On May 18, I got to attend Bungie’s big “Destiny 2” event with my older brother Michael. It was a precious memory I’ll never forget.
This is Michael. He’s three years older than me, but we’re both very similar: We have similar senses of humour, we both have beards — his is black, mine is red — and our voices sound almost identical. We also share many of the same interests, particularly in movies, games, and pop culture. He’s always been there for me over the years, in both good times and bad. He’s my best friend, and I love him dearly.
But since we live on opposite ends of the country — me in New York, and him in Los Angeles — it hasn’t always been easy for us to keep in touch. Thankfully, “Destiny” is a big reason we’ve stayed connected over the years. And at the “Destiny 2” reveal event, we got to spend a full day geeking out to our favourite video game together. It was just like the old days.
Michael and I both grew up playing a lot of video games together, usually in the basement of our old house in Connecticut. As kids, games were an easy and fun way for us to connect, talk, and work together.
One of my fondest memories was playing the classic Zelda game 'Ocarina of Time' with him: He'd be the one actually playing the game, while I'd serve as a form of navigator, keeping track of his goals and looking at physical game guides in case he got stuck. As a young kid, I didn't always feel brave enough to play some games myself, so I was happy to watch him play. (To this day, I still enjoy watching other people play video games, usually on YouTube.)
In our teenage years, Michael and I played lots of 'Halo' together. We'd play cooperative missions, but we spent most of our time playing multiplayer matches against each other. We spent countless nights playing on the 'Hang 'Em High' arena, with rocket launchers only.
Michael regularly got the drop on me: He was so much better at 'Halo' than I was, since he was quick to memorise the layouts of the arenas. He'd usually sneak up on me, jump in the air and shout 'Death from above!' right before nuking me with a rocket and cackling with delight. He won almost every match we played, but I still had fun.
Shortly after this time, Michael went off to college, and I no longer had my 'Halo' buddy to play with. I had plenty of friends, but I didn't connect with anyone over video games like I did with Michael. A few years later, I went off to college as well. (Thankfully, there were plenty of people at University of Maryland who shared my love for video games. I remember playing lots of 'Wii Sports' and 'Super Smash Bros.')
Towards the end of college, Michael told me he was planning on moving out west to Los Angeles with his then-girlfriend (now wife). I considered California as well, but I eventually decided to move to New York City.
In those first post-college years, I didn't talk much with Michael. We were at two different points in our lives, at opposite ends of the country, and both working hard to make things happen for ourselves career-wise. We'd text every so often and talk on the phone maybe once a month, but it was usually pretty brief. We'd see each other once or twice a year for holidays and family events. It wasn't anyone's fault, the cards just kind of fell that way.
Around 2013, Michael asked me if I'd heard about this new video game coming out the following year, called 'Destiny.' It was a brand-new sci-fi concept from Bungie, the same team that made those 'Halo' games we'd played and loved so much growing up. And 'Destiny' would be all-online, meaning we could play with each other from opposite ends of the country. I was incredibly excited, not just for the game itself, but for the opportunity to share more experiences with my brother.
When the game finally launched a year later, in September 2014, we were lighting up each other's phones. 'What subclass did you choose?' 'How far are you in the story?' 'What's your favourite gun so far?' In contrast to previous years where we'd text each other every so often, now we were in constant communication.
I played through the original campaign in 'Destiny' by myself, but once it was finished, I stopped playing.
I wanted to play the end-game activities with Michael -- like the six-person raid, easily the best part of the game that rewarded the best loot -- but my character was underleveled, which put any raid team at a disadvantage. That, plus the three-hour time difference with Michael and my busy work schedule at the time (I had recently started at Business Insider), discouraged me from playing further. It would take too much time to level up enough just to play the raid, and once I was ready, finding the time to play a 3+ hour-long mission with Michael would have been difficult.
A few months after the game launched, I saw Michael back at home in Connecticut for the holidays. He asked me if I was still playing 'Destiny,' and I told him I wasn't; I'd stopped. I told him I wanted to try the raids, but I couldn't get to a high enough level to be helpful. I also sheepishly admitted that I had no one to play with, and felt weird about finding strangers online to play with me. He told me not to worry -- he'd make an effort to play with me and get me into the raid.
When Michael and I returned to our respective homes after the holidays, Michael invited me to do a raid with him. He was about to run the first and only raid at that time, the Vault of Glass: a six-person descent into gorgeous alien architecture on the planet Venus to defeat an ancient evil. Michael and four other guys were waiting for me in the PlayStation chat room.
When I plugged in my mic, I introduced myself to everyone, but Michael broke the ice for me: He told the group that this was my very first raid and I was unfamiliar with the mechanics. Everyone was incredibly kind; one stranger even explained each step of the raid to me in painstaking detail so I wouldn't feel confused or left behind.
