As I struggle to fall asleep after a night of Destiny 2, the game keeps running through my mind. It’s like getting a song stuck in my head: I see the flash of combat and feel the rumbling controller in my hand. But I rarely hear the sounds of battle. Instead, I hear voices.
They aren’t the voices of gruff Commander Zavala or wiseass Cayde-6, nor any other characters from Destiny’s roster of stalwart heroes and fantastical machines. They’re the voices of the people I play with: Disembodied chatter coming through my headphones, people comparing notes, complaining, strategising and bickering, struggling to find a collective purchase on this great big game we all play.
Sometimes, I imagine voices of my own. The characters in these stories aren’t real, but they could be.
“You didn’t play the first Destiny, right?” asked Alex from across the table. She knew the answer, but it still seemed polite to ask. Sean shook his head.
“So you basically spend your time shooting aliens. That’s the game. It’s a first-person shooter, you run around and shoot aliens, and you get better guns and armor and whatever. Then you shoot more aliens, and you get better stuff. It’s a loot game like Diablo, so the gear you get is random. And that’s the treadmill, right? The game gives you new stuff slowly, so you always feel like you have a reason to play.”
They were at the Three Cats on Pacific, and happy hour was about to end. Alex hadn’t asked Sean to meet her here to sell him on Destiny, exactly, but she had thought about how cool it’d be if he started playing. She had maintained a few regular Destiny friends back when the first game had come out, but they’d faded over the past year or so. There hadn’t been enough to keep everyone coming back. She’d seen how often Sean was online, usually playing Overwatch or Rocket League. He clearly didn’t have a life. He was perfect.
“There’s also a lot of backstory, if you want to get into that, though the game doesn’t really bog you down with it. You play as a Guardian, which is basically a sci-fi zombie warrior. You got resurrected by a little robot called a Ghost, and that’s why you can’t die. It’s funny, it’s like, the entire plot of Destiny 2 centres around the fact that your character has the ability to resurrect after dying. So your character’s main superpower is that they’re a video game character. They can die over and over again, while everyone else can only die once.”
Alex realised she was getting sidetracked. It was a classic mistake: never open with lore. She’d read a lot of the grimoire from the first game, and knew an unhealthy amount about the events undergirding Destiny’s many sketched-out folk tales. She’d read the Hive Books of Sorrow, and remembered the tale of Oryx and his sisters better than she remembered most of the classic lit she’d read in school. Sean wasn’t ready for that yet, though, and it wasn’t like Destiny required knowing this stuff to enjoy it. Better to ease him in.
“It’s a sci-fi post-apocalypse, basically.” Alex tried to signal their waiter, who passed by for a second time without making eye contact. She was short, and she’d made her peace with that. Waiters never noticed her. “It’s the future, and this huge, moon-sized mystical sphere called the Traveler shows up on Mars. It unlocks all these technological secrets, and humanity becomes super advanced in just a few years. They start colonising the solar system, human lifespans triple, that kind of thing. Then this evil force called ‘The Darkness’ turns up to ruin everything. The Traveller sacrifices itself to protect the humans. And it works, the Darkness is vanquished, but the Traveller is dead, too, so everything kind of goes to shit. As the Traveller dies it creates the Ghosts, those little robots, and they each get assigned to a Guardian, who’ll protect humankind now that the Traveller isn’t around to do it. And that’s the setup.”
Sean started to reply when, over his shoulder, Alex saw the waiter approaching. She stuck her arm straight in the air and waved emphatically; no way he could miss her this time. Success! He gave her a nod and a “one second” gesture, then passed by on his way back to the bar. She craned her neck to try to see what he was doing, then gave up and turned back to Sean.
“So I don’t need to have played the first game?” he asked.
“Nah, not really,” said Alex, looking down at her empty glass. The napkin stuck to the bottom and had gone nearly transparent. “Maybe read a recap online or something, but you can just start this one fresh. Basically, in the first game you fought off a bunch of aliens and then everything was fine. At the start of the second game, a bad guy named Ghaul turns up with an army and totally destroys everything. He invades the last city on Earth, where the Guardians had set up their base, and puts a big net over the Traveller. You lose everything you built in the first game and have to start from scratch. The story is about rebuilding from nothing; it’s self-contained. And it’s pretty good, you know, for a big dumb space action game.”
“I always see people making fun of Destiny’s story,” Sean said with a grin. “But yeah, I dunno, I liked Halo’s story, or at least, the first couple games. Same people made it, right?”
