. Trials of the Nine? A shell of its predecessor, Trials of Osiris. Strike scoring? Forget about it.

Looking back to the story, Guardians losing their light ended up not having any ramifications at all, and had no effect on the outcome of the story. There were virtually no consequences, as your character got their light back early on in the campaign. Finally, as Destiny 2 continued to grow, and many old weapons and armor pieces made their way back into the game, many were left wondering why needed to lose our old gear in the first place.

Once again, I had gone all-in on a collectors edition, so I was going to play through the first two upcoming expansions, Curse of Osiris and Warmind. I got my Warlock (my main character in the franchise) through most of Warmind before I finally called it quits.

Curse of Osiris was as bland a DLC as there could be. The new location of Mercury, which should have been an awesome sandbox, was instead a dull wasteland of scattered enemies and little else. The character of Osiris, in my opinion, someone who should have been as mysterious as he was built up in the lore, was an annoying loudmouth. Had his ghost Sagira, voiced by the fantastic Morena Baccarin, done all the talking for him, perhaps the DLC would have been a little less insufferable.

One of the few good things to come out of the DLC was the new Raid Lair, Eater of Worlds. Still a raid, but a shorter, streamlined version within the Leviathan tied up into one nice little package. While I only ran it a handful of times, I had a blast, and the boss mechanic, although a pain in the ass at times, was reliant on teamwork more than some other Raids, which is something I enjoyed with Wrath of the Machine.

At this point, the community was upset, and bordering on angry. We as players were promised a Destiny experience that we once again, really weren’t getting in this new game. With one more DLC to go, I needed to be blown away if I was going to stick around past Warmind. That didn’t happen.

Warmind’s story itself was intriguing, introducing us to Ana Bray, a Guardian who was breaking one of the significant rules about being a Guardian, and that was exploring their past. Not only was Ana exploring her past life, but she also picked it right back up where she left off, as she and her family, the Bray’s, are an important part of Destiny Golden Age lore. Even more intriguing, Ana is working with the Warmind, Rasputin, also important to Destiny lore, and an overall story arc I’m super fascinated by.

Bringing us back to Mars, Warmind’s story missions left much to be desired. The DLC’s two new strikes were fine but did little to add any real substance. While the new Escalation Protocol Public Event on Mars was fun, it was hard to find players, even from the start, to do it with. To make matters worse, the Spire of Stars Raid Lair launched as a buggy mess and remains a sour subject for Destiny players. The one thing remotely keeping me interested in the game was finding all the little shards hidden on Mars. That wasn’t going to keep me around.

Around the same time the DLC launched, our clan was in a transitionary period. There were those among us that were a little more casual, and others who wanted to be a bit more competitive, whether in PvP competitive play or doing raid challenges, etc. When those players (who I am once again in a clan with and consider friends) left to form that offshoot, I did not take it well. I said some things I didn’t mean and was overall just fed up with Destiny. With these factors in play, and a second child on the way, I never saw myself playing the game ever again.

And I didn’t. For a very long time. I didn’t even have an itch. For 13 months, May of 2018 to June of 2019, I did not play Destiny 2. In September of 2018, much like Bungie did with The Taken King, they announced Forsaken, an expansion that would fundamentally change the game, and offer a rich story, and introduce exciting new game modes. Best of all, the game was going to be heading back to the Reef, and revisit the story of Mara and Uldren Sov.

Mara dying in The Taken King was one of the biggest unanswered questions in Destiny lore. Did she actually die? Or was there something else at play? I should have gotten the itch, but I didn’t. When I asked my friends if I should come back, they said yes, the game was good again, and even still, I didn’t. My son was born the month after Forsaken’s release, and we had been through a wild ride with him, so the motivation and time commitment just wasn’t there. For the first time ever, I skipped Destiny expansion.

I didn’t just skip it. When Destiny went over to the new “seasons” format, I skipped all of them. In fact, I knew virtually nothing about what was happening in Destiny outside of some things that transpired in Forsaken. As Matt and I began to record the podcast, we would talk about it off and on; my experiences, why I didn’t play anymore, and why he still did.

Along the way, some things started to pique my interest. The news came down that Bungie was splitting from their publisher, Activision. From that point forward, Bungie would self publish any future Destiny 2 content, giving them creative freedom and control of their release schedule. For many, including myself, we saw Activision as the reason Destiny was failing as a franchise, with their content over quality mentality. This gave me my first itch to come back to Destiny.

So I scratched it. I re-downloaded the game and booted it up. I didn’t buy Forsaken, I just wanted to dip my feet in to see if this was something I wanted. I saw the Flashpoint was on Titan (yawn), so I dropped in, threw a grenade, shot a couple of Fallen, and felt nothing. For me, at that time, I seriously thought it would be the last time I ever touched the game. I talked about the experience on the pod, and Matt may have said something along the lines of, ‘you’ll be back.’

