The moments that made my decade - part one. Taking down The Taken King.
It's an inescapable truth of the universe: people love lists. We love making them, we love sharing them, and we apparently absolutely adore reading those that consist entirely of other people's subjective opinions - I suspect mainly so we can disagree with them and rage righteously about just how utterly wrong they are. Right now, as 2019 comes to its inevitable close, the internet is drowning in lists about videogames - as the end of this year marks the end of a decade in which our favourite medium has grown quite a bit. Everywhere I look, it's "Game of the Decade" articles for people to argue about - whether it's a debate of whether or not Pokemon Go should count because it only came out on mobile phones (spoiler: it should), or even a debate on how long a decade lasts (because, yes, some people on Twitter really are that stupid), it's stirring up a lot of debate.
I thought about writing a "games of the decade" piece for myself. I decided against it - because it would be far too long and no-one would read it. Perhaps more importantly, it wasn't something I really thought I'd enjoy writing. Looking at my History page, I've finished 168 games since 2010 (likely to be a bit higher by the time the decade actually ends) - trawling that lot to break out a list of a couple to go into detail about seems redundant, especially as I've shared my thoughts on so many of them as I've gone along. So, no. I wanted to do something to mark the end of the decade, and decided it would be far more fun to just zero in on specific moments in games that marked the decade for me. These were the moments that make the hair on the back of my neck stand on end when I think of them. The moments I reminisce about with the other people that experienced them with me. As we move into the 2020's, these are the moments I'll look back on most fondly and probably use as a benchmark to measure the experiences that lie ahead. They're in no particular order - each will be on a different game. Expect variety over the next couple of weeks - there's enough of 'em to see me into the new year.
It seems only right and proper to start with a moment that defined a game that I've spent a lot of time with in the last couple of years. While its hold on me has slackened in recent months, it remains a game that has defined this generation for me.
Destiny's third raid - King's Fall - was an absolute monster of a gaming experience. I joined a Destiny clan in order to raid, but by the time I did so both Vault of Glass and Crota's End were old hat. The raiders in the clan had moved on from them to King's Fall, and had several groups who were prepared to act as sherpas to carry through us kinder-guardians who were joining up. My first completions of Vault of Glass and Crota's End were carries - and my first completion of King's Fall was loading in at a hard mode Oryx checkpoint and being told to "stand in the bubble, don't die, and leave it to us." Watching the five guys I was with left me in awe. What I saw was utter chaos - what they saw were moving parts and mechanics to be dealt with calmly, in order, and one thing at a time. Platforms were crossed. Ogres were sniped, Knights defeated, bombs detonated, and the Taken King was wiped out as though his presence were a mere inconvenience.
At that moment, I knew the achievement for finishing that raid wasn't enough. I needed to know it as intimately as they did, to understand the processes behind the chaos. I wanted to be able to do what they could do - and that meant two things: I needed a regular team, and I needed some time. Finding the team was the easy part - I was lucky enough to have joined at the same time as a bunch of other guys, five of whom displayed an interest in learning the mechanics bit by bit. So off we went. Wednesday night became Raid Night. And eventually, Sunday night often did too.
A thing often forgotten about Destiny raids (as daft as it sounds) is that they are HARD. Once they've been out for a while, strategies and cheats begin to appear. All of these were available for King's Fall by the time we started... we chose to ignore many of them. We made ourselves learn, with only a couple of Youtube videos to help us out - and it was difficult. We spent weeks and weeks finding our feet as a team, with lots of runs crashing to the ground at the Totems - where the performance of the game often came unstuck leaving us dying to teleporting thralls or Knights that failed to appear. We got War Priest down to a fine art and memorised the route through the maze to Golgoroth - who was another boss that either went down easy or could scupper a run. We got a little bit further through each week, laughed at one of our Titans inevitably being blasted across the map at the "dildo wall", swore at Golgoroth refusing to allow the chosen fireteam member to take his gaze. We tried out different weapons, different subclass combinations, and slowly but surely wore the sharp edges off all of the raid's moving parts until we could batter through most of it in an evening.
To this day, King's Fall remains one of the most visually arresting things I've ever seen in any game. Ever. It's dark, and it's brooding. There's a permeating air of menace in the place - it just feels dangerous, unknowable. We got to the point of knowing the place intimately, and I'm still not convinced we've seen it all. The scale of it is ridiculous - jumping across the ships in the hangar is probably one of the best examples of just how massive the Dreadnaught is. Getting across those jumps took us over an hour the first time we went through. By the time we did our first completion run, we could get through that room in thirty seconds. In the process of learning that raid though, I think we all developed an understanding and appreciation of Bungie's vision that we just couldn't have gained by being carried through it. The sheer size and complexity of the environment and the encounters were mind-blowing. As a player who'd never really experienced anything on this scale, it moved the needle on my expectations of what a game could be.
Over the course of those months, we got further and further each week. In-jokes were established. Sub teams within the team appeared, making it easy for us to split into twos and threes with very little conversation. We'd learn which of us could be relied upon to do what. One of us being chosen at the Sisters was pretty much a guaranteed wipe... while another of us being chosen was pretty much a guaranteed damage phase. The fight against Oryx himself became ten minutes of tight-lipped efficiency; the laughing and joking around that was constant through the rest of the raid would die off as we approached that massive final throne room. The fight against his daughters required tight comms and concentration - the chatter in party chat would die down to terse status updates or instructions. No-one got excited. Everyone stayed cool. Once the big man himself appeared, we got to the stage where everyone knew their plates, and who the runner was. Ogres were sniped, knights killed with relics, bombs detonated. And eventually, we took him down. I managed to capture it. What you can't hear is the party chat. Let's just say... we were a happy fireteam.
So... why is this a moment of the decade? For me, this was the first of several peaks that Destiny offered up. Some of the guys in this fireteam are people I still maintain contact with today - racing in Forza Horizon, or sailing together on Sea of Thieves. Mostly though, it opened my eyes to just how complex a first person shooter could be. There's a level of creativity in Destiny's raid design that was like nothing I'd ever seen before - and I honestly don't think I've seen anything that matches it in the years since. The feeling of overcoming that challenge was a rush. There have been other raids since, and they've been good - but for me none of them have beaten the feeling of that first taking down of the Taken King.