My name is Dave, and I cheat at Destiny. There, I said it. But save your pity. Spare me your sympathetic, doe-eyed acceptance, and don’t for a second think about giving me any crap about your pride, my bravery, or how this is the start of a long, hard, but fulfilling road that’s ultimately going to make us all better people. I’m not here for interventions, forgiveness, and teary-eyed self acceptance. I’m not even here for the free doughnuts. I’m here to tell you that cheating at Destiny is big, clever, empowering, and that if you all follow the upcoming lessons carefully, then you too could be a big, super-cool Guardian badass just like me. Sorry, I know that kind of derails the point of the meeting, but really, you people need to stop deluding yourselves. Actually though, I will take a doughnut. Thanks.
Before I go on, let’s clarify exactly the sort of behaviour I’m talking about. ‘Cheesing’, as it’s affectionately known among the cheery denizens of Destiny’s thriving, loot-happy community, is the process of finding and executing desperately non-standard solutions to the game’s toughest challenges. It’s mostly, but not entirely, focused upon the completion of tougher sections of Destiny’s ingenuously brutal Raid missions, and the killing of certain tough bosses. Flavours of cheese vary wildly, from the clean, creamy taste of finding an unintentional safe spot during a hard fight, to the rich, earthy, full-bodied hit of a full-blown, code-manipulating sequence break.
If you don’t play Destiny, or do but are yet to take the dastardly, deceitful plunge, then you’re probably wondering why I do this. Why on Earth would I deliberately cheat my way through some of the stand-out sections of a game I so famously love? That very thinking certainly held me back for a good few months. Destiny’s Raids in particular – the earlier Vault of Glass especially – are constructed of some of the finest, most intricate, most arcanely witty game design I’ve ever been blessed enough to experience. I balked at the thought of glitching through. I saw those who did as subhuman ingrates, ne’erdowell wretches unfit for any fireteam I graced. But I was wrong. Because cheesing, while it must be done selectively, sparingly, and with no small amount of integrity (and never the first time you play through a Raid), only adds to what makes Destiny brilliant.
Take the game’s second Raid, Crota’s End, for example. In contrast to the VoG’s twisting, abstract puzzle-box, it’s a rather blunt affair, a gauntlet of brutal combat challenges modified with all manner of impolite novelty twists. A lengthy, almost pitch-black labyrinth sequence, for instance, which progressively cripples your team’s agility while mobbing you with endless, fast moving, zombie-like Thralls. A grand, multi-stage puzzle fight, requiring a six-player team to man multiple different roles in order to materialise a bridge, not be killed by the mechanisms materialising the bridge, fight off waves of enemies, and gradually ferry the team across, one by one, using a special item that stops the bridge from killing them. And then survive another massive fight. That sort of thing. It’s tough, complex, it’s really, really demanding, and it’s the primary means by which high-level players are rationed higher-level gear drops.
Cheesing it however, delivers a slightly modified experience. That gloom-laden death-warren at the start can be tackled by sending one player out and having them execute a relatively tricky jump from an unintentional platform up to a bit of the later path, which loops back around up above. With the mobs focused on the players left behind, the solo scout can run through the darkness alone and trigger the checkpoint that drops the first set of loot.
The bridge solution? That one is ingenious. A while ago, someone discovered that carrying the Hive sword (the artefact required to cross the bridge safely), bestows massive hang-time when swung in mid-air. With a big enough jump and good enough timing, you can almost fly, making the activation of the bridge a moot point. Bungie apparently fixed that, but by being a bit more careful, you can still do it. Only problem is the enemy who brings the sword usually only appears when the bridge is being been activated, and does so amid waves and waves of Thralls.
So to speed things along, the trick is to stop the game spawning those Thralls. To this end, a bizarrely convenient series of ‘platforms’, sculpted of ridges in the area’s high walls, provides a demanding hidden route up to the very top of the room. With a synchronised jump from the highest point, all players up there can briefly disappear from the registered play area, making the game think they are dead, and stopping the spawning process. From there it’s just a case of jumping down, getting the sword, and helping the player on the other side with the last fight by way of high-powered sniping support. Battle over, bridge open, job done.
At this point, I suspect you might be starting to get a sense of where I’m coming from with my defence of cheesing, even if you’re not fully aware of it. Basically the point is that if you’re thinking ‘That easy cheat of yours sounds complicated as shit, Dave’, then you’re absolutely right. I’ll spare you the stat-noodling nerd-science, but the fact is that each and every one of the techniques I’ve just told you about requires high level meta-strategy, far beyond that demanded by playing ‘properly’. Simply making the short-cutting jump through the dark labyrinth requires a skilled player, ideally with their agility specs set up just right.
And once upon the checkpoint, that player must then, alone, contend with a pretty fierce Ogre battle designed for a full team. Getting through that one requires seriously smart play, making use of the correct character class, with the right sub-class abilities levelled up and configured just so, in order to minimise the massive risk of a full restart. And if you’re really doing it right, you’ll be making use of very specific, high-level weapons and armour that gift almost vital additonal buffs, such as stealth cloaking. If you haven’t faced a Raid-level Ogre, just imagine a walking Howitzer that fires nukes with the speed of a machine gun and has more hit-points than a Sherman tank. You are not dealing with that on your own unless you wring every possible strategic advantage out of the situation, and have a whole team of other players offering on-mic tactical information via the player cam.
Ditto the bridge sequence. With the wrong class, set up in the wrong way, those wall-jumps alone are a nightmare. And without at least a couple of levelled-up Ice Breaker rifles on the team, fire support for the final battle is going to be a case of throwing frozen peas at a rhino.
Done properly, and for the right reasons, cheesing Destiny is no kind of an easy cheat. Rather, it’s actually a deep, involved act of real skill, creative thinking, strategy, co-operation, and character-build finesse. And isn’t that stuff, at the genre’s heart, what great, satisfying MMORPG play is really about?
I genuinely believe that Bungie knows that too, and that’s why, despite the occasional token patching of a glitch or exploit, this stuff remains allowed. Bungie knows what we’re doing here. This is a company that observes and analyses its players’ activities in intimate, granular detail. It knows that we’re cheesing, But it also knows that we’re cheesing in a way that doesn’t ruin the experience it has designed, but rather enriches it, making the many intricate, subtle, powerful tactical tools in the game operate on a much deeper, much smarter, much more satisfying level than they would otherwise. The surface Destiny game is fantastic. The granular, scientific one is even better, and its depths are – at least initially - highlighted nowhere more effectively than in the thoughtful manipulation of a cheese solution.
Don’t think this stuff to be simple, redundant experimentation. Destiny is a game of many plateaus. Each time you think you know everything, a new level of complexity opens up. For me, now 300 hours in, it’s no longer about the external exploration of new planets and new vistas, but about the even more fascinating internal exploration of resonating gameplay mechanics, gear abilities, and meticulously fine-tuning my character like a well-modded car.
I’m discovering hitherto unimagined possibilities and feedback loops in my skill-set. I’m hearing hushed whispers of ways to move faster when scoped than I can when I’m sprinting, while boosting my health regen to nigh-immortal levels. And good, thoughtful cheesing – the technique superficially thought to break the game, and render its challenges shallow and empty – is a powerful means by which to open that door.
They’re not the be-all and end-all of Destiny’s (latest) high-level game, but clever cheese strategies can be a fantastic way of understanding it. They also - by making Raids a more accessible pursuit, requiring neither the marathon running time nor the six-player logistical wrangling intended – give more rapid access to the complex, inventive gear rewards required to start experimenting. And that's all the justification I need.