Review: Destiny 2 and live service vs single player games

This game review was an especially hard choice because I’ve recently been playing games I haven’t touched in a while that are primarily live service games. Essentially, I was stepping into familiar games with all new content, “metas”, and potentially new mechanics that enhanced gameplay. But I also had an itch for single player games like Dragon Age: Origins, Cyberpunk 2077, Fallout 4/New Vegas, and Trails in the Sky. All primarily RPGs, easily my favorite genre of games, but I didn’t find myself playing them for long, whether it was because time constraints or quick boredom after I satisfied some sort of curiosity. Playing these games, for however short it was, was somewhat overshadowed by this assignment because I began thinking critically about these games and why I was getting bored so quickly. Maybe I revisited them too soon, maybe I didn’t have the time to invest into the massive undertaking that those games are. What I realized while playing a game that’s constantly updated, for example Elder Scrolls Online and Destiny 2, is that for most players after a playthrough or 2 of a single player game there’s very little motivation to keep playing. Generally I can commit more than half an hour when I revisit a game out of nostalgia, but for some reason recently (I mean honestly for the past 2 years) I can’t sink and devote time to my favorite genre of video games. So why am I acting like this, I wondered, and why was I so much more invested in the -new- monthly cycle of a live service game? It’s here that I decided to review Destiny 2 and why it suddenly retained my attention, and focus on the live service game genre vs single player/one and done with some DLC game models.

Now my review of the whole game of Destiny will be broader than most reviews, as I’ll be focusing on the aspects of the gameplay and the structure of it that has players hooked. (Destiny is often one of the top played games on Steam. Currently #9 on Steam as of writing this.) Destiny 2 is a “looter shooter” at its most basic, which revolves around traditional RPG mechanics of getting loot and using it to get more loot. The act of getting rewarded with tangible upgrades and equipment is not a new mechanic, in fact it’s usually the core “progression” system of most games. But games like Destiny take this one step further and prioritize the “looting” aspect to a whole new level. Where in D&D inspired games, rewards are often static weapons and armor granted after specific conditions are met, like slaying a boss. Now looter shooters follow the same principle to an academic degree, but there is also a chance of some of the most powerful loot to drop off a random mob in any type of content. This creates a sense of dopamine with every little encounter, “maybe something good will drop if I kill these few extra enemies over here”, you might start saying to yourself as you play Destiny. For someone who’s deeply invested in progression and getting stronger with every little encounter this can become a little addicting. And this is just a surface level look at it, because following the insane amount of weapon types, from hand canons to vibrating swords, there are weapon mods, weapon perk rolls, masterworks, seasonal mods — the list goes on. And the player has so many different kind of tools to work with, so many different kinds of content to play and grind, and everything progresses you to “the next level” that you never feel like there’s nothing to do.

But Destiny fans, the ones who are constantly committed to the game, actually have more to say on the side of criticism for the game. And for good reason — the game is live service. A game being live service does not mean it is without flaws, heck it doesn’t even mean it has an advantage against beloved single player games and RPGs, quite the opposite. Live service games have a trend where the most “fun” times for the game is during the end of its “yearly expansion” cycle. And that’s what made me realize Destiny’s format is so effective and why it can also be so infuriating for players, and not just Destiny either, almost any game that’s live service. These games are “completed” towards the end of the content cycle, and that’s when people play the game the most, that’s when there’s so much to do and play, because you have systems and content that didn’t release at the start of an expansion. When you have this ever rotating door in a video game where things are constantly changing and morphing, on top of having core systems that are inherently addicting (It’s even true outside the western world, look at Monster Hunter’s new philosophy born from World and Rise) you create a game that appeals to a certain audience that is so fun to play. But this is also a huge problem as before this “end point” the game feels almost unfinished, incomplete, and almost lifeless. It’s almost a curse that games that are cycled are doomed to have.

Wrapping back around to single player games, in contrast to games like Destiny, they’re more or less “complete” on release. Games like Breath of the Wild or Skyrim were huge successes that are still played to this day, but I’d argue that most of the players after their first playthrough only pick the game back up for short bursts at a time. The obvious answer is they’ve beaten the game, had their fun, did their thing. And it’s hard to pick a game back up when you feel like you’ve “seen this before”. Where single player games are easy to pick up and get addicted to at the start, games like Destiny are easy to drop. But the opposite is also true, single player games after your first playthrough are almost a chore to play again, but live service games eventually “kick back up” and become quite easy to sink into.

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