“Oh, well, it’s a lot like Halo, actually!” Alex smelled blood. She hadn’t known Sean liked Halo. “Destiny 2 is way more Halo-like than the first game. Especially toward the end of the story. There’s some big set-piece battles, tanks and vehicle segments, and actually a lot more jokes and humour than Halo even had. And the music is really great, it’s definitely got those Halo vibes. Plus we could play together! I mean, that’s my not-so-secret plan, to get you to play. It really helps to have a clan in this game, and I dunno, I mean, you and I actually live in the same city, we’re in the same time zone… I think it’d be fun!”
Sean leaned back in his chair. He didn’t immediately respond, but he looked thoughtful. Alex watched the waiter making his way to their table.
“Fuck this captain and his teleporting… I can’t… fuck! God damn it!” Peter shook his controller in dismay as his screen went grey. He heard the announcement, “Guardian Down,” as it echoed through his teammate Javi’s speakers, back through Javi’s headset, and into their party chat. As usual, Javi needed to turn his fucking TV down.
“We’re screwed. It’s my turn to be doing damage, I had my super, and I’m fucking dead.” Peter, Javi, and their third teammate Andrew had been at it for four hours now, desperate to complete the quest for a gun called The Rat King. As far as any of them could tell, this was the hardest mission in the game. It required them to beat a timed high-level “strike” mission with at least five minutes left on the clock. After four hours, the best run they’d managed was still 90 seconds too slow.
“Don’t worry about getting me up, just focus on clearing enemies,” said Peter, dejectedly. He knew he needed to work on his attitude, especially in moments like this. When things started going south, he had a tendency to get dark, and that shit was contagious. It was just a video game. Not just any video game, it was a sequel to Destiny! He’d played hundreds of hours of the first game, more than he ever thought he’d devote to a single game. Plus it was Saturday, and he had nowhere else to be. He muted his mic, took a deep breath, and looked out the window. It was a beautiful Midwestern September afternoon. Next door, a big guy in an undershirt was getting ready to fire up a leaf blower. Peter turned back to his TV just in time to see Javi bite the dust. The clock kept ticking.
“Let’s just start over,” he said. “That wasn’t a bad run, I just screwed up and got too aggressive. Let’s take a minute to regroup.” Javi and Andrew assented, and Paul pulled them out of the activity.
“I’ll be right back,” Javi said, “I think my food’s here.” A light click as he muted his mic.
“Man… this game.” Peter didn’t know Andrew all that well; he was a work buddy of Javi’s that he’d played a bit with over the last couple of years, but they’d never met in person or found much to talk about when they weren’t playing. “Sometimes I really hate it, even though I love it. I’m looking through my gear right now and it’s wild to think about how much stuff they’ve fixed.”
This was a favorite pastime of Peter’s, usually when he and some members of his party were waiting in orbit for others to get ready to play. He’d start going through all the arcane things hardcore Destiny-heads like him had previously memorised that had been streamlined out of the sequel.
“Remember how we used to have to go to orbit every time we wanted to change activities? Or how we had to keep multiple sets of gloves depending on which gun reloading perk we wanted?”
“It’s pretty dumb,” drawled Andrew. “Like how we used to have to level a new gun up before we could use it.” Where was Andrew from again? Peter couldn’t place the accent, though he was pretty sure Andrew had told them at some point. West coast time, he thought. It always felt awkward, asking a Destiny friend where they were from. Like you were asking for their phone number, or to be Facebook friends.
“Yeah! They’ve made the game so much friendlier,” said Peter. “Like how all the currencies work. Pretty much everything I collect has one use, so I don’t have to hoard stuff or wonder if I’m gonna regret spending it. I turn in tokens to each vendor, and if I turn in enough tokens, I get an item. I break down stuff I don’t want and turn the parts in at the gunsmith, and get more items that way, too. It’s so much simpler.”
“Well, the microtransactions,” said Andrew.
“Well, yeah.” Peter knew microtransactions, which got you cosmetic items in exchange for real money at the in-game “Eververse” store, were a sore spot for a lot of Destiny players. It wasn’t too bad now, since he didn’t care much about cosmetics. But the minute they started selling limited-time items for actual cash, things would probably get ugly.
“The Eververse is just… I guess I just avoid it. I get why they would want to put microtransactions in the game, I just hope it doesn’t become a bigger deal once timed events start. Everything else, though, good shit. I guess the first Destiny added so much stuff over the years that it makes sense they’d take the opportunity to whittle it back down. I hope the same thing doesn’t happen with Destiny 2. Like, I hope they’ve got a clearer plan for how it’ll evolve over time.”
