Destiny King’s Fall: Bungie Taking No Risks With Challenge Mode

Published on: Dec 1, 2015 @ 14:34

With Challenge Mode, Bungie’s Newest Endgame is More Refinement than Refreshment

If you haven’t completed the Warpriest Challenge, we’ve got a quick-and-dirty guide on how to clear it – suffice it to say that it’s very possible many of you did it already without even knowing how.

At any rate, check out our guide for a list of the requirements you have to meet to earn the Challenge Mode rewards, available in both the Normal and Hard King’s Fall Raid.

If you spend any time on the internet, you’ve likely already encountered the blowback Bungie is facing for this underwhelming first week contest. There’s no denying that any competent team of Raid runners, providing they are well-equipped and have tackled the Warpriest before, will have no problem clearing Challenge Mode. The question that must be raised is a predictable one: is this a problem? There are passionate voices on both sides of the debate, and with some reflection, we feel both have some strong arguments. Week 1 Challenge Mode is a mixed bag, and we’ll get straight to it.

What Were They Going For?

This is the first question that has to be addressed. There are only three things that seem to be certain in life: death, taxes, and Bungie being unclear about what its players can expect. Call it teasing, or intrigue, or just plain confusion, but they’ve has always enjoyed shrouding its content in speculative mystery. As it’s always been, this means the players are reduced to guessing what the word “Challenge” means.

 “It’s going to be like Hard Mode on steroids!”

“They’re going to put Nightfall modifiers in the Raid! Burns for each boss!”

These were some of the ideas players had; their vision of what a “Challenge Mode” would be. For the streamers, it was going to represent a paradigm shift into truly a hardcore PvE experience. The waning enthusiasm for Destiny was going to get a shot in the arm, and Bungie would usher in a new standard for Destiny’s shaky endgame tradition.

In retrospect, they were setting themselves up for disappointment.

While the Raid is always initially a playground for the best players, it almost always becomes doable for the rest of the crowd when the strategies are made clear and refined. Hard Mode essentially tries to recreate this experience – though often with diminished results. With the “working backwards” philosophy for the King’s Fall, Hard Mode was predictably much like Normal Mode, with a lot less room for error. This similarity, combined with the reskins of the same loot and stingy RNG, has led to the most recent round of “Destiny’s dead!” from the doom and gloom parade.

With Challenge Mode, Bungie has designed a non-intrusive clause, in a sense, that is meant to supplement what they clearly feel is already a strong experience. If you’re inclined, you and your fireteam can choose to attempt to fulfill a different set of goals for a chance at superior loot. For the players who simply want to play the Raid in the normal fashion, there is nothing that will stop them from doing this.

If the Warpriest is any indication, it seems likely that Bungie has had this vision in mind from the get-go. There may have been some tweaks to the rewards, or fine-tuning of the exact methods by which you can achieve them, but the increased difficulty on a smaller scale is telegraphed cleanly by how Bungie sees a challenge. With the Warpriest, Bungie either anticipated or witnessed certain players being predisposed to taking the Aura routinely, and thus made the challenge to integrate more players into that important role.

This has been a staple of their playbook since the days of VoG Hard; everyone participates, or everyone wipes. Curiously, the “two per totem” strategy that is in place almost already dictates that multiple players take a totem. It’s downright near-impossible to finish the Warpriest in any more than 3 rounds, and it’s highly likely that the brand will appear at 2+ locations, meaning you’ll almost certainly cycle aura takers. This played out predictably today, and the cumulative effect is a community wondering what on earth Bungie thought would be especially challenging about asking its players to beat a boss in the same way they normally do.

Rebranding the Challenge

So, it’s clear that we need to examine Challenge Mode in a different light – or, more accurately, a different “Light.”

warpriest challenge mode emblem

Yes, with Challenge Mode, the 320 Artifact is out there for the taking. A simple Warpriest Hard Mode clear will give you a maximum Light Artifact, and a random weapon at 320 Attack. These can obviously be equipped or infused, and there is no chance you’ll get one at 318 or 311. Ironically, the controversy here has obscured the reality that Bungie has just given its players exactly what they were asking for: meaningful rewards that aren’t dictated to a detrimental extent by RNG.

Sure, you might get the Rocket Launcher instead of the Sniper – or your artifact might be INT/DISC instead of INT/STR – but these are endgame-ready pieces of gear in every single way. Presumably, Golgoroth will drop a 320 piece of Armor, and Oryx could drop darn near anything. You also still get the usual rewards! A Hard Mode challenge clear will get you CM loot, HM loot, and NM loot. Everyone is so busy shouting about what a “challenge” is that an obvious positive has taken a backseat.

