Spoiler Warning: This story contains details and screencaps of endgame content.
People have been lamenting about loot boxes lately. Loot boxes this. Loot boxes that. Loot boxes should only offer cosmetics, some say. Loot boxes shouldn't be in games at all, others bark back. Loot boxes prey on gamblers' worst tendencies, is another point. Every argument one can think of has been flung against loot boxes; but there might be bigger problems in the ether.
That problem is in the games as a service trend, and how they prey on being all-consuming objects of people's time. After all, time is money.
In the case of Destiny 2, it's all in the name, really. Destiny wants to be your destiny. Your fate, the chance to work towards greatness, your only solace. It wants to be there when you come home from a grueling day at work. It wants to be a shoulder for you to cry on. It wants to be something you miss, something you strive for. It wants to be the pint of Ben & Jerry's you eyeball in the freezer aisle of a convenience store, and imagine yourself eating while binging Riverdale on Netflix. Destiny wants to be your destiny.
The good part is that Destiny fulfills most of this, its sequel especially. Destiny 2 gives you endless things to do; four richly detailed planets to explore and daily challenges to tackle on them. It offers a more traditional player-versus-player mode in The Crucible. It boasts events both of the monthly and weekly variety. Challenging strikes and even more challenging raids are there to take on once you're strong enough. Every week there's new "milestones" to complete to net legendary gear. Destiny 2 offers so, so, so much. And yet as the endgame settles in, sometimes it feels like so little.
I'm a fairly high light level currently. 297, to be exact, but it took a long while to get there. My Warlock is resting at an easy 297 light level, inching extremely close to the level cap of 305. Every week feels like a routine now. Now that I'm completing milestones (weekly challenges that give you legendary or exotic gear upon completion) with relative ease, I'm finding myself dumping time into the game and getting nothing back for it. Reflecting on that fact is exhausting, and yet, I keep going back. I realized playing with pals had a lot to do with it.
In the downtime, I've found myself idling in Destiny 2's spaces with friends. Sometimes we bounce around the social hubs of The Farm or The Traveler. Other times, we take a seat in the midst of running a raid or something to catch a breath, grab a drink, have a distracted conversation—ignoring the fact that we have to arbitrarily stealth through the oncoming puzzle, in a game not built for stealth. Idling in digital spaces is a normal thing to do in most MMOs, it's even portrayed in the recent Japanese dramedy Dad of Light, which shows a group of online friends hanging out in the confines of Final Fantasy XIV. In most scenes, they're not even actively playing the game, just sitting around, sharing stories of their personal lives.
When I was talking to a co-worker recently, Destiny 2 naturally came into discussion. "I'm pretty sure I've sunk over 100 hours into it at this point," I thought out loud. When I recalled the other games I've played recently—Golf Story, Picross S, Sunset Overdrive, Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony—only the latter took a decent chunk of time. The rest were a breeze. Destiny 2, I found, was my in-between game. The game I played almost nightly, across most weekends. Yet according to the website Wasted on Destiny, I'm a bit shy of 100 hours. I've surprisingly only spent 58 hours in the realm of Destiny 2 (compared to 17 hours with Destiny 1).
The top player on the "leaderboard" (if it can really be called that) has an astounding 676 hours in Destiny 2 logged already. I have friends that have characters of every class—Warlock, Hunter, Titan—worked up to at least a light level of 260. Mostly though, I have friends that are more like me, comfortable with a single class; anxious at the thought of having to start all over with someone new just to have an excuse to use some other random gear. Everyone plays Destiny 2 at their own pace.
But if your pace is too quick and you hit the cap of 305, there's not much left to do. There's other classes you can power up, which in theory seems like a redundant sort of task. Your subclasses and abilities change, sure, but at the end of the day, you're shooting the same guns. You're firing upon the same enemies. The bulk of your retread experience through another class' shoes will inevitably feel markedly the same.
On October 18th, Destiny 2's first raid Leviathan will open up its Prestige raid, which heightens the difficulty and bumps the recommended light level from 270 to 300. Yet with the tougher raid comes something hinting more towards cosmetic rewards than anything else. "The Prestige Raid is about mastering a more punishing sandbox," wrote Bungie's Deej in a blog this week. "Our goal is not to provide a boon to your character progression, but there are unique rewards to help you shine. Consider this your invitation to prove to the world that you are among the very best of the raiders who overlook the City."
I'm nowhere near the first to write about Destiny's desire to be a forever game for people, cementing itself as the ultimate "game as a service" example. Kotaku's Kirk Hamilton wrote about missing the endless grind of Destiny 1 as a result of Destiny 2's weak rewards. The Verge's Nick Statt, now reportedly 80 hours deep in the game, pointed to Destiny 2's ability to feel more like a social hobby than a second job, the latter being the downfall of most MMOs. Wired contributor Julie Muncy wrote about how the game discards its risky, light-starved beginnings in the endgame, favoring a meandering sort of everyday routine existence.
The latter is where I'm finding Destiny 2 fitting the most. It's a compulsion to play it. I don't even particularly love it like crazy or anything, but here I am, like a moth to a flame when I launch my PlayStation 4 and see its hovering avatar. The big "2" is calling to me, always. It's my destiny, but in a way I don't want it to be. I want to be free of it, and I don't think I will be until I hit that silky smooth number. Three. Zero. Five. And then an expansion will release, and I'll go back. If I even leave.
A reason I keep coming back is because my friends haven't abandoned it either. In the same blog that Deej wrote of the incoming Prestige raid, he responded to the vocal complaints about the lackluster endgame once players hit the light level cap. What he wrote actually stuck with me, it seemed like an appendage to what I wrote about the social shooter just last month: "The ultimate loot is the friendships that can grow out of a game like this." As a game that urges you to buddy up, pressing through hardships like the raid or miscellaneous strikes. Through adversity, players become closer. Friendships are born, or simply grow.
Even as I get closer to the level cap, I don't think my time with Destiny 2 is going to run out anytime soon. This is the trap of games as a service—I've gotten my "fill," but somehow, it's still not enough. Or at least my brain doesn't think so, as hours slip by every night. Even as the goodies of loot run dry, there are too many endearing spaces to idle in, too many friends to chat with who live far away from my city.
Against all my expectations, over a month later I'm still feeling the drive to play on an almost nightly basis. It's why even when I'm readying up to go to bed late at night, if I get a text that says "Nightfall real quick?" I'll drop everything, and plow through another Nightfall (a weekly, more difficult strike). As much whining and blah blah-ing as I stutter, Destiny 2 sure has got a hold on me. Maybe it is my destiny to get lost in a video game. I guess that's what publishers and developers want in the games as a service trend. For better or worse.
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