“Yeah,” said Andrew. “Also would’ve been nice if they’d introduced a new alien race. We’ve been fighting the same enemies for three years.” He started to say something else, but Javi unmuted his mic and drowned him out.
“Okay, sorry about that. Food guy got here.” Once again Peter could hear the TV coming over Javi’s microphone. “I’m gonna have to eat while we play, but I’ll just mute myself.”
“How about while you eat, we go through our strategy again.” Peter started talking through their plan of attack. With the clipped drone of someone repeating instructions for the dozenth time, he listed off movement patterns and timed assaults, each a component of a frighteningly rigid routine they’d perfected over the last few hours. Well, not perfected. If they’d perfected it, they would’ve beaten the fucker by now.
When Peter felt frustrated by Destiny, as he was now, he tried to look on the bright side. He focused on how unusual it was to play a game that asked this much of its players. They weren’t bad at Destiny, so there had to be a reason they’d spent so much time hitting their heads against this quest with such limited success. Sometimes it was just a demanding game. Rough going now, but Peter had been playing Destiny long enough to know that eventually they’d work something out. And when they did, the sweetest reward would be knowing that they’d they’d never have to do this stupid quest ever again.
“Did you see that? Did you see that?” Wake leaned forward in his chair, looking directly at the camera. “This shit is OP! Nerf this!” He was laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe. “I gotta take a break… I gotta… it’s too much.”
His aunt still called him Lucas, but to a couple hundred thousand Twitch subscribers, he would always be known as Wake. He’d been entertaining viewers since the first Destiny launched in 2014, back when his life was normal and no one cared what he thought about much of anything. He’d started out posting Destiny gun reviews on YouTube, then realised that he was good enough at shooters that people would actually tune in to watch him play. He started up a Twitch channel and his viewership quickly climbed. One minute he’d been finishing up school and planning a move from Orlando to L.A., the next he had a couple thousand people spending their Sundays watching him throw grenades at aliens. He stopped going to classes, moved out of his cousin’s flat and into his own place. It had actually been a whole process, but looking back on it now, it seemed like it had happened all at once.
When it came to Destiny, Wake prided himself on being first. His clan got known when they were the first to clear the Vault of Glass raid back when it launched with the first game. It took their six-man team ten hours, which he actually hadn’t been expecting. They’d almost been the first to go undefeated in the debut Trials of Osiris competitive tournament, but were foiled by some kid DDOSing them just ahead of their eighth win. The perils of livestreaming video games. Nowadays Destiny raids and Trials runs were more of a known commodity. There had been three more raids since the Vault of Glass, and Wake’s clan had placed somewhere in the top five for each one. For Destiny 2’s new raid, they’d only just made the top ten. No big deal. It was a whole new game, and there were still a lot of firsts on the table.
Wake’s crew was planning to raid more this weekend, but for now, he and three of his clanmates were screwing around in Destiny’s competitive Crucible. It was the four of them versus four opponents, and as usual, they were dominating. Wake had just gone on a killing spree with Uriel’s Gift, an auto-rifle that was quickly gaining popularity among top Destiny 2 players. The “meta,” a term for the guns and gear that most players agreed were the best, was always a hot topic for streamers like Wake. What was the meta? Was the meta stale? Which past meta was best? Destiny 2 had barely been out a week, and the new meta hadn’t yet taken form. Always an exciting time.
“Somebody save a highlight of that,” said Wake, still laughing. “I’m putting that one on my wall behind me. I don’t know how. I’ll figure it out.” The team they were facing had been better than most of the kids they’d run across this morning, and he hadn’t been expecting to get any highlight-reel clips. People still didn’t expect a flank, was the thing. Destiny 2 rewarded team-play to the point that most teams would move around in a big blob of four, but they’d wind up all looking in the same direction. Wake had taken advantage of that, coming around the side and gunning down three fourths of their team before they even realized he was there. But that fourth guy… that one was the kicker. With his health in the red, Wake rushed his last opponent and desperately pitched a Hunter throwing knife, switching to his sniper rifle and firing without aiming down the sights. He didn’t know why he switched to his sniper; just had a feeling that it’d work. Somehow the knife landed, along with his bullet. The rest would be easily reviewable in slow-mo on his YouTube channel by the end of the day.
On the monitor next to his game screen, chat was going haywire. A litter of emoji confetti and all-caps exclamations blew past, too fast to read. Wake played it up a bit more for the camera, holding his hands above his head, then slumping down in his chair. “Take us to orbit, take us to orbit.” It was time for a break.
