The agony! The jubilation! The drama and disappointment! I have reached the top of Destiny mountain, and the view is spectacular. It was a pain in the ass getting here, but I guess that was the point.
For the first eight months of its existence, the “best thing” in Destiny was the Vault of Glass raid. It was fun, it was challenging; it required teamwork and careful play.
That is no longer the case. Destiny has a new Best Thing, and it’s an unexpected one. The weekly, competitive Trials of Osiris multiplayer event has overtaken the Vault of Glass as the most challenging, intense, and rewarding activity in the game. It also signals a significant readjustment of Destiny’s focus, and it’s one that many longtime players aren’t happy about.
On Monday, Jason Schreier and I “beat” the Trials of Osiris. Along with our talented teammate Todd (more on him in a bit), we managed to complete an undefeated 9-0 scorecard against some of the best Destiny players in the world. I have never worked harder for a video game achievement, nor have I been prouder to finally accomplish one. I’m still riding an emotional high.
If you’d told me in the fall of 2014 that a 3v3 deathmatch tournament would wind up being the most exciting thing in Destiny, I would’ve had a hard time believing you. What a difference a year makes.
Since it came out last September, Destiny has been a game with two primary focuses. First, there’s PvE, which stands for “Player vs. Environment.” That’s the cooperative, story-based action game that has players teaming up to take on computer-controlled enemies. PvE encompasses activities like story missions, strikes, raids, and most recently, the Prison of Elders challenge mode.
Then there’s PvP, which stands for “Player vs. Player.” In PvP, players go into a virtual space called “The Crucible” to fight against other players competitively. In the game’s fiction, you’re not really fighting other guardians… this is just training for the real PvE fight out in the world. Destiny PvP is not unlike other competitive first-person shooters like Call of Duty or Destiny developer Bungie’s previous series, Halo. You run around, you stay in cover, you aim for the head. PvP Destiny includes a few different types of Crucible matches as well as a week-long, on-again-off-again event called the Iron Banner and most recently, the Trials of Osiris.
For the first months of its existence, Destiny’s PvP wasn’t all that much to write home about. It was fun, but there wasn’t much to it, especially when the game first came out. Furthermore, it had (and continues to have) some glaring balance issues along with regular, game-crippling lag. Both of those things made it hard for salty FPS veterans to take Crucible seriously.
It was—and still is—possible for a player to focus mainly on PvE play and have a perfectly good time. That’s how I played until May’s House of Wolves expansion—my experience of the game (and as a result, our coverage of it at Kotaku) was resolutely PvE-focused. I’d do raids, and patrol bounties, and the weekly Heroic and Nightfall strikes. Then Trials of Osiris happened. In the weeks that followed, my perception of Destiny underwent a fundamental shift.
Trials of Osiris combines the rush of competitive first-person shooting with the seductive whisper of carefully controlled gambling to create something that is both exceedingly rewarding and terrifyingly difficult to quit. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had playing competitive multiplayer—full stop—but it’s also Threat Level Alpha for anyone with a social life to maintain. It is the true test of player ability that many hardcore Destiny PvPers have been begging for, even while its purity has alienated a large number of less skilled players.
Like most things in Destiny, Trials is complicated, full of jargon, and difficult to parse for a newcomer. Here’s the gist:
Trials runs weekly, beginning early on Friday and running through to the weekly reset late Monday night. To participate, you need to form a three-person team (there’s no built-in matchmaking) and each character needs to go to a special vendor and spend a little bit of in-game money on a “Passage Card.” Your Passage Card is your entry ticket.
You then compete in matches against other teams of three. Each match consists of up to nine rounds; whoever wins five rounds first wins the full match. The game-type is elimination deathmatch—if you can kill all three members of the opposing team, your team wins the round. If you only kill one or two of them, the remaining players can revive their teammates and keep the fight going. This opens the door for all sorts of unlikely comebacks, moments of solo heroism, and scrambling, on-the-fly strategy shifts.
Once you win or lose a match, that outcome is recorded on your Passage Card, which eventually starts to look like this:
You can also buy a few “buffs” for your card using yet another form of currency called Passage Coins. Once per card, you can snag any of three modifiers—your first loss won’t count, or you’ll start with a win, or your next win will count double.
If you get three losses, your card is closed out and you have to trade it in back at the Trials vendor for a fresh one. However, if you can get more than four wins on a card, you start unlocking really good rewards—guaranteed rare items, excellent guns and armor, and—if you can get nine wins without a single loss—a trip to Mercury, where you’ll have a chance to get the most elite items currently available in Destiny.
(If you’re good at math, you’ve figured out that with all three buffs purchased, that “flawless” 9-0 run really only needs to be 7-1.)
The result has been a challenging and intense new game mode that stands apart—far apart—from everything else in Destiny. It puts the entirety of Destiny’s PvP under a magnifying glass, exaggerating all of the things that make it fun while bringing its many flaws and imbalances into sharp relief. It is both the best and, sometimes, the worst thing in the game.