The “endgame”, as it is known, is what you play in a persistent world once you have reached max level, completed the game’s story, or whatever other accomplishment denotes the end of the game’s content. This is a rant about Destiny.
In Destiny, there are twenty levels of content, broadly speaking. You level up at a fairly reasonable pace, unlocking more difficult (read: higher-level) missions, new planets, etc. Reaching level 20 more or less coincides with the end of the game’s story missions, which are an issue unto themselves which I won’t go into here. Afterwards, you can work your way to level 30 by way of gear upgrades. This is, broadly, the same as the standard MMO model– reach max level, progression is tied to your gear rather than your experience bar.
Destiny’s content is not terribly varied; the environments are varied, but the missions themselves tend to be very standard “go here, shoot this” fare, and the enemies differ only slightly from one another. This is not inherently a problem; the variance in the enemies is enough to keep the different types distinct and interesting to fight, the levels are relatively quick, so they don’t feel like slogs, and while the missions could be a bit more inspired, the gunplay is fun. Playing various missions to upgrade your gear is, theoretically, quite a lot of fun.
In Destiny, it’s misery. Gear can be upgraded via one of two methods: random drops (which are entirely random, every mob has an apparently equal chance of dropping gear, regardless of level) and reputation/currency grinding, wherein you accumulate alternative currencies and spend them on gear, once you are of the requisite reputation level. The grind portion is hours of play, estimates suggest 20 or so hours of play per faction to hit rank 2, if you’re dedicatedly focused on that rep. Each faction has different items, and there are 3-4 factions… you can do the math. Random drops take the form of “engrams”, which are basically randomly dropped objects that can be turned into random items of varying quality. A random drop for a random drop is a system worthy of mockery.
These items that you may or may not get have a stat on them called “Light”, which does nothing other than increase your effective level. These items can be upgraded to occasionally grant more Light, and a new piece of equipment is, of course, not fully levelled. Upgrading nicer gear also requires exp to make the upgrade available as well as resources to actually acquire the upgrade, both of which require (you guessed it) grinding, often a lot.
Destiny’s endgame can be summed up thus: Grind for drops/rep in order to grind for gear exp in order to grind for materials to upgrade your gear. There are no shortcuts, and there are no guaranteed drops anywhere in this process. Do the same content repeatedly, at increasingly harder difficulties (with modifiers, most of which translate into “you die more easily”), and grind, grind, grind.
This is, fundamentally, not that much different from other games. After all, Diablo and Borderlands work on this model, many MMOs work on this model, any number of F2P games work on an even more egregious form of this model (where you pay real money to open up your random boxes). What makes Destiny different?
As with many things, it comes down to pacing. The primary difference between the older, roundly hated Diablo 3 and the more recent, post-expansion, rather enjoyable version is the frequency and quality of drops. In their game where progression was bounded by loot drops, increasing the frequency of quality drops made the game more fun, because progression was more tangible. They also took a page from MMOs, and made a handful of bosses reliably and consistently drop the highest quality items; this is a function of many MMO dungeons and raids– while you might not get exactly the item you need, SOMETHING of value will drop (even if it’s not for you). When drops are considered worthless, they tend to be mocked (see: Vendorstrike, from Vanilla WoW).
Final Fantasy XIV is the other game I’ve been playing lately, and their approach to endgame is starkly different. FFXIV has an astoundingly huge, highly elaborate set of interlocking systems, all of which you can work on at any given time. Some of these, if focused on exclusively, are highly grindy, but at any given moment there are a massive variety of options. If you are grinding at something, it’s not for lack of something else to do (unless you’ve already done everything, which is daunting for even the most highly dedicated players). The worst parts of FFXIV’s endgame are the parts where the grinding is unavoidable; if you don’t like repetitive tasks, you will be incredibly bored.
One of the things I’m looking for in my entertainment is engagement. I don’t watch TV almost at all, because I don’t find it engaging. There are countless things I can do with my time that keep my mind working and my senses alert. Grinding is a great way to turn off my brain, but turning off my brain is the last thing I want to do in my leisure time. FFXIV keeps me engaged, and when it doesn’t or when I’m not feeling it, I don’t play it. Destiny was fairly engaging throughout the levelling process, when I was gaining new abilities regularly and seeing new story missions, but on the whole it’s presented me a more or less unchanging grind with increasing diminishing returns, only now I’ve run out of new things to see. The moment to moment gameplay is fun, but I’m not feeling a point. By comparison, its primary competition (FFXIV) has much less compelling moment-to-moment gameplay, but I feel like there’s a point and that, by and large, the game respects my time.
I think that the concept of “endgame” is incredibly problematic, and it’s clear that a lot of games don’t really know how to handle it.
I think the solution is abolishing “levelling”, but that’s a complex topic, likely for tomorrow.