Gamers often relish the holidays as a chance to get away from work and school long enough to take a bite out of that big, meaty game they’ve been waiting to play. But if you’re looking forward to diving into Destiny you’ll need a lot more than just a few rainy vacation days, and besides, there’s a good chance you’ll be disappointed. Destiny is not the game you think it is.
As the newest game developed by Halo creator Bungie, Destiny bears a resemblance to those Master Chief-starring blockbusters. But once the story missions are through, Destiny becomes a neverending hunt for one thing: loot. This hunt is driven by obsession, and that’s a dangerous place for gamers to go.
Destiny’s loot system is a product of the game’s identity crisis. It straddles two genres — the first-person shooter and the massively-multiplayer-RPG — and as a result it never feels confident in itself. Worst of all, playing Destiny often feels like a chore.
And yet I can’t stop. I don’t want to stop. And the same thing might happen to you.
Development on Destiny began years ago, at a time when game studios were doing everything they could to topple Blizzard’s World of Warcraft from its throne. WoW, which not by coincidence is also owned by Destiny publisher Activision, is one of the most popular games ever, and it’s held a stranglehold on the MMORPG genre for more than a decade. Can’t you just imagine how that meeting went? “We’ll make Warcraft, but Halo! They’ll beg us to take their money!”
And they were right. Destiny made $325 million in its first five days on sale in September, and as of November had 9.5 million registered users. But Destiny’s players, dedicated as they may be, have some gripes with the game, most of them stemming from the very loot system that keeps them coming back. In theory players should receive better weapons and armor as they play more and take on tougher challenges, but the reality is that it’s mostly random, and unfortunately Destiny requires you to play the same missions over and over for just the chance to get the gear you want.
Destiny’s first downloadable content, the $20 expansion called “The Dark Below,” launched on December 9. It adds a handful of new missions, but players are most excited about one in particular: a new raid, Crota’s End. Destiny’s existing raid, the Vault of Glass, is its most fun and challenging mission; a good thing, since for months it was the one players had to repeat most often in hopes of getting the armor that would let them level up. Eager teams of six players have tackled the Vault as often as possible to maximize their chances of getting that loot, but fate has been cruel for many. Bungie says the new raid has different rules that will help ensure players don’t get multiples of the same items while missing out on others, but anyone who’s been playing this long is already frustrated.
Sony threw a two-day event called The PlayStation Experience in Las Vegas the weekend before “The Dark Below” came out, and while there I witnessed plenty of fans interacting with people who work on Destiny. More than one reacted exactly how you’d expect of anyone who’s logged a significant number of hours into a half-broken game and suddenly gets to vent directly to its creators: “I love Destiny, I play it all the time,” followed without skipping a beat by a complaint or two; that they’d somehow received 18 of the same gun without ever getting the ones they really want, or something similar.
This experience is more or less universal among Destiny players, yet I was eager to play “The Dark Below,” just as I’ve looked forward to my team’s weekly raids every Tuesday since Destiny launched in September. And I’ll keep playing the expansion’s half-dozen new missions long after the novelty of beating them for the first time wears off, my sights fixed squarely on whatever exotic guns and armor I’m pining for in the coming weeks.
After long enough playing Destiny, winning the dice roll and getting the loot you want is just about the only thing that feels like an accomplishment anymore, and just like in real gambling doing so requires more luck than anything else. Is it any less dangerous, just because you’re investing time instead of money?
To some this might be a fatal flaw, but if you’re like me it’s what will keep you coming back day after day. You played Halo with your friends for months and months because it was fun to shoot at one another, ducking behind corners and lobbing grenades; you’ll do the same in Destiny more so you can maximize the odds of earning cooler shit. And somehow the pure, childish joy you feel when you finally do get that amazing gun you wanted makes it all worth it. Destiny is a game powered by greed and, sometimes, greed is good.
I fought this feeling for months, but now I’ve happily resigned myself to a simple fact: despite the dirty tricks it uses to keep me around, I love Destiny. And if you let it suck you in, you will too.
Mike Rougeau is Playboy.com’s Games Editor, in charge of all things gaming but mostly concerned with maxing his Destiny characters. He lives in Los Angeles with his girlfriend and two dogs. Follow him on Twitter @RogueCheddar.