On Friday, I received an email. This email was from Activision Blizzard, telling me that at the end of September, Destiny 2 would be leaving Battle.net and heading off to Steam. This is, of course, part of the process of Bungie breaking ties with the publisher to make its own way as an independent developer.
Reading this email seems to have had a strange effect on me. Like Assassin’s Creed, I have very mixed feelings on the Destiny franchise, and when the email told me that if I didn’t transfer my game data across to Steam before the 1st October I’d lose it, I genuinely wasn’t sure whether I was okay with that.
Over the weekend, between putting the finishing touches on my content plan for Gwent Challenger #5 in Warsaw, where I now am as you’re reading this, I’ve been playing a bit of the game and doing some research to help me work out whether I wanted to save my character from being obliterated out of existence, and I wanted to share my thoughts on what I’ve discovered along the way.
What is Destiny 2?
Destiny as a franchise is a prime target for a future Where to Start? article, so this will just be a quick introduction to the idea for those who don’t know it.
Destiny 2 is described on Wikipedia as an online-only multiplayer first person shooter. It’s an important note to make, because if you know nothing about it, it’d be easy to mistake the game for an MMORPG. There are certainly RPG elements to the game, but it is definitely not an MMO. It’s best described as a collection of single-player and team activities taking place in a mix of open-world and instanced environments. Single-player activities are all PvE only, while team activities can be PvE, PvP or, with the release of Gambit in Destiny 2: Forsaken, even PvPvE. Teams are made up of 3-6 players, so you might see a smattering of other players in the open-world areas, but this is nothing compared to huge crowds of something like Star Wars: The Old Republic or Runescape (I deliberately leave WoW out of this comparison because I have no frame of reference. I assume it can get busy though).
The game is set in the distant future of our Solar System, after mankind has made contact with The Traveller, an object I know little about, which emits a power known as the Light. Different enemies of the Light (the Darkness) have all invaded the system seeing to bend the Traveller to their own twisted machinations, and its the job of the Guardians to stop them. Guardians are warrior-wizards who were sought out and resurrected by AI constructs known as Ghosts, who were in turn created by the Traveller to find beings who could wield the Light as a weapon to protect the people of the Solar system from the Darkness.
In Destiny and Destiny 2, players take on the roles of these Guardians, undergoing tasks to stop the enemies of the Light from reeking havoc against the surviving remnants of humanity, which has grown to include Exos, sentient machines built in the image of humans, as well as Awoken, descendants of humans who tried to flee the chaos of the invasion of Darkness.
That’s the very basic premise, and where I want to leave it for now. We’ll probably see why as this article continues.
Why Not Save My Game Data?
I can count the number of times I’ve been burned by story-telling in games on one hand. The original Destiny was one of those times. Having loved the original Halo trilogy so much, when Destiny, also from Bungie, was released I was so ready to play it. As a shooter, it was every bit as good, if not better, than Halo, but as a story-telling experience it was a bit of a sad joke. It was being marketed as an online multiplayer experience, and I understood going in that meant less emphasis on story-telling, but the result was so incredibly clipped that I can’t imagine the writers, who must have known what they had to live up to for so many people, were ever happy with it.
The lore of the game, which had so much potential, was stored predominantly on a separate online grimoire but was not at all accessible from in-game, at least on release. The plot was clearly nothing more than a stepping stone into the multi-player experience, which in and of itself needn’t be a problem, but it was so obvious that the work that had gone into the story-telling was low priority that it was almost insulting. Finally, and perhaps most famously, the dialogue between characters was terribly stilted and clunky, and culminated in the single worst excuse for keeping a character in the dark that I think I’ve ever experienced.
This individual line left such a bad taste in everyone’s mouth that Bungie were left with no choice but to go along with the joke, naming a rifle No Time to Explain in one of Destiny’s expansions, The Taken King, as a nod to the incident, then attempting to correct their mistake by using a similar line under circumstances that made entirely more sense in Destiny 2.
Destiny 2 does not have the same problems in story-telling as Destiny. The Red War campaign of its original release is actually brilliant and thoroughly enjoyable. Though short, both the Curse of Osiris and Warmind campaigns of its first two expansions are also good exercises in story-telling.
The problem is that it still very much feels like a game that’s most enjoyable for a group of friends who can commit to playing regularly; a proper online multiplayer experience. That’s fair enough, but if that is where the focus lies, then I know I am going to have very limited value for my money if I just play the game for it’s single-player, traditional campaign experience (the part of Halo that I loved so much).
In that regard, the problem lies entirely on my side. I’ve been so engrossed by the world of esports since 2016 that I haven’t been able to commit to playing something like Destiny 2 regularly. All the friends I know who play it have either stopped or moved to a power level so much greater than mine it doesn’t make sense for us to play together anymore, and certainly wouldn’t be enjoyable for me. As I’m not brave enough to go and find new people to play with, I’m missing out on a tonne of the in-game activities to try, and having completed most of the single-player content I have access to, I haven’t felt a great need to keep playing, or keep investing money to get more of the story.
