"Did you hear about Paul? He's a 304. I'm a 303, but Paul's a 304!"
This is said in hushed, almost reverential tones. Whispering in the cloisters. Except we're not in a cloister. We're not surrounded by medieval stonework and icons. We're in a small office perched above a convenience store in Brighton.
It is like this every day. I come into work, I sit down and open Gmail, and the chat starts. The Destiny chat. Paul is a 304! Tom is short on Strange Coins. Wes has been cheesing Crota. It seemed to happen overnight, and now here it is. It's like everyone in my office has joined a fancy new religion except me. Imagine you came back from holiday and everyone's suddenly banging on about Xenu.
If you'd asked me a year ago about what I thought Destiny was, I would have said: 'Oh, I think it's a little bit like Borderlands, but with better skyboxes.' Back in the early days of Destiny, when it all seemed so innocent, I would look over people's shoulders when they were playing Destiny and it was the skyboxes that stuck: huge Bungie cloudbanks spread across the horizon. Skies out of Halo, out of Turner. Nobody does skymindedness like Bungie.
Nobody talks about the clouds anymore, of course, and if you even mention Borderlands in the same breath as Destiny someone snaps back that they're totally different, that the gunplay in Destiny is far superior. Somebody yesterday told me that the script in Destiny is far superior, and I thought that the script, prior to the last expansion at least, was the point that Destiny fans were willing to pretend to be ambivalent about, so that they might seem more balanced and rational.
Tell you something else nobody does anymore: nobody plays Destiny in public anymore. In our office, it all seems to go on behind closed doors, under cover of darkness. People meet for raids when the moon is high. They jet off across the solar system to tank bosses and to cheese them. There was a glitch at some point that I gather involved everyone dying at just the right moment - a strategic team wipe-out. Apparently it was glorious. The loot! The loot that was had!
Even as I type this, Tom is talking to Wes. "You can get a very nice legendary sword," he is saying, as if this sword might be available at John Lewis. Wes nods. Wes knows. He probably has this sword. Just like he has that rocket launcher everyone was going nuts about. The weapons in Destiny all have these amazing prog rock names. You could almost play: Destiny Weapon or King Crimson Album? I would play this game!
But it would be pointless. In our office it's always Destiny Weapon. They nerfed the rocket launcher, but there will be another, and it will be better. It will have the kind of name that Bungie used to bestow on Halo's spacecraft - The Pillar of Autumn, High Charity - and it will be available from a man or god or thing named Xur - "There's actually an accent on Xur", I've just been told during an edit - who seems to be the main character in this strange religion that is worshipped in my office.
Xur is a salesman, I gather, who appears once a week in wherever it is that Destiny is set. I once made the observation that Xur sounded a little bit like Joan, the turnip-trading boar from Animal Crossing, but that was an even bigger mistake than saying that Destiny sounds like Borderlands. There are no turnip boars in Destiny, even if the whole thing does, it transpires, turn out to sound like a huge and complex analogy for the weird place that the global markets are in these days.
I don't mind being the lone non-believer, of course, because Destiny is still a game rather than a religion - although it can be quite easy to get them confused, granted - and it seems to be sufficiently grindy that everyone I work with has rogue moments of apostasy where they seem a little less crazed. They'll occasionally agree that the game's loot drop tables echo the kind of scalping tactics of the worst of the free-to-play market, even though Destiny is a game you buy up-front.
They'll occasionally allow for the idea that the cheesing spots in a raid may have been placed there on purpose to keep people busy with the meta. They will occasionally admit that Destiny's sonorous science fiction setting has very little to do with the moment-to-moment game itself, that its planets are just XP quarries where toiling replaces exploration.
But what toiling! What quarries! Did you hear about Paul? He's a 304!