taken king pve design

Bigger Than Weapon Balance

Published on: Jul 25, 2015 @ 13:42

Destiny: The Taken King will see major changes to several beloved and coveted weapons in our arsenal. For our breakdown and opinion on these changes, click here.

Needless to say, 2.0.0 will be a somewhat divisive patch, and portions of the community have risen up to voice dissent. This article will analyze the issue from both sides and discuss what it means for Destiny’s future.


End of an Age

It happens to everyone. Ages are different, seasons are different, circumstances are different, but make no mistake: there comes a moment when we realize our parents are wrong.

Nothing has changed, we say to ourselves. They’re still the same people with the same issues – but somehow, now that they aren’t so different than you or I, doubt creeps in. Questions we never would have asked suddenly become pressing: Do they care more about their own happiness – their own prosperity – than ours? How do we fit into this equation anymore?

Destiny is at that crossroads. We were given things; things we thought we owned; things we learned to love. Suddenly, our favorite weapons aren’t as secure as we thought, and we’re faced with a chilling thought.

Is Bungie fighting for us or against us?

The answer to that question is complicated. It’s as messy as family – just as frustrating – and it starts by looking at the problem of Destiny’s game balance from two very different perspectives with two different goals. We’ll then turn to how Bungie is handling the issue, both the good and the bad, and finish by asking the true question: is it time to move out and move on, or can the household be saved?


A House Divided

My house, my rules. It’s the unfulfilling end of every argument with our families. Parents use it to shut down their child’s miniature mutiny, and children use it as justification for their boiling rage at unanswered questions.

Both are right. Both are justified in their responses. And that’s because we have fundamentally different motives.

Bungie is motivated by its obligation to players. As the overseer, Bungie is compelled to maintain balance. Without balance, the household is skewed. Players who have Gjallarhorn are ushered into the playroom to fire a barrage of rockets into Skollas’ face, while those without it, rummage through old Exotic chests in bitter defeat as another No Land Beyond falls to the ground.

taken king map balance

Conversely, players are motivated by stability. As children adopted into this family, we need to trust that rules, once created, will be followed. We need to have someone to depend on – not just to make and keep promises, but to hear us when we cry out.

These two motives have come into conflict. Bungie must make changes to maintain balance, but that means betraying our trust – our trust that the weapons and skills we have spent months honing to perfection will be the same the next time we log in.

So we cry out, and Bungie responds with a balance patch. But is their response enough? We turn now to Bungie’s dangerous balancing act, and what it means for us.


Balancing Act

Confession time. When I was told that Gjallarhorn and Black Hammer were getting nerfed, my response was something akin to, “Welp, there goes the neighborhood.”

And not for the reasons you might think.

Both are my go-to weapons, so sure, there’s some sadness at my own imminent loss. Bungie has a huge problem without an easy solution – they have a game that almost requires certain weapons to be successful long-term. Before this patch drops, if you didn’t have one of those sniper rifles, if you didn’t have Gjallarhorn, well… enjoy the uphill climb.

And the question looming over all this? Will patch 2.0.0 even solve anything – or does Bungie have bigger balance problems on its hands?

Let’s look at key elements of the Destiny experience to answer that question:


First things first. If Bungie is nerfing weapons, we need to ask why, and to what extent those changes will fix anything. Is there a problem with the current weapon balance? Hop into any Crucible match and you’ll have your answer to that question. After the 15th slow, humiliating death at the hands of Thorn, you’ll know beyond the shadow of a doubt that there’s trouble in paradise. The numbers don’t lie on this one. Crucible balance is, and has been, broken for long time.

warlock class weapon

Gjallarhorn is far and away the favored rocket launcher. Let’s get real – it may as well be the only rocket launcher, especially if you’re on LFG. Ice Breaker, Blacker Hammer, Gjallarhorn – these weapons vastly outclass others not just in specific scenarios, but in almost all scenarios. That is a problem that needs addressing.