As chat settled down, Wake looked through chat for some viewer questions. Destiny 2 hadn’t been out that long, and most of his subscribers hadn’t had as much time to play as he had. He’d been hitting the game 16 hours a day since it launched, and most people with a straight job or classes to attend just couldn’t keep up. He was here to show them what they wouldn’t see on their own.
“What do I think of the new PvP?” He read a question off the screen. “I mean, I like it. You guys all know I like it. It’s definitely more fun with a team. You gotta work together. I like how they lowered the team sizes from six to four, though I was skeptical during the beta. Four is actually a pretty good number. Small enough that everyone makes a difference, but big enough that you don’t feel like you’re solo all the time. It’s way harder to kill another player now, so you gotta work as a team. Fewer hero moments, which maybe is bad for streamers like me, ha ha. But hey, that was a hero moment just then, right?”
Wake’s doubts about Destiny 2’s PvP actually went deeper than he let on. He used to get a lot of traction with kill montage videos, which he spent hours carefully editing to show only his most impressive sniper shots. This new game was so much more grounded, and montage material had been harder to come by. On top of that, there were no custom matches for him and his clan to mess around with. And there was just one competitive playlist on most days, which meant he couldn’t even choose which game type he was going to stream. Team games made it harder to be a star, and Wake needed to be a star.
He scanned chat for another question. “Am I gonna switch to PC when that version comes out? Come on, guys, always with this question... I don’t know. Maybe I’ll play on both.”
[In the channel: Peter, Javi, Andrew]
[Peter is typing]
Peter: So let’s talk this through. The raid hit yesterday. We gotta get a group together. I’m pretty happy with how we did on Rat King, so I think we three should do it. If you guys are into it we need three more to get to six.
Javi: yeah, I’m def in. My roommate’s got a class on Friday and I told her I’d need the living room, so I’m good to go late. I can start at 6 my time, if that works?
Andrew: I’m in. I know a couple people I was gonna ask. Cool if I add them?
Peter: Yeah, do it
[Alex and Sean have entered the channel]
[Andrew is typing]
Andrew: Alex and Sean, meet Peter and Javi. Alex is an old Destiny hand, she got Sean to start playing.
Peter: Hey guys
Alex: Hey guys!
Javi: Nice to e-meetcha
Andrew: You guys said you’re free to raid on Friday, we were thinking 6 our time. That work for you?
Alex: 6pm works. Also fwiw, Sean is totally new to raiding. I told him he’d be fine but I think he’s kinda skeptical. I’m running warlock, power level is 284 with all my best stuff on. I think Luke Smith tweeted that the raid would be 260-280, so that should be fine?
Peter: Cool! Sounds like 6pm works for everyone. Yeah, I’m at 282-5 depending on my gear, and I feel like that’ll be fine. Sean, you’re gonna have a good time. I’m sure Alex already told you, but the raid is kinda like a strike, only it’s for six people and it’s way more complicated. You have to work through a bunch of challenge rooms and figure out how to beat each one. They’re usually pretty complicated. It took us like a week to beat the Vault of Glass in D1, but it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in a video game. If that sounds good (and your power level is high enough) let’s do it!
Sean: Yea I’m power level 267 or something, I think, I’m playing as a titan. I’m excited and kind of scared, sorry in advance if I ruin everything
Alex: He’s just being modest, he’s actually really good. He and I have been doing strikes all week and even doing some PvP, he’s totally carrying his weight
Peter: Oh also we all want to go in blind and figure things out for ourselves, so no reading spoilers or watching walkthroughs or whatever!
Alex: No worries, I did the same thing with D1, gotta raid blind
Sean: So all I need is to not know what’s going on? I can handle that lol
Peter: haha great. That gives us five for the raid, anybody got a sixth?
Sean: I know a guy, Will, from high school. I saw he kept liking destiny stuff on facebook, so apparently he plays. I don’t know if he played the first game. I’ll hit him up and let you know. 6PM Friday?
Peter: 6pm Friday.
“I can only say it so many ways. Things with us just weren’t working out. He’d gotten mean, and I had to go.” Will pinched his phone between his ear and his shoulder, which allowed him to talk while keeping both hands on his game controller. On the TV across the room, he was about to blow up a giant six-legged spider-tank somewhere in the European wilderness. White damage numbers popped off of the tank every time he opened fire.
