Why I Still Play Destiny

DestinyOver the last couple weeks, I’ve been talking a lot about Destiny again. Bungie has been revealing the new content for next week’s House of Wolves expansion slowly – which, while that’s excruciating as a fan/writer, it’s a seriously smart business move. The game is coming up on its tenth month online and I think it’s fair to say saw the player base hit a wall a bit a couple months ago. I know I did after I had hit level 32 on my main character. Repeatedly running the raids was more trouble than not, with trying to get the whole group together; and back then the Crucible was still a struggle, since it was before the 1.1.2 patch.

That said though, as soon as the House of Wolves tease came out, I got the same feelings I did last E3 when I saw Destiny. Bungie has always done trailers well – going all the way back to their Halo days – and Destiny is no different. Just seeing the release date was enough to get me interested in playing again, if for no reason other than to shake off the rust. That was before Bungie showed anything. Once I saw the direction that they are taking House of Wolves, it changed my approach. It got me thinking more critically about Destiny again. Why do I still enjoy going on a game, grinding through the same bounties and missions on three characters, this long after launch with a game that has pretty noticeable flaws?

Destiny Flawless Stiker

The short answer is pretty simple – it’s just a fun damn game. Even this long after launch I still enjoy doing the same things that excited me on September 9. There’s something pretty visceral about the action – across all three classes/six subclasses – that makes the gameplay seem fresh still. Anyone that’s launched into a Fist of Havoc on a huge group of enemies to clear out a threat knows that it’s a pretty damn awesome feeling. It gets even more so when you’re playing with your friends and that Super keeps the game going.

The long answer to that question though is a little bit tougher. Is Destiny perfect? Not even close. Much has been made – here and across the web – about the poor storytelling decisions, and the disconnect between world-building lore and gameplay. Does Destiny have pretty glaring issues? You bet. On-disc DLC is a pretty hot-topic these days – while I don’t really know exactly how guilty Destiny is of that, it’s hard to argue against the presence of it. There are still plenty of areas – on all the planets – that clearly are gateways into future zones. Easy examples to pick out right away would be The Junction on Venus and King’s Watch on Earth. King’s Watch is particularly notable, because it actually has content already in it. Enemies will spawn and there are ghost shells there. Now, King’s Watch could actually appear in House of Wolves – just based around Fallen as an enemy type. The same could be said for The Junction, although I think that’s more likely going to be saved for even further content – possibly The Fallen King, whatever that may actually end up being.

The problems with the game are there – they’ve been brought up in just about every article about Destiny. But – again, going back to that question of why I still play it – there’s something else about the game. If we look at the game in super simple terms, we can break it down into four pillars: story, gameplay/action, music, and visuals. Three of those four pillars are, quite possibly, the best I’ve seen in recent memory. Killing the game because the story fall flat right out of the gate does a disservice to the other three aspects. The game is one of the best looking games in action – the environments, weapons and armor designs, and FX all are incredible. The music, despite the somewhat rocky departure of Marty O’Donnell, is so perfect in its role. It’s subdued generally, but when you notice it, it’s because it’s awesome. And the actual gameplay/action across the board is as close to perfect as I think is possible. The guns sound powerful, feel powerful and look powerful. The grenades all feel like they have some impact behind them – and behave differently enough to pick them apart. The movement all is pretty damn precise, for each class. It’s the best action in a shooter that I’ve played in a couple years.

Destiny Titan

Destiny is a strange game that I think still hasn’t quite found its legacy. Generally there’s a good sense of what a game’s legacy will be after this long. I can tell you right now what Advanced Warfare’s legacy will be (better than Ghosts, great debut for Sledgehammer Games, and ultimately one of the stronger entries in the franchise, albeit with some flaws). But with Destiny, it’s still murky. It’s an incredibly fun game, that has serious gaps – but still has a devoted playerbase. The world-building that takes place outside of the actual game is amazing – the Grimoire is fantastic. There’s such an incredible base to build off of, and I think Bungie is aware of their shortcomings and have been trying to fix them as best they can. When we look back at Destiny in a couple years, it’s possible we could say that Destiny was a landmark game. Or that it was the framework for a classic franchise. Or that it was a testament to what could have been. It’s hard to say because each option really could be the result. And ultimately, that’s why I love playing it still. It’s an enigma that I’m going to figure out.

