Smith: Avoiding ‘Destiny 2’

A screengrab from the video game 'Destiny.' Photo courtesy of Flickr

I’ve played enough good games this summer to fill my review docket for the next couple months.

But the game everyone asks me about is the one I have no intention of playing — “Destiny 2.”

I almost did, just for the sake of this column. I accidently ended up with two rented copies from my online rental service and even inserted the disc into my PlayStation 4.

Like the original “Destiny,” teaming up with other players is the key feature in this first-person shooter/online role-playing-game. Because I had no desire to play with anyone, I figured I would run through a few levels of the campaign to get a feel for “Destiny 2.”

Instead, I was greeted by a mandatory six-gigabyte update. The only thing I could do was stare at the title screen, unless I wanted to wait six hours.

“I didn’t.”

To be honest, I was relieved. I threw both copies of “Destiny 2” into outbound envelopes, happy to get the game out of my life. As good as the “Destiny” games are, MMOs (Massive Multiplayer Online games), are a tremendous time sink.

If you plan to play “Destiny 2,” don’t let me stop you. The reviews have been excellent, and I’m sure the praise is deserved. The original “Destiny” is the smoothest first-person-shooter I’ve played, and I hear “Destiny 2” feels even better.

But I still harbor unpleasant memories from the first one, and it has nothing to do with the game play.

A gaming prison

Like most of the gaming world, I was infatuated by the first “Destiny” when it was released in 2014.

I spent a couple months running missions with random players.

But then I started playing with a friend, and the nature of the game changed. It was fun for a while, chatting about old times while mindlessly blasting aliens. But he’s a much more talented gamer than I am and already had bested the toughest parts of “Destiny” with a squadron of equally talented players.

I was invited to play along with the squadron, and that’s when the game stopped being fun. I loathe the idea of scheduling my free time, and that’s exactly what I was doing. Playing with a large group of people requires scheduled meeting times. It requires cooperation. Most of all, it requires some gaming competence, especially when it comes to memorizing enemy patterns.

I’m a slightly above average gamer on my best days, and far below average when it comes to “Destiny.” Scrambling around an unfamiliar play field while following curse-laden orders reminded me of my fourth-grade basketball tryout. Since I had never watched a game of basketball, I barely knew which end of the court to run to. Parents were angrily shouting “rebound!” “rebound!”, but I had never heard the word in my life.

When the tryout was over, I didn’t even want to look at a basketball. Much less play it.

By the end of a “Destiny” mission, my nerves were nearly as frayed, and I repeatedly apologized to my teammates. Undeterred by defeat, they wanted to play these hours-long missions again. And again. And again.

I felt trapped by a game I no longer enjoyed, so I quietly snuck away, never to be seen on the “Destiny” servers again.

Paying to play

Part of the reason the original “Destiny” was so popular was the ease of access. You paid an upfront fee for the game, maybe purchased the expansion packs a few months later, and that was it. You were free to enjoy the game, without any additional expense.

Now I’m starting to think “Destiny” was the first act in a long con by Activision, the publisher of the game. The stench of micro-transactions (buying in-game loot for real money) pours from “Destiny 2,” and lot of longtime fans are understandably angry.

Micro-transactions for an online series as popular as “Destiny” were an inevitability, but the way those purchases are implemented is underhanded. In the first game, players had the option of coloring their armor and weapons with shaders, which was perfect for groups who wanted their own team colors. Shaders would pop up randomly as an in-game reward and could be used forever.

Those shaders are still in “Destiny 2,” but you can use them only once. Unlike the first “Destiny,” they work only for a one piece of armor, such as a helmet, a chest plate, etc..

You still can earn these shaders through game play, but the odds of you getting what you want to complete a color set is pretty slim. You either can grind for loot for countless hours or plunk down some real-life cash. Even then, you’re not buying a specific item. You’re buying a randomized loot box, which may or may not have what you want.

That sounds like online gambling to me. And “Destiny 2” is far from the only culprit. Most big games are stuffed with micro-transactions these days, including the highly anticipated “Middle-earth: Shadow of War.” It seems paying $60 for a game isn’t enough anymore.

I’ve been playing games long enough to recognize corporate greed when I see it, and easily can ignore the useless extras. But the majority of gamers are children, and their impulse control is slightly worse than mine.

Avarice is eternal, and there always will be corporate conmen looking to blur the line between gaming and gambling. Pinball machines were outlawed in New York State from 1940 to 1976 because store owners couldn’t resist turning them into gambling devices.

I’ll be a gamer my entire life. But I’ll never trust the well-funded middlemen who push my favorite product.