Six Months Later, How is Destiny Holding Up?

Today marks exactly six months since Destiny‘s release (and I can say that because I got this submitted before midnight).  Let’s get something out of the way before I go further; I love Destiny.  It’s perhaps my favorite game of 2014.  The gameplay is solid, the visuals are stunning, and I really do love the universe it takes place in.  However, I’m also exceedingly frustrated with the game.  Beyond frustrated.  I spent a number of months not playing at all, and for various reasons. But Bungie has slowly been pushing out updates since launch, most for the better, and I want to take a moment to catalog some of the biggest changes and how they have affected the game.  I’ll also discuss what has yet to be changed, and why I feel it should be.  I’ll split this post into two sections; the Light, and the Darkness.

The Light

I think it would be a disservice not to acknowledge all the good things that Bungie has done for Destiny.  If you were like me and played at launch you know the true taste of disappointment.  New players, just getting into the game now, are lucky to have waited.  It’s frustrating knowing that they will never understand the pain that we went through, but trust me when I say that is a good thing!  It means that the game is improving, and with an improved game comes more players which means (hopefully) better content in the future.  And that’s good for everyone.

So what is Destiny doing well?  To understand that we need to understand what Destiny used to be like.

Since the original launch just playing the game was sometimes a chore.  The servers were buggy and prone to dropping people constantly, and it was not at all uncommon to be kicked to orbit or even completely logged out of Xbox LIVE while doing some difficult high-level content.  As I mentioned, I stopped playing for a few months when it got particularly bad.  Finally, it seems that the servers have become stable.  There are still occasional kicks, but not nearly as many as there used to be.

The original launch was also extremely grind heavy.  For example, each planet/moon in the game has its own harvestable resource; spinmetal on Earth, helium filaments on the Moon, spirit bloom on Venus, and relic iron on Mars.

Relic Iron
Kinda sorta definitely looks like something the Cabal “dropped.” 

These planetary resources are required to upgrade your weapons and armor, and you need a lot of them to do so.  Upgrading defensive perks on armor (which gives you more defensive power and also increases your Light level) and upgrading damage perks on weapons costs 16 of a particular research each, and with approximately five such perks on each item you are looking at 80 resource.  For a full suit of armor that’s 320!  Combine that with multiple weapons over the course of the game and you might need 1000 resources to hit max level and have the weapons to get through the higher level content.  The only way to collect these resources was to drop onto the planet and actively look for them.  You could find nodes scattered around the map (which would give 1-2 resources each) or open chests, likewise scattered throughout the landscape, which often held 1-2 resources but had a very slim chance of giving you 10+.  Imagine how much time it would take to collect that many resources at 1-2 per node.  It wasn’t difficult, but it was very time consuming and not particularly fun.

Bungie fixed this a bit.  Nowadays you can trade in five Vanguard or Crucible marks to the appropriate vendor for 20 resources of whatever kind you need, making it much easier for people to get resources while actively playing the fun stuff in the game.  Patrol-based Bounties (the ones that require you to do six patrols on a particular planet) also give you 10 of that planet’s resources when you cash the bounty in.  You can still grind the old-fashioned way, but it’s no longer required just to get your gear upgraded.

image1
How exactly do these resources upgrade your gear, anyway? Do you staple Helium Filaments to your guns?

Speaking of the grind, let’s talk about the ultimate Destiny grind; the fabled loot cave.  If you journey to a particular area on Earth during Patrol, near the hive seeder that you descend into during the Will of Crota strike, you will find a short cave with a pile of burnt bodies within.  Step near the corpses and you’ll get the option to interact with them, and a dark and disembodied voice whispers in your ear “A million deaths are not enough for Master Rahool.”  What does this mean?  Way back in September players spent hours shooting into that cave, killing the groups of Hive that would pour out of it endlessly.  If you did it correctly you could get nearly constant kills, and that in turn meant constant potential for engram drops, and engrams can be given to Master Rahool, the Cryptarch in the Tower, to convert them randomly into items.  Destiny doesn’t care what level the enemy you kill is or even what kind of enemy it is.  All enemies have the same chance at dropping green, blue, and purple loot, and because of that getting a lot of kills meant a better chance at getting blue and, especially, purple drops.  This was, sadly, the best and most effective way to get loot at the time; running the Crucible or the Tiger strike playlist resulted in few rewards, leaving few options for gear.  Worse on top of all this; blue engrams could turn into green items, and purple engrams could likewise turn into green or blue items.  So even if you got a bunch of engrams you could still end up with shit.