Destiny: The Dark Below – Crota’s End Raid Thoughts

Destiny The Dark BelowIt’s been just about a full week since the release of the first Expansion for Destiny, The Dark Below, and within that week my fireteam was able to squeak out a completion of the new Crota’s End raid late last night. I went over the Vault of Glass after our first completion of that raid, so I thought the same idea was in order for this new raid. There’s still stuff to learn with it, including whether there’s a third raid chest that appears, but in terms of the general content of the raid, I think there’s some good stuff to talk about.

Let’s first hit the level requirement – in order to really have a chance at beating the raid you need to have a team that’s at least on the track to level 31. Bungie had said that in order to launch the raid your fireteam leader had to be 30, but you can enter it at lower levels – I entered the raid at 29, but I don’t know quite what the low end is. The nice part is that the first checkpoint (actually entering the dungeon) is incredibly quick – just create the bridge and jump down. The real good part about this is that the first raid chest is just beyond the landing – meaning that you can grind it on three characters really quickly. While it is a raid chest, the current thought is that the chest doesn’t have raid armor in it, aside from the class item; but it is able to drop radiant material as well as possible exotics. With that in mind, and taking into account how easy it is to grind, there’s really no reason to not grab it on all three characters, if you’re able.

Moving on to the meat and potatoes of the raid itself, I think that the Vault of Glass had more in the way of novel gameplay ideas. The first major section of that raid – inside the dungeon – is the Templar fight. You’re tasked with defending confluxes, then clearing Oracles before using a relic to fight the actual boss. With Crota’s End, the first section is much more straightforward. Your team must make their way through massive section of darkness – which adds the debuff Weight of Darkness, limiting your mobility – while being onset by waves of thralls. To combat the debuff, your team can use large lanterns to pull the darkness off you, before the lanterns explode. The best way ultimately is to just keep pushing forward – watch out for holes in the floor, but just always move forward. After you finish the lanterns, you’ll have to group up and extend a bridge – this is where a Defender helps to give you a bit of a break from the onslaught coming your way. Finishing up this part grants you the first true checkpoint, and loot drop.

Crotas End Darkness

Which brings us to the first real puzzle section of the raid. To cross the expanse, you’ll need the bridge extended – but to cross the bridge you’ll need to carry a sword across. This requires you to kill a Knight Ultra with one, cross the bridge and kill the Gatekeeper Knight that spawns, all within the time limit for the sword. At the same time, your team has to keep two totems from flipping red and wiping the team – while watching for swordbearers, and making your way across the bridge, one at at time. It’s a section that is pretty intense from start to finish – and every enemy is level 31 now, so you might start seeing some damage drop off. But it’s a super cool area, visually, and the actual puzzle/challenge isn’t super difficult, once you’ve got a pattern down. It’s all about team work and communication. After everyone is across the bridge, two Hallowed Ogres spawn – killing them gives you the checkpoint, and a loot drop. While you’re in transit to the next section, you’ll fight a couple Shriekers along with tons of Thralls. There’s some discussion as to whether the second Shrieker or a specific Cursed Thrall triggers the door closing, which shuts out the second chest. Either way, as you progress through the hallway, you should have someone sprint forward toward the chest in order to grab it and open the door for the rest of the team.

