Destiny's Treasure Cave may be gone, but should not be forgotten.
If it could talk, I think it would sound a lot like Halo 2's Gravemind. "I am a monument to all your sins," it would growl, accusingly and cryptically, before spitting out some more identical mobs to players to grind at. Though now fixed, the very fact that players willingly spent hours shooting at a hole is deeply embarrassing, and more to the point, throws the spotlight on a greater shame and a more fundamental problem that Bungie absolutely has to face up to.
I'm not talking about the loot system, flawed and cynical as it is. Yes, the randomisation of Engrams feels deeply unsatisfying. Yes, the Light system is idiotic. Yes, the game revolves around a roulette wheel, even though the raw shooting mechanics are very fine indeed.
But that's all a symptom of a more shameful issue. Consider the basic fact again: players were willingly spending hours shooting at a hole in the ground.
That, in and of itself, is the biggest embarrassment of all. Destiny didn't offer anything else that felt fun, exciting or satisfying enough (both in terms of engaging gameplay, satisfaction and perceived reward) to tempt these players away from a hole in the ground. They weren't getting involved in public events or strikes, because hanging out next to a hole in the ground felt more rewarding.
A hole in the ground. A hole! In the ground!
See, when you drill right down to it, Destiny is incredibly light on meaningful content. Progression and loot is not content, no matter what anyone tells you. It provides new ways to enjoy and gate content, typically levels/maps (which are recycled and empty, if gorgeous), enemies (which sorely lack variation and don't feel as if they've been intelligently been placed in the maps), encounters (which are predictable, stodgy and unmemorable beyond the strikes) and story (which is banal when it can actually be bothered to show up) amongst other things.
But Destiny cut content that was present in all their previous games since Marathon, things like interesting set pieces, a engaging universe that's worth being in and worth saving, well-designed levels that you want to replay again and again in different ways, and replaced them with a cynically addictive slot machine that consumes your precious time instead of cold hard currency. Instead of playing because we're invested in the universe or replaying awesome levels, many (not all, but many) of us keep plugging away because maybe I'll just get another piece of armour with a higher Light stat and maybe the next purple engram will be an exotic and maybe I'll get enough Marks for some legendary gear... in a shooter.
You can argue that all MMORPGs and RPGs of all kinds have a subset of players who value efficiency over all else, and always take the shortest route to the best gear. You'd be right. But it was Bungie's decision to throw all these systems in in the first place, yet instead of supporting a well-crafted universe with varied and exciting encounters, great characters and well-paced levels, progression and loot overshadowed them, because they were nowhere near strong enough in the first place. And these Vegas-style addictive timesinks add little to the Destiny experience, since it doesn't match the scale and ambition of the even the most basic MMOs out there.
Carl can wax lyrical about World Of Warcraft's story. Guild Wars 2 keeps me dipping in because I love its public events (seriously Bungie, play it and learn) and don't get me started on The Secret World. Or Borderlands 2, with its great bosses, expertly designed levels, memorable brilliant villain and loot that gives us insane new guns with crazy new abilities. Planetside 2, which feels like a genuine war and lets us unlock more situational kit to fight the good fight. All with similar loot and progression mechanics, but better and with benefits.
But why not just look back at Bungie's own back catalogue. Consider Pathways Into Darkness, which kept me glued to my godfather's Mac because its ruthlessly tough exploration and storytelling was enough. Or the Marathon Trilogy, that delivered an amazing plot, created a superb universe and a mystery so profound that we're still untangling it to this day, alongside outstanding crafted levels despite its ancient presentation. Seriously, go play them for free thanks to Aleph One. And what about about Halo: Combat Evolved, which we've played time and time and time again because its big organic set pieces and legendary vehicle sections are worth experiencing countless times, no progression necessary. Destiny's loot and grind should have been the icing on the cake. Sadly, it is the cake.
The sad fact of the matter is that the loot cave should never have to be fixed. Everything else should be more fun and feel more rewarding.
At least Bungie seems to know that. We have more bounties incoming and a pledge to tweak several facets of the experience - and with luck this early shame will inspire them to push forwards for greater things over the coming months.