Destiny is to learn how to adapt the weapon balance
Destiny’s ultimate goal is to be a changing, expanding world that evolves over time, but for many fans, it’s not changing nearly fast enough. I’m not talking about the pace at which new content is added. With two or three major pieces of DLC a year, plus rotating special events, there’s actually quite a lot of that. Rather, one of Destiny’s longest running problems is Bungie’s inability to effectively address existing balance issues within the game at any given moment.
Back in February, there was a gun that was a bit of a problem in Destiny, the SUROS Regime. The Exotic Auto Rifle was all the rage in the Crucible, a gun that did more damage when the sight was used and healed you with some of its bullets. It was a must-have for any top player, and those that didn’t own it were using Auto Rifles that at least felt somewhat the same. Get a better gun, you can choose destiny power leveling.
The result? Bungie stepped in. Auto Rifles had their damage nerfed by 2.5%.
It’s a seemingly small change, but instantly put the entire weapon class at the bottom of the four major categories which include Pulse Rifles, Scout Rifles and Hand Cannons. It’s fixed firmly in last place while since February a new “meta-game” has formed around other very specific weapons.
Destiny players know the new culprits. Like SUROS before them, the dual handcannons of Thorn and The Last Word are currently the most effective two options for any serious Crucible player either in the base mode, Iron Banner or the uber-competitive Trials of Osiris. Thorn has exceptional range and poison bullets that kill without an actual killing blow and requires you to be something of a PvP expert to even acquire it in the first place. The Last Word has an insane fire rate and range far better than its stat bars suggest.
Elsewhere, Shotguns have become the only effective secondary weapon outside of sprawling Sniper maps. New types have absolutely incredible range and one-hit kill potential, and certain classes can fly around the map using almost nothing but certain shotguns like Felwinter’s Lie and the Matador. The problem here isn’t necessarily with Shotguns as a whole, but only specific perks that extend their range beyond a logical degree.
The result of all this? The Crucible and all its sub-modes have grown stale. Any player wanting to be as competitive as possible will use some variation of this loadout. Any player without it, either because they don’t own the right weapons, or they’d just rather use something else, is at a significant disadvantage before the match even starts.
This shouldn’t be such a problem. Competitive FPS games have balance issues all the time, and are constantly tweaking stats in order to compensate when it looks like one gun or strategy is dominant. But the strange part is here that Bungie seems content letting these issues linger not just for weeks, but months. This new Hand Cannon/Shotgun meta-game formed shortly after the Auto Rifle nerf in February. Bungie’s Weekly Updates since have mentioned nothing about a hard date for revisiting weapon balance, and when I asked them in person during my House of Wolves preview at their HQ, their response was simply “we’re looking at it.” Last we heard, they’re still going to be “looking at it” between now and the release of The Taken King in September. That could mean two more months of dramatic unbalance and stale matches.
To see an issue this obvious and let it linger from February to July or February to September shows that Bungie might be focusing too much on the future, and not enough about the issues that face the game at the present moment. They seem overly concerned with the implications of nerfs or buffs, determined not to roll any out until…when exactly? Six full months of testing is complete?
That isn’t, and shouldn’t be how weapon balance works. See that Thorn is overpowered after its last buff? Knock its effective range down 15% in the next patch or two and see what happens. See that Auto Rifles are now being chucked in the trash? Try making that 2.5% nerf 1.5% instead and see if that helps.
Bungie isn’t used to having to balance weapons like this, as Halo was a much different animal than Destiny. For Halo multiplayer, there were only 8-12 or so weapons total in any given game, and not infinite variations on each weapon class. While sometimes Battle Rifles had to be nerfed or Assault Rifles had to be buffed, it was a lot quicker and more painless to do so as there wasn’t the entire wide world of Destiny to think about. Here, Destiny has waded into quicksand by allowing so much weapon diversity that it can almost never really be balanced. But still, all that means is that they have to try twice as hard.
Even in PvE, Bungie’s fear of nerfs and buffs has dramatically impacted the larger game. I do not believe it was ever Bungie’s intention to have a weapon like the Gjallarhorn rocket launcher be the end-all, be-all holy grail of the game, twice as powerful as the next best weapon. By not nerfing Gjallarhorn back when it revealed itself to be dramatically overpowered, they mythologized it to the point where practically the goal of the entire game is to get your hands on the weapon. The result has made many “high level” strategies for the hardest PvE modes rely around having a max damage Gjallarhorn, and in Destiny’s third party group-finding sights, the weapon is often listed as a must-have to even join a team.
This isn’t right. When you Bungie sees a weapon that’s a magic bullet for every problem, Gjallarhorn in PvE, Thorn in PvP, it’s their responsibility to step in. But by employing this hands-off approach for months on end, all Bungie is doingis frustrating players that don’t have these clearly overpowered weapons, and upsetting those that have been using them for eons when the inevitable nerf finally does come. These problems have to be addressed much, much more quickly.
A lot of the problem here comes from Destiny’s decision to merge church and state when it comes to PvP and PvE, something few games have ever done. Almost universally, you can use any piece of equipment or weapon in either mode, which creates obvious problems. A nerf or buff aimed at one mode will obviously not have the same impact in the other. When Auto Rifles were nerfed because they were taking over PvP, they became dramatically less useful in PvE as well.
Arguably, one of the best balance changes Destiny has ever made is when they finally did build a wall between PvP and PvE by decreeing that going forward the Shotgun would simply do twice as much damage to AI enemies than to Guardians in the Crucible. Because that wall was built, for the first time, Shotguns became useful in a mode outside of PvP. The game became a lot more fun.
Now, the fear is new nerfs and buffs could create the same problems all over again for a new, long stretch of time. It’s entirely possible because of the sins of Thorn and The Last Word, Hand Cannons as a whole could be nerfed, as happened with SUROS and Auto Rifles months ago. And furthermore, both of those guns are perfectly fun to use as is in PvE right now, even if they’re not most player’s first choices. Nerfing them specifically would further reduce their viability in a mode where no one is complaining about their functionality.
The problem is two-fold. Bungie is waiting too long to implement new weapon nerfs and buffs which causes some weapons to reach undeserved legendary status and others to often literally be discarded before they can prove useful. Secondly, PvP and PvE are such dramatically different modes that the same rules simply cannot apply to both of them when many of these changes are implemented. Even if it’s double the work, we need Crucible-specific changes to remain in the Crucible and not spread to PvE content where overpowered weapons (other than the Gjallarhorn) are less of a constant problem.
If anything, we need more Gjallarhorn-type weapons that are true game-changers in PvE. One of the best suggestions I’ve heard from the community lately is a new tier of “Forbidden Weapons” that aren’t allowed in the Crucible. As such, they could have powers that go above and beyond what would be “balanced” in PvP, blinding Pulse Rifles, chain-lightening Snipers and so on. This is an issue I’ve highlighted since launch, as because Destiny is constant trying to not completely tank PvP, that places a hard, hard limit on how crazy modifiers can get in PvE content.
At this point, nerfing the Gjallarhorn seems logical, but it would be a lot more fun if simply more godly PvE weapons were created to match it. Nerfing and buffing everything to level out in PvP is needed as well, but the better solution is to restrict that mode to be a much more level playing field, possibly one free from Exotics period.