Crota

Which now brings us to the final two sections – first we have to clear out Ir Yut, the Deathsinger. There’s not really anything too clever with this fight – you essentially just have to kill everything, and kill them quickly. Ir Yut will sing her Deathsong after 3 minutes, wiping the team. The timer starts when you first shoot at any of the enemies in the room. You’ll need to kill her two wizard guards, two shriekers that open after the wizards die, then kill Ir Yut, all while dealing with the other enemies too. This is where you’ll want lots of level 31 players, since enemies have reached 32 now. Maxed out weapons are all but required here to deal enough damage to Ir Yut – she had a massive amount of health. But once you’ve cleared out the enemies, you’ll be ready to finish the raid. Your team gathers around the crystal, which then spawns Crota – who has a few tricks to deal with. First, he has a shield that protects him, and when it drops, he drops to a knee and can only be hurt with a sword picked up off a Swordbearer. Second, should any player die, he will summon the Oversoul – the huge planet looking thing behind him – which wipes the team after 10 seconds. The good news is that a level 31 with the sword can deal just about a quarter of his health in one attack phase – which is good because you probably will only manage four rounds before his enrage timer ticks off and it gets unwinable. The final issue to deal with, which currently does have a workaround, is that Crota prevents you from regenerating health. In order to do that, you’ll need to hold the Chalice of Light – which only one person can hold at a time.

All in all, I think Vault of Glass is a more complicated raid, which requires a bit more outside the box thinking in certain parts; while Crota’s End is much more combat focused. All section in Crota’s End put you up against ridiculous odds, and the margin for error is pretty slim. Both raids in general are the shining elements of Destiny‘s game design, and continue to be a lot of fun. While the RNG for loot can be a bit frustrating, the actual content of the raids make it fun to still play them.

Weekly News Recap – Week of December 8, 2014

After what was a pretty busy news weekend last week, this week has been a bit slower. We did get a nice DLC release from Bungie, which has been taking up a good chunk of my play time, along with messing around in Minecraft again.

Destiny The Dark Below

DESTINY’S FIRST DLC LAUNCHES, BRINGS MORE DESTINY TO PLAYERS
I’ve talked a couple times this week about the new content in The Dark Below, Destiny‘s new DLC pack. The bottom line is really that the DLC is more Destiny, good and bad. The story is still sparse, but a bit more tangible this time around. There’s still a pretty solid focus on grinding your gear up – especially if you upgrade to the new Level 32 capped gear; or get the new Raid gear, which is awesome, but needs tons of Radiant Material to max out. The good part is that the core formula for Destiny – meaning the actual gameplay – is still really fun to play. The new missions have some pretty cool looking environments, the new strike has a really awesome feel to the ending section, and so far, the new raid has been just as good as the Vault of Glass. If you’ve been enjoying Destiny without the DLC, I think you’ll continue, and if you do decide to buy it, I think you’ll still enjoy playing the game for a while longer.

Advanced Warfare Cover

SALES FIGURES FOR 2014 SHOW ACTIVISION DOMINATES
In what should really not be a huge surprise, the sales numbers for the year are starting to come out, and so far it looks like 2014 was Activision’s year. Between Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Destiny, the publisher really cleaned up. Going into the end of the year here, it’s really not too hard to think why – EA didn’t put out a Battlefield game this year, and their two big names – Titanfall and Dragon Age: Inquisition are both pretty niche games. Titanfall I’m sure did well this year, but not being on all consoles may have hurt it. All things considered though, I think next year is already shaping up to be even bigger for both publishers.

Super Smash Bros for Wii U

SMASH BROS. NEW AMIIBO ITEMS SELL JUST AS WELL
One other bit of sales data that I saw is that currently, the new Amiibo figures that can be paired with Super Smash Bros. For Wii U have been selling at almost a rate of 1 figure per copy of the game. Not being super familiar with the actual behavior of the Amiibos and how exactly they translate to the game, I’m a little surprised at just how well they’re selling. On one hand, I can understand getting one along with the game, but I doubt that every copy is being sold with one, meaning people are buying multiples. From a collecting standpoint, sure, I can get it. In fact, I would go buy the Mega Man one right now, even without the game (or Wii U for that matter) just because Mega Man is that cool. I think it also speaks to not only the dedication of the Smash community, but also the Nintendo fanbase. The Amiibos aren’t something I think you’d see Microsoft or Sony try, but Nintendo does it, and fans eat it up, right or wrong.

