Destiny and I did not get on. After buying it to be part of the conversation, the brief honeymoon period wore off to reveal a slot machine disguised as a shooter and endgame content with only the most cursory game in front of it. As I wrote last year, it would have been my biggest disappointment of 2014 were it not for the slew of broken games that released against it. I therefore casually wrote off its sales success as the result of Sony's third-party hype and the limited number of quality first-party titles on the PS4 thus far, uninstalled it and got on with my life.
But it's still charting like a champion. Millions of people bought Destiny, and more importantly are still playing it on a daily or weekly basis. Did I miss something? Was I wrong to dismiss it so quickly? Out of professional interest more than anything else, I reinstalled it and delved back into the Tower.
Several days later and I realise that I might have been a bit too hasty after all. Though still disappointing in numerous ways, Destiny is winning me back, and I've finally put my finger on why that is. The answer might surprise you.
For the record, Destiny is still a crushingly disappointing missed opportunity. Bungie had the duty to introduce us to a brand new universe, to get us excited about and engaged with the setting, and they bottled it. I don't care about the world. I don't care about the characters. I don't care about the story. Because, unlike Marathon, Pathways Into Darkness and Halo, Bungie don't seem to care themselves. As such, it's incredibly unlikely that I'll buy into any future sequels, not to mention the offensively overpriced DLC.
I'm also sick and tired of people defending Destiny's lack of story, RNG loot system and always-on requirements as if it's an MMO. It's not an MMO. There's nothing "massive" about it!
However, as I often point out in reviews, there's a difference between the game we want and the game we've got. The game I've got has dragged me back in, at least for the short-term.
Partly it's down to the feel of the game; the way it moves, the way it handles, the way it kills. Having replayed a number of objectively superior first person shooters over Christmas, such as Shadow Warrior and Advanced Warfare, I have to concede that Destiny beats all but Titanfall in terms of the raw satisfaction of traversal and combat. Movement and double-jumping is fluid, vertical, responsive and deeply satisfying, the shoonk of a connected melee attack sounds and feels incredibly cathartic, while the guns all feel heavy and potent as they pop the heads off enemies like enormous whiteheads. This counts for an awful lot when killing and running is the main way we interact with the world, and makes the recycled content feel more compelling than it really is.
Then there's the PvP. The Crucible has undergone a few changes in my absence and they seem to be for the better. Despite being terrible with Fusion Rifles, which are still perhaps a bit too effective, I've found myself experimenting with different Hunter subclasses in different game modes, switching out my weapons to suit the situation, and generally enjoying the sheer seamless chaos of it all. Again, it's no Titanfall, but it is a finely-honed, capable and deeply compelling multiplayer suite that constantly rewards me with experience and Crucible bonuses at the very least.
Which brings us to the loot. I hate RNG drops and the Light system as much as anyone, but whatever mode I choose, I'm constantly earning experience and upgrades for my gear and subclasses, continually growing in power and more versatile ways to spec my Hunter. And, even though I know better, the cynical slot machine is still an addictive draw when you get a run of good luck... oh gawd, no, even I haven't quite fallen that far.
But none of that really explains the main reason why I've gotten back into Destiny, which I completely missed the first time around. I can't believe that I'm about to write this, but the fact is that it respects my time and the time of the people I play with.
This seems ridiculously counter-intuitive, I know. Destiny wastes time in a number of painfully obvious ways, not limited to the aggravating loading times, always-online connection voiding the convenience of resume game functionality, the Tower and the obfuscation of progression and items behind the Light system and RNG loot drops.
All of this is true, but it misses the big picture. See, on a surface level, Destiny delivers the gameplay I crave from modern first-person shooters (both cooperative, competitive and solo) with the progression I enjoy from RPGs in bite-sized chunks that I can play on my terms, in the time I have. If I find a little downtime between reviewing games, writing deals and sleep, I can leap online for a quick blast in the Crucible, a Strike or a story mission, easily liaising with whoever's on my friends list to fit it into their busy schedules.
The rotating daily heroic missions, Strikes and bounties tuck Destiny into my daily routine like the biggest-budget social game of all time, there to dip into if and when I can, as a satisfying snack between bigger games, better games or titles that demand an extraordinary time commitment to experience properly. And all the while my items are improving and my character is evolving, tying it all together.
In effect, it's gaming fast food, only cooked up by a master chef rather than a browser burger van.
Would I have preferred a richer campaign and a more dynamic world to explore? Obviously. But while Destiny is still a shocking missed opportunity, I've finally found my niche...even if I hope that bigger and better games will kick it off my hard drive in due course. For now, I'm off back into the Crucible. Lord Shaxx demands it and I can't resist his sexy, sexy voice.