So how did Bungie fix this?  In a few ways.  First, they removed the functionality of the loot cave by vastly reducing the frequency with which enemies would spawn from it.  Second, they changed the way engrams work.  Now, blue engrams will always become blue or (rarely) purple items, and purple engrams will always become purple or (rarely) exotic items.  Three, they gave the player base other options for getting gear.  I don’t believe the Crucible was altered in any way, but Tiger strikes now give a guaranteed number of blue engrams and became the best method of acquiring them, meaning that now in order to get gear you actually have to do things that are generally fun.  No more mindlessly shooting into a cave.

image5
A relic of an era gone by.

The latest patch also improved the U.I. by allowing players to check their faction rep on their character menu.  Before, you were required to journey to the Tower and run over to the various faction vendors in order to see how your rep was coming along.  Not terribly annoying, but inconvenient.  Now there is a small drop-down button near your currencies, and pressing this displays all the in-game factions and where your reputation lies with them.  This is really just a quality of life change more than anything else, but it’s certainly welcome.  And another quality of life change?  Weekly Heroic Strikes now contain matchmaking, meaning that you are now guaranteed to have two partners to complete it.  This is great for anyone who has trouble getting a group together, but it would have been nice to have the option to opt out of matchmaking for anyone who enjoys soloing that kind of content.

One of the best changes to the game also came about recently; patch 1.1.1 fixed the heavy ammo bug that was eating away at the psyche of every raider in the game.  The bug was fairly straight forward; when you die you are supposed to respawn with the same amount of ammo that you had before death.  However, wearing a piece of armor that included the “Heavy Ammo Increase” perk would cause you to lose ammo on death.  Not a lot; perhaps one or two rockets.  But when heavy ammo costs 950 glimmer a pop and takes five minutes to be used again most raiders found themselves struggling to complete rocket-heavy fights like Crota.  And this happened to special ammo when wearing a “Special Ammo Increase” perked armor piece as well; special ammo is just easier to come by and not nearly as expensive.  The fix is a welcome one, but remember that because of it Guardians in the Crucible no longer drop heavy ammo when they die.

It would be amiss of me not to mention Eris Morn, the vendor for the Crota’s Bane faction in the expansion The Dark Below.  Bungie has learned from their mistakes in a lot of ways with Eris, improving the way her faction works when compared to the other factions in the game.  For one, RNG is not a concern for her shaders.  Building rep with Eris will increase your Crota’s Bane reputation up to a maximum of 4.  With each level you reach her shop opens up more items for you to purchase.  This means that you won’t spend 17 or more levels grinding for the Revenant shader, praying that it will finally drop (and not some other shader) and cursing at your TV when you inevitably get another Ascendant Shard.  You have a clear and reachable goal set before you, and your hard work matters just as much as anyone else’s.  No hearing about how some asshole on your friend’s list got their shader on level 5.

image3
No honestly; this guy should be polishing my boots by now.

Additionally, Eris’ special bounties have extra rewards tacked onto them.  You can get motes of light or ammo synthesis for doing certain bounties, providing a bit more incentive to grind her faction.  And the story missions that you get through her also provide interesting rewards.  My favorite fusion rifle in the game is Murmur, a purple-quality weapon that can freely switch from Arc damage to Solar damage depending on your needs.  This is interesting, and rewards like this leave players feeling like they actually accomplished something worthwhile.  I feel like I truly earned that weapon.

Bungie has done some great things with the game, but I think it’s time to move on to the next section of this post.

The Darkness

It’s unfortunate, but Bungie has made a few changes that most players find infuriating (or at least I do).  That, and small issues from the beginning of the game that should have been fixed a long time ago keep Destiny from reaching its fullest potential.  This list is surprisingly small; the latest patch introduced a number of changes that improved the game significantly.  But still it’s here, hanging out at the edge of the solar system, waiting for its contents to be acknowledged.

Earlier I mentioned that Bungie had made a change to engrams that was mostly positive.  But every light casts a shadow, and that is no more true than here.  True, purple engrams now exclusively become purple items or, sometimes, exotic items.  That’s fantastic.  Bungie wanted to ensure that when you got a purple engram that you were excited for it.  I wish I could be, but even now when I see a purple engram drop for myself I feel only unease and fear.  You see, when Bungie released the “Loot Cave Patch” they also reduced the frequency of purple engrams dropping.  The justification is that with the change to how the Cryptarch decrypts the engrams they were forced to reduce the chance of getting a purple.  A bit counter intuitive, but I see the logic.  Unfortunately, they also re-categorized Ascendant Materials (Shards and Energies, which are needed to upgrade purple gear) as purple-quality materials.  Meaning that the primary weapon engram you just picked up has a very good chance of turning into a Shard instead a new rifle like you desperately need.  This could be acceptable for some people, but I think it violates the very design choice that Bungie tried to express with the patch.  They want us to get excited about receiving loot, but then make it extremely difficult to ever see that loot.  It’s like being shown a picture of a new car that you just won, and then being given a Hot Wheel.  That’s not exciting at all.  It’s disappointing.