Destiny – The Dark Below: Launch Impressions

Destiny The Dark BelowToday marks the release of the first major expansion for DestinyThe Dark Below, bringing with it a whole slew of new stuff to play with. From cosmetic items like shaders and ships, to actual player gear, the additions hit all the major points in Destiny. The DLC also brings with it a few new story missions, strikes (1 for Xbox), some new Crucible maps and a raid to test all your new items out on. There’s a lot to take in, so let’s hit some of the highlights now, that way you’ll have a head start on your friends when you jump online.

Eris Morn

First off, when you land at the tower, you’ll notice a new face – Eris Morn – has landed and acts not only as a vendor, but also provides you with The Dark Below missions. You’ll need to visit her to grab the missions the first time, then they’ll unlock on The Director. It seems like Bungie is trying a little more with story this time – the opening cinematic that has been in game for a week or so now helps set the stage for Eris’ arrival, and she has more dialogue giving you the missions than the Speaker ever did. But she’s more than just a mission-giver. She also acts as a vendor, selling items unique to the DLC – primarily related to the Hive. Not only does she have unique bounties, and a reputation to gain tied to them, but she also has new emblems, shaders, and class armors. Just looking at the previews for them, they all look really quite cool – I especially like the Mark of the Hidden for Titans and the final armor shader. Eris also has a new set of consumables to look at – two items that are necessary for upgrading weapons that you earn through the DLC; ammo synthesis pickups, and the final items she has are the coolest ones. With the DLC’s new raid you need Radiant materials to upgrade that gear – well Eris offers a way for you to essentially swap you materials. If you get Radiant Shards in the raid and you need Energy, you can go to her, and for an extra fee, you can switch them one at a time. This helps eliminate a huge chunk of RNG in running the raid.

Just based around the first mission that Eris gives you, it looks like Bungie has definitely been playing with their tools a bit. While the general flow of the mission wasn’t terribly different from any other mission in Destiny – spawn in, fight waves of bad guys, find boss, kill boss; little parts of it were varied enough to feel fresh. The most obvious is that the missions are using parts of the world that hadn’t seen much play before. The first missions spawns you in on Earth where the Fallen Devil Walker is in the Sepiks Prime strike, and you move backwards through portions of that strike. There’s a continual boss character that appears in multiple missions – Omnigul, the Waker of Crota – a Wizard with an Arc shield that has a mountain of health at this stage. In the final boss fight for that first mission though, you encounter Sardoc, an Ultra tier Knight. Nothing out of the ordinary, except for the continual debuff that removes your double jump ability – and his very aggressive attack pattern using a sword of Crota against you. It’s a tough solo fight at level 28, and the fight also has periods where Hive Darkness pools open and there are poison zones to avoid. It’s really unique compared to the vanilla missions, especially on Earth.

Crota

There’s still a lot to see – I’m working my way through the story missions, and plan on running the strike and possibly the raid tonight with my fireteam. I haven’t yet gotten one of the new weapons, although I did buy a shiny new set of gauntlets from the Crucible Handler to help me break level 30. One thing that I’m not particularly pleased with though is that Bungie didn’t add in any new achievements, even though they’ve added in plenty of content that would lend it to some. Between the Tumbler Sparrow, the Sword of Crota, new missions and dead Ghosts, I’m sure they could have come up with some achievements in there. Still, it’s a pretty substantial breath of fresh air for Destiny, the new content feels good, and is just what the game needed to bring back players that may have gotten tired of it. Just in time for the Christmas rush too.

Weekly News Recap – Week of December 1, 2014

This first week of December has been a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to news. On one hand, Halo, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Destiny all saw new patches hit this week, so there’s plenty to talk about there. But on the other hand, developers have been a little tight lipped about major new announcements, in anticipation of The Game Awards tonight, and PlayStation Experience this weekend in Vegas.