Of course, this is partially Bungie’s fault. Part of encouraging conspiracy, hype, and speculation is seeing it blow up in your face when your customers have talked themselves into something that doesn’t come to fruition. Had Bungie done a little course-correcting early with comments to the effect of, “We hear your frustrations about RNG, and Challenge Mode will address rewards in a way that is accessible and available to all players, regardless of skill,” you can bet the conversation we’d be having now would be colored differently.

The Problem with Playing it Safe

Challenge Mode, by itself, is almost an unqualified good. You do something different, and you get something extra for your effort. Very few people would argue that this reward model is somehow unfair or unsatisfying. The issues arise when you consider what it replaces.

Ostensibly, this is the endgame for a long time to come. Bungie has said very little to suggest there is any other significant installment of endgame content coming anytime soon, but will there be? Who knows. The consternation of the streamers and more hardcore players is understandable.

Hard Mode has been conquered, dismantled, and is old hat. Challenge Mode was the last, best chance for Destiny to distinguish its endgame. We still have another two installments to look forward to, but the Warpriest has not been a promising start on the imaginative front. Bungie could have done so much more with even this simple fight. We’re not just talking about making it harder to give the best players their true test, but in innovating and shedding some of their bad habits.

For one, it’s a little perplexing that Challenge Mode isn’t its own playlist. The Raid could be functionally identical save for the Warpriest, and we still believe it’d be worth it to segregate it from the core experience. This would allow Bungie to take greater risks and go all out on the creative front. We can only assume that by allowing the encounter to still be completed normally, even when Challenge Mode is active, it was Bungie’s intention to keep King’s Fall palatable to those uninterested in the challenge. But this could have been done with a separate playlist. It might have felt redundant or clunky from a UI perspective, but its functionality would go a long way.

And, frankly, the Warpriest needs more than a shifting Aura requirement. Bungie has a staff of some of the best minds in gaming, and they have to have some idea with respect to what gets a playerbase excited. It’s time to go new. Time trials, brand new modifiers, extra mechanics, cycling curse debuffs, random totem effects, new enemies – the list of possibles is almost endless.

warpriest king's fall lore

They had a real chance to make Challenge Mode memorable, and they instead opted to play it safe. There’s no question that it’s tough to balance the difficulty of introducing a new fight, but that should be something that invigorates a development team, not puts them off of going big entirely. We’ve seen the argument against permadeath resurface with fervor recently; why not scrap this entirely for HM Challenge Mode? Throw everything you’ve got at the player, but let them revive away – timer or no timer. Maybe slap a stacking debuff for every death. Incentivize doing it right and clean, but don’t preclude a clutch, dirty victory. These are the things that make for great stories.

The back-and-forth between the hardcores and the casuals ignores the real problem: this week’s Challenge Mode is just boring. The Raid shouldn’t just be a bar by which you measure your talent, it should be fun. Complaints about easiness tend to go by the wayside when the actual, visceral experience of playing the content excites and inspires you.

With all of this wishing and wanting, we do want to stress that we’re well aware we’ve only seen 1/3rd of what Challenge Mode has to offer. Golgoroth and Oryx could still blow us out of the water, and we really hope that they do. But our criticisms of the Warpriest Challenge Mode still stand.

In the Long Run

With Challenge Mode in its current state, the longevity of Destiny is once again in question. The great rewards are only compelling insofar as they entice the players to…keep tackling the Raid they got them from. If Challenge Mode felt wholly new (no matter what the difficulty), players would certainly be more likely to grind for the chance to conquer it again and again.

As it stands, after the influx of 320 gear leads the arbitrary quest for Light to reach its natural terminus, Bungie will have to own the fact that their content will have to survive on the merits of its actual play appeal. If they feel Challenge Mode is a worthy and fun endgame, then they have nothing to worry about; if not, then they’re going to have to come up with something else.

Hopefully they’re thinking about how to embrace their inner MMO and make Destiny’s endgame something special.

Until then, Challenge Mode is what it is. We’ll hold off on the pitchforks until we’ve seen what Golgoroth and Oryx have to offer us. The CM Warpriest may not have been the unqualified success we had hoped for, but the rewards go a long way to make up for it. Get in there and enjoy your well-earned loot, and we’ll see what Bungie has in store in the weeks to come!

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.