One Year Later, 'Destiny' Shows First Impressions Aren't Everything
Art is abandoned. Games are patched, updated, and include new perks.
Destiny has changed. Big time.
This week Bungie has culminated a year’s worth of updates, patch fixes, and community feedback into a full fledged “2.0” update. Dubbed “Year Two,” the game’s refinement sets the stage for the third major expansion, The Taken King.
But The Taken King is more than just extra content. The expansion and the 2.0 update are being praised for outright improving everything that made Destiny limp when it started its race a solid year ago.
Is Destiny’s continual self-reinvention — a game planned to last a rock solid 10 years — signaling the end of finality in video games? Are games now afforded time to “improve” in a way films, TV, and books cannot?
In September 2014, when Destiny was first released, it wasn’t just reviewers giving it average scores. Players found the game just sort of lacking in everything that mattered. The story? Unfulfilling. Post-campaign content? Okay. Overall play experience? Pretty average. It wasn’t a bad game, and certainly not a disaster. But coming from Bungie, developers of the revolutionary Halo series who touted Destiny as the next big thing, being pretty okay was not okay.
Fully-informed reviews of The Taken King and Destiny’s overall facelift will come in throughout the week, so right now the best gauge is on Metacritic, which should be stressed is subject to trolling from users. On the critics’ end, The Taken King is ranking better than the core game released last year.
“The Taken King is a love letter to Destiny fans and an apology to critics who felt let down by previous expansions,” writes Becky Cunningham of Cheat Code Central. “This is the game Destiny should have been from the beginning.”
It wasn’t long ago when games came as they were and you had to put up with every quirk and glitch. If a game was messy, there wasn’t anything you could do. Sucks to suck. But now, like operating systems or mobile apps, games regularly receive incremental updates to improve and soften the rough edges. But while Destiny isn’t unique in taking advantage of the extra time post-release to refine, it is among the first to make it so integral to the game’s experience.
There were flashes of brilliance in Destiny’s Year One that kept the attention of an audience, however mid-sized. But the game was hindered by awkward mechanics and an unfriendly user experience dependent on Farmville-like grinding. But those who stuck with it have had their loyalty rewarded because now, finally, Destiny looks like genuine fun.
Full disclosure: I haven’t played Destiny. I wasn’t confident in the lack of Destiny’s content for its price tag, and I knew it would be a DLC-heavy product. I decided to wait out for some kind of value pack before I jumped in. The Taken King is just that, and it’s on my Amazon list right now.
But I’m in no shortage of friends who have been leveling up since Day One, and all were eager to share their optimism — and pessimism — for Destiny’s tomorrow.
“I think myself and a large part of the community will all give you the same answer: Destiny took a year, but it is finally out of beta.” An old college mate, Mike T., spoke to me as an avid Destiny player.
“We’ve started this era of releasing games early, where they don’t feel finished, he says. “And yet companies push out these packs in the form of DLC and I think Destiny got caught up in that hoopla.”
Software updates are as mundane as a Tuesday in tech, but in art it’s an anomaly. Movie shoots might take care of problems after production has wrapped (“We’ll fix it in post”), and test audiences might change the ending, but most of the time once a movie is out there, it’s out there. There’s no turning back, no matter what George Lucas thinks.
The laundry list of updates Bungie implements in each update can be head spinning, and a few are noteworthy enough to make headlines on their own, like Bungie recasting The Ghost, swapping famed Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage for Nolan North. Movies don’t have that luxury, and very few authors have the privilege to edit their work once it’s on bookshelves.
But games can. And are expected to.
Destiny isn’t becoming unrecognizable in Year Two; it’s still unmistakably Destiny. But so many rough edges have been smoothed. 2.0 makes Destiny sharper in how it gives rewards avoiding redundant items and weapons.
Mike’s enthusiasm is shared with Jason M., also an early Destiny player who has seen the game change throughout the year, and also another friend who reached out to me.
“I do feel that it’s closer to what Destiny should have been from the start, and I think it’s good enough to lure back in players that might have given up.”
“No way,” Tom Caswell of the YouTube channel The Nerd Pulse tells me. “Do not plan on purchasing The Taken King.”
All afternoon I had heard Destiny players toot The Taken King’s horn that Tom’s opposition sounded like a record scratch.
“[I]n order to enjoy Destiny you need to grind away an ungodly amount of hours, and if you don’t have friends online that also play it, it’s still not worth your time. There’s no casual way to enjoy Destiny, which is very different from Bungie’s treatment of Halo.”
Bungie’s past success with Halo has loomed over Destiny, compelling it to reach the same mainstream success despite its less casual, commitment-heavy approach. Synonymous with that titanic success, Destiny may have been plagued when it didn’t meet expectations by breaking them.
Tom is pessimistic, sticking with Destiny only out of curiosity. “At this rate, it’ll take them ten years to reach the game they made it out to be in Year One. They need to radically overhaul a lot of things. Destiny has a lot of things going on, but masters none of them … the online systems are weak and there are just more enjoyable games coming out.’
“I agree that Destiny has taken some important steps to build the game they wanted to make,” he continues. “But it still has a long way to go.”
It’s almost unfathomable that Destiny aims to sustain for 10 years. Some games do have a lengthy lifespan, often helped by a thriving modding community or competitive multiplayer scene. But for Destiny, which had a troubling Year One and now a promising Year Two, time will only tell what Year Three, Four, Five, will all look like.
After all, it took a year to get us here.