Destiny The Dark Below

PATCHES FOR EVERYONE!
I talked a bit about the most recent Destiny patch earlier this week, as Bungie prepares for the launch of The Dark Below. The last two patches for Destiny have made some pretty noticeable changes to the behavior of major portions of the game – for the better in my opinion. Streamlining the upgrades on Exotics is a great move, and being able to bring them up to the same level with the new Exotics in The Dark Below ensures they’ll be useful for a long time. Halo: The Master Chief Collection got yet another patch, fixing what seems to be the same issues they have been for weeks now. While I’m glad that they are putting out patches consistently, the fact that every patch seems to come with the caveat that they’re working on the next patch already, and that that patch will address the same issues again, is starting to get a little grating. I think that 343 Industries is starting to get close to the point of no return for the Christmas season and it’s going to be really important to get it up and running smoothly soon. Finally, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare got a massive patch this week that addresses pretty much every aspect of the online components. Exo Survival got some exploit fixes, and the multiplayer side of things got huge fixes across the board. Weapon balancing was done on all the weapons that clearly needed it, map exploits were addressed, and game modes all got tweaks to score length and communication to the player. It’s a huge patch, and has actually gotten me back into playing the game – especially since Halo is still a chore to play online.

Halo Master Chief Collection

THE GAME AWARDS STREAM TONIGHT
Since Spike TV isn’t airing an award show this year, Geoff Keighley instead created another awards show to replace it. The Game Awards will be streamed live tonight on the online components for PlayStation and Xbox, and since Viacom isn’t part of the show, I would expect it to actually be less over-the-top and be more respectful towards the industry. Usually at these shows we see a bunch of new trailers and announcements, so I would expect to see the same this year – although Microsoft already has said that they are not announcing any new games at the show. Whether that’s marketing trying to pull a fast one, or they are in fact not announcing any new games remains to be seen.

SONY DSC

PLAYSTATION INVADES VEGAS THIS WEEKEND
This weekend is also the PlayStation Experience, being held in Las Vegas. Since the PlayStation brand just turned 20, Sony figured that the brand deserved a party – and what better place to have a party than Vegas. Bungie is being coy about showing something at the show – in their weekly update it sounds like they’ll be showing some of Crota’s End off. Beyond that, I fully expect to see a bunch of new content from Sony’s main franchises. I would not be surprised by any announcements – I think anything is on the table for Sony since they’re in such a good spot market-wise. If I had to bet on a major new game being announced, I would put my money on either God of War or Twisted Metal showing back up. Regardless, this weekend is going to be packed with major headlines, so keep your eyes up.

Destiny Update 1.1 – The Final Push to The Dark Below

Destiny The Dark BelowOn Monday, Bungie put out the 1.1 Update for Destiny, following up on the last patch from a couple weeks ago – while this patch doesn’t really add anything particularly substantial, the little tweaks it added are really nice and help set the table for next Tuesday. So in advance of The Dark Below, I thought I’d offer my take on the 1.1 Update and what it means for Destiny players going forward.

First off, the major bulk of the 1.1 Update is focused around upgrades and behavior for Exotic weapons. A number of Exotic weapons got tweaks that impact not only their upgrade nodes, but also their stats and behaviors. For example, Thorn got some attention – the Mark of the Devourer perk does more damage over time, and the clip size and reload also received buffs. In general, Exotics that needed buffs got them, and the ones that needed some nerfs got them too. The other major change to Exotics comes in the form of them no longer needing Ascendent materials to upgrade. Instead, the later damage upgrades just need weapon/armor parts, as well as a destination material; until you reach the final upgrade. That final, max upgrade requires a new item – an Exotic Shard – which can be acquired from Xur for 7 strange coins, or by dismantling unwanted Exotics. Legendary items will still need the Ascendant materials.

Destiny Invective Shotgun

Another small, but very noticeable, change relates to the destination materials. Instead of having to go into patrol for hours to grind chests and material spawns, you can now obtain them in a number of other ways. First, completing the Daily Heroic mission will give you materials, based on what level you do it at – and what planet the mission takes place on. Secondly, completing the daily patrol mission bounty also gives you a stack of materials (I think it’s 10) of whatever planet the bounty was for. Doing this bounty also lets you get a bunch more while doing the patrol missions. Finally, going to either the Vanguard or Crucible quartermaster, you’ll see that you can now purchase destination materials for 10 respective marks, in exchange you’ll get 20 of whatever you’re buying. This just makes upgrading Legendary and Exotic items that little bit easier. They’re eliminating part of the grind, but the experience requirements are still going to mean you’ll be grinding away.

