The sweet sorrow of leaving your old loot behind for Destiny: The Taken King

For an entire legion of gamers, Destiny is their first true MMO love. Bungie's dippy 'shared-world shooter' nomenclature be damned. The addictive nature of fighting for, finally attaining, and subsequently flaunting rare weapons and armor is a relatively new sensation for many players who are on the quest to deck out their Guardian(s) in only the finest gear that the universe has to offer. To all you starry-eyed Destiny devotees eagerly awaiting The Taken King, which heralds 'Year Two' of Bungie's decade-long ambitions, I have a warning: steel thyself. You're about to be struck by an existential crisis, and you can't prevent it - you can only accept it and try to cope.

No, this isn't the part where I reveal that you've been a robot with artificial memories all along, and you now have to decide whether or not you can continue living a human existence. It's relatively minor, by comparison: the creeping sense of emptiness that befalls dedicated players whenever an MMO is graced with an expansion on the scale of TTK. You might not even notice it at first, amid all the excitement for new content, novel enemy types, and unique vistas to explore. But there will come a time on the path to level 40 when you're forced to replace your most prized piece of gear with some run-of-the-mill peashooter that just happens to have better stats. You'll be saying goodbye to weapons like Gjallarhorn, Vex Mythoclast, Thorn, or The Messenger - armaments you fought and farmed for hours to finally acquire, that got you through countless battles, that made every unlocked upgrade feel like a milestone. And you will ask yourself: what was the point of it all? Why did I expend so much effort to attain something that's now functionally useless to me? What... what have I done?

These dour thoughts are totally normal. It's a worry that crosses the mind of any MMO player hardcore enough to conquer raids and take on the most challenging missions in the pursuit of the greatest rewards. It's also necessary: only by parting with your current weapon of choice will you have the opportunity to discover a new, even better favorite. And fortunately, a lot of the incoming gear in TTK is genuinely exciting (particularly that spiffy Sleeper Simulant, an unprecedented heavy weapon fusion rifle). Loot systems work on the recurring loop of replacing - and thereby devaluing - your current gear with better, shinier acquisitions, and tossing out the old gear makes way for improved weapon balancing and a fresh metagame. But it can be sobering to see this overhaul happen so plainly and completely during an expansion's first few weeks.

It's the same sensation that loomed over me and millions of others during the launch of World of Warcraft's first expansion, The Burning Crusade. Within an hour of excitedly plowing through a fresh batch of quests, my full suite of Epic armor and weaponry was swiftly replaced by effortless-to-obtain Uncommon items (also disparagingly called Greens) that were nonetheless necessary to my progress. To add insult to injury, these new duds instantly transformed my avatar's look from 'stone-cold raid boss killer' to 'some dingus who just got back from a shopping spree at Clown's Warehouse'. It was something of an epidemic, and it deflated my desire to be a hardcore player - a bold conqueror of all the latest, most demanding content - with the abrupt harshness of a pin poking an e-peen-shaped balloon.

I had an epiphany: my previous accomplishments would be marginalized every time a new expansion was released. That's kind of the point, besides retaining loyal fans and luring in latecomers with what Will Smith might describe as the New Hotness. Expansions are supposed to function like soft resets for the entire game; a playerbase once divided into the haves and the have-nots of high-level gear is forced into a brief equilibrium, where everyone gets a chance to make a fresh start as they dig into all the exciting additions. But it can make you feel like you're trapped on a treadmill in the pursuit of items which are destined to become obsolete (right as you've acquired them, in some unfortunate cases). This realization can obliterate your desire to keep playing; to continue striving for the kind of gear that only the elite few have earned the right to wear. Suddenly, abandoning your quest altogether can feel like the only logical response to the frustration of seeing something you thought was valuable suddenly made meaningless.

But it's not all ashes. You will get through this. Being forced to abandon the rewards for your previous accomplishments may sting, but in the wise words of Semisonic, "every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end". By making the uncomfortable transition to more powerful, less aesthetically pleasing gear lends itself to some important introspection about why you play Destiny. Do you crave a sense of achievement and superiority, or are you just looking to have frivolous fun? There's no wrong answer, but knowing which you prefer is important to getting the most out of each play session.

So chin up. There may be a few dark days during your honeymoon with The Taken King, but if you can push through them, you'll have the peace of mind that you can handle the transition for the many expansions to come. Or hey, maybe they'll convince you that you've gotten your money's worth, and you can comfortably close the curtain on Destiny; that's fine too.