Last week saw the seventh anniversary of the launch of the Destiny franchise, and Bungie’s sci-fi MMO has arguably never been weirder.
Back in 2014, I’d started to grow tired of video games. I wasn’t working in the industry then, but it felt like outside of watershed moments like The Last of Us, I was destined to drop out of gaming. Still, as a big Halo fan I jumped into the Destiny beta and came away enraptured – its world, its style, its loot were all so intoxicating.
Once it launched, I found myself logging in with friends and friends of friends, entering the Vault of Glass, slaying other players in the Crucible, and still having absolutely no clue about the overarching storyline outside of its infatuation with proper nouns like “The Darkness”. I overlooked the lack of a map, the need to go back to the Tower between every activity, and the fact the campaign was half-finished because there was nothing like it.
Fast forward seven years, then, and I’m still logging on as many evenings as I can to play Destiny (albeit now Destiny 2). I’m still checking in with Xur on Fridays, and I’m getting rather attached to Trials of Osiris, too. There’s still nothing like it.
What is it that makes me, and so many millions more, want to keep returning to this world?
Destiny still strikes a chord
“Games as a service” has become a little bit like a dirty word for gamers, but to date, there are few that do it as well as Destiny. When I boot up Destiny 2 in 2021, I’m still playing many of the same Strikes and PvP maps as I did when it launched in 2017.
A lot of that has to do with Destiny’s phenomenal core gameplay. The act of firing a weapon, or using an ability, or even just jumping, feels right. It’s cliche to say a game makes you feel like a superhuman, perhaps, but Destiny has consistently nailed the feeling of being powerful, of being feared by your enemies. Combat lands somewhere between Halo’s “floatiness” and the ADS-heavy nature of Call of Duty, with the abilities of an MMO thrown in for good measure, and each part compliments the last.
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A huge part of that is down to the game’s weapons, which for many are the reason they play. Weapon types and archetypes feel distinct in subtle ways, from recoil to controller vibration, to their reload animations, and there are hundreds, too. Since the franchise began we’ve been subsequently introduced to SMGs, grenade launchers, swords, and even bows, and not one of them feels any less fun to use than the last. That’s no mean feat.
The dark times
That’s not to say there haven’t been plenty of awkward moments during Destiny’s teenage years, particularly the start of Destiny 2. While Bungie made a big deal about how a second game would need to earn the big “2”, it’d be fair to say its sequel was off to an inauspicious start.
Destiny 2 launched with plenty of content from Destiny 1 removed, a lacking endgame, and micro-controversies including slower XP gain and consumable shaders (the latter of which persisted until earlier this year). Worse yet, the game’s first DLC expansion, Curse of Osiris, was dismal – uninteresting and over too quickly.
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Destiny 2’s approach to additional content has certainly been a sticking point for many. While the base game is now free-to-play (and shorn of much of its launch content), Bungie has released not only annual expansions but three-month season passes, too. It’s a tough spot to be in, with the developer looking for ways to fund more content, while also trying to appease players that have logged thousands of hours and are looking for reasons to invest thousands more.
Beating back The Darkness
The good news is that right now, those seasons include some of Destiny 2’s best moments. Rather than Bungie pushing players through siloed-off content like the Black Armory Forges or Gambit Prime as seasons did before, seasons are now full of story revelations, intense character moments, and a new series of challenges and rewards every three months.
It’s a hell of a model, and while Bungie has undoubtedly made some missteps along the way, Destiny 2 right now (with the expansion content) feels like the promise of games as a service fulfilled.
After seven years, Destiny represents so many things to so many people. For some, it’s the memories of 4AM raids where players crossed their fingers and toes for a Gjallarhorn. For others, it’s reaching the Lighthouse after seven wins in a row. For many, it’s just the perfect way to unwind with friends, whatever activity they’re playing.
Perhaps that’s the magic of Destiny and Destiny 2, then – it’s a hodgepodge of constantly shifting content all tuned to be played through with friends. For me, it’s the game that reignited a love of gaming and kickstarted a career in games media.
Happy birthday, Destiny. You did good, kid.