Here’s why Destiny’s The Taken King expansion can’t get here soon enough

Mon_Jul_6_23-02-34_EDT_2015When Destiny came out last September I picked it up on the PS4 and had a grand old time leveling my Hunter from 1 to 20. Then I hit the Light system.

For those who don’t play, you level 1-20 in Destiny like you do in any MMO; gaining experience from killing baddies and finishing quests. Once you hit level 20 a new system, the Light system, kicks in. Basically it’s like hitting cap in an MMO and having your gear score on display. Different bits of gear, starting at 20, have a light attribute, and the more Light you have equipped, the higher your displayed level is.

I played for a couple of weeks after hitting 20 and I think I made 2 levels in that time, finishing at level 22. I mostly play solo and so mostly counted on random drops and I just wasn’t lucky. So I felt like I wasn’t making any progress and drifted away.

A few weeks ago I bought a copy of Destiny for the Xbox One and have once again been enjoying leveling a Titan from 1 to 20. But things were different with this character. First of all, he got some “Strange Coins” (a special type of currency) in the (in-game) mail; some kind of promotion from Bungie I guess. I was able to spend those to get a level 20 gold (Legendary) helmet that had a high Light attribute. As soon as I clicked over to level 20, I donned this helmet and my level jumped to 22.

Then a few hours later I was cheesing some Bounty Quests by picking on really low level bad guys. I was doing a level 3 mission (at level 22) and a random mob dropped a “blue” item (item rarity in Destiny goes white – green – blue – purple – gold) that has a pretty large light level. I put that on and I was level 24.

So over the course of a couple hours I made more progress than I made in a few weeks on my PS4 character, and the difference was the Random Number Generator. I mean seriously, the mission I was doing was so easy I was punching everything to death rather than shooting stuff, and I got a bit of gear worth 2 levels. I didn’t feel in any way like I ‘earned’ that gear or those levels.

OTOH on the PS4 I felt like I couldn’t make any progress at all, because I was less lucky there. I actually logged in my PS4 character because I figured he too had Strange Coins waiting in the mail. And he did, but the Vendor didn’t have anything he could both afford and could use. So again, the RNG foiled me.

The good news is we’re a few weeks from The Taken King, where the level cap will be raised to 40 and you’ll level up to it the old fashioned way, gaining experience from quests and killing mobs. They’ve also promised tweaks to the random stuff so you’re more likely to get gear you can use. The Light system will still determine your power, but as you get higher levels you’ll get access to higher level gear with more light. At least that’s how I understand it.

Destiny comeback

results_cardOK I’m going to ask you to take quite a leap with me today.

I read Bhagpuss’ excellent post, Alone Together Or this morning. I don’t know Bhagpuss beyond brushing shoulders in the odd comment thread now and again, but man did this post resonate with me. The basic premise is that multiplayer gaming has changed since the days when it was something new and fresh. That’s the thinnest scratch of the surface of the post because you should really go read the whole thing. But the point is it got me thinking about multiplayer and social and how I never reach out to other players any more.

Read on and I may be able to tie this all together.

So I played a lot of Destiny when it first came out then one day I stopped in that way I do. On Tuesday a game is consuming my every waking thought then Wednesday I find myself totally uninterested in playing it. Lately I’ve gone back to Destiny for a variety of reasons that are of no consequence.

What is of consequence is that I’m really enjoying myself again. There are a LOT of Destiny haters out there and y’know, many of their points are totally valid. It is grindy and repetitive and what lore there is tends to be found on the website instead of in the game. My biggest beef was the leveling structure past 20 where instead of gaining experience you had to level via loot, which involved (at the time anyway) typical loot slot machine dances with the RNG.

