There has never been a better time to get into Destiny. There may never have been a more appropriate time to get away from it all too. With a Challenge Mode mooted, and a Refer-a-Friend program in the pipeline, is this enough to entice people away from Star Wars and Call of Duty?
I need to be upfront about something before taking any more of your time. I really do love Bungie. I've played Destiny for I don't want to tell you how many hours, and before that I could barely see straight for playing Halo past midnight most nights. They are both very different, but ultimately the appeal is broadly the same: a particular knack for sci-fi gunplay that's beyond compare. Period.
At its core, Destiny is an intoxicating experience. It hasn't mattered (too much) to me how the economies have changed, or in what way new content has been added. This has been a journey that I've felt proud to have shared with fellow Guardians, good-naturedly chaperoned by Bungie.
Weirdly (or not), while most of my time in Halo was spent trying to maintain a respectable K/D in PvP, I've spent the majority of hours in Destiny grinding the PvE content. So, while I could bring the Crucible state of play into this discussion, I genuinely don't see PvP as being a part of the problem facing Destiny. The Trials of Osiris and Iron Banner in particular have their own fair share of issues, like lag-switching S.O.B.s. But Bungie is reliably awesome at clamping down on such things. The loot is good, in Iron Banner of late exceptional, so — balancing issues aside — all fine.
No, it's mainly PvE where Destiny is facing its toughest challenge yet in terms of building a core following and keeping it. Occasionally someone pegs Halo as the Star Wars for our generation, this association has shifted wholesale to Destiny from where I'm sitting. But with actual Star Wars now back on the agenda, and a lot of good things being said about it (especially on gamereactor.co.uk) there's a lot of Guardians starting to feel torn. I am certainly not the only one.
So, what's going to keep everyone going back to Destiny? More importantly, why should anyone strong-arm a friend into creating an account, and rolling their first Warlock, Titan or Hunter? Let's start with the magnum opus...
The Vault of Glass was more than I could have hoped for in terms of a team-based challenge. In Hard Mode this was a mountain to climb, worth it for the incredible views, and for the rich rewards. Even, as with Crota's End, when players would adopt exploits as the standard routine, the Vault retained its spookiness and sense of mystery. One of the greatest video game events of all time.
Although it arrived broken, and today survives rather bent out of shape, the Crota's End Raid has helped to define Destiny as a unique and trailblazing project that, despite any of the faults people care to mention, has attracted and then retained a community of appreciative fans such as myself.
Still on the subject of Player versus Enemy, the Prison of Elders, in particular the Skolas encounter, showed just how much Bungie knows about pushing sandbox tactics to the limit of our endurance, requiring hours of tactical analysis before players finally gravitate toward something that works. Skolas may have been a nightmare, often sickening at the point of failure, but the satisfaction gained from slaying this gloating virtual giant, overcoming the design choices refined by Bungie, was immense at Level 34. Its spectre haunted those that failed right up until the end of Year One.
With the Strike playlist looking greater than ever, and a dramatic, mechanically (mostly) brilliant new Raid to bide our time with, you would expect to hear that Destiny's most seasoned Guardians have never had it so good. And for the first few weeks after the release of The Taken King, high praise is exactly what most players would receive through their headset, and then happily return. The Oryx battle in the King's Fall Raid is spectacular; unforgettable. His/Her minions equally so.
Oryx is awesome still, but there's just one problem: he literally, and figuratively, stands at the end of the road. After facing down Oryx, there is no place else to go... except back to Orbit. Increasingly, while hanging around commenting on each other's Jumpships, the desire to go back seems to be failing. Not just to plunder the King's Fall Raid from beginning to end with a crack team on Hard Mode, on at least one additional character, but the entire fire-team oriented PvE playground that Bungie has so far put together. The thrill really seems to have gone — but where, and how?
We at least have a view of why, owing to Bungie's unerring commitment to its fans and almost obsessive-compulsive need to communicate every minuscule change (k, 'bug fix'). According to Destiny Creative Director Luke Smith, the PvE philosophy has changed regarding the End Game. It used to be one hell of an effort to acquire the Light level and armour/weapons required to even participate in the Raids, let alone learn the skills required to emerge victorious. In other words, all Guardians — including newcomers — are fast-tracked to within sight of the King's Fall Raid at Light 290+. The attraction now is broadening the experience upon reaching that destination.
For long-in-the-tooth Guardians, likely sitting on at least one Light 315+ Guardian by now, the arrival of Challenge Mode can't happen soon enough. They have been and done it all by now, and since the pain process has been all but removed, nobody cares about their battle scars any more, they're almost meaningless, and so that element of pride has evaporated too. Challenge Mode needs to bring back some of that old Atheon/Crota/Skolas agony to the End Game. The rewards need to be worth hanging around for too. There's no to-die-for weapon left in Destiny. Well, I ached to own Jade Rabbit, but that's because I'm stupid. So, Challenge Mode: bring it on!
The Refer-A-Friend deal, still agonisingly being teased, is the bigger concern overall. It seems as though veteran players are to be rewarded for assisting 'Kinderguardians' through the trickier content. But Destiny PvE just ain't that tough any more, and standard Crucible doesn't care what Light level you are as long as you can shoot (a Pulse Rifle iir). More than anything, forcing vets back to the Vault and Crota just to get those kills is going throw even more of a spotlight on how these encounters have become like old abandoned fairgrounds. The enemies are push-overs, the loot is next to worthless (unless you're still keen on Found Verdict in PvP), the mystery is all gone. I'm just going to leave that there, because it's what everybody I know has been saying about Destiny since the launch of The Taken King. But I fully expect that this situation is so blatantly obvious that Bungie is working on solutions as I commit my meandering prose to the ether.
As for the competition. This has been a very difficult couple of weeks for Destiny, and I dare say a strong left jab has already been landed by Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, judging from my friends list. The PvP contingent has been itching for a greater, fairer challenge for quite some time. The fact that Treyarch pulled another thrilling PvP playground out of its hat made the migration inevitable. Those guys are already gone. If they're coming back, it's unlikely to be for Destiny PvP.
In terms of ducking the right hook from Star Wars: Battlefront... this game is looking irresistible from a desire to indulge in the greatest sci-fi fantasy universe ever made. But by making it difficult for fans to believe they're living that dream with no single-player campaign to make you a hero, it's not what Bungie has done well to offer with Destiny at this juncture, but how EA/DICE missed an opportunity to trump it all.
So, yeah, I am itching to break these rusty chains and explore pastures new. But notifications are still coming through thick and fast from Destiny pals wanting to know what's happening with tonight's Raid, or if I've reached Rank 5 in Iron Banner this week at least once. Destiny may have dodged a quick-sniper's bullet and had it's eyebrows singed from a light sabre, but it's all owing to the strength of its community, knowing that — after all — the game is next to no fun without good people to enjoy it with. And the more good people, the merrier.
Your recruitment drive is well and truly on then, Bungie. Just make sure it's worth everyone's while.