Destiny's Dawning: Big Deals in the Small Details

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The latest event in Destiny, "the Dawning," has brought shiny packages wrapped in gold ribbons to the tower. The holiday celebration is delightfully cliche with its delicate snowflake patterns adorning the now snow covered tower. Eva Levante, the shader merchant is predictably giddy over the festivities and Amanda Halliday has brought the SRL (Sparrow Racing League) back for the duration of the event. As much as I appreciate the adorable festival and the return of the one PVP activity at which I excel, there are a number of permanent changes to the game mechanics and economy of Destiny that are far more exciting for long time players.

First off, let's talk a bit about the return of my single favorite exotic weapon, the Icebreaker. This gun was my best friend throughout the first year of the game and when the light cap increases forced me to leave it behind, I kept it in my vault, hoping that one day I could get it back.

The scuttlebutt from Bungie was that they felt the Icebreaker broke too much of the game by allowing players to find out of the way nooks in which to tuck themselves and whittle away at the enemies with total-or at least near- impunity. The word sent back to the community crying over the loss of their favorite weapon (I do not mean this in jest, I was one of that heartbroken army of guardians) was that they would not bring the weapon back until they found a way to balance the strike activities to deal with the way people played with Icebreaker. They seem to have found this balance in the introduction of strike scoring.

Strike scoring is a new way of creating a somewhat competitive space within the strike playlist. Fireteams are now able to score medals and streaks while participating in strikes. These medals translate into points that culminate in a bronze, silver or gold rating at the end of the strike with deductions taken for going over the 30 minute time limit (there's that Icebreaker balance point for you). To encourage people to embrace the new scoring system, new strike specific bounties have been introduced challenging players to get particular medals or get kills with certain weapons or abilities, much like the existing vanguard and crucible bounties. These bounties can give out high end rewards and give a larger amount of xp and reputation upon completion. As interesting as it seems on its face, the reality of the matter is a bit of a double edged sword.

My experience with the new strike scoring system has been fairly positive, if a little frustrating at times. With everyone competing for the same streaks and kills, it can be difficult to manage a team of random players. There are only so many enemies, and it can be really frustrating to be only one or two kills away from a streak only to have it interrupted by one of your team mates rocket in the middle of the group of enemies you've been shooting. Despite these frustrations, my teams have managed to remain fairly civil.

However, Mike has had a few really terrible experiences in the new strike playlists. He has encountered other players who will not only steal kills to pad their score refuse to revive a downed member of the fireteam so they can farm out more kills towards their bounties. Luckily, Destiny has the handy reporting feature that allowed Mike to swiftly report the players for being unhelpful, but it is a shame that this interesting new dynamic seems to have brought out such behavior. It should not be tolerated no matter the frequency and strikes should always be, at their core, a cooperative effort. I expect a few tweaks to be made to the scoring system if reports of this behavior begin to balloon any more.

A number of the other changes are far more minor; Players now receive a skeleton key (used to unlock chests at the end of strikes for strike specific gear) upon completion of their first Nightfall strike each week and the drop rates of skeleton keys have been adjusted to make them a little more common. Up until this addition, skeleton keys were only dropped by strike bosses and at a pathetically small rate to boot. Players can also now repurchase the class-specific legendary weapons from The Taken King expansion from the gunsmith, Banshee-44.

Among these "smaller" improvements are two that I consider to be a really big deal. The first is that players can (finally) purchase wormspore from the vanguard vendor. I couldn't fathom why we weren't allowed to purchase the crafting material gathered from the Dreadnought area but we could buy the crafting materials gathered from every other patrol zone in the game. Being forced to go back to the Dreadnought to farm the frustratingly sparse pockets of wormspore every few weeks was far from fun and very near to tedium.

The second "big deal to me" change comes to Xur's inventory. For the first time since September of last year we will be able to buy the highly coveted Exotic Shards from him each week. Exotic shards are usually gained by disassembling exotic items and have been one of my greatest points of frustration with Destiny in recent months. They are fraught with issues within the trade economy of the game and are fundamentally flawed as a gateway to players seeking to reach the light cap. A rare resource or crafting item should be just that, rare. But the way that exotic shards have been handled is just downright flippant.

In order to raise the light level of an item, it must be "infused" with the components of a similar item of higher light. Legendary items require glimmer, crafting materials (weapon parts or armor materials), motes of light and legendary marks to infuse. Exotic items are the same but add a required exotic shard to the recipe. This is where I start to have issues with the economy of the infusion system. If we think of this as a crafting recipe, then infusing an exotic item into another exotic shouldn't require an exotic shard. By the same token, infusing an exotic item into a legendary item should leave behind an exotic shard since legendary items don't require exotic shards for infusion.

By not taking into account the specific requirements of infusion, Bungie created an unnecessary scarcity of shards. I feel that the addition of the shards to Xur's weekly inventory is an attempt to smooth this out. I do think that it will help matters quite a bit and may actually manage to make strange coins useful for more than just buying Three of Coins again.

I really haven't talked much about the new activities for the Dawning, and perhaps I'll cover them a bit more after the event has passed. The permanent changes to the game are, in my opinion, far more interesting and I think the list of changes shows that Bungie is still committed to improving and refining the players' experience. That realization is worth far more to me than any fancy little package.