Anyway what does Destiny have to do with Bhagpuss’s post? The post made me think of playing together alone. One thing I like about Destiny is that it has ‘grouping’ (not in a game mechanics sense, though it has that too, but today I’m talking about grouping via circumstances) with basically no communication possibilities. A lot of people HATE it for that, but y’know I’m a grouchy old fuck who generally doesn’t like talking to people. In Destiny I can’t talk to them (at least not without jumping through some hoops), but I can and do work with them.

Last night I was puttering around in the Cosmodrome. I was on a level 15 character. There were a few single-digit level guys running around, and 1 or 2 level 30+ types. At times this felt a little frustrating because it was hard to get kills, but then (via happy coincidence or the game’s “Director” system kicking in) we were swarmed with bad guys. Suddenly we were all working together to cut down these invaders. The single digit guys got overwhelmed and died, and I did my part to swoop in and revive them. The level 30’s were kind enough to make themselves targets and they soaked up a lot of incoming damage. We all worked together (apart) and got the job done and it was so much damned fun. One of those ‘magic moments’ we all chase.

In my mind, these 4 or 5 people were my temporary friends. They were all reasonable, decent people who were having as much fun as I was. But in truth? Who knows? One of them might’ve been hurling insults at the rest of us. He or she might’ve been a racist or a homophobe or just a huge epeen cursing everytime someone else did something that was wrong in his or her eyes. In fact my experience suggests that in any group of 5 or 6 random people at least one of them is a complete dick.

But not last night. Last night, in my game of Destiny, there were all awesome human beings and I had a ton of fun playing with them.

And that’s why I love Destiny. This week.


Destiny’s interesting mission structure

vandal_grimoirI was trolling (in the fishing sense of the word) some gaming forums the other day, reading people’s thoughts about Destiny. One person shared a concern that got me thinking.

His (or her) concern was that the story missions keep sending you back to the same area. In the beta there are 4 or 5 Story Missions and they all take place in what was once Russia near some space-port-ish place. I hadn’t really thought about this, but then I’m an MMO player. If you’re coming to Destiny from a strictly single-player FPS point of view it must be strange. If you’re playing Call of Duty or something similar, (virtually) every single player mission has its own map/level, right?

Destiny story missions are a little more like an MMO. There’s a huge zone to explore and your story mission objectives are scattered around it. You can stumble upon them before you take the mission, in fact. Old Russian is the Elwynn Forest of Destiny. You might encounter the equivalent of Hogger well before someone hires you to take him out.

The only strange thing is that at the end of a Story Mission you beam back to your ship, which is essentially your hub. It’d be like finishing a quest in Elwynn and being teleported back to Goldshire, sort of. When you’re ready to start the next story mission you beam back to Old Russia in the same place you’d started all your other missions. Which *is* a little weird.

I think I get why, though. When you first hit dirtside for a story mission you’re in an open world. You will see other players going about their business. You can ignore them, or help them. No PvP here though. As far as I can ascertain these people aren’t necessarily doing the same story mission as you, and they might even be in ‘free roam’ mode (more on that later). By starting everyone in the same place it means there’s a bigger chance you’ll encounter other players (I assume you can turn this off so as to get a truly single-player experience if you want to).

When you approach the objective of your story mission you hit an area that The Darkness (the game’s ultimate enemy is The Darkness…every time it is mentioned I think of this:

“I’m attacking The Darkness!” LOL
Ahem, anyway….)

So you get near the objective and now you are on your own, unless you’re part of a FireTeam, which is Destiny-speak for Group. Point is you won’t get any help from random players in here. Respawning in the Darkness-controlled area is prevented. If you die you’ll respawn prior to the current encounter, which will be reset. The good news is you keep any experience you gained in previous attempts. The bad news is that any consumables you’ve used will still be gone. Once you accomplish your goals, you get auto-teleported back to your ship (after a brief countdown that lets you gather up any drops that might be laying around).