He and his sister were talking for the fifth time in as many days. The subject of their call, as ever, was Will’s recent decision to end things with his longtime partner Michael. She still sounded unconvinced. She’d really liked Michael, and was actually a little weirdly invested in their relationship, Will thought.
“I feel like you’re asking me to convince you, when I really just need your support,” Will said. “He wasn’t good for me for a lot of reasons. You weren’t there.” Will was splayed out on the couch in sweat shorts and an old high school tennis t-shirt. He glanced around his sublet, an overpriced haven after an abrupt departure from his and Michael’s downtown flat. The woman who normally lived here didn’t really believe in interior design. Will had left a lot of his stuff behind, but his PS4 and laptop had made it out with him. Thank god for that; he had something to focus on aside from his failed relationship.
“Can we just not talk about Michael for a minute? How are you, how are the kids?” His sister started talking about how Will’s niece and nephew were doing in school, and he found his attention drifting back to the TV. The tank still had half its health left; maybe there was some secret to this fight that he hadn’t figured out? He had the TV muted, but he was starting to worry his sister would hear his controller vibrating. It was louder than he’d realised. A few more shots and he finally did enough damage to stun the stupid thing, which exposed its glowing engine core. He went in for the kill, joined by a pair of random players who’d been passing by.
For what felt like the tenth time that afternoon, Will offered silent thanks for the fact that Destiny 2 had launched just a couple days after he’d decided to detonate his social life. For all Michael’s faults, he had still been Will’s closest friend. Everyone Will knew in Hartford, he knew through Michael. Their dog had been Michael’s dog before it had been their dog. Will was left with his sister, a couple of acquaintances he’d made through work, and that was it. Well, and Destiny. He also had Destiny.
The tank exploded, and Will got some loot for his trouble. Blue gun, blue helmet…. garbage. It didn’t matter; on to the next mission. His Destiny to-do list relaxed him. He hadn’t been a huge fan of the first game, but he could tell this one was an obvious improvement, particularly in the “stuff to do” department. He could just screw around in one of the planetary patrol zones for an hour or two without getting bored, and he got the sense there were still a lot of things he hadn’t found because he didn’t read guides or forums online. He’d liked the story, too, though he had a hard time keeping track of all the characters. It didn’t really matter, he guessed. It was obvious who the good guys were, and who the bad guy was. Plus it had the guy from Firefly in it.
Will knew Destiny was meant to be played with other people, but he’d come to the first game late and never really established a regular crew to play with. So far he’d been playing the sequel solo, too, casually messing around in the patrol zones and doing strikes with randoms. He was supposed to be trawling Craigslist for apartment listings, but most days after work he’d smoke some weed, put on his headphones, and spend the night enveloped in technicolour explosions and melodramatic choral chants. He knew plenty of people liked to get lit and play Destiny with their friends—some types of cough were impossible to disguise over voice chat—but he never felt comfortable playing stoned with strangers. Their faceless voices were too remote, and he’d get paranoid. Better to go it alone.
Will liked Destiny 2’s sights and sounds, but he liked the sense of progression even more. Humans were simple animals, he figured. They liked watching progress-bars fill up and numbers climb. Destiny 2 had some really good bars and numbers, better even than the first game. He figured he’d be filling bars and raising numbers in this game for at least another month or two. He’d seen some stuff online about how to max out his power level, but as far as he could tell that required getting into gear mods and doing a lot of complicated inventory management. Too much of a pain. He didn’t care if the numbers were climbing at their fastest possible rate; it was enough that they kept going up. He checked his current power level. 273. Not bad.
Shit, he’d missed what what his sister had just said, and now she was waiting for him to respond. He tried to replay her last few sentences. She’d been talking about one of the other parents at his nephew’s school, right? He took a shot in the dark. “Yeah, that sounds… uh. That’s tricky.” Fuck. She’d noticed his hesitation. “No, I’m listening. I am! You were talking about Cal’s school, and that one mum who keeps being weird about Cal and her son.” There it was; he’d remembered.
Will grimaced and looked back at the screen, desperately trying to get his character to a ledge where he wouldn’t get shot. Destiny didn’t have a pause button, and almost anywhere you stood, something would eventually start shooting you. His controller kept buzzing, a plaintive sound in an otherwise silent flat. This game was not great for multitaskers.
After promising he’d keep the family posted on his flat hunt, Will said goodbye and set down his phone. He turned up the TV volume and focused his full attention back on the game, finally shooting the screeching aliens who’d been distracting him. Pop. Pop. God, headshots in this game were satisfying.
