Destiny: Armour building foundations for head-scratchers

What to do when not all armour pieces are the same, not even the same ones? It’s time to sort this whole business of balancing bonus attributes and cherry-picking the best perks.

First of all, here’s a recap for those of us that do know and a primer for those you that still do not: when it comes to armour drops, and items sold by Xur, their attributes and in many cases perks vary enough to be of significance. Destiny power leveling make upgrade more easy. You may have received ‘a’ helm from defeating Crota, but this may not be ‘the’ helm with the perk you’re longing for unless you smashed him on Hard. You may own the exotic bucket Knucklehead Radar, but wait before ditching it because the newer one could boost your Strength stats by a further 35 points or more. It could also be less. But at least you checked.

Armour building foundations for head-scratchers

Now, a disclaimer. We are not in possession of a list that details every single armour permutation in Destiny. We can, however, assume from our own experience that there are six basic variations for pieces obtained from RNG drops such as raid checkpoints and strikes.

These are: 100% Strength, Discipline or Intellect; Strength + Discipline/Intellect; and Discipline + Intellect.

Depending on your play style, the benefits of stacking each attribute will be more or less relevant. These also impact the usefulness of many character subclass set-ups, such as grenade-oriented perks paired with higher Discipline values. This, in itself, is enough to worry about.

In addition, however, Destiny armour can have perks similar to the rolls affecting weapon performance. A quick glance might show negligible difference between performance attributes to the piece you already own, but on Rare and Legendary gear some perks may be more to your liking.

For example, our equipped Warlock’s Kellbreaker’s Gloves generate Orbs when killing Fallen with precision hits. Even though the Strength rating is higher on the spares we recently acquired, they generate Orbs after killing Fallen with melee attacks. This isn’t helpful for Intellect/Discipline oriented set-ups.

It’s not just play-style up for consideration either, but weapon ammo too. We own a pair of Titan Willbreaker’s Resolve chest pieces that are frankly frustrating because the 100% Discipline option boosts ammo for Auto Rifles and Shotgun, while the more balanced Discipline/Strength alternative carries more for Hand Cannon and Fusion Rifles. We’d keep both because Abyss Defiant and Swordbreaker are great tools for the later stages of CE, while Fatebringer or Vex are so useful earlier on in the Raid.

However, as every Destiny player knows, there’s no room for such luxury. Like, literally. There aren’t enough armour slots to carry all this stuff around.

A taste of the exotic

By accident or (let’s give the benefit of the doubt) design, Bungie has engineered a situation in Destiny whereby Vault space alone is starting to limit your wardrobe. Anyone running three high-level Guardians will be uncomfortably familiar with this state of affairs – there’s simply not enough room to hold onto every armour piece that comes your way.

So what will you keep? And why?

Raid armour for the Vault of Glass only varies across ammo perks, plus the type and potency of any Strength/Discipline/Intellect attributes. It’s straightforward to assemble kit with attributes balanced in your favour. The age-old torment with the Vault is that you’ll only acquire the helmet after killing Atheon on hard. It doesn’t drop often, and you can be waiting forever to get the ideal example. Our advice is to keep everything other than the helm as balanced as possible, since an exotic lid is more than likely going to be the main option regardless.

Optimizing armour from Crota’s End is more of a grind, particularly while hoping for the Infusion helmet perk that replenishes health each time you pick up an Orb of Light.

Also, you’ll be wanting Hive Striker or Breaker on gloves creating Orbs of Light upon killing Hive with melee or critical hits. For this reason, your attributes may not be ideally balanced for a while since such qualities are worth chasing more than boosts to ability recharge speeds. The drops are much more plentiful during this Raid compared to the Vault of Glass, however, no doubt owing to the increased permutations.

When factoring in exotics, the decisions are based on which Raid armour perks you can live without. After a while, an experienced team isn’t going to be so fussed about reload speed while Oversoul’s Gaze is active, so chest armour with Moment of Speed can be exchanged for, say, a Hunter’s Crest of Alpha Lupi that generates more Orbs from Super kills (especially handy for Hard Mode).

