Over the last two months, I played a lot of Destiny. Too much, if I'm being honest. I have few regrets: It was fun, it was challenging, it was rewarding and ridiculous. I've finally run out of things to do in the game, so I've decided to reclaim some hours of my life.
Destiny's The Taken King expansion launched almost exactly two months ago. Since then, I've played somewhere north of 200 hours. I went in deep. The expansion tweaked and improved so much about Destiny -- a game that I already liked quite a bit -- and it was that much easier to put in dozens of hours and feel rewarded for it.
The King's Fall raid beckoned, and my clanmates and I threw ourselves into it with gusto. Competitive Crucible had a whole new balance, one that favoured weapons that I really like to use. Every other day, it seemed there was a new exotic mission to try, or hidden weapon to uncover, or a new competitive mode to try.
By mid-September, I was playing Destiny in manner that could only be referred to as "problematic." This was something I was aware of, mind you -- it was something I did consciously and with occasional relish. More nights than not, I'd spend the bulk of the evening playing. I'd skip social engagements because I was already hours-deep into a raid, or a run in the Crucible. For days at a time, the only people I'd talk to would be my Destiny friends, a collection of clanmates and raid-buddies who are in as deep as I am. When I wasn't playing, I'd obsessively read the Destiny subreddit, or study tips at the less popular but still enjoyable Crucible Playbook.
A couple of weeks into September, a friend of mine relayed the story of why his friend quit playing. This guy's reasoning, paraphrased: "Destiny is terrifying. Its only goal is to keep you playing Destiny."
It's a reductive analysis, but not an incorrect one. When we talk about all the "improvements" that The Taken King brought to the game, many of them are things that extend and draw out our engagement with the game. Destiny has become a significantly better game in its second year, which means it has become significantly better at sucking players like me in and keeping us hooked. Game designers sometimes call that "stickiness," and year-two Destiny is one of the stickiest games I've ever played.
There's more loot now, and it's easier to get, so you play more and feel more rewarded. There are a ton more missions to undertake, and you can hold a bunch of missions at once, so you always feel like you're making progress toward something or other. New, time-gated challenges have been unlocking more or less weekly, meaning that the game is getting regular injections of new stuff to check out. The Iron Banner and Trials of Osiris multiplayer events both offer really good gear and, in the case of the latter, have been adjusted so that anyone who invests some time can earn loot, regardless of how well they do.
All of these changes are for the better. All of them make Destiny more fun… which is precisely what can make it so hard to stop playing. For most of the month of October, there wasn't very much new to see, but there were still those few pieces of gear I was chasing, those couple of items or quest rewards that I hadn't managed to get. I'd log in and play for three, maybe four hours, just sort of casually going through the motions, doing strikes and playing Crucible matches. It started to feel more and more empty; less like enthusiastic play and more like a compulsion.
At some point in the last few weeks, hardcore players like me -- and that's who I'm speaking for here, the hardcore -- have started firmly and unequivocally scraping the bottom of what there is to do in Destiny. At some point, I simply let go. I've transitioned from playing once or twice a day to playing maybe once or twice a week. I regularly skip the daily crucible and story missions, because I've done everything so many times and I no longer need legendary marks. When Xur turns up in the Tower, I don't care. I've more or less stopped raiding.
The reasons I've stopped playing so much Destiny, in helpful bullet-point form:
- There's not much left for me to get. Part of Destiny's pull is the hunt for that one weapon or piece of armour that you don't have. I, however, have a near-perfect build on all three of my characters. I've unlocked every exotic weapon aside from a couple of the exotic swords and the (not-great) hand cannon The First Curse. I've unlocked every piece of exotic armour. I have the best-perk version of every raid weapon. My characters are all above 310 light, and my Crucible builds are damn near ideal.
- There are other games demanding my attention. Let there be no doubt: if Destiny is losing players this month, Fallout 4 is at least partly to blame. But it's not just Fallout. There are a lot of good games vying for my time and attention these days, and it feels good to put Destiny aside and play them. Divinity: Original Sin, Black Ops 3's weird and fascinating zombies mode, Assassin's Creed Syndicate, Undertale, Rise of the Tomb Raider… a new StarCraft expansion, The Room 3… these are all good games, and all demand time that I might otherwise have spent playing Destiny.