image2
*Seething hatred*

Actually speaking of loot, the loot system in Destiny needs some sort of overhaul.  Almost everything is based around RNG.  You just need to get lucky during a Nightfall or hope that Xûr is selling something decent in order to get certain weapons or armor.  Some people have gotten six of the fabled Gjallerhorn during their playtime.  Others have only ever seen it drop for friends (if they are even that lucky).  This is problematic; it denies your players a sense of progression.  With everything being so random there is no sense of achievement.  Just luck.  I got my Gjallerhorn relatively early in the game, but did I really deserve it?  I didn’t do anything different than the many people who desire this weapon so strongly.  The developers claim they “want your gear to be your story,” but then base a majority of the game’s rewards off complete luck.  There’s no story to be had there.  And in the Crucible in particular players are shafted at every opportunity, where good scores mean nothing and bad scores can net you an exotic and a purple engram.  It makes you feel like your hard work means nothing.  I don’t want to punish people who aren’t as good at the game; they deserve to be able to progress, too.  But maybe there needs to be some sort of algorithm that takes into account how well you actually performed so that you actually feel rewarded for your efforts.

The currencies are another major issue.  Destiny has glimmer, four kinds of planetary resources, ascendant materials (shards and energies, separately), radiant materials (shards and energies, again), Vanguard marks, Crucible marks, motes of light, and strange coins.  Now black wax idols are also a form of currency.  And we’ve also had commendations added to the mix, both Vanguard and Crucible.  They are special badges that you need in order to purchase helmets and weapons from vendors.  Exotic shards were also introduced, which are the new form of currency used to upgrade an exotic item to its final upgrade.  All these things just serve as a further barrier, forcing the players to spend more time playing the game to get anything done.  I almost find it insulting.  And it tires you out.  The marks are perhaps the worst offenders; since the beginning of the game you could only get 100 Vanguard and 100 Crucible marks every week.  Since weapons, helmets, and the special Sparrows cost more than this you are required to spend multiple weeks getting the marks you need.  That in itself is frustrating but not particularly unfair (though again, it artificially extends playtime).  More annoying is that you can only have 200 of each mark saved up; any additional marks gained are lost.  This is not a deal breaker for me, but it certainly leads to some frustration.  If Crucible marks could be gained a little more quickly, and the City Faction vendors could use Vanguard marks as well as Crucible marks, I’d be much less frustrated by it.  As it is I need 119 Crucible marks in order to buy a Dead Orbit helmet.  That will take a long time.

You know, The Dark Below did quite a few things right, but I feel it also did a number of things wrong.  For one, the raid Crota’s End has a hard mode that is shameful.  By all appearances it seems like Bungie released the normal mode of the raid, waited to see what people did with it, and then released a hard mode specifically designed to counter the strategies that people had used in the normal raid.  Additionally, the level of every single enemy was increased to 33, one level higher than the maximum Guardian level of 32.  That screams like a cheap way to increase the difficulty and reduce the potential DPS of your players.  Instead of introducing interesting mechanics we were seemingly punished for completing the raid too well.

But perhaps the worst offense is how they blatantly force the expansion onto vanilla players.  Since the game’s inception every week there has been one strike selected for the Weekly Nightfall and Weekly Heroic Strike, and the list of strikes followed a set pattern.  That is until the expansion hit, and a new strike called the Will of Crota was released.  You’d expect the strikes to follow the same pattern and simply add the new strike into the rotation.  Not true.  The Will of Crota strike started seeing favored play, showing up every two or three weeks.  Since you can’t play the expansion content without the expansion you are unable to do the Nightfall or Weekly Heroic when the strike is the Will of Crota, and this strike is the Nightfall so often that vanilla players are regularly robbed of content.  The same goes for when the Daily Heroic Story is a Dark Below mission; vanilla players can’t take part in the content and don’t get access to rewards they were once able to obtain.  Perhaps my memory is foggy, but I don’t recall many other games that release an expansion and then remove existing content for those players who do not purchase said expansion.

General quality of life improvements are needed as well.  But more than that, Destiny needs more content.  More bounties.  More types of patrols.  More interesting public events.  Something to prevent you from replaying the same missions over and over again on the same planets with the same enemies.  There’s very little variety.  But this is one aspect that I don’t think can be fixed.  Not now.  Destiny needs a better narrative and more content, and that is something that cannot be fixed with a patch or a hotfix.

Destiny Ending
This is a shot from the end of the game. There are literally no spoilers here. Nothing is being ruined. That seems like a problem to me.

Before I wrap this up I want to remind everyone that I do enjoy this game very much.  It’s fun to play, and I think it has a lot of potential.  But far too many of my friends have abandoned it completely in favor of something more interesting and varied.  I think Bungie has done a great job improving Destiny.  I just hope that they continue to do so, and when the inevitable Destiny 2 is released that they have learned from their mistakes and incorporate their successes.

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