Bungie Double Dips on Y1 Exotics

Published on: Nov 23, 2015 @ 19:44

It’s no secret that Destiny has struggled with this question and its potential answers since the initial release. The Taken King, while representing the largest influx of content since Destiny first arrived on the scene, is facing discontented grumbles from Guardians who feel they’ve already exhausted the current content, and who are daunted by “the grind” to the point of avoiding Destiny altogether.

Now, Bungie is set to re-release a host of Exotics from Year 1, in the hopes that these will gel well with the upcoming balance patch and entice and inspire Destiny’s players to stick around. With their well-marketed Instagram campaign, there’s no denying that the strategy worked; a simple post about the MIDA Multi-Tool returning garnered over 2000 upvotes on r/DestinyTheGame.

The promise of new perks or a slick aesthetic tune-up are at the front of every Guardian’s mind, and Bungie hopes it will be enough to invigorate a restless playerbase. But there are some problems with this model, quietly intermingling with the obvious benefits. We’ll attempt here to address both the cynicism and the hype, and strike a balance that highlights the tricky tightrope Bungie has to walk to sell these updates as an unmitigated good.

What’s the Big Deal?

It depends on who you ask. Recall that for Guardians who have been with Destiny since the beginning, many or most of these Exotics are not new. It took a while, but Xûr eventually sold every Exotic weapon, and almost every piece of Exotic armor in Year 1. Unless you played infrequently, the likelihood of eventually scoring the gear you wanted (perhaps with the notable exception of Gjallarhorn) in a timely manner via Nightfall, VoG chest, or Xûr, was reasonable.

In the Dark Below, all of these Exotics were upgradeable – albeit for a fee – and House of Wolves opened it up with Ascension and Etheric Light. We’ve discussed the pros and cons of Ascension before, and it is still a point of some contention as to whether or not allowing us to upgrade everything we had was prudent for balance and variety. Regardless, Y1 Exotics have been around and relevant for a long time.

That is, until The Taken King. Bungie made an effort to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch with a new bunch of Exotics and Legendaries. Judging by tdestiny year one exotic dramahe reaction of the community, it worked! The first month of the Taken King was an enjoyable honeymoon of new gear and new PvE and PvP metas. But, as is often the trend in Destiny, it hasn’t stood the test of time. Guardians are growing tired of Xûr’s antics, querying with increasing aggressiveness about certain Exotics being held back.

The points of discontent that were once just whispers have now reached an audible murmur: “Why did they buff X, just to hold its Attack/Armor values back in Year 2?” And almost on cue with the shift in attitude, Bungie introduces a slew of returning Exotics – many of which had received seemingly pointless re-balance in 2.0 only to be left behind. The cynicism makes a little sense, right?

Some of us cleared out Vault space thinking that Blueprints would pose a reasonable cost, and it must be said that Legendary Marks are still hardly an overflowing resource. With at least 15 Exotics being brought back, each costing an Exotic shard, Glimmer, and 150 Legendary Marks, Guardians who are already feeling the resource strain aren’t exactly thrilled. We spent the resources, time, and experience in Y1 to max all these Exotics, but they’ve effectively took them away, only to be dangled in our face a couple of months later.

If you want to play with the Y2 Hard Light, you can’t just trade in your Hard Light 1 and get right out there. You’ve got to buy it, and you’ve got to invest the Motes, Glimmer, and Weapon Parts just to get back to square one!

And this would be an easier pill to swallow if all of these weapons were changed or improved in some way. SUROS Regime got an interesting second perk and paint job, but Bungie had heavily hinted in their pre-TTK streams that many of the Y1 re-releases would receive a similar treatment, and frankly not a lot have.

Bad Juju, Red Death, Hawkmoon, Thunderlord, Truth, Invective, The Last Word, and The 4th Horseman are essentially unchanged. Armor has been much the same story, but there’s much more room for customization. Exotics have been homogenized by RNG apart from an “intrinsic” perk and feel less unique than ever. So what in-game explanation can assuage the distinct fear that these Exotics were simply pulled and reintroduced to lengthen gameplay? As it stands, it feels like something we’ve always had was torn unceremoniously away, only to be reintroduced unchanged but empty of experience.

It was always Bungie’s intention to slowly titrate this gear back to us. As early as the GameInformer cover story, we were told explicitly that leaving behind the Y1 staples was a conscious design decision to encourage us to play with Destiny’s new toys. While certain pieces that were conducive to their design were left in play, the rest were going to be eventually returned, updated for Y2.

That time has arrived, the plan hasn’t changed.

More to Consider

So far, we’ve outlined the case against Bungie’s decisions. But there is a lot of intention behind these choices that deserves thoughtful exploration.

The first is variety.

If there’s one thing Bungie has learned from House of Wolves, it has to be the subconscious stubbornness of the players to move on. As long as there is a best anything, it will be the metagame-defining weapon or armor piece of choice. Fatebringer, Black Hammer, Gjallarhorn – how often did you see this combo in PvE? With the Taken King, Bungie wanted to encourage us to try new things.

Yes, a metagame is always going to form eventually, but there’s a very high chance of the standbys we know how to use hanging around, and people like Luke Smith and DeeJ have made it clear that they felt TTK would do best with a fresh start. Bungie’s decision to leave Y1 behind initially was a calculated judgment call; now that they’ve had time to see how TTK has developed, you can bet they feel more confident that introducing these Y1 weapons and armor isn’t going to unbalance things perilously.

