The patch helps, but Destiny still has a loot problem
The Vault in our stars.
Finally! After weeks and weeks of nonsense, Bungie has had a word with Master Rahool. Destiny's Cryptarch has been winding up the game's players for nearly a month now, but the latest patch means the rewards he hands out will be a bit more consistent with our expectations in future. Legendary engram? Legendary item.
This is definitely a good thing, because going to see the Cryptarch should be like visiting Santa at the North Pole. I should advance on his shack with a spring in my step, arms trembling under the weight of encrypted engrams, eyes alight with wonder and anticipation, and he should hoist me onto his lap, ask what I want for Christmas and then whip out a legendary chest plate to complete my armour set. The reality, of course, has been like waking up on Christmas morning to discover you've been burgled and they've taken everything except a couple of Toblerones and a Mote of Light.
The chances are, then, that from now on when you return to The Tower after a few rounds of Rumble or another go on the Vanguard playlists, you will feel a bit better about things. Even so, if you're still playing as much Destiny as I am a month on from launch, you probably have other concerns that the new patch doesn't address.
The big one, for me, is that when it comes to the gear grind that represents Destiny's endgame - the ongoing effort to keep levelling up after you hit the soft level cap, by acquiring armour pieces that have a high enough "light" value to push you over the next threshold - the whole game feels a bit back to front. Bungie has pitched Destiny as a "shared world shooter", but at the moment it's often more rewarding to play on your own.
This is nothing to do with player behaviour. Individual loot streams mean the engrams you see are specific to your game and nobody else can claim them, and I haven't experienced any griefing in Destiny - unless you count people dancing next to my corpse in the Crucible, but I can live with that, because when those people turn off the game they're going to go crawl under their front porches in 30 years and die alone.
Ahem. This isn't even about the lack of item trading, which is a basic tenet of most MMO games that Destiny shuns. I certainly wish there was some sort of trading option, even a limited one, because I would like to help my friends who have played the game less than I have gain an advantage by handing over weapons I don't need, rather than just junking them for the weapon parts I now seem to be stockpiling. And given that engrams can still decode into items you can't use with your class (you didn't think Rahool was fully reformed, right?), it would be nice to be able to swap with people in the same situation.
But I can live with those things. The bigger issue is that Destiny currently gives out better rewards when you play it on your own than when you play it with other people.
I discovered this because my personal situation makes soloing the most comfortable way to play Destiny at the moment. I have a son who is less than three months old, so most of my game-playing is done while he's asleep on my chest. Anything that requires coordination via shouting into a headset is a bit of a problem, and playing PVP makes me carve the pad through the air all the time as I subconsciously simulate the melee blows I'm landing on my enemies, so that's out. So instead I look for things to do on my own that help me level up. And it turns out the things that prove most rewarding in Destiny are things that are best done alone anyway.
First there was grinding for Vanguard Marks. The Vanguard mentor in the Tower sells legendary armour, and at his prices and even with the weekly Vanguard Marks cap in mind, it took less than a fortnight to get my arms, legs and chest covered in purple gear - less time than it would take to gather them through engram drops, new patch or not. In theory you earn Vanguard Marks either by chance - running into Public Events when you're out on Patrol with your friends - or by targeting daily and weekly challenges and Strike playlists, which is challenging work. But in a game where the long term is built on the lure of sweet, gleaming loot, the average player is going to look for a more efficient method.
I settled on grinding Public Events on my own. These bite-sized challenges pop up in various locations around each map in a manner that seems unpredictable, but really it's on a timer. With destinypublicevents.com open on my phone, I would follow its guidance from place to place and camp out waiting for the sky to darken and that familiar rumble to signal the start. Events take only a few minutes, sometimes less, and at this level they are pretty easy too, coughing up several Vanguard Marks every time. There are alternative paths to legendary armour - like siding with a faction and levelling up their allegiance in the Crucible so you can buy their wares - but grinding Public Events felt like the path of least resistance.
Sometimes I had time to kill between them, which was handy, because I also needed to scan my surroundings for mineral deposits. Material farming is hardly new to the MMO genre, but whereas it's a starter step for many - an intuitive framework for missions that help you get your head around gameplay concepts you may not recognise - in Destiny it really only becomes a big deal when you're 20-30 hours in. At that stage you want to be carting hauls off to Roni 55-30 in the hangar so he can swap them for Vanguard Marks. And I have now spent a desperately sad amount of time running Patrol on the Moon to collect the helium filaments needed to upgrade my armour levels.
Destiny is still fun for me. It fills the time I have available for gaming at the moment in a satisfactory way, thanks to its practically mesmeric combat loop and the simple joy of collecting shiny new things and filling up progress bars. It's a beautiful game, there are all sorts of things I like about it, and even the things that are objectively rubbish, like its vestigial excuse for a story, have a charming innocence to them, because someone really did have to write down lines like "I don't even have time to explain why I don't have time to explain" and then receive a paycheque.
There is even an end to all these means, because I'm level 27 now, so once I manage to wrestle a few hours and five friends together, the Vault of Glass awaits.
All the same, I would prefer to be discouraged from playing the game the way I am. I want to feel like it's a better bet to play the game with other people - whether I'm running Strikes, playing Control or whatever - and that the amount of time I put in playing the game the way it was intended is met by better rewards than just gaming the systems the player base has been able to expose so far. Surely it should be an immutable law of multiplayer gaming that playing together is more rewarding than playing alone? At the moment in Destiny, though, it's not, and that's something that today's patch alone cannot fix.