Choice pickings from Trials of Osiris, Iron Banner

Helmets and gloves gained from the Iron Banner and Trials are worth considering for performance enhancing perks that benefit PvE as much as PvP.

You may land a helmet with the Infusion perk, for example, alleviating the pain of the Crota’s End grind. Also, for killing Crota, there are melee-enhancing perks across all three classes, enabling two-sword take downs of Crota at the end.

Otherwise the perks are obviously more PvP oriented, granting faster reload speeds on preferred weapon types and longer grenade throws for flushing-out tactics. Super usage tends to come to the fore in all PvP modes, so guardians will most likely invest in Intellect at the expense of Discipline or Strength, depending on whether you prefer the proximity attacks of shotguns and melee or ranged hits from sniper rifles and grenades.

Etheric Light to the rescue

Something that’s heartening to know while piecing together your ultimate kitbags for PvE and PvP is that Etheric Light, that ascends Legendary armour and weapons to max House of Wolves potential, also boosts Strength/Discipline/Intellect attributes on older armour. It’s not a huge amount (we noticed just seven points per category on our Warlock Vault of Glass collection) but if you’re not running sword on Crota and only concerned with heavy ammo capacity, the VoG boots are great.

Equally, in relation to the PvP comments above, an ascended Iron Regalia helm can be awesome.

I am Level 34. I feel badass. Don’t tell me I’m not.

Right now in Destiny, a Guardian that has reached the soft level cap of 20 can attain the max rating of 34 inside a few weeks without sweating too much. This is especially true when you’re boosting an alternative character, regardless of class. Since Destiny Expansion II: The House of Wolves, the arrival of Variks in the Reef guarantees one piece of light level 42 per week, per character. If you’re able to run a level 32 Prison of Elders arena this drops an Armour Core to exchange for Variks’ Kell Armour, and this Armour Core can be used by any of your Guardians. Even complete newcomers can aim for this in a short space of time by running Vanguard activities such as strikes and dailies. Upon gaining enough reputation for Vanguard Level 2, you simply buy level 32 gauntlets, chest and leg armour.

You may have noticed, and we hate to break it to anyone happily parading silly Strength stats, that Variks’ gear is a brilliant example of how Bungie is keeping us all glued to the grind by switching up the Kell armour attributes each week. Also – and you can hear the Vault creaking in anticipation – there’s the promise of armour sets that are specific to activities in the same way Kell armour accelerates recovery speed and puts a spring in your step.

And that’s before we even get on to the subject of a whole new era of Raid armour required to face Oryx The Taken King.

You armour choices in Destiny depend dramatically on situation, of which there are many. Seriously serious Bungie: more vault space!

Destiny share the 9 worst ways exploits its players

Since its release, Destiny has been engaged in a bizarre game of tug of war with the people that play it. Bungie’s very ambitious shared-world shooter (basically: MMO) is unlike anything else on the market today, and with that innovation comes a whole lot of bugs, glitches, and unbalanced situations.

In the modern era of game development, a game is never truly “done.” The ability to patch games on the fly has led us into a potentially inescapable cycle of fixes, updates, and brand new bugs. The biggest problem is that Bungie’s approach towards dealing with these issues has been uneven, to put it nicely. The company has a vision for the game that seems to revolve around squeezing money out through regular expansions that keep players locked in an endless grind of the reversed missions and similar activities. So, it seems that any fixes that would get in the way of that grind are either not going to happen, or will take way, way too long to happen.

Don’t get us wrong: the game is fun to play. Bungie knows exactly how to make a console first-person shooter feel great. But by insisting on keeping players locked into a flawed system of grind and rewards, they exploit the very gamers that pay their bills. These are the most noticeable ways that flawed system has reared its ugly head since the game’s release — some have been squashed, while others still persist today.

Expansions making equipment useless

Probably the most notorious example of Bungie screwing with players came with the release of the game’s first expansion, The Dark Below. It’s generally standard for expansion packs that weapons get upgraded and numbers go up, and that happened here with max damage and levels rising. One problem, though: your previously earned legendary items couldn’t be brought up to the new level, making all the work you poured into them prior to the release useless. When most MMOs released a new expansion, it makes older gear obsolete, but in Destiny, there isn’t enough in-game content to maintain that type of cycle, so players naturally revolted against this decision, which forced Bungie to rethink the leveling system with the next expansion, House of Wolves.