So that’s story missions. Destiny also offers a ‘free roam’ mode where you just teleport down to the planet and explore. There’re are missions here too. You get them from ‘beacons’ which could just as easily be NPCs with a ! floating over their heads. These missions tend to be pretty easy and just give you a little extra incentive for running around killing bad guys. Once again in free roam mode you’ll encounter random players and in this case you can work together to complete your missions. Really you’re just working together to kill bad guys but as a side-effect of that you’ll complete your free roam missions.

Destiny also has Public Events where some uber boss-type critter will spawn and everyone in the area can swarm it and try to take it down. In the beta at least (which has a level cap of 8) these are pretty straightforward fights, but they’re a lot of fun and the rewards are solid.

There are also Strikes that I haven’t tried yet. These seem to be the Destiny equivalent of instanced dungeons, but I’ll know more once I actually, y’know, play through the one in beta.

I’m really enjoying my time in the beta and am super excited for Destiny to launch so we can level past 8 (sub-classes don’t even kick in until 15 so we know nothing about them) and see other worlds!

Destiny and the disappointing marketing beta

Destiny is the next game coming to us (on Sept 9th) from Bungie. I describe it as a mash-up of the loot & level gameplay of Diablo and the shooter mechanics of Halo.

I have a lot of confidence in Bungie; I’ve been playing their games since Marathon came out on the Mac, and Myth: The Fallen Lords is one of my all-time favorites. Then of course there is Halo, which is the only pure shooter franchise where I play through every game.

This summer Bungie is running a beta for Destiny and I think it’s being handled rather poorly, though I’m not sure if the blame should be placed on Bungie, Sony, or both.

This generation Sony has been borrowing a lot of Microsoft’s tactics: going after exclusive content connected to cross-platform third party games. In Destiny’s case they’ve been pushing the fact that Playstation fans get “early access” to the beta.

Now coming from the land of MMOs, when you tell me there’s a beta I figure it’s going to run for a few weeks at least, or a string of weekends, or something along those lines. It’s supposed to be a way to test the game so the developers can make adjustments, right?

Well of course not. That would be a true beta. This is a marketing beta, and now the details are out. The beta “starts” on July 17th on the Playstation platform. I put that in quotes because the 17th is when you can get your key from You’ll then have to download the client which could take anywhere from a couple to many hours. Assuming you’re an adult with a job and you can’t get this process going until you get home at 6 pm, you probably won’t play much on the 17th.

Once you finally get in, you can play until the 20th. So basically Thursday the 17th is for getting everything set up, then you can play Friday-Sunday. On Monday the 21st the beta comes down for “Maintenance” for two days. On the 23rd (Wednesday) it comes online again and Xbox players can start playing. It runs until that Sunday (the 27th) and that’s it. (There’s some kind of special reward you can earn for logging in on Saturday, the 26th.)

So for all of Sony’s crowing about getting into the beta early, what it really means is you get a weekend to play when Xboxers can’t, and in total you get 8 days (maybe 8 and a half if the download is fast on the 17th) of beta.

Honestly I was expecting the beta to run through the end of August! Again, my MMO background showing through.

We also don’t yet know how much of the game will be there. Bungie and Sony had an “alpha” after E3 that ran for a few days and it only contained a small ‘slice’ of the game with a low level cap. (I’ve already forgotten if it was 8 or 10…something like that.) Hopefully July’s “beta” will contain more of the game and not just be another demo.

Originally we were told that you had to pre-order to get into the ‘beta’ but now I see all kinds of sites giving out keys. That’s bad news because it means once again this is about marketing, not helping to make Destiny a better game. If the beta was just for people interested enough in the game to have pre-ordered then maybe it could have been an actual beta, but now Bungie is going to want to tightly control the experience to get ‘testers’ who haven’t pre-ordered to buy the product.

First thoughts on the Destiny Alpha

warlock_webI’ll be the first to admit I’ve been excited about Destiny, Bungie’s new game, so keep that in mind as you read the following happy thoughts. I got into the Alpha this evening (I guess everyone who applied did) and got to spend an hour or two playing. For some reason they start you at level 3 and I got to level 5.

