It's eight in the morning on a Saturday and there's a message on my phone - "You aren't free morningish by any chance?"
Three years since Destiny's launch, after more than 600 hours of playtime and countless articles on Eurogamer, one thing in the game was still eluding me: a trip to the ultra-exclusive Lighthouse. It is a location in the game reserved for Destiny's elite players - in other words, not me.
The message, however, was sent by someone definitely among that elite: Aksarian, a UK-based Destiny streamer and player of uncommon talent. His short text had also, I realised, only been sent four hours beforehand - at 4am - presumably just as he was going to bed. This weekend was the last to play Trials, ever, before the activity disappeared from Destiny. It was the last chance to visit the Lighthouse before its doors closed for good. It was now or never.
Aksarian and his clanmate DarxideR had played with me before, a couple of days after I published an article about Destiny activities such as Trials of Osiris ending in advance of the game's upcoming sequel. I'd mentioned I had never been to the Lighthouse - the reward for achieving a flawless victory in Trials of Osiris, Destiny's toughest player-versus-player challenge. Darx had DM'd me on Twitter that evening saying he'd like to help me get there, if I would like.
And so we'd tried that weekend, Aksarian, DarxideR and I, for around three hours. To access the Lighthouse you not only have to complete Trials' demanding requirement of winning seven three-on-three matches, but you have to do it flawlessly, without losing once. (There are boons you can enable to forgive a loss, and without these you would also need nine wins, but as everyone enables them the generally accepted parlance is to only need seven.) We attempted it three times, the best run of which ended in us getting six wins in a row - just one short of flawless. I had a lot of fun - drinking in how incredible they were at this game I loved, and chatting with them on their stream along the way - but we were ultimately unsuccessful.
To put what we were attempting into perspective, we were being matched against the best of Destiny's global playerbase, and fighting (or rather, Aksarian and DarxideR were fighting) three top-level players at a time. With me as an average-at-best player, the odds were stacked against us. I would nab a kill now and then, and I like to think I snuck in a few useful revives to get my team back into action. But, realistically, it was very much the two of them facing off against three. To see them in action, their clan just released this farewell video showcasing some of their skills:
It's not that I wasn't trying - I was, and was gratefully following their lead. I stayed in cover when they told me to stay in cover, I saved my Super for when they told me - when it could cancel the roaming Supers of opponents. But even after 600 hours, these guys were another level. Both knew the maps we played on like the back of their hands. They spoke and referenced locations, predicted enemy movement and knew from instinct when enemy Supers would be charged.
I have mostly shied away from Destiny's player-versus-player Crucible mode, in favour of player-versus-enemy activities such as Strikes, Prison of Elders and Patrol. There was a time I ran the top level PVE Nightfall activity every week without fail. I would raid most weeks with Eurogamer's Destiny clan. With a team of players behind me and only monsters to shoot, I felt comfortable. Against experienced first-person shooter players? That was another matter.
But just as Destiny is about shooting, it has also come to be known for its (comparatively) welcoming, helpful community. Destiny fans are known for their salt - but this is almost always directed at developer Bungie for changing something or for not implementing a fix. Almost all of the players I've met or been matched with have behaved surprisingly amicably. During Destiny's first year, when I played on Xbox while Eurogamer's clan played on PlayStation, I had a regular team of internet-found players to run activities with. As for Aksarian and DarxideR, I was far from their first Trials assist. Both frequently help players while streaming their efforts on Twitch - just as they were doing for me.
"I'm around!" I reply, to Aksarian's 4am message. He texts back a couple of hours later. "Alright, hopefully as soon as DarxideR wakes up." Both of them have proper jobs and lives and families - but it was the weekend and, more than that, it was Trials' last weekend. And so, around midday, we start again.
Five wins into our first run, we find ourselves crashing out. I can sense this was how things would go, and I have already told them about a birthday in London I need to get to later which was starting to loom closer. I can do another run, I say, as Aksarian asks how I am for time. We crash out again, quicker. Aksarian and DarxideR are patient, nonetheless. "Better to start over now, rather than later," they say. We muck up our third start as well and so, after a few hours' play, I reluctantly say this next attempt has to be my last.
It goes smoothly - remarkably smoothly, as teams fall before us and I actually get in a couple of kills. Suddenly, we're at six wins. One match away. We could actually do this, I think. We match into the map but Aksarian calls a halt - the people we've matched against are other players the pair of them know. The two chatter about other players a lot, people they meet week-on-week in Trials; the tough Europeans, the annoying Americans. "They may pull out for us," DarxideR says - it's a mark of friendship some teams will pull if they see others one win away from flawless, in order to guarantee their safe passage. "But we could still beat them anyway." Aksarian pops out of our party chat to say hi to them, and suddenly a win message displays on the screen. The other team has indeed pulled out after seeing me being carried. It was something of an anti-climax after all those attempts, but it was all over. We'd won.
The Lighthouse itself is deliberately awe-inspiring. For a Destiny nerd, it is an incredible place to see. There are no other locations on Mercury which you can visit and explore at your leisure - not that completing Trials is leisurely. Once unlocked, however, the Lighthouse appears on your in-game solar system map for as long as the event runs that week, for you to return and gaze at. In Destiny's lore, the Lighthouse is the home of the mysterious Osiris, a near-mythical figure it looks like we will hear more of in Destiny 2. To be able to poke around his halls, unlock the Lighthouse's ornate golden loot chest, and stare off into the Mercurian sunset... it was the perfect send-off to my own time with a game I have spent so much time playing.
Completing my journey to Destiny's Lighthouse on its very last weekend felt all the more fitting. It was a reminder of how fun simply holding a gun and moving around in Bungie's shooter can be. It was a lesson in how skillful Destiny's best can become. And it enabled me to meet the incredible Aksarian and DarxideR, two exceptional examples of how Destiny has fostered a community willing to help others. I'm already looking forward to playing with them in Destiny 2.