Something unprecedented happened this week. I’ve hit a major personal milestone. Since release, I’ve spent over 500 hours with Bungie’s Destiny 2. It’s by far the most amount of time I’ve ever put into one videogame. My playtime is in stark contrast with other players I regularly play with, who all easily hit the 1000-hour mark. 500 hours might not even seem much to PUBG, Counter-Strike or World of Warcraft enthusiasts. But for someone who’s regularly interested in narrative-heavy videogames, it kind of is. This raised a question; what keeps me engaged to such extent?
“I don’t even have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain.”
In a quest to find the answer to that question I’ve recently gone back to the first Destiny, the game that kicked off the entire ‘looter-shooter’ genre. According to the statistics available, the amount of time I’ve spent with this game is a ‘mere’ 150 hours. That’s a big difference. While I have fond memories playing the first Destiny game, I also remember how off-putting I felt by “the grind”. See, in Destiny games, it’s all about reaching the highest power level available. A player’s power level is usually defined by a three-digit number. Bungie has installed all sorts of tricky systems to lengthen the pursuit to the highest power level. In the past, each DLC or expansion functioned as some sort of ‘reset’. In other words, a chance for new players to pick-up the game without being underpowered. For existing players, these resets managed to extend their grinding experience. For me, it felt like a betrayal.
I consider myself a fairly experienced player. I can hold my ground when playing competitive or the more challenging raids. With that being said I am not a completionist. I wouldn’t go out of my way to reach the highest level or obtain the most powerful gun if it wouldn’t allow me to do it casually. Reaching the highest power level in Destiny did require just that. It was only reachable for the people that were willing to put in serious time and for those that were up to complete the biggest challenges. So when DLC would hit and my power level was boosted overnight, I felt like all the hard work and effort had been useless. Soon after the release of The Taken King, I was about done with Destiny.
“Ominous rocks, killer robots, people in mortal danger… seriously, aren’t you tired of this?”
Destiny 2 would release two years later, promising big changes to make the game more accessible for casual players. It was a little prettier, a little more interesting and a little easier. Overall, fans of the franchise were satisfied but convinced the game had not yet become what it could have been. It was clear from the start Destiny 2 would function as a base for all the DLC coming in the next few years.
The way my friends and I approached Destiny 2 was about the same as its predecessor. We mostly enjoyed spending time together in a fireteam, unlocking things as we went on. Right about the time we exhausted most of the content the base game had to offer, two expansions released. While these were not great they managed to keep us engaged for a little longer. It wasn’t until the release of Forsaken (which was an overhaul in many ways) we got really hooked!
With just the three of us, we had major difficulties finding players who’d want to participate in the new raids. Some of the players we befriended during the first Destiny only managed to stick with us for the duration of the sequel’s campaign. So we started asking around if some of our guys knew a guy who knew a guy that wanted to clear raids. It took us weeks until we finally stumbled upon a Dutch clan called “Paniek in de Koepel”, which roughly translates to ‘Panic in the (Titan’s) Bubble’. This group was formed with one objective: clear as many raids as possible. The clan was incredibly organized. They used an app that allowed you to sign up for ‘raid-nights’. They held regular online meetings to talk about strategy. From time to time, They’d even invite pro-players over to show them the ropes or new tactics. Best of all, they were incredibly welcoming. Even to unexperienced raiders like ourselves. With their help, we were finally were able to blast through all of them with ease.
“This is great. Anyone want a hug? Hugs?”
It didn’t take long for us to get acquainted with other players and for everyone to gather on Tuesdays. On Tuesdays, Bungie resets the game world so that all rewards for completing activities can be re-acquired. As the drops and statistics for weapons and armor are random, players often keep playing until they’ve found the perfect combination of perks that fit their playstyle.
The enthusiasm of the group functioned as a catalyst. It almost feels similar to grabbing a drink with that funny colleague every Friday. Or hitting the gym each evening with a friend. The focus of the experience shifted from acquiring the highest power level to having a damn good time….together! Sometimes, we’re just chatting about all sorts of things happening in our lives, aimlessly walking around in the game’s social space. It’s wonderful.
Just because I’ve spent the most time of any games with Destiny 2, I wouldn’t go as far as to consider it a flawless game. There have been plenty of times when the thought about removing it from my hard drive came to mind. Yet, I haven’t. Last October Bungie released Shadowkeep. Another expansion aimed to extend the game’s lifespan. Of all the expansions released, this one felt the bleakest. It felt unfinished and unnecessarily extended the grind with dubious tasks. It would introduce elements (like the artifact) aimed at preserving the experience, rather than expanding on it. For example, the artifact allows players to extend their power level beyond the capped limit. Only to see it all disappear at the end of a season, for them to acquire it all anew. A truly endless grind. I understand if this might be off-putting, but if you’re able to embrace this way of grinding it will always feel as if your effort is contributing to…something.
For all that has been said and done, I accept these flaws. It doesn’t matter. I’d gladly replay The Inverted Spire for the 1000th time if that means spending a few more minutes with my friends. Because for me, that’s what the game is all about.