There was still a lot of Destiny 2 that he hadn’t seen—the Nightfall strike, some competitive PvP stuff, the raid—but most of those things required friends. This game seemed to constantly be asking him why he didn’t have anyone to play with. Like he needed another reminder that his social life was fucked. You were supposed to be in a clan, but how did you find a clan? Will had never been in a clan in his life. There was something called “Guided Games” that he figured he could use to find other people to play with, but he hadn’t mustered up the courage to test it. Random matchmade strikes were as far as he was willing to go. 20 or 30 minutes with a couple strangers, and a big boss fight at the end. Minimal commitment, maximum enjoyment. No one talks, no one sends friend requests, and everyone goes their separate ways when it’s over.
Will checked his phone and saw he’d gotten a new Facebook message. It was from Sean, an old friend from school. Weird. What was old Sean up to? He went to unlock his phone, but his controller started vibrating again. Those aliens were back. They always came back, didn’t they?
To: Alex, Javi, Andrew, Sean, Will
Subject: <no subject>
Welp. Thanks for staying up late everyone, even if we didn’t get it done. Sorry I was being a grump toward the end there. I thought we did pretty well, considering. We just need to tighten up our strategy for that last boss. And obviously, we gotta stop dying. Sucks that there’s so much randomness in that fight, felt like we were losing for some bullshit reasons. Alex, maybe if you and I switched places, and you went to the shadow realm? Or maybe not. As long as we all make our callouts, the team in the main room should be able to take care of the Councilors. I was looking on reddit and there literally aren’t any other tips for that fight, no one knows how to make it any easier. I dunno. Open to suggestions.
To: Peter, Alex, Andrew, Sean, Will
Subject: Re: <no subject>
I thought we agreed we weren’t going to look anything up? I hate it when one person looks stuff up then pretends they don’t know the answers while everyone else figures out what to do.
To: Javi, Alex, Andrew, Sean, Will
Subject: Re: <no subject>
Oh, I mean, I figured we spent like four hours stuck on the boss last night, so it’d be cool if I tried looking up some specific strategies. We already figured out what to do, we just have to do it without screwing up. I didn’t look ahead, promise.
To: Peter, Javi, Andrew, Sean, Will
Subject: Re: <no subject>
Yeah, I looked around a bit too. Not gonna lie, that was pretty rough. I had fun with some of the earlier stuff, though the pleasure gardens can fuck off. Why does Bungie keep putting stealth sections into Destiny? Don’t they realise that it never works?
I was watching Wake and some guys stream the boss last night after we called it quits, and they were doing almost exactly what we were doing. They’re all above 300 and I don’t even think their damage was that much higher. They were playing on alt characters, I think, since I’m pretty sure they all beat the raid on the first day. I watched for like an hour and they couldn’t get it done. So, hey, we’re just like them!
To: Alex, Peter, Javi, Andrew, Will
Subject: Re: <no subject>
Well as the resident rookie, I had fun. I get what everyone was saying about the dogs, but I really liked the baths and the race section, that was hilarious. I wasn’t expecting raids to be so involved, since the rest of the game is so much simpler! I know I kept saying all that last night. It’s crazy, though. Do any other console games do this kind of thing? Can we go play those games, too?
To: Sean, Javi, Andrew, Alex, Will
Subject: Re: <no subject>
Hahahaha Sean man I’m glad we had you come with. It’s cool to be reminded how weird Destiny raids are, since most of us have been at it so long we’ve kinda lost perspective. Plus by that seventh straight hour, you lose the will to live. I sort of wish we could take you back through the raids from the first game, especially King’s Fall and Vault of Glass. This raid was okay, but those probably had less bullshit per encounter. Maybe rose-tinted glasses on my part, haha.
To: Peter, Javi, Andrew, Sean, Will
Subject: Re: <no subject>
I do like how in D2 you don’t have to level up with raid gear to be high enough level to raid. That was always so stupid. A lot of the stuff they’ve fixed in the sequel is stuff they never should’ve gotten wrong in the first place, but I guess that doesn’t mean I’m not glad they fixed it? Anyway. Everyone on to try that fight again tomorrow? I can’t do six, can you guys do 9pm?
To: Alex, Peter, Andrew, Sean, Will
Subject: Re: <no subject>
9 works for me! Andrew says it’s good for him too.
To: Javi, Alex, Andrew, Peter, Will
Subject: Re: <no subject>
9 is good for me
To: Javi, Alex, Andrew, Peter, Sean
Subject: Re: <no subject>
Sorry, wasn’t on email, just catching up. Ya, I can do 9.