Now let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat. Destiny is a shooter. The basic mechanics of minute-to-minute gameplay will be very familiar. It’s nothing revolutionary in that aspect. It’s more the meta-game that’s interesting. Think of Diablo. The basic mechanics of Diablo are pretty simple right? But people love to play it to level up and gear up their characters. Destiny is like a first person shooter version of Diablo 3 in some ways.

You have two weapon slots but can carry a bunch of weapons (hit the Options button to open your inventory and decide which two are ‘live’). You have regenerating health (that even sounds kind of like Halo’s shield regen). I was playing a Warlock and he also has a grenade ‘spell’ that has a cooldown. There’s also a pretty fierce melee attack. I didn’t find a way to crouch but you can sprint and jump (and my class can do a kind of hover jump…maybe all can).

When you start the alpha you’re on Earth in that part of Russia we’ve seen over and over in previews. As far as I can tell this mission is strictly single player. You need to get to an objective far away and snag something. Along the way you’ll encounter lots of baddies to blast (and be blasted by). You’ll also be in danger of becoming side-tracked. I found an old bunker and when inside, got lost and finally stumbled onto a boss of level ?? (the universal symbol for “You’ve got no chance, kid.”). I liked that; I liked that I could go off the beaten path and find challenging things to do.

Once I finished this mission I was prompted to beam up to my ship and then navigate to The Tower. You don’t actually fly your ship through space…you just pick a destination and off you go. The Tower is the central hub of the game. I saw lots of other players there. I checked my mail. I turned in my quest rewards. I browsed vendors who had upgrades for guns, armor, ships and vehicles (purchased with a variety of currencies). I explored and find some odds and ends that seemed to give me…something (still figuring this all out).

Once I was bored of that I decided to try PvP in The Crucible. The only map they have open is a 6v6 conquest kind of thing, but there are icons for maybe half a dozen competitive game modes. But for now we have conquest. Y’know, occupy check points and gain points based on how long your team holds it. It was as fun as PvP FPS ever is (I’m not a huge competitive FPS player) and I earned some Crucible Points which I could spend on special gear.

When that was over I went back to Earth/Russia to check out the open exploration mode. While you’re roaming around down there killing baddies you can find missions. I captured video of me doing one. I found that there are at least two factions of bad guys and they don’t like each other much more than they like you, and you’ll often come across them fighting each other.

I’d just finished my mission when I noticed a blip on my radar; it was another player! We spent some time fighting together which was a lot of fun. At the time I was level 5 and we were encountering level 9 bad guys that could really soak up damage when trying to take them solo, but with two people flanking them, they went down fast. People who know me know that I LOVE this kind of random organic ‘grouping’ where you encounter another player and can help each other out without drawing up a social contract first.

If you really just want to play alone or with your friends, I believe that option will be in the final game but I didn’t see a switch for it in Alpha. The person I encountered (actually I ran into two) wasn’t on my friends list…it was just a random stranger.

And that was about all I had time for. And stomach for. I haven’t played a shooter in a while and after a couple of hours I was starting to get a little queasy. /blush.

During my time playing I found 4 or 5 new weapons, upgraded my helm, gloves and chest armor, found some “Materials” that I suspect will be used in crafting in the full game. Some of the loot you find is ‘encrypted’ and has to be taken back to the tower to be used. Think of this stuff as Unidentified Items in Diablo. I also unlocked a few new skills for my character.

Bungie has a website for the Alpha and I have a profile on there but I’m not sure how to make it public, or if you can. It’s nice that even though we’re only in Alpha they have their version of the “Armory” where you can check out your characters gear and stuff from the web.

Bungie says the alpha is a ‘tiny slice’ of the whole game, but I really appreciated that they included single player, co-op and PvP missions in it. I’m looking forward to playing more, and to playing with friends. So far I’m really enjoying it.