Why Save My Game Data?
There’s a very simple answer to this question, and it’s one word: Potential.
Bungie were very smart when they started creating the universe for Destiny. They gave themselves a massive amount of time and space in which to work with, which means they gave themselves scope.
Over the course of 5 years and multiple expansions to both games, we’ve seen an incredibly small fragment of the universe as it currently is, and as we have a continuous character, that exploration is part of their personal story. We’ve also seen just a small fragment of the universe as it has been since our current day, which makes up the lore of this universe. Continuing to play would certainly give me the change to further explore both, and that’s certainly very appealing to me. Plus, look at these pictures! The game looks stunning! Who wouldn’t want to wander aimlessly around our solar system when it looks like this?!
Even without further financial investment from me, it might still be worth me playing more of the game. As might have been apparent from my explanation of what this game is, I know very little about it, and even though the games have provided just a fragment of the total possible story this universe could contain, I’ve discovered over the course of this weekend that there is a lot that I could potentially delve into just with the game as I already have it.
At some point in the… however many months it’s been since I last played, a mistake has finally been corrected in the form of a UI for in-game achievements, called Triumphs. A collection of these are about the universe’s lore, and not only does it give players an incentive to go out into all of the game’s locations and find these lore fragments, but it acts a collection where they can be read in-depth, in-game. This is so much better than having to leave the game for an online database, if for no other reason than it looks like the developer really cares.
And it really does look like they care. These lore fragments aren’t just one-line quotes as they originally were, but fully-blown micro stories akin to what you’d find in an Elder Scrolls game or The Witcher. I don’t feel like I would be able to make a Story Analysis or a Where to Start? at the moment, but with things like this actually in game for me to get my hands on? It feels I could give it an honest attempt, if I really committed, and I’d probably fall quite deeply in love with the universe in doing so.
Lastly though, I should probably save my game data because the game is just so much fun to play.
It’s fun to be standing alone, or shoulder-to-shoulder with your fellow Guardians, to take on a literal god and win. It’s fun to rain down terror upon the enemies of the Light in the form of differently-sized spheres of void energy. Raiding, in my limited experience of the original Destiny, is fun. The strikes are fun, Gambit looks like it can be great fun! The single-player content might only be a small part of the game but it. is. fun! Even PvP combat, which I usually detest, is made fun by Bungie’s expertly crafted shooting mechanics. Even in Destiny, where the story-telling was at best average, I never once had a bad time whilst playing, and it’s been great to get back into the universe over the course of the weekend.
Why Think About This Now?
Simply put, because change is afoot.
There’s a reason Bungie decided to part ways with Activision Blizzard. The landscape of gaming as a business has shifted so dramatically since they partnered up to bring us this franchise. With Destiny, Bungie see an opportunity, quite rightly, to provide a long-lasting continuous development cycle, and, at least in my semi-professional opinion, they would not have been able to provide that under their current business strategy.
Come the 1st October, with Activision Blizzard officially out of the way, Destiny 2 as a base game, under the new name Destiny 2: New Light, will be free-to-play for everyone. This makes a huge difference to how a game is perceived and, of course, is a great opportunity for people who already play it to convince others to give it a go. Of all the people who try it, some are definitely going to stick with it, so maybe I can draw in some of my current gaming friends to replace the ones who over-took me, then I can see what the rest of this game, the more multiplayer-focused side of things, has to offer.
After making the choice to go free-to-play, the game will then live or die by what’s put behind the paywall. I looked into this as much as I could and as far as I can tell, for Destiny 2 the answer is a lot less than there currently is now. It makes total sense for new stories and raids, even special events, to continue to be paid content, as long as the quality stays high, but there needs to be something in front of the paywall to keep people coming back, as it’s those people who will be more tempted to invest. All locations, all crucible maps, all strikes and Gambit; all of the more general, repeatable content; looks like they’re going to be made available for everyone, which I’d consider a step in the right direction. More details are yet to be revealed, but it certainly sounds like there will be a lot for new and returning players, who want to test things out before they invest further, to chew on.
Much like when I wrote about my love-hate relationship with Assassin’s Creed, as I’ve written this, it’s become clearer and clearer that this story has a somewhat inevitable ending. There’s simply no reason for me not to keep my save-game data so that my guardian, in all of her Voidwalker Warlock glory, can continue to explore and defend the Solar System to her heart’s content.
Unlike with Assassin’s Creed, there’s no need to go out and buy Forsaken, or the next paid expansion, Shadowkeep, which is dropping alongside New Light. I’ll see if I can convince some friends to play with me first; complete some of the activities that are new to us all and take it from there, and as I do play, I will keep an eye out for more story to analyse and pass on to all of you, because what is a story, if not to share? That is, after all, kind of the point of story-telling.