The Shader Problem

Destiny 2 sports a host of quality-of-life improvements, such as the near-elimination of the ‘Orbit’ screen. It’s something of a shock, then, to look at how backwards Bungie’s new approach to the ‘Shader’ system appears to be.

The gist of it is this: shaders that alter the appearance of your armor and weapons are now single-use consumables. Although you can alter individual armor pieces, once you do so… that shader is gone.

You have to find – via the loot system – a new shader. This seems like a surprising choice, until you notice that shaders can be purchased from Tess via Bright Engrams…

Since its inception, Destiny’s Eververse system of microtransactions has been divisive at best. What began as purely cosmetic features – loot boxes similar to those in Overwatch, containing emotes or appearance-altering sets of armor – quickly expanded to include XP boosts, at which point the community began to cry foul.

If XP boosts could be purchased, thereby potentially giving players a way to purchase their way around The Grind, how long would it be before more game-altering bonuses were available or purchase? How slippery was the slope towards pay-to-win?

To put things in context, Destiny 1’s shaders could be earned – through RNG – upon the completion of impressive feats. They were a mark not just of achievement, but of pride – Guardians with complete shader collections (of which I was never one) had put in the work required to earn them. They were the ‘hardcore’ fans that grinded and grinded over the course of a 3-year game to max out those collections, and were proud of what they’d accomplished.

Even more than that, shaders were always funfor everyone, regardless of class or level. The problem was, for those truly invested in Guardian fashion, you couldn’t apply shaders selectively to individual pieces of armor; and until the very end of the game some items didn’t accept shaders at all.

Bungie’s fixed that, which is cause for celebration – and which is also the reason the move towards consumables feels so strange. That it is a money grab seems obvious, and whether Destiny 1 gained any concrete benefits or content due to the presence of microtransactions can be debated ad infinitum. The company line is that the money goes towards new, fresh content; and no, no one’s forcing you to buy the packs, but this particular change comes across about as pleasantly as a slap in the face.

The problem is two-fold: first, it’s another expansion of the Eververse system, which now includes – in addition to shaders – weapon mods available for purchase (to me, that seems a step too far, but we’re not talking about that here). For a game that had a base price of 60$ – and which rose steeply in cost depending on the edition you chose – it’s a head-scratcher that such a basic part of the game is tied to real-world money. Second, and perhaps most disturbingly, shaders are a fun part of the game that players grew used to having at their fingertips over three years of devotion. It’s unsurprising that veteran Guardians are upset.

The fact that it’s one of the largest complaints about the game (so far) says great things about Destiny 2. While I don’t expect Bungie to completely undo the single-use nature of shaders, I am hopeful that they improve the balance of their consumable nature by allowing Guardians to re-purchase discovered shaders.

To put things in context, I’ve been playing Destiny 2 for about ten hours now, and during that time I’ve found exactly two five-piece sets of shaders – one of which was a ‘gift’ from Tess Everis.

While that might seem generous compared to Destiny 1’s shader drop rate, that’s a fair amount of time required to find a consumable. When I consider how massive my Destiny 1 vault was at its peak – requiring constant juggling to fit all of my precious, carefully-rolled guns and armor – I can’t even begin to imagine the daunting task of grinding for individual shader consumables to outfit even ten complete outfits.

I was one of those Guardians who used to change shaders almost every game, depending on my mood.

The apparent expansion of Eververse will, no doubt, continue to be a rousing topic. That Tess and her wares are here to stay is undeniable; as she quips in-game, even an apocalypse couldn’t shut her down.

As in all things, I’ll be very happy to be proven wrong – perhaps Bungie has implemented a system the praises of which I’ll be singing two months from now. However, it’s likely that, for the foreseeable future, my favorite shader to use will be no shader at all.