Now, you can bring any weapon or piece of gear up to the current weapon cap using a certain material. We’re still not sure if they got it right, but time will tell — especially with the major expansion, The Taken King, coming out this September and potentially rehashing all of the same issues.

Grimoire cards

Destiny’s story and narrative have received a lot of well-deserved criticism, but one of the strangest decisions that Bungie made was to take the majority of the game’s admittedly deep, awesome lore and put it on a website. When you play through the campaign and revive Dead Ghosts (collectible items scattered around the environment) or reach a certain number of enemy type kills or kills with various weapons, you get rewarded with cards. Each one has a well-written story containing information about the world, its denizens, and more. To read them, though, you need to exit the game and log on to Bungie’s website or mobile app.

This is so weird and backwards that it boggles the mind. Sometimes we just want to chill out in the Tower and read some lore, and it makes no sense that the game won’t allow us to do it. It’s one thing that Destiny doesn’t really have much story in the campaign to begin with, but to take the remaining shreds and put them on a website is something else.

Heavy ammo bug

Managing death penalties in a game like Destiny is tough. You want respawning to have consequences and mean something, but you also don’t want it to be absurdly punitive. For the longest time, when you croaked in a firefight, one of the consequences was that you lost a percentage of your heavy weapon ammunition. It was a known bug. Heavy weapon synths, a consumable item, let you replenish that ammo, but here’s the rub: if you die after using one, the cool down doesn’t reset. So, players were burning synths, dying, and then losing ammo due to that bug, and having to wait for the synth to cool down before trying again.

Adding insult to injury, Xur — the game’s special weekend vendor — randomly sold heavy ammo synth at the time, but when the bug was at its most prevalent, the vendor mysteriously had the longest heavy ammo drought he ever had. Bungie was aware of the ammo loss on death bug, and aware Xur could have simply sold heavy synths until the bug was fixed, yet Bungie took months to fix the bug and Xur frequently didn’t sell synths in the interim to help ease the blow.

Unskippable cutscenes

We get that the atmosphere and story of Destiny is an important part of Bungie’s game design philosophy, but this is something that we resolved in 2004. There should always be an option to skip a cutscene. Yes, they play during multiplayer missions, but that’s a simple fix: add a voting option to skip it. Being able to skip pre-mission briefings, especially if you’ve heard them a half a dozen times, would also be nice. We get not being able to pass over them the first time, but making them permanently unskippable is a waste of our time in a game type that’s dedicated to wasting our time.

Adding expansion missions to the full game

One of the most bizarrely exploitative aspects of Destiny is the expansion system. The whole point of paying extra for additional content is that it’s supposed to be optional. However, taking inspiration from MMOs means that Bungie has basically made it necessary to shell out extra cash to keep up with the rest of the world. If you didn’t buy the Dark Below expansion and one of its missions was picked as the weekly strike, you couldn’t play it. No soup for you. The weekly mission could’ve substituted one of the disc missions you had access to, but it didn’t. Throw in the upcoming Taken King expansion bundle that basically gives you the base game, the two existing expansions, and new stuff for less than we paid for the base game and expansions alone, and this policy starts to feel pretty screwed up.

Player-to-player trading

Destiny obviously takes a great deal of inspiration from the MMO genre (despite Bungie’s insistence that it’s not an MMO even though it is), but one thing that Bungie seems to have missed is that those games let players do other things besides kill stuff. In a game that already has a fairly borked economy based on random drops, it’s incredibly frustrating to do a raid and get rewarded with a bunch of crap that you can’t use. MMOs handle this by letting players trade items with each other or toss them up on an auction house — it’s a simple system, easy to implement, and it would actually give players more to do in the Tower than hunting for Xur or kicking both balls around. And yet, three expansions in, there’s no sign of trading or player-to-player selling. Bungie is basically saying, “Didn’t get what you want from all that grinding? Grind harder.”

