One Year Later – Destiny

My Exo Warlock; it’s been my only character up until about a month ago when I started a Hunter to take advantage of the coming “Level skip” bonus for new PCs.

One year ago today, I stopped by GameStop on my way home from work and picked up my special edition of Destiny. While I fiddled with my Ghost replica (I’ve since named him ‘Sixtus’ because…it’s a cool name?), the game began to install on my Xbox360. Ninety minutes later, my journey as a Guardian began.

Actually, that journey started back in 2013, when I first heard of the game. I put down a preorder soon after reading about it, anticipating its release. There were so many aspects to the game that appealed to me: immersive environment, social gaming, storyline play, weekly and daily tasks… It was a lot of things I loved about my particularities in gaming, and I knew my friends and I – if I could convince them – would enjoy it immensely. See, these days I spend only a few hours online to game, so I prefer to make it a social event. Gone are the days where I’ll hole up for hours on end to smash through a single-player game; with only a few exceptions, my gaming time is skewed towards playing with friends.

Destiny was delayed for another year, though I was able to jump into the Beta back in August 2014. I didn’t mind that Playstation owners got extra time and goodies. I was still enamored with it, and could not wait to dive in.

To date, I’ve spent just over 175 hours playing Destiny. It’s not a lot of time when compared to the 300-600 hours my friends have poured into it. Or the 1,500+ hours the hardcore players have done. But in my statistical world, it’s been 80% of my Xbox playtime (3-4 hours a week), and that says a lot.

I’ve been able to play all aspects of the game – I’ve done the story missions, the strikes, Crucible, Prison of Elders, and been fortunate to plow through the normal versions of the Raids. Despite my attempts at scheduling, a good chunk of my playtime – probably around 30% – has been relegated to grinding along in solo mode. Hey, it’s hard to get fireteams of 3 (never mind raid teams of 6) together; often, there’s 4-5 of us online, so it’s a Russian roulette of ‘who gets left behind tonight?’

The new solar system map, courtesy of the 2.0 update to Destiny.

The new solar system map, courtesy of the 2.0 update to Destiny.

Nonetheless, I’ve stuck with it. Each DLC expansion has added new things. Bungie, the developer, has also been very receptive (mostly) to feedback, and has done a multitude of changes on the fly. Any given week, there’s hew and cry about weapons being nerfed, or mission difficulties tweaked, or loot caves recoded. The most interesting was the seeming development of an equipment class war, where hardcore players were refusing to add people to their raid parties because they didn’t have one particular weapon (the Gjallerhorn rocket launcher). A weapon that, as with all of Destiny‘s exotics, are randomly dropped. Furthermore, some players went out of their way to ‘bully’ others who didn’t ‘earn’ particular weapons – as if you can earn something that’s randomly dropped.

Through it all, I’ve watched the community from the fringes of a few Facebook groups, the game’s forums, and some comment threads on gaming sites like Kotaku. It’s an interesting dynamic to watch, a community build itself up from the ground level, with all of its stratification, entitlement, paucity, vitrol, kindness, and other social tailings.

About two months ago, I was ready to pack it in. Destiny hadn’t truly fed the itch as I thought it would. I’d slowly fallen behind my friends in building up my character and his equipment; often, when I did join for strikes, I was typically in the back of the pack, barely comprehending what was going on and utterly ignorant of the ‘new’ tactics necessary for each map or mission. I was okay with that, for a while, because my usual goal is to play for fun, not competition or completion. But that constant feel of being the lowest man on the totem pole does wear on one for a while. Constantly being behind the curve – simply because I didn’t have the time to dedicate to gameplay – is a hard place to be for a seeming permanence. I found myself wandering back into GTA V Online, where it’s about mayhem and screwball fun, and not even remotely about equipment, rankings, or completion.

Oryx is coming.

Oryx is coming.

The news and teases of the Taken King release, which comes out next Tuesday, has somewhat changed that. Bungie has taken tremendous risk by altering its game across a wide field of changes; these are good risks. They are ‘fixing’ what many have seen as flaws in its initial design. Having done game design in tabletop and RPGs myself, I can sympathize with the guys and gals who have poured years into Destiny‘s development. It’s hard to start out in one direction and have to shift based on the fact that the community just doesn’t flow in the way you think. Ultimately, though, I believe the changes its making to Destiny through TTK’s release are a great thing, and the risk is nominal. People who abandoned it much earlier than I will be piling back in to play. As someone joked on a FB group recently, “I’m back to play Destiny, now that the year-long Beta is done.”

Bungie dropped in a massive patch the other day to prepare the base game for the release of TTK, and the results are intensely good. From the change in the intro screen’s music, to the new NolanBot’s dialogue (bye-bye, Dinklebot, we loved you…maybe), to the addition of Quests, I’m impressed. Gone is the light, hopeful strains of the start screen’s music interlude; the TTK’s score hits you full force with a tone of encroaching danger. On the first visit to the Tower, it felt like the environment was more…gritty? I don’t remember the flags snapping in harsh wind, nor the cloudier skies over the distant Guardian. The new PA dialogue, the intermittent comments from AI passersby, it all has that anticipatory feel to it. I’m not sure if it’s because of the ominous turn the story will take with Oryx’s arrival, or the personal anticipation of a better game, but all in all, Destiny has recaptured my attention.