But is a weapon nerf the right solution? What else could be done to help solve the issue? The answer to that question involves looking at balance in a wider context, so we turn to enemy types and ask if the way enemies are designed affect why we choose the weapons we do.

Enemy Types

What do you get when you combine a Phalanx and the Angry modifier? My fist through the television. That’s what you get.

Look, I understand the game is supposed to be difficult. Level 35 Prison of Elders and Weekly Nightfalls aren’t meant to be cakewalks. There are barriers to entry that are necessary both to protect low-level players from hating their lives and to give skilled players a reason to air-punch after tough fights.

But slapping an elemental shield on every mid-tier enemy you toss at us and increasing boss damage resistance so a 10-minute fight takes 30 – that’s just lazy enemy design, and isn’t the right form of difficulty. The term “bullet-sponge” has been tossed about for good reason: there’s really is no better description for the sheer amount of damage you must dish out to dispatch some of these enemies on higher levels.

taken king weapon balance drama

And that’s where the weapons come in! Players are efficient. We learn the family rules quickly, along with ways of circumventing them. Gjallarhorn, Black Hammer, Ice Breaker – these made us feel like we were getting the upper hand. In that sense, it’s not bad that we exploited them – it’s just our way of ensuring we still enjoy living in this household.

Exploitation is the key word here. Bungie should be asking why we as players cherish these powerful weapons, especially in how we navigate the maps they’ve created.

We turn now to consider map design, and what it can teach us about Destiny’s balance.

Map Layout

Bungie loves heat mapping. I swear, you look at their development talks and almost every other slide has one. If you look at heat maps of most PoE arenas – who are we kidding, most maps in general – you’ll notice a lot of heat in the corners.

That’s because we feel a lot like rats on higher difficulties. Ogres lumber towards us with their Thrall scrambling over boulders, so we turn to run and guess who should be flying overhead but another Wizard. Can you blame us from sticking to the corners?

The central problem with map layout is it encourages a herding mentality. Gather the enemies on one side of the map, pray you can go invisible long enough to squeeze through a mob of acolytes and make it to the opposite corner where you can pop off a few sniper shots to clear out one – maybe two – Knights in relative safety until you rinse and repeat. Why do we use the maps this way? Because the enemies require it, and the weapons encourage it. These issues interlock, which calls our attention to the root problem.


Home Under Construction

Balance is not about just one element of game design,  it’s about all of them. You can tell the kids their puppy has to lose a leg to keep the tumor from spreading, but if the dog only gets worse and still dies from cancer two months later, they’re going to have a hard time trusting again. This surgery has to go deeper than just one leg, because the problem is deeper.

Make no mistake, Bungie’s problem is deep. Balance is extremely difficult to get right, precisely because it involves so many moving parts, and Bungie has a momentous task on its hands. But all homes are a little broken. Parents make mistakes, fight to understand their children’s needs, and do their best to heal wounds and bring balance back to the entire household. Children struggle to reconcile that just because choices and rules are flawed, they might be done in the long-term interest of everyone involved.

oryx raid design

Sometimes these choices hurt. No one looks forward to taking out Ice Breaker and waiting 8 seconds for just one more round to polish off Skolas. No one wants that Gjallarhorn they sacrificed months getting to let them down the next time they face Crota. But we also want a family that works. We want a place to call home, and that means we must deal with a little construction.

The question is, will patch 2.0.0 be just the first step in a much larger renovation – one that sees true balance restored to Destiny? I hope so, because despite all the pain, it’s nice to have a family committed to making things better. To making us better.


Your Thoughts?

Of course, we’re just a small part of the Destiny household. We want to know what you think about the changes headed our way. What will be the fallout from these weapon tweaks, and how do you think Bungie needs to respond to make the overall design of Destiny a more balanced experience for everyone?

From the new PvE footage we’ve seen, it looks like more moving parts and challenges will be introduced, and that will help Destiny overcome the overly simplistic Strike design.

Sound off in the comments and let us know your hopes and dreams for the PvE experience!