Paid emotes

One of the trickiest balancing acts in a game with a long tail is managing player expectations. You have to give them enough to keep them interested without overburdening your development team. Often studios put out little bits of free content to do that — like emotes, for instance. You see where we’re going with this. Bungie announced that the $80 Collector’s Edition of the upcoming Taken King expansion would come with a trio of class-specific emotes to add to the game’s paltry four. However, that requires you to spend money to buy content you already have. Bungie’s Creative Director Luke Smith made matters worse in an interview and the company eventually backpedaled and decided to sell the new stuff for an additional $20, which is better than $80 for content you already have, but a few emotes and shaders for one-third the price of the entire vanilla game isn’t even a microtransaction — it’s a macrotransaction.

Enemy level cap the players can’t reach

The problem with a skill-based game like Destiny compared to a numbers-based MMO, is that whereas numbers keep everything capped to a limit, it’s tough to cap player skill. Destiny is a skill-based action game, which means even though the damage guns can output are capped to a limit, killed players can shoot faster than enemies, or even dodge enemy fire and literally never take damage. In fact, a very skilled player can pull the weight of six. To counteract this, since the very first DLC, Bungie has made it so enemy levels can reach a number that player levels cannot to ensure a level of difficulty for even the most skilled players.

In Destiny, when an enemy is a higher level, they do more damage and players do less damage, plain and simple. The fact that players cannot reach the enemy level has thus far infuriated the player base, calling out Bungie for lazy design; why not create interesting mechanics rather than just arbitrarily nerfing player damage due to forcing them to be one level below enemies?

Closing the loot cave

We’re not going to argue that the Loot Cave was fun or good — it wasn’t. Lining up with a ton of other players to farm Hive for engrams was the most effortless way to level up your gear and get some loot, though. When Destiny patched out the infinite respawning bug from the location, the way they did it displayed a flagrant disregard for the essential rule of game design: let the players play. Designers can’t — and shouldn’t — control everything the player does, and implying that people were “playing the game wrong” by not grinding missions over and over was simply ludicrous. If you want people to play the story missions, make them more fun, diverse, and challenging. If gamers are happier shooting at a hole than going through your content, you’ve made a mistake.

So those are our picks for the most egregious ways that Destiny exploits its players. Bungie went from one of the best-loved companies in the business to an EA-grade villain with the release of just one game. We’d like to think that the next expansion will make things all better, but isn’t that just what an addict would say?

If Weapons Are Immortal From Destiny

Last week, Bungie generated some inevitable controversy by finally spelling out their plans for Destiny weapon balancing. It included a few known quantities, Auto Rifles need buffs, PvP dominators like Thorn need nerfs, but the proposed patch goes out of its way to cripple other strong weapons like Ice Breaker, Black Hammer, and the game’s Ark of the Covenant, the Gjallarhorn.

The specifics of these individual decisions I’ve already discussed, but the long and short of it is that people are upset that weapons they liked won’t be as strong as they’ve been previously.

But how will they react if someday it happens to all their weapons?

In its first year, Destiny has always had systems in place that allow players to “ascend” their old weapons to new max damage levels. During the first level/damage-cap raise in the Dark Below DLC, it was a convoluted system that involved trading in old exotics for new ones, and spending eons re-leveling them to unlock their new top tier of power. It was one of the biggest missteps of the DLC, and the next time around for The House of Wolves, the system was streamlined. All exotics could be leveled using one or two easily-purchasable shards, and even all old legendaries could now reach new damage max levels using the more rare Etheric Light.

But now as we head into Destiny “year two,” where does it end? Can Bungie keep inventing new ways to continue to make sure old weapons stay relevant? Or will they finally have to draw the line at some point and say “alright guys, it’s a new era, find new weapons and learn to love them instead.”

It’s a more complicated problem than might be initially apparent.

If Weapons Have a Shelf Life

If Bungie lays the hammer down either at the debut of The Taken King (unlikely), or a year later when Destiny 2 inevitably comes out (more likely), that will upset many people. After all, even though Bungie has indicated your specific Guardian can probably transcend multiple games, your character is really a composite of your gear and weapons at any given time. Everything else is just cosmetic.

