Field Notes is a series of diaries by Caty McCarthy, exploring the personal stories that emit from the games we play over extended periods of time, and beyond. Currently, Caty’s diving into Destiny 2, a shared world first-person-shooter about aliens destroying all your stuff.
Dear diary, I hit level 20 last night in Destiny 2, and I yelled so loudly that my friends I was playing with at the time probably cringed. It's been a long road to get here full of Fallen, Hive, Taken, and Vex to obliterate at every turn. I think I'm one mission away from completing the main story campaign, so I'm nearly at the end of it all.
Or really, just the beginning.
As someone who bounced off the first game so rapidly after hitting the level cap and waving bye to its short story, I've been wondering why Destiny 2 is so much more appealing to me, even as I notice its faults. I realized that playing Destiny 2 alone is a lot like drinking cheap alcohol on your own. It's not very good, you only get minor pleasure out of it, but at the end of the day, it's just kinda sad. Nothing is pushing you forward really, other than a need for loot. Bringing in friends though, that's a good time. That's where Destiny 2 finds its voice, and belts out a good ol' song.
I played about half of Destiny 2's campaign alone. It's a dizzying array of potential supernovas, Big Bads, quips, quips, and quips. I wasn't enjoying it—the story is corny at its best, a snooze at its worst—but as soon as I brought friends along for the journey, it felt like it got better. Not literally, but the incessant one-liners were easier to bear with friends poking fun at its absurdness. It was like an impromptu Mystery Science Theater session, only for an audience of three.
There's a reason for Destiny 2's multiplayer appeal, one that goes beyond other more competitive-minded games. Even in Quick Play matches of something like Overwatch, a conversation can get derailed with a panicked strategy tip. Or in PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, where there's been times I've been shushed by others, and someone says something to the tune of, "Did you hear that pop in the southeast?" In Destiny 2 though (and Destiny 1), players don't really need that finesse. (Unless they're doing a Raid.)
You shoot aliens, run towards objectives, and that's that. Easy peasy.
I'd compare Destiny 2's appeal as a joint-romp to watching bad movies with friends (not to necessarily say that watching the cutscenes of Destiny 2 mirrors something like Final Fantasy: Spirits Within), or going to a Super Bowl party. No one's really there to watch the thing seriously, they're there to have fun and have a relaxed good time. We shoot things together, we get loot together, we break bread together, we sip beers together on our own, probably. So it goes.
Like a Christmas spent alone (I can tell you, having spent Christmas days alone in the past because of working a service job is not fun), Destiny 2 is just generally a time made better when spent with friends and family. It's a so-so "single-player" campaign, improved vastly through fellow Guardians blasting away foes by your side.
I think that's honestly why so many people are clamoring to Destiny 2, even if by some veteran players' accounts it's either more of the same or messing up some of the core things about the original. Destiny 2 isn't necessarily a high-stakes competitive game. Hell, in its open world sections there's no friendly fire to even shoot other players (that's resigned to The Crucible, a more-typical competitive series of modes). As a result, Destiny 2 feels more relaxing to play than other multiplayer shooters, which is a big reason for its appeal. Skill is useful, sure, but unless you're hunting for a challenge it's not integral to what you get out of the experience. You don't have the anxiety of competing with others clouding everything, you only have miscellaneous aliens to pummel as you glide high in the sky.
Destiny 2's campaign feels trapped between two worlds: the silly fun players create for themselves, poorly replicated in snarky side-characters and the mega-serious drama known from the Halo series. As I've played through the campaign (half with friends, first half alone), I realized how little it all mattered, even as it at least made attempts at framing missions with some purpose (unlike the original game). Destiny was never going to be the Online Halo that people wanted. And frankly, Bungie hardly even noted as such. It was just the dream of so many. If nothing else, Destiny is just Destiny. In the moment-to-moment, it's its own thing: a solid first-person-shooter with space magic hijinks you can share alongside friends, progressing evenly on your individual paths, non-competitively.
A year from now, I probably won't remember many of the story beats across Destiny 2. Yet in all likelihood, I'll remember frolicking across the seapunk lands of Nessus, or the neon Big Shell-like oil rig of Titan with buds. There's even a chance that I'll still be doing those sorts of things, given no one I play with now abandons the game in a few weeks. That's Destiny 2 at its pure best, a group experience akin only to sharing a bottle of "shatter proof" cheap liquor on a Friday night with friends. For taking a break after a long, long week.
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