Earlier that year, Activision had flown Wake out to Los Angeles for Destiny 2’s big unveiling event. They put him up in a hotel and set him up on the main stage with a few other big streamers. Half a million people had been watching online. At the event, strangers came up like he was their friend, told him how much his streams meant to them. Reporters introduced themselves and asked him what he thought about this change, or that one. Did he care that the console version didn’t run at 60 frames per second? What did he think of the new weapon loadouts? And of course, was he considering switching to PC when that version came out? Even three years later, part of him couldn’t believe anyone cared what he thought about any of it.
While he was careful never to show it on stream, Wake spent a lot of his downtime bouncing between elation and anxiety. He never forgot how lucky he was to live this life where he got paid to play video games all day. How lucky he was that Destiny had blown up, and that he’d decided to make videos about it when he did. How lucky he was that so many people seemed to admire him, that he got to be what his cousin jokingly labeled “tiny famous.”
He’d managed to spin a few sponsorships and promotional appearances into a stable income, and he was even starting to put some money in the bank. It still felt tenuous. Why did people like him, in particular? What if they stopped? What if he said the wrong thing on stream, or got caught up in a scandal? Or what if the buzz on the sequel didn’t last, and some other game came along and stole Destiny’s thunder? Could he maintain his following if he switched over to another game? Easy come, easy go, and Lucas without a backup plan.
All the more important to hit the sequel as hard as he could. Right now, Destiny 2 was huge on Twitch, and he was picking up more new subscribers than ever. He looked down at chat. One commenter was sounding off about how he hated the changes to Destiny 2 PvP because it made it so much less fun to play solo. “That’s true, true,” said Wake, congenially. “It’s a lot less fun solo. You get with some randoms and they don’t know what they’re doing, and suddenly your team is getting worked and there’s nothing you can do about it. Even worse is how the game matches a team of randoms with a team of dudes in a clan, who are all coordinating in chat together. Bungie’s gotta fix that.”
The truth was, Wake wasn’t having as much fun with Destiny as he used to. He wasn’t sure what it was; maybe just that he’d grown as a gamer, or his tastes had changed. He’d spent some time playing Overwatch back when it came out a year ago, and had dabbled in streaming some Battlegrounds over the summer while Destiny was at a low ebb. PUBG was so much fun, and so interesting compared with Destiny. Maybe it was just over-familiarity. The better he got at Destiny, the more aware he was of its flaws.
“I don’t wanna climb up Bungie’s ass or anything,” he said, leaning back in his chair and looking away from the camera. “There’s lots of stuff I still don’t like. For hardcore players like me, the endgame is already feeling thin. I feel like I’ve already gotten everything there is to get. Servers are still weird for PvP, like, how often you trade with someone? Where you both die at the same time? With all the PvP stuff, it is what it is. You all know what I’ve been saying. You can’t always look at Destiny like it’s a true competitive game. It’s not Counter-Strike.”
Chat appeared to agree with him: Destiny 2 was not Counter-Strike. That was part of the problem, really. Chat always agreed with him. Most people he talked to—clanmates, commenters, subscribers—tended to agree with him, even though he knew he couldn’t be right all the time. Maybe he just needed to spend more time with other streamers, people who had their own fans and their own opinions. Maybe he should go and find a new game with a new community. Maybe he should just go back to school.
Not now, though. Now, there was a new Destiny game out. There was a new raid to explore, and new secrets to dig up. He had a new crop of excited viewers, and his numbers kept going up. Trials had launched this morning, and he’d scheduled a full weekend of carrying lucky subscribers to the top of the Spire. He could think about life stuff later.
“That was… fuck,” said Sean, yet again. Alex could hear a dry crack in his voice. Understandable, given that they’d been hammering away at a raid boss for seven hours straight. “I can’t believe we finally did it.”
“We did it,” she responded. “We did do it. It got did. I’m still not sure how I feel about that.”
“I don’t smoke, but I need a cigarette.”
“I can’t get over how much bullshit was in that fight,” said Will. “I can’t believe we didn’t fuck it on that last rotation. You guys weren’t in the shadow realm, you don’t really know how bad it got. It was a miracle.”
“There was a point when I didn’t know what we were gonna do,” said Sean. “We’d sunk in so much time that it felt ridiculous to quit, but winning seemed impossible. Plus, Will, you’re on east coast time, right? You are a champion.”
