Bungie’s Year 1 Exotic Problem

Published on: Aug 21, 2015 @ 21:50

Bungie has a problem, and it’s one of their own design: Exotics. The fascinating, unique, and powerful tools of devastation cut a fine figure when placed alongside Destiny’s numerous – but often similar – Legendaries. The pursuit and subsequent collection of these unique weapons has been a strong motivating factor for many Guardians to continue their journey.

Leading the (wolf) pack, is Gjallarhorn, a beautiful and strong rocket launcher that has a tendency to initiate conversations of balance and RNG.

As information for the Taken King has steadily rolled out via Game Informer and Bungie’s own Twitch reveal, we’ve received some news about our treasures: not all of them will be coming with us. Sure, you’ll have access to your Year 1 Exotics & they’ll be 100% useful in Y1 content, but they’re slated to be sunsetted out of the min/max spotlight; their respective Attack values will be effectively frozen in time.

“Frozen in Time”

Where have we heard that before? This of course hearkens back to The Dark Below and the introduction of Exotic Shards. In the past, we’ve discussed the issues with Bungie’s design moves in this phase, so we won’t rehash them in great detail here, but suffice it to say that there was more than an undercurrent of displeasure within the community. With little space to put everything, and fresh 331 weapons just around the corner, many Guardians were forced to abandon their favorite gear to accommodate new ones.

Bungie sympathized, and acquiesced to some demands with the creation of a system in which old Exotics were made relevant. You could pay a small fee of Strange Coins for an Exotic Shard, which would bring your gun or piece of armor to 331 Attack, or 36 Light, respectively. Bungie’s statements at the time suggested that they saw Exotics as something that should always be moving forward. With balances that made older ones relevant once more, and the Exotic Shard system, Exotics were spared the lash of Vault space constraints.

House of Wolves took everything a step further, giving players essentially everything they had asked for with the introduction of Ascension. Now, any weapon you still had could be brought up to max damage. Exotics could be Ascended as well for the price of an Exotic Shard. As many of us had stockpiles of them, our Exotics were some of the first weapons to get the 365 treatment in the early days of HoW. So, the pattern had been established: you’d wave goodbye (however reluctantly) to a few more Legendaries with every expansion, but your Exotics could always be counted on to stick around.

The Taken King

Now, the news that certain Exotics will remain at Y1 power has come on a little quickly. GI’s reveal, and Bungie’s subsequent explanation of the still-a-little-bit-confusing Light revamp has thrown our understanding of outgoing and incoming damage for a loop. Attack and Defense have been re-tooled to have equivalent values on pieces of gear of similar quality; a 170 Attack gun is likely just as rare and useful as a 170 Armor pair of gauntlets. ATK & DEF are averaged to create the new “Light” score, which is a representation of your efficacy in combat.

light level taken king

If most of your equipped gear is at the same value, your Light will be around there too. If one piece of gear is significantly lower, expect a more significant dip in Light. Some activities not only require you to be a certain XP level, but also a certain Light level.

Bungie also revealed several new designs for some classic Exotic items, such as the Light Beyond Nemesis getting a couple of new perks and different stats, and the SUROS Regime is getting a grab-bag of new tricks that seem likely to make it relevant once again. In the Blueprints Kiosk, we were treated to shots of some old favorites in the “Year 2” section, suggesting that there are several more weapons and armor that Bungie had new ideas for.

So how do our Year 1 Exotics factor in here? Well, any Exotic that will not be redesigned with an “upgrade” for Year 2 will be stuck at 170 Attack for the foreseeable future, though not necessarily forever.

The following Y1 Exotics are confirmed to be updated with Y2 ATK/DEF, but this is not all of them:

  • SUROS Regime
  • Bad Juju
  • Monte Carlo
  • Last Word
  • Hawkmoon
  • Red Death
  • Truth
  • Invective
  • The 4th Horseman
  • Thunderlord
  • Light Beyond Nemesis
  • Obsidian Mind
  • Voidfang Vestments
  • No Back Up Plans

Unfortunately, this list was not assembled and released transparently by Bungie, but cobbled together from opportunistic screenshots from the stream. This has been a pattern with controversies in the past, where a (perhaps intentional) failure to communicate clearly has led to sources other than Bungie confirming bad news.

In the most recent Weekly Update, Bungie thankfully shed some light on a few topics – most notably Blueprints. However, they did not discuss, even in brief, how they selected which Exotics to upgrade, or what the selection process for any future upgrades will entail. Gjallarhorn, having only been sold twice, and already first in line for the nerf hammer in 2.0, already has an expiration date.

Whiplash

Much of the summer has been spent wondering why Bungie has failed to address balance in their PvP and PvE metagames. The House of Wolves, while representing a step up since The Dark Below, has grown stagnant as the same overpowered weapons permeate the Crucible, and Ascended VoG weapons almost unequivocally represent the best options available for PvE. The announcement of a bevy of changes coming with balance patch 2.0 heartened the community greatly, but that enthusiasm became muted as we learned we’d have to wait until September to see it. Still, this patch release plan had the intended effect of propping up The Taken King as a messianic expansion, that would revitalize balance while simultaneously introducing a host of fun new content.

taken king year 1 exotics

Now what do we learn? Well, Exotics that have been laughably outclassed, such as the Necrochasm, are going to be getting some quality buffs in 2.0 to make them relevant again. The only problem is, most of them aren’t going to be receiving the Y2 firmware update to keep them as the top-tier options that they should be. A weapon like the Necrochasm, designed as the ultimate prize for any Guardian who tackled Crota’s End – for players who defeated the Big Bad himself, time and time again in an overleveled, often buggy Raid – will only be at its peak for a measly week before it is once again relegated to the sidelines.