The second is value.

No one would argue that Destiny is at its most fun when there are meaningful rewards. Much of the success of Y1 can be attributed to how the Exotic arsenal was expanded. Xûr was an ingenious idea that worked like gangbusters when the game wasn’t already saturated with Exotics. Merely getting one of these to drop in a Nightfall or VoG was a rare occurrence worthy of mic-shattering celebration, so having a reliable source of powerful gear that rewarded patience and dedication was great.

It’s difficult to say whether Y2 Exotics as a whole have been received as warmly, we have to point out that Bungie has attempted to follow their Y1 model as closely as possible. Xûr still brings the new stuff, and while his likelihood of bringing a new weapon is reduced (it’s either an engram or a weapon), the fact remains that on any given week, Xûr is still selling plenty of Exotics to players who aren’t impatiently ramming their heads against the endgame ceiling.

For the rest of us, another new feature has become the focus. Three of Coins.

The pure RNG consumable grants an Exotic from killing an Ultra roughly once every five kills. Depending on your Light, this Exotic is potentially guaranteed to roll at 310 – a valuable source of infusion fodder for bumping up your Legendaries. Three of Coins has already become such an integral aspect of perfecting the Destiny grind that it’s already hard to remember The Taken King without it. Xûr’s 280 Exotics have all but lost their appeal because of the Three of Coins; it’s easier for some Guardians to level their Light up by consuming Exotics than running the Raid. Bungie knows this.

Let us pose a hypothetical question: if you were given every Exotic you wanted in the first two weeks of Destiny, would you have had as much fun for the next few months? We anticipate that if you’re honest, the answer for most of you is no. The “smart” loot algorithm has significantly increased the odds for any Guardian to get the item they’re missing, and when you combine this with the Three of Coins, it’s only a matter of time before you get every Exotic you don’t own.

There are exceptions; most Guardians have their white whale that has eluded them time and again. But if everything was available at all times, we’d get bored and burnt out much faster.

Developing new content takes time and effort, and one of the ways Bungie tries to keep us interested in their game between substantial DLC drops is to hold a few things back. Look at the (mostly) positive reception for the No Time to Explain and Black Spindle quest chains. These out-of-nowhere surprises go a long way towards keeping the community attentive and active.

The problem is: we know too many things that haven’t been released, and seeing appealing Exotics on a page that we can’t get makes us feel entitled to what isn’t ours yet. We forget the value of being pleasantly surprised, and arbitrarily decide when the wait has been long enough.

Being Realistic

There are some uncomfortable realities Bungie has to face.

The first is that if you’re going to tell people they’ll need to move on from their old stuff, when you eventually bring it back you should either a: make sure it’s different enough that it feels new; or B: ensure that re-acquiring it will not be a nuisance. If we’re going to have to challenge the same game in order to win the same gun that is functionally identical to the useless one in our vault, you can anticipate that there will be a little salt.

Lower the cost or streamline the process – especially for those who already own them – and watch the complaints dissolve in front of you. For all intents and purposes, a Blueprint is really just a second gate. It doesn’t save us time or resources, especially when Three of Coins could at any moment give us one 30 points stronger for a much lower cost. Going the blueprint route, unless we rigorously dismantle Legendary weapons, we’ll be able to acquire 4 of these reissues every 3 weeks. You can see the grind rearing its head, and Bungie has a chance to tame it early.

Our suggestion is to buff the Attack and Armor values of Blueprint Exotics to at least 300 – even 310. Challenge Mode and 330 Light are just around the corner, and the notion that anything starting at 280 is appealing is quaint at best. If Bungie doesn’t re-address Xûr and Blueprint values, then it would be nice for them to at least lower the Legendary Mark cost substantially.

The second is that no matter how well they reintegrate their Y1 gear, they’re still going to face criticism. The analogy of a parent taking away their child’s toys and wrapping them up again for Christmas is reductive – if not outright false – but it’s an evocative one that isn’t going to go away any time soon. A second criticism that is perhaps more valid is that TTK investors still haven’t gotten everything they paid for. When you make certain promises and sell copies of your game, it comes with the expectation that the numbers you put out will be accurate almost immediately.

Most games don’t expect their players to hang around beyond maybe 12-20 hours at best. They put everything on the table, cross their fingers, and hope positive press will do its job. Many of Destiny’s players have put in well over 1500 hours. Currently, Exotics are not in wide circulation. Bungie is obviously going to release these eventually – but at what point does the delay become unreasonable for less “hardcore” players?

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ATS/8 Tarantella & Twilight Garrison are coming in December.

Those of us who have sunk that 1500 hours will probably find a month or two no big deal. But those who bought Destiny and have no patience or interest in sticking around for the long haul are having their patience stretched thin. These players bounce from AAA release to hidden indie gems randomly and are unlikely to be converted to diehards by the trickle model. So, this is the aforementioned tightrope Bungie has to walk: do they dangle the carrot further out, or do they let Destiny’s players pig out early? Either way, there are going to be malcontents, as the forums and Reddit clearly demonstrate.

 

Ultimately, as long as the game stays enjoyable, we’re flexible. Destiny just needs to be fun, and holding back brand new Y2 Exotics isn’t fun. So balancing the grind, acknowledging player progress, and continuing to innovate while not stressing microtransactions is what Bungie should do. The Y1 Exotic re-introduction will be an excellent chance for them to show they can strike that balance.

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.