Peter and his two friends had departed shortly after their victory, but Alex, Sean, and Will were still hanging around in chat, decompressing. Alex looked at the clock. 2:30AM, and she had work tomorrow. Maybe she’d just call in sick. She pushed the thought aside. “You guys, we did it! We fucking did it. It’s still sinking in.”
“I’m starting to think we did it,” joked Sean. “Alex, did we do it?”
“Shut up,” she laughed. “I gotta pee. I’ll be right back.”
Alex muted her mic but kept her headset on as she walked down the hall to the bathroom. The wireless range got a bit dicey in here, but she could still hear the party chat. Her flat got so quiet at night. Not for the first time, she wondered what her flatmates made of the boisterous curses and exclamations that had been emanating from her room. Her headphones cut out, and as the signal faded back in, Will was talking.
“…the most human interaction I’ve had in weeks,” he was saying. “Ever since the stuff with my ex, I haven’t actually talked to many people? Just my sister, mostly. I didn’t think I liked playing games with other people. I liked those guys we were with, though, and Alex seems cool.”
“Yeah, she’s great,” said Sean. Alex smiled. She wondered if he knew she was listening in. “I’m glad she talked me into this. The game’s driven me nuts for the past week, but I can’t say it hasn’t been fun.”
“Yeah, man,” said Will. “I dunno when I’ll be have time to raid like that again, but we should definitely play again soon. We should start a clan! I guess this is how you get into a clan.”
Alex double-checked that her mic was muted before she flushed, then started back up the hall. As she walked, she went over her remaining Destiny to-do list. An exotic quest had opened up after they finished the raid; it rewarded you with a weird looking shotgun. She’d seen Wake streaming with it the other day, and it looked beastly. Then there was the Crucible quest—she was no great shakes at PvP, but now that she had more friends to team up with, maybe it’d be more fun? And when would they raid again? Questions for another day.
She sat down and unmuted her mic. “Okay, I’m back. What were we talking about?”
As I struggle to fall asleep after a night of Destiny 2, the game keeps running through my mind. It’s like getting a song stuck in my head: I see the flash of combat and feel the rumbling controller in my hands. But I rarely hear the sounds of battle. Instead, I hear voices.
For all the words I’ve written about Destiny, I’ve listened to many more. Destiny is the game that I play with people, and my impressions of it and this new sequel have been irrevocably shaped by the hundreds of conversations I’ve had in and around the game itself. In between hurried strategy sessions and snippy cross-talk, we share what we like and don’t like, what Bungie has fixed and what they still need to fix, and where we see the game going from here. Sometimes we talk about our lives outside the game. Usually we don’t.
What do I make of Destiny 2? The characters in the stories above aren’t real, but each one represents a part of how I actually feel. I share Peter’s appreciation of the many ways Bungie has made it more approachable than its predecessor, and his frustration at how the game still occasionally manages to get in its own way. I’m with Will on how therapeutic it can be; for all its surface-level violence, Destiny 2 is an oddly soothing game. Wake makes some good points about the changes to PvP, and I share his sense that Destiny 2 might not hold my attention as firmly as the first game did. Alex understands how important it is to play with friends, and how lovely it can be to coax a group of strangers into accomplishing something that seemed impossible.
Destiny 2 is a more competent product than its predecessor, and perhaps a less interesting game as a result. It doesn’t have the same idiosyncrasies and shortcomings, and it doesn’t seem to hold its players in such low esteem. It doesn’t dare us to break it as often.
Bungie has stripped out so much of the nonsense we previously had to keep track of, and almost every simplification has been for the better. They’ve added a story that makes sense, even if by doing so they’ve robbed their robe-clad sci-fi world of some of its mystery. The raid is fascinating, thematically ambitious, and occasionally infuriating. The shooting is still fantastic; inventory management is still a pain in the arse. The armour isn’t as pretty as it was in the first game.
Like many modern video games, Destiny 2 will spend the next few years in a constant state of becoming. Capturing its essence in this moment or that moment is as difficult as snatching a mosquito out of the air with two fingers. This is clearly a high point, the highest since The Taken King launched nearly two years ago. It’s a red-carpet welcome for new players and a slightly bittersweet payoff for those of us who’ve been there from the start. Soon enough, everything will change yet again.
It’s been two weeks since Destiny 2 came out, and I could no more crystallise my impressions of it than I could transcribe the dozens of late night confessions, emailed strategy sessions, passive-aggressive recriminations, and heroic exultations I’ve shared with my in-game compatriots. That’s fine. Let’s live in the moment. A new era of Destiny has begun, and there’s already so much to talk about.