Finally, Bungie today released a little bit more info about how gameplay will be tweaked a little next Tuesday with The Dark Below. Some of the points the mention were related to the Exotic changes that they put out Monday, but there was one new bit of info as it relates to Exotics going forward. With The Dark Below, the light level will be raised up to 32 – that means our current weapons will eventually be outclassed. As such, Xur will offer an upgrade for Exotics at the price of one Exotic Shard – and all the progress in the item be reset. I saw a lot of people getting worked up about it – and on one hand, I get why. Exotics take forever to get maxed out, and wiping all that progress seems kinda cruel. But on the other hand, this isn’t being forced on the items, and ultimately it behooves players to upgrade them to 32. Whether they make upgrading them easier or not, I don’t really think it’s too huge of a deal – not needing Ascendant material will make that much easier.

Destiny

All told, I think Bungie is going about this first Expansion in a pretty good way. They put an intro cinematic into the game for the DLC in an attempt to perhaps add in some story behind it. Whether it translates to actually story content in the DLC, who knows. But it does look like they are actively listening to fans and adjusting the game based on what they hear. New Crucible content, including two new playlists should help flesh out a PvP that’s actually pretty fun when it’s balanced. Assuming the launch is smooth, I think there’s a good chance that The Dark Below will do well.

Weekly News Recap – Week of October 27, 2014

I want to do this week’s news post a little differently, mainly when we get to talking about Call of Duty. But first, there are a couple other stories worth hitting.

Destiny The Dark Below

DESTINY’S FIRST EXPANSION DETAILED
Bungie this week formally announced the first DLC for Destiny, The Dark Below. It’ll be coming out on December 9, for all the platforms. The expansion will contain a few new Story missions, given to players by a new character at the Tower; a new Raid on the Moon called Crota’s End; new weapons, gear and armor; two strikes (sort of); and the Light level cap is raised to level 32. I qualify the strikes because one of the strikes will only be available on the Sony platforms – Xbox players will only have access to one new strike.

Evolve Cover

EVOLVE BIG ALPHA RUNS THROUGH THIS WEEKEND
I talked a bit about my initial impressions of the Evolve Big Alpha that started for Xbox One yesterday, but the full load opens up today, with PC and PlayStation players able to join in the hunt today. The Big Alpha shows off a good chunk of what we can expect in the full game, with a big exception being an upcoming, yet to be announced third Monster. If you’ve gotten a code, you really should get the Alpha downloaded and get playing, it’s a really fun experience.

CALL OF DUTY: ADVANCED WARFARE GETS LAUNCH LIVE ACTION TRAILER
As they do every year, Activision released the Live Action trailer for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare in advance of the Monday/Tuesday launch. While that alone isn’t really anything out of the ordinary, I do want to touch on an article I saw from Joystiq this week talking about the franchise’s sales numbers. The article predicts that the decline in sales numbers will continue in the future. To me, this seems like crying wolf a bit. Sure sales numbers have gone down a bit, but when you have multiple games that broke all time sales records, you’ve got to put any decline in that context. Sales for Ghosts were down from Black Ops II, but that’s really not a huge surprise – not only was Black Ops II, at the time, the largest entertainment opening ever (until GTAV), but Ghosts also had to deal with the launch of the new consoles, splitting the market up. I’m not going to predict that Advanced Warfare will get back on to Black Ops II numbers, mainly because the shooter market is stacked this year, but I think it will do better than Ghosts did. And as for the future of the series, I think that next year, whatever Treyarch brings us, whether it’s Black Ops III, or some new sub-franchise; that sales will be strong, as the current-gen install base grows, and the market isn’t quite as crowded.