By introducing a hard cut point where no, you will not be able to keep increasing the damage capacity of old weapons, that will effectively nuke the entire collection of gear players have spent years building. No matter how good your Gjallarhorn or Fatebringer, if they can’t hit the new damage max, they will never be able to compete with new weapons.

In most games, this isn’t an issue. Obviously in other shooters like Call of Duty, Halo, Battlefield, Far Cry etc, the games are self-contained experiences in which you personally are not amassing gear in any meaningful capacity that would need to carry over from one installment to the next. But even with loot-based games where Destiny draws influence, Borderlands and Diablo, there’s no expectation of carryover from one sequel to the next. Or in Diablo’s case, when the level cap was raised in the Reaper of Souls expansion, everyone simply understood that no matter how big and brawny their collection of level 60 legendaries was, now they were going to have to get out there and find a new set at level 70.

But Destiny, as ever, is a unique experience, and one where players seem to be a great deal more attached to specific weapons than pretty much every other game I’ve played. To nerf my beloved Ice Breaker hurts, but to be told I can never use it again? Unconscionable! So the argument here is that if gear is ever left behind, it essentially erases all the hard work Destiny players have put into building their characters, because characters in this game are effectively a compilation of gear, and it forces them to divorce themselves from weapons they have grown to love.

If Weapons Are Immortal

After all that, the obvious solution seems to be to allow Destiny players to hold onto their weapons and let them hit new high watermarks for damage with each new piece of content, potentially even with sequels. No one loses anything, right?

Kind of. But allowing the game to have an eternally widening pool of top-tier weapons is something that can bog it down in the long run. We’ve already seen this in practice with the most recent House of Wolves expansion. Despite two new full endgame modes, one for PvP in Trials of Osiris and PvE’s Prison of Elders, players have been remarkably slow to pick up new “top-tier” weapons in favor of old favorites, with only a few exceptions.

Obviously, I realize there are specific problems with many of Wolves’ weapons including inarguably useless perks (Shank burn!), but the answer here isn’t just “make better weapons and we’ll use them!” In that world, if you allow all guns to be max damage, you constantly have to make better and better weapons to outdo them if you want people to use new things. This is power creep, and can quickly zap all the fun out of a game.

This has been a problem with the recent weapon nerfs. People look at the Gjallarhorn getting its damage cut and say, “just make other stuff as good as Gjallarhorn!” but all that would do is create a wider gap between good items and the mediocre.

Do you see where all this leads? If Destiny continues to allow the ascension of all weapons indefinitely, it’s going to be harder and harder to balance the game with a stupidly wide pool of usable weapons, and will create a situation where players are less inclined to pursue the endgame when they already have their collection of favorite weapons that only need a piece of currency or two to stay relevant whenever new content is released.

So what’s the answer here?

There are a few options I can see working going forward.

First, Bungie could stop allowing the ascension of legendary weapons indefinitely, while continuing to let exotics reach new max damage levels. That would create a much smaller pool max damage weapons to work with, and though a few favorites would be left behind, fans would get to keep their exotic collection functional. Legendary armor is a different story and too much of its own issue to even go into here, as the game desperately needs better endgame armor options.

Alternatively, Bungie could draw a hard line as to when players will simply have to forage in the wild for an entirely new set of gear. It would be painful, but certainly not unprecedented, and might help the overall health of the game. And after all, is it really realistic that you’d be able to keep using an exotic you found in 2014 by the time Destiny 3 rolls around in 2018? I don’t think so, and other than adding nostalgia value, I’m not sure if such a thing would provide an overall benefit to the game.

Or, everything could just be ascended forever and Bungie would have a hell of a challenge on their hands designing weapons that are so mindblowingly awesome that everyone is content shoving their existing arsenal in the vault.

Perhaps there are middlegrounds even between these different ideas (you get to ascend three weapons of your choice per reset? I don’t know), but this is going to be a problem Bungie will run up against probably with a year, and there are no easy answers that will satisfy both fans who love their current loadouts and a game that has to keep feeling fresh by creating new, must-have loot.