Like a college freshman desperately attempting to acclimate themselves to the bitter taste of coffee, I have tried so goddamn hard to get into MMOs.
I’ve wandered in World of Warcraft, journeyed through several levels of Lord of the Rings Online, and have taken more than my fair share of forays into Final Fantasy XIV. I’ve dabbled with Star Wars: The Old Republic, saved lives in both DC Universe Online and City of Heroes, and spent far too long creating a character in Black Desert Online, but ultimately–whether these sandboxes are set in space or The Shire–I come to the same conclusion every time: MMOs just aren’t for me.
And please believe me when I say, dear reader, I wish they were. I see the way my peers’ eyes light up when their favorite home away from home gets a new patch. I’ve watched from afar as these brave heroes recount how horribly that raid went and bond over their hatred of darksoldier321’s “bad heals.” After years and years of free trial and error, however I am forced to admit I will never truly “get” the appeal of MMOs. Unless they’re Destiny.
Whereas some may argue the Destiny games aren’t “real” MMOs, I argue they’re massively multiplayer, they’re online, and they’re the only ones I’ve got so please, let me have them. I must admit, though, they aren’t what comes to mind when you think of the genre and so I can understand enthusiasts giving them the ol’ side-eye. Even previous publisher Activision billed the series as the first “shared-world shooter” prior to its release in 2014, perhaps to somewhat detach the franchise from the MMO label.
Traditional MMOs conjure images of sprawling servers and a world populated by potential pals–or at the very least folks with amusing usernames. And we do get that in the Destiny games, but admittedly not to the same extent. Furthermore, beyond technicalities, there are a lot of other ways in which Destiny deviates from what we expect MMOs to be, making it perfect for those of us who bounce off of them.
We’ll start at the beginning. OK, not right at the beginning because let’s be real, character creation takes a good twenty minutes, but right after that. Every time I’m lured into starting an MMO, the hard sell I’m given comes with a promise that “it gets better later on.” And hey, I’ve recommended plenty of hard-to-get-into things to friends, I get the tactic and I know their heart is in it, but in all the traditional MMOs I’ve played, I’ve yet to get to “later.” The thing with MMOs is, in my opinion, they work best for those of us who can successfully delay gratification–the best of us, really.
With these games, the dopamine hit doesn’t come from repeated, instantaneous actions, it instead comes after you’re done putting in the work, step back and think, “wow, I absolutely couldn’t do that before.” There’s something to be said about the folks who can power through the work in search of that bit of growth, but I’ll be completely honest and say that when I play games, work just isn’t what I want to do. But Destiny? Destiny rewards both kinds of players.
I can play Destiny on a very casual level and not feel like I’m putting in an exorbitant amount of work or grinding to get to “later,” not that “later” is particularly needed when I’m having fun right away. Whereas in traditional MMOs you’re stuck killing 20 rats for a few hours clad in some nice burlap fit, Destiny lets you in on the action much earlier. I think a great deal of this comes from the game being an absolutely fantastic feeling first-person shooter, which in turn gives us that repeated, instantaneous rush that impatient folks like me need to keep going. Additionally, modes like Crucible allow us to jump in with friends right away, and anything that eliminates the awkwardness of my level 40 friend watching me collect 10 mosquito needles for my level 6 quest is very welcome.
Furthermore, Destiny is not only great at both welcoming and rewarding new players but is also less stressful to pick back up than a traditional MMO—especially if you’re like me and have a tendency to only jump back in when the newest expansion is out.
Thanks to Bungie implementing methods to help Guardians be battle-ready when the Next Big Thing begins, I’ve never felt seriously dissuaded coming back from hiatus, either. This isn’t to say the game isn’t made for near-daily play; bounties and weekly events, such as nightfalls, strikes, and raids, keep things interesting for everyone while still being accessible for on and off again fans. And for those who love the grind, the grind is absolutely there. But I’ve never felt like I needed to put in ten hours of work to get gauntlets that make me feel badass when the loot you get through casual play is honestly great-looking and effective.
The other element that keeps me coming back is how Destiny handles its world and narrative. We tend to throw this word around a lot, but Destiny truly does feel immersive. The combination of gorgeous environments, interesting character design, and top-notch voice acting makes me feel more connected to the world than I do in a traditional MMO. I’m not drowning in text or empty sidequests when making my way through the solar system, I’m in the middle of the action and a story that is compelling and deep if you’re keeping tabs and truly invested, but still rad as hell if you’re just along for a brief ride. During my time with the games, I’ve gotten better at retaining the overarching plot of the game, but even when I jumped into Forsaken a while back, I found what was immediately happening interesting enough to call that DLC one of my absolute favorites of the year.
The sad truth of the matter is when you start getting older–or paid to write about games, so a real double whammy on my part–your relationship with them changes. You start to celebrate ones that are more respectful of your time, that are more forgiving to those who can’t put in their 20 hours a week or power through an 80-hour story. MMOs aren’t for me because, quite frankly, I lack the willpower to commit to something that doesn’t commit to my joy immediately. But Destiny does and gives us a chance to enjoy a game with all the best elements of an MMO RPG and none of the ones that might make us wary of getting started. So while I might be missing out on darksoldier321’s poor teamwork, I’m thankful Destiny has given me the opportunity to groan while I tell my friend “we gotta res that guy again.”