I remember that first raid so well. I was so nervous, afraid to embarrass myself or let everyone down, but everyone was incredibly patient. I suffered the most during a mid-air jumping puzzle where the platforms you need to jump on continually disappear; I spent maybe 20 solid minutes dying in this puzzle and profusely apologizing to the group, but Michael and the others kept encouraging me, and told me to take my time.
Finally, after about three hours of raiding, the big boss finally went down and we all cheered aloud. Everyone was shouting into their microphones, whooping and hollering. I was shouting too; it was absolutely exhilarating. Michael and the guys in our party congratulated me for completing my first raid, and I thanked them all for being so cool and helping me out so much. It was good feelings all around. And best of all, I got some great loot at the end that leveled me up sufficiently so I could always do raids in the future and actually be an equal contributor.
Once that first raid was under my belt, I started playing 'Destiny' all the time, non-stop (just ask my fiancée). Bungie was continually tweaking and improving the game through patches, updates and downloadable content; the game was as close to a living, breathing world as I'd ever experienced in a video game. And best of all, the constant 'newness' of 'Destiny' meant Michael and I were always talking and texting. We'd share our experiences and our opinions, and speculate wildly about future content.
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Nearly three years later, Michael and I are still connected through 'Destiny.' Whenever we talk or text, 'Destiny' is one of the constants. It might be weird to say that a single video game has enriched my relationship with my brother to the degree that it has, but it's 100% true.
This brings me to 'Destiny 2.' Days after Bungie announced the game in March -- which, of course, caused a massive spike in texting between Michael and I -- my friend at Bungie's parent company Activision called to invite me to a big event to fully reveal the game. The event would be in Los Angeles.
Once I knew the location of the event, I knew I needed Michael there. A 'Destiny' event? In Los Angeles? It would have been weird if he wasn't there. Thankfully, Activision was extremely gracious and accepted my request. It made me so happy to know I'd be able to share in yet another 'Destiny' experience with Michael -- but this time, actually in person.
After arriving in Los Angeles the night prior to the event, Michael and I set off for the Jet Center at Hawthorne Airport on the morning of May 18. On the 45-minute ride to the event, we contemplated what Bungie might unveil, and we also shared our biggest problems and pain points from the original 'Destiny,' hoping Bungie would improve those issues. We talked incessantly, like a couple of kids wildly speculating about what their gifts might be on the night before Christmas.
As soon as Michael and I took our seats in the massive show floor, the weight of the moment hit me. All these years later, here we were, together again, as grown adults, about to spend a full day playing video games together. Yes, we were surrounded by hundreds of journalists, YouTubers, game streamers and celebrities, but it felt like just Michael and I, sitting in the basement again, about to embark on another video game journey together.
Michael and I joined the crowd as they counted down the final seconds on the clocks surrounding the show floor, and shouted in joy when the lights turned off.
We ooh'd and aah'd at the new cinematics, marveled at all the new details, and exchanged knowing glances when Bungie introduced a particularly great feature: the ability to easily find and create groups of people to play with, called 'Clans,' to ensure no future players would run into the same predicament I encountered in the first 'Destiny' game when I had no one to play the raids with. You can learn about everything Bungie unveiled at the event right here.
After the presentation ended, Michael and I explored the full show floor together, taking pictures of each other and wowing at all the decorations, the massive crowds -- and of course, 'Destiny 2' itself. We played all the new activities together, including the new campaign, the new cooperative strike, and the new multiplayer mode, on both PlayStation 4 and PC. We discussed everything with each other, sharing our thoughts and hopes about the game.
Here are some more pictures from the show floor:
But it didn't end there: Michael also joined me as I wore my journalist hat. He and I both asked questions to Luke Smith, the director for 'Destiny 2,' during our interview (which you can read right here). With Michael's presence, it felt less like an interview and more like a lively discussion between three guys who really love 'Destiny' -- and as a result, I got much more out of it, both personally and professionally.
Michael's presence was also enormously helpful when chatting with Michael Salvatori, the composer of the music in 'Destiny' and 'Destiny 2,' and several other game streamers and YouTube personalities we met at the event, who were all tremendously friendly. Michael even filmed my interview with Ana De Armas, the actress starring in this year's 'Blade Runner 2049,' who was also in attendance.
In all, Michael and I spent nine hours at the event, playing the new game, chatting with the folks at Bungie and Activision, and meeting all the various people in attendance.
But the 'Destiny' discussion didn't stop when we left the event: We talked about it incessantly during our ride back to his house, and the rest of the night. We even re-watched those videos that played at the presentation back at his apartment, just to soak it all in again.
I left Los Angeles the next day to go back home, but we kept texting about 'Destiny' while I waited at LAX for my flight. And I know we'll keep talking about the game until it launches on September 8, and even more so after.
I'm sure 'Destiny 2' will be terrific: It's everything that was great about that first game, plus some additions that were sorely missing. I'm truly excited for the game to launch, but the 'Destiny 2' gameplay event in Los Angeles was, in many ways, more valuable to me. It gave me a precious memory with my brother I'll never forget.