Let’s hope it holds up. A slew of new games are about to hit in the fourth quarter this year – I personally am excited for Battlefront and Halo 5. With limited time to play, it’s going to be a lot harder to sort out what game to slot in with my friends. If Destiny can keep moving upwards, I may well find myself more of a Guardian than a Spartan or Imperial.

Only time, and the Taken King, will tell. Until then, time to grab the Light and take down the latest threat to our solar system.

See you on the Dreadnaught!

Destiny, or Why I Am All In for Bungie’s Latest

destiny5

So big news to no-one who is a gamer, the Destiny Beta just concluded a ten-day run across the Playstation and Xbox platforms. I was an eager participant during the four days Xbox users had access, and the entire experience only solidified my feelings about Bungie’s latest offering.

I’m all in.

I first ran across Destiny over a year ago. A new game universe promised by the creators of the Halo franchise? Featuring player-v-player (PvP) as well as co-play options? And a strong storyline threaded throughout, giving you solo play? All against an intriguing science fiction backdrop of humanity’s last stand?

It piqued my interest.

Initially due for release at the beginning of this year, I pre-purchased the game outright in the summer of 2013. Then it was the beta in January, with a July release date. And then, July would be the Beta with a release of September 9. With such disappointing news came other information about the game: it would have elements of an RPG; a diverse skill tree; varied terrain and even several planetary environments; small fireteams and large public events. Destiny was looking better and better, even though it was being pushed back.

Knowing how products can sometimes hit problems on the back end, I took solace in the knowledge that Bungie was doing its best to make the game as great as it could be for Day One (aka “Release Day”). Continue reading

Three Things I Like About: Lego Star Wars

Let's play Lego Star Wars

Lego. Star Wars. Individually, these are great brands. Together? A phenomenal experience. And when you blend them together into a video game, you get the introduction of Lego as a game series and a revitalization of the company.

As such, the series hits this month’s Three Things… It’s one of the first games I bought when I finally purchased an Xbox console, and I’ve enjoyed all three iterations. The game is so fun and enjoyable, I’ve purchased and played Lego’s Batman and Marvel Super Heroes series as well. It was also the catalyst for starting my renewed love for Legos in general.

So. Three things I like about the Lego Star Wars video game series:

It’s Lego

Let’s face it: part of the charm of Lego Star Wars is that it involves Lego. These colorful bricks have a charm all their own, and when used to build Lego versions of iconic and classic Star Wars vehicles and vistas, that charm skyrockets. Wandering through the L:SW universe is not just about diving into the known setpieces from the venerable sci-fi universe, it’s seeing how Lego re-interprets them. Many of the vehicles and sets that came out later as kits saw their initial creation as part of the game.

Indeed, one of the many things you can do in-game is acquire the hard-to-find components to build mini-kits that you can then use to tool around with on the main staging level or even in some free play areas.

It’s Star Wars

Because yeah, it’s Star Wars. This iconic science fiction phenomena remains an indelible part of modern geek culture. The L:SW series gives you the opportunity to play through each movie storyline – with the classic Lego humorous takes – and even the first two seasons of Cartoon Network’s Clone Wars show.

The games have minifigure interpretations for a few hundred characters, even the bit-part background ones. They are all useable in-game – usually in the free play zones after you unlock a chapter – and each has a special ability of a sort to make them useful.

The light-hearted take on the universe through the minifigs and the humor also makes the game less dependant on Star Wars lore, so even those only casually aware of the universe (like my wife) can play and understand the references in passing. Unlike some hardcore fans, the game never takes itself seriously but still honors the vast universe and its lore.

Disco Inferno

It’s Playability

One of the great things about the Lego video games in all their forms is the playability factor. Yes, it’s aimed at kids, but there’s enough puzzles and critical thinking elements that brings appeal to adult gamers as well. By making each chapter available first as a storyline and then as a free play zone, it encourages replayability.

The first playthrough uses a small selection of characters, with enough skillsets to accomplish the basic puzzles and situations to solve the level. Once completed, the level can then be re-entered as a free play zone, which has additional puzzles to solve through the use of additional character skills not previously available.

There are enough achievement goals for each game that can occupy a player for months. One of the more difficult is the one requiring a complete playthrough of either Episodes 1-3 or 4-6 within a strict time frame. It’s not a goal I ever came close to attaining, but it’s one of the more interesting among the usual fare.

The Lego Star Wars series really captured my attention because it was so different than other video games I typically play. The whimsy of the setting through using the Lego blocks intrigued me to the point that it factored into my eventual dive back into the brand. Other Lego games have found their way onto my console, but the L:SW games remain high on my all-time favorite games list.