The other night I pushed my main character - a golden gun-wielding Hunter with pale blue skin and no hair - up to the dizzying heights of level 27. It was the slightest of nudges, but it was enough to push me up a level, which was a good thing because I was incredibly fed up at the time and needed cheering up. Why did I need a pick me up? Because we'd just spectacularly failed to beat the Raid and it was Monday night, and therefore all our progress was about to reset. I have to say, I don't like that part of the setup.
It took me a fair while to get my character up to the level needed to play the Raid (that's level 26 if you don't know - you can play it a little bit earlier than that, but it's certainly not advised), and after three extended play sessions through the week, the end was in sight. Only we didn't manage to get over the final hurdle; the battle against Atheon in the titular vault. We did something wrong, and our best efforts didn't stick, and ultimately we came up short. Time and time again we flung ourselves at the breach, experimenting with different techniques, but even then we couldn't do it. Having taken stock since, it's made more painful by the fact that I think we missed something quite obvious, and in our late night lethargy we seem to have overlooked the basics.
Perhaps I was even more annoyed because we were so bloody close to the end, I could almost taste that legendary loot, but the need for some of my teammates to sleep meant we were left with half a team and no hope of doing what was needed to do in order to secure our victory. In the end we had to walk away at just before midnight. Frustrated, but perhaps not broken.
The Raid itself is one of the hardest things I've ever done in a shooter. Ever. It's up there with playing the most difficult versions of some of the more devilish single-player campaigns. Those fiendish set-pieces that sit long in the memory. Charging through the Covenant ship in Halo: Combat Evolved. The endless restarting in the missile silo of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. This ranks alongside those. Perhaps it could be considered even more difficult. I'm positive subsequent plays will be much easier, because half of the challenge of the Vault of Glass is working out exactly what you have to do in the first place. That said, once the route has been planned you've still got to get six players to work in perfect cohesion for an extended period of time. One mistake from one player can spell the end of an attempt for the whole team. Punishing is the word that (just about) sums it up.
Getting to that point had been just as punishing, though in a completely different way. The grind required to get to that level, was for me at least, a bit of an endurance test. I'm personally drawn to the Crucible for multiplayer scrapes, and the idea of scavenging the same sandbox areas time and time again to get the same materials isn't one that appeals to me. I like the Crucible, and that's where I want to play to grow my character, but that doesn't seem to be an option, and so I'm left scraping filaments and whatnot from the deepest darkest corners of the solar system just so I can up my level and attempt new content.
I know I'm not the only person to feel this way, and I'm also aware that I'll still do the grinding, because I like the game in so many other ways that I want to progress, I just wish the Bungie had given me other options. Would it have been so hard, for example, for multiplayer maps on Mars to yield up relic iron to the players on the winning team? I'm going to have to assume that this idea was considered and dismissed for some reason, but it makes sense to me, and it would allow players the opportunity to level up, albeit at a slower rate, while they play the game the way that they want to. Now I'm drawn into the murky world of grinding for materials, and even if I'm not, my friends are, and if they're out hunting for spirit blooms, they're not playing PvP with me.
You might assume, having read all that, that I'm unhappy with the game. I'm not. I'm still playing. I'm still shooting. Hell, half the time I'm still grinding. The gameplay loop is snappy enough that it's never too much hassle to jump into a Strike with a friend, and there's a variety of different activities depending on the mindset of the player. There is, however, just a couple of things that I'd like Destiny to do differently, and top of my list is reward players more evenly across the board, and make it easier to rank up in different ways. Some people don't want to play the same single-player or co-op missions time and time again, just like some people don't want to jump on PvP servers every night. More can and should be done to appease players across the board, and just because I can't be bothered to do another bloody Strike mission, that doesn't mean I should be punished later down the line by not letting me compete in the high level missions.
Of course, these high level missions include the Raid that we were so tantalisingly close to finishing on Monday night, and our failure to wrap it up before the progress reset is something that's going to rankle for some time. To get so close, and yet now be so far away from finishing it, is a real kick in guts. I'm not going to try it again for a few days, maybe even a couple of weeks, so in the meantime I'd like to level up my character. The only problem with that is I'm also not really in the mood to retread the same footsteps for the hours required to gather the materials needed to boost my level up. Instead of that I think I'll start building up my second and third characters, because at least there's a renewed sense of progression when rising through the ranks once again. Hopefully, by the time that I've got my Titan and Warlock up to the point where it's starting to feel like a grind again, Bungie will have changed things up a bit and given me more options on how to approach the end-game content, because as it stands, there's just not enough choice. If they don't, well at least a certain Master Chief is coming back next month.