Friendship helps eclipse Destiny's shortcomings

When does socializing become more meaningful than the game you're playing? That's a question I've been asking myself lately as I continue to level up in Destiny, a game with a number of shortcomings I've done my best to forgive. Destiny is still dominating the media coverage, and all my friends—even those who only buy one game a year—are playing it. Destiny has evolved into more than what the tangible product is; it's also a social phenomenon that even players like me, who don't love the game, feel compelled to participate in.

Destiny will be a strong contender for most polarizing game this year. Its reviews vary, and for every 9 out of 10 there are several 7s to even it out. That lower number is closer to where my opinion falls on the spectrum. On the one hand, Halo juggernaut Bungie does demonstrate why it’s one of the best in the industry, employing smooth mechanics and an effective combat system in Destiny. The AI opponents are smart and learn quickly, making every battle a challenging endeavor. Bungie also knows how to make things look gorgeous, from the planet landscapes down to the user interface.

But that's where my praise ends for Destiny, a game that tries very hard to claim its title as a revolutionary new experience in video game history but which doesn't have much to show for it. The narrative is substandard, with generic sci-fi terms mixed in to make story elements sound important when they're really not. When you have a line in your game's script that reads, "I don't have time to explain why I don't have time to explain," I also don't have time to explain why that line is abysmal. As enjoyable as the fighting mechanics can be, the combat is repetitive: same enemies, same exact locations, and same rewards. The soft level cap at 20 makes grinding more of a chore; despite the new mission types, you're still fighting identical battles you already ground through. Even if the game opens up with raids at level 26, just like with Final Fantasy XIII a few years ago, I can't justify playing for over 20 hours to finally reach that point of fun.

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So with all that disappointment, why do I still find myself logging in every night? Because Activision and Bungie managed to create something more than a game, Destiny is an event—and no, I'm not talking about the limited-time game events that are just as monotonous as the rest of the missions. They've created a phenomenon that's grouped thousands of players together participating in one common cause. Friendship is the driving factor that pushed me to buy the game in the first place.

Fearing Destiny might become Titanfall (with lots of hype but no one playing after three weeks) I wanted to take my time before purchasing the game. However, my friends who bought it on launch day stated that if I waited too long I would be too low of a level to play with them. Considering that the main draw of Destiny is playing with others, peer pressure hastened my decision to buy the game. Details like that don't matter for titles like Titanfall, because you can jump in whenever and easily adapt to other players' progress. But even if I chose not to play with that specific group, I still had 90% of my friends list playing Destiny! So I faced another dilemma: how often do I actually see that many of my friends playing the same game? Sure, there was a time when everyone was playing Bioshock: Infinite, but that's not a multiplayer game, so that wasn't an opportunity for me to socialize with people I can only interact with sporadically online.

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Then there's another intriguing aspect to Destiny's success: FOMO, the fear of missing out. The game industry lives off the perception of "being in the know," as in being aware of what new game is coming out or what the new hot button topic is. It makes sense that there's then this need to want to pick up the game all the media publications are consistently writing about, because you don’t want to miss out on the latest gaming phenomenon.

This isn't necessarily something that can be manufactured—neither Activision nor Bungie can claim they created this purposely. It's hard to predict the next big thing. Dead Island, for instance, received subpar reviews upon release but its major draw was the social aspect of killing zombies with friends, and that remains the franchise’s driving force. Destiny is benefiting from the same draw. I may be very critical of what Destiny turned out to be, but you can still find me weeknights trying to find light gear so I can be the best guardian I can be.

Even if hearing Peter Dinklage's voice performance makes me softly weep.