At some point, there were rumblings of the Shadowkeep expansion, and Matt had mentioned something about the Season of Opulence, and this new game mode, The Menagerie that was like a raid but had matchmaking. Even more? There was a weapon quest to get Outbreak Prime (Perfected, now), my second favorite gun from Destiny 1. Interest? Peaked.

So I went online and stumbled on Datto’s YouTube channel, someone who I watched off and on throughout my time in the Destiny universe. Love him or hate him, the dude is a resource of useful information and semi-decent opinions. As if he somehow knew the question was being asked, there was a video on his page titled, “Is it Worth Playing Destiny 2 (Again?) Should You Wait Until Shadowkeep.” That video was published on June 12th, 2019. I was back playing Destiny, with Forsaken installed along with it, on June 20th.

And man, when I fired the game back up, it was a trial by fire. I was immediately greeted by everything that I missed. I’m not going to lie, it was intimidating. I fired through the fantastic campaign of Forsaken, taking me through the wastelands of the Reef, seeking revenge for the death of Cayde-6 at the hands of Uldren Sov and his Forsaken. Along the way, I was welcomed back by characters like Petra Venge from House of Wolves and introduced to new ones like the Fallen gangster, Spider.

Oh, and surprise! Forsaken had not one, but two new amazing locations. The Dreaming City is probably my new favorite location in Destiny 2. Much like Destiny’s Dreadnaught, the Dreaming City is ripe with content and filled with secrets upon secrets. Best of all? Mara Sov was alive, and I must have spent hours reading the awesome new lore that unlocked about her as I progressed.

Of course, I also had to (not that I had to, but you know how it goes) complete the content or at least some of it of the seasons that proceeded Forsaken. Thanks very much to my friends Sean and Andrew, I was able to get through a lot of it, and get most of the guns and armor that I wanted. I was also welcomed into a new clan by WhiskyTX, and a lot of my old clan mates were there and also welcomed me back with open arms. 

When I finally did decide to come back to the game, I laid down some ground rules for myself. I was going to have fun. I wasn’t going to do anything that I didn’t find joy in (yet I decided to do the forge quests on three characters….). If I was starting to feel burned out, I was going to take a breather. Finally, I was not going to bad mouth the game on our discord chat, at least to the best of my ability. It helps no one. If there was a conversation about the state of the game, I would say my piece and leave it at that.

Coming back to the game so close to a new expansion also gave me goals and targets. I was going to do so and so by this time. Having goals made the game fun for me again. When Moments of Triumph year 2 were announced, I was determined to complete enough of them to get my shirt, even at a severe time handicap from coming back so late. Once again, thanks to my clan, I was able to accomplish that. 

When that was all done, I made my wife promise me something, and that was to never let me “quit” Destiny again. Love it, hate it, issues or not, this game has been a major part of my life for the past six years, and I never wanted to be in a crunch like that again.

Why? Why do I keep coming back? And why am I here to stay this time, break here or there throughout the way? Because I love it. I love the community, I love the friends I’ve made through it, and I love that I can continue to adapt my playstyle as need be when life happens. Even more, I appreciate being in a group of like-minded people who support those decisions. Recently, I’ve reverted back to playing mostly solo, cause it’s hard to commit to planned events like raids, or certain Crucible game types with two kids. And that’s fine.

Do I still play with them? Of course, especially with this new predicament we’re all in. Destiny has very much become a game of communities, and I think my fellow clan-mate, Mad, puts it perfectly…

“Destiny is a game that is more about the people you play with than the game itself, and that’s pretty unique in gaming.”

Take the new expansion, Shadowkeep, for example. I went hard. I leveled up quickly, I had a go at the raid and came damn close to completing the seasonal seal. I had fun going through it with my friends and clan-mates, and when Season of Dawn came around, I just wasn’t feeling it. It was a return to characters I didn’t like and simply put, it was boring. So I took the season off. Now, with Season of the Worthy, I’m back. The story interests me, and the bounties, an unpopular opinion, are fun to grind.

And that’s what’s great about Destiny in its latest form, you can come and go as you please, perfect for someone who has to pick and choose what he does with his time wisely. Does the game still have its issues? Of course. What’s happening with Eververse is questionable, and the game seems to be riddled with some annoying bugs and disastrous load times. The return of Trials of Osiris has been met with ridicule rather than acclaim, and besides those of us in the minority, folks are tired of the bounty grind. Having said that, I think my friend Billy, who has been on our show, and is also a fellow clan-mate, says it better than I do…

“Destiny has its issues every now and then, but for me, it is more than just a game. It has become a social space for me where I get to hang out with my friends and play an awesome game.”

And that’s what I want to close on. Destiny is an awesome game. It most definitely has issues and is not perfect. But it’s been a form of release, escape, and wonder for me since 2014. I also want to say that it was not originally my intention to write this during a worldwide crisis, but here we are. Destiny has not only served as an escape, but it’s also brought those who play closer together. Over the past few weeks, I truly don’t know where I would be without it. 

Destiny’s tagline was “Become Legend.” I’m not there yet, but I’m certainly on my way.