- I got the Halloween skull mask. Sure, I had to spend some cash to get it, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Now that I have the skull mask, I fear I will never get anything as awesome ever again. I'm only half kidding.
- Improvements are on the way, but aren't here yet. Bungie has several patches planned, one of which may drop as early as this week. The November patch will introduce a few crucial changes -- it will make it easier to get some materials we'd been running out of (hello, weapon parts) and will no doubt introduce a new exotic quest or two, or maybe some new year-two versions of year-one exotic gear, or some other fun stuff to do. The light-level cap will likely climb a few more times, as it did a few weeks ago. But until the next patch drops, my motivation to play has taken an additional hit. Why not just wait? And when that patch comes out, it may be harder to regain momentum: Why not just wait… a little more?
The last reason requires more than a bullet-point: It's that Destiny's endgame is still kind of a bummer. Year-one Destiny had an endgame problem, and for all the things that year-two Destiny has improved, the endgame remains an issue. When the story is complete and the missions have been turned in, Destiny's fun-to-frustration ratio starts to take a mean swing toward the frustrating side.
To a certain point, this isn't a "problem" that can be solved: The more you've seen, the less there is to see. The more stuff you have, the less stuff you want, and the less often you'll feel rewarded for playing. Play 200 hours of any game over the course of a couple months and you'll experience something similar. The game gets grimmer and grimmer the closer you get to its edges, gradually becoming less pastime and more obsession.
Destiny's two major endgame activities -- the "heroic" version of the King's Fall raid and the intense Trials of Osiris tournament -- have their own issues. King's Fall is too punishing and doesn't reward players well enough for their time -- most of the weapons I've had drop have been toward the bottom of the light spectrum, meaning that they're not much better than the weapons I already had. The heroic version of the final Oryx fight, meanwhile, is immensely difficult. I had a terrible experience with a group of five friends during which we spent an entire evening in a fruitless attempt to beat him. We gave up -- heartbreakingly -- and I more or less bottomed out on raiding. For the last couple of weeks, I haven't even bothered to suit up.
Trials of Osiris, meanwhile, is faring better. I've had a good time playing over the last two weekends, and love that thanks to the new Trials-exclusive bounties, I can log in, play a card, get some stuff, and call it a day. The Trails-exclusive guns and armour you can earn have been something of a disappointment -- there aren't really any standout weapons like year one's The Messenger -- but that's actually fine. Thanks to the new matchmaking system, it's harder to go flawless and get to the Lighthouse... but that's fine too, since the guns that you get from the Lighthouse are no longer as enticing as they were last year. The upshot is that I think of Trials as less of a mountain to climb and more of an interesting place to occasionally visit.
I've actually found myself watching more Trials of Osiris than playing. I'll still run a card with my regular teammates, but I have just as much fun watching streamers like RealKraftyy, TripleWRECK, and True Vanguard. These guys can play, and I feel myself getting better just from watching them. Plus, watching a stream is much lower-impact and lower commitment than starting a Trials card with two friends. I've never cancelled lunch plans in order to watch more Trials of Osiris streams -- something I cannot say about actually playing Trials.
For all of those reasons (and probably a few I haven't listed), I've cut way back on my time with Destiny. On various Destiny message boards, lots of hardcore players are saying similar things. The situation today is in some ways similar to the wall we all hit last February, five months into year one. In other important ways, it's different. I feel more at peace with the ebb in my playing this time around, and much more confident that Bungie will do something cool to get me playing again, probably sooner rather than later.
I'm still processing the weeks from mid-September to the end of October, and getting my head around just how thoroughly hooked on Destiny I allowed myself to become. I mostly feel relief that Destiny has run out of ways to keep me playing: If the game maintained a content crescendo like the one we saw in September, I'm not sure I'd have the stamina or the bandwidth to keep pace.
For now, I'll play Destiny more casually. I'll still punch a Trials card or two on the weekends, and may still pop into a heroic strike if the mood hits me. I'll almost certainly hit up the next Iron Banner when it returns for November. I know better than to say "never" -- for all I know, Bungie may announce an amazing new mode tomorrow, and I'll be falling all over myself to check it out. But for the foreseeable future, my days of weekend-long raiding sessions and late-night loot hunts are at an end.