Making The Most Of It

The questions above deserve answers, make no mistake. Bungie is not going to build goodwill by hyping everything that’s coming up while dancing around the issues that plague Destiny in the present. We have ten years of Destiny, its expansions, and future installments to look forward to, and it will be detrimental to the franchise if Bungie is unable to keep up with maintenance while fighting their own release schedule.

With all of that said, there is some speculation that the practical effects of Y1 Exotics staying locked at 170 Attack may be determined in a different way than what we’ve come to expect.

In the past, a weapon with 330 attack, all things being equal, was 10% stronger than its counterpart at 300. If this was the case with The Taken King, a weapon at 280 Attack would be 61% stronger than one with 170. For any player who wants to equip the best gear, this deficit would be unacceptable in any Y2 content. No one is going to equip an Exotic that is 61% weaker just because of some nostalgic sense of attachment.

Let’s talk worst-case, yet most likely scenario, first. Bungie has stated that Year 1 Exotics will perform “as you expect them to” to Year 1 content, but Destiny does not have a history of making Year 1 content particularly enticing when a new expansion comes out. Did some of us go back in to play the Vault of Glass when The Dark Below arrived? Absolutely. But why did we do that? It was to collect the Exotics we were missing, or to land that rare and powerful VoG elemental primary that we could Ascend; we were filling in the collection gaps.

Without Ascension, and leaving Y1 raid gear behind, the Y1 content will be less useful. This is fine; video games in general don’t have to constantly keep all the old content relevant. But then it’s a little bit of a stretch to call Y1 Exotics performing in Y1 content much of an upside at all. So, if it turns out that Light is simply a representation of your strength, and your damage still comes solely from your Attack value, then the only place in which you can use your Exotics and expect success is level 34 content and most Crucible. If The Taken King can find a way to creatively incentivize replaying these, you’ll at least be able to fondly revisit your Y1 Exotics if you so choose.

taken king light average

Now, there’s another possibility too. It’s also possible that Light will not simply be a convenient figure by which you can measure your strength, but an actual statistic that actively impacts your play. If this was the case, Y1 Exotics being stuck at 170 would be a nuisance, but not one that would preclude their usage in a lot of TTK content. We want to again stress that this is purely theoretical, but let’s look at the numbers regardless. Let’s say you have seven pieces of 280 gear: a helmet, gauntlets, chest armor, greaves, a primary, special, and secondary weapon. Using simple math, we know the average of these to be 280 – which would be your Light score. Now, let’s replace one of these – say, a primary weapon – with 170 ATK. The average Light score is now 264, give or take. 264 is only 6% less than 280. If Light, and not Attack, is the new modifier by which outgoing damage is determined, then this model would be infinitely preferable for those interested in using Y1 Exotics. In fact, it would represent a smaller damage shift than that of Vanilla’s 300 to the Dark Below’s  330. This is the best-case scenario, as far as our discussion about Exotics is concerned.

Of course, it’s possible that the reality is somewhere in between – that Attack is the primary driving force behind outgoing damage, and Light perhaps plays a small role in buffing it. Unfortunately, without Bungie’s clarification on the issue, we’re reduced to speculating. While we would dearly love to believe that the second explanation is true, our gut says that your weapon’s damage will still be determined primarily – if not exclusively – by its Attack. It would simply be counter-intuitive to believe that a pathetic common-quality gun from the original Destiny could deal damage on par with, or greater than, some of House of Wolves’ strongest, simply because the gear surrounding it is amazing.

Holding Our Breath

So, if the simplest explanation is indeed the correct one – as William of Ockham would have us believe – then it’s safe to say that our fears are founded well and truly.  Destiny has long been a game in which its not only imprudent, but also downright dumb to equip anything less than the best tool for a job. With encounters and bosses in their current state, you’re handicapping yourself unnecessarily to use something “fun” but underpowered, if your goal is to conquer the most difficult quests and raids. “King’s Fall” is going to tax Guardians’ abilities and gear – Destiny’s Raids always do – and there’ll be no place for a 170 weapon in such an activity.

To this end, if you’re hugging your favorite Exotic, crossing your fingers that it might one day be graced with the Bungie Upgrade, then you’re actually doing the only thing you can do. This is a problem. Bungie has indicated that not all Exotics will carry forward into The Taken King with a Y2 upgrade, but also hasn’t ruled out that more won’t receive a ‘redesign’ in the future.

They’ve got us holding our breath again. Is this their plan? Will they allow even more Y1 Exotics to be brought forward in future expansions?

By the time Bungie puts everything they forecast into play, the game has evolved or is about to change in some way so as to slightly reduce the positive impact of the patch. We’re seeing what it looks like when a patch gets pushed back so far that the bird in the hand is no longer worth the two in the bush. Without even having tasted the new buffs, Guardians are already lamenting the loss of Necrochasm. It seems silly, but that sense of uncertainty really does wear on you over time. Things often turn out much better than the community anticipates, but surely Bungie would love to remove that cynicism outright? The only way it’s possible is with clear and open communication.

Looking Ahead

The Taken King will be here in less than a month, and if what we’ve heard is even half-true, there’s going to be enough new and great things to dwarf our gripes at this moment. It’s a shame that not all of our Exotics can be counted among them. It’s a bigger shame that it’s going to be a surprise what ones are going to be held back.

sleeper simulant exotic heavy fusion

We’re all for Bungie making the tough decisions to cultivate variety in The Taken King, but as usual, we’ve got an expansion around the corner, and a controversy about old gear to accompany it. If anything should be patched, it’s this.

PlanetDestiny will never leave you behind 🙂
Joel

I’m aWrySharK, your resident Exotic guru and lover of all things min/max. At PlanetDestiny, my perfectionism is no longer simply a matter of form over function.

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