Destiny has improved substantially with its Taken King expansion, but its endgame raid content is still the game's best feature. King's Fall sends a team of six players to fight the expansion's main villain and his top lieutenants in complicated encounters that require a great deal of coordination and communication, as well as a high level of execution.
It's an exhilarating climax to the game, and but it's marred by one problem: Destiny's insistence on being stingy with loot and upgrade components.
How Destiny has messed this up in the past
Vanilla Destiny was a game with a lot of problems, but the game's defenders tended to cite the excellent Vault of Glass raid as one of the game's high points, and perhaps its key redeeming feature.
Unfortunately, the Vault of Glass was notoriously stingy with loot drops. In order to reach the original maximum level of 30, players needed at least three different pieces of raid gear, plus one piece of exotic armor. Since the gear drops were entirely based on luck, many players — particularly those who did not play multiple characters of the same class — were unable to reach the maximum level, even after many raid completions. This spawned a meme in the Destiny community about being "forever 29."
Bungie increased the frequency of loot drops in the game's first expansion, The Dark Below, but created a new and very scarce currency that players had to acquire a lot of in order to upgrade their gear. The Dark Below also introduced a mechanism for upgrading existing exotic gear to the new light level that entailed resetting the hundreds of thousands of experience points players had poured into that gear, and also required a very scarce new currency called Exotic Shards.
These changes were extremely unpopular, and Bungie took things in a different direction in the House of Wolves expansion. The bosses of Prison of Elders, that expansion's endgame activity, dropped tokens that could be used to purchase gear and an item called Etheric Light, which could upgrade old gear to the new maximum light level. It felt a bit better than random loot drops. House of Wolves also introduced a feature allowing players to re-roll legendary weapons with randomized perks.
Destiny's notoriously resourceful players, used to operating in much more severe conditions, took advantage of this unexpected generosity to hit maximum level almost immediately. Most of the community also ignored the expansion's new gear in favor of upgraded guns from the Vault of Glass, which were considered best-in-class, except for certain exceptions where people were able to use the re-roll system to get insane perks on previously innocuous legendary weapons.
What's wrong with Taken King's raid loot
The Taken King replaces upgrade currencies with the new infusion system, through which players can destroy gear with higher attack or defense ratings in order to raise the light level of lower-Light legendary or exotic gear. This is great — until you get to the raid. Then you start to see some problems with Destiny's new loot system.
First of all, while you'll get a bunch of primary weapons if you can defeat Oryx on multiple characters each week, armor drops seem pretty scarce. Out of three full raids so far, I've obtained only one pair of boots, one chest piece and two class items.
The highest possible attack/defense for random rare or legendary drops outside the raid is 300. Raid gear rolls a random attack/defense stat between 300 and 310.
That means that, if you're unlucky, your raid drops will barely be better than your pre-raid gear and much worse than other, luckier raid drops — I got a 300 defense roll on my boots and one of my class items, in addition to several 300-attack guns. That means I will need to kill the same bosses again to get the same loot again, in hopes of getting better stat rolls.
In addition to having randomized attack and defense ratings, raid loot also has randomized perks. A chest piece can grant bonus armor to a particular subclass, gloves can increase reload speed for particular weapons, and chests and boots add bonus ammo to certain kinds of weapons.
I will need to kill the same bosses again to get the same loot again
Getting a bonus sniper rifle ammo perk on your boots and your chest is a huge benefit in the King's Fall raid, because you can pour a lot of shots into some of the bosses when using weapons like the Black Spindle, which instantly reloads when you hit three precision shots in a row. Getting bonus fusion rifle ammo as a perk in that slot, however, is basically no perk at all, since you will almost never use fusion rifles in the raid, and ammo is rarely an issue in other contexts.
Polygon video: How to get the Black Spindle sniper rifle
Helmets have a similar perk problem. It's possible for helms to get a perk that immediately heals you, and starts your shield regeneration, whenever you grab one of the orbs that players create when they use their supers. This is a huge benefit, since orbs can often litter the ground during boss fights. But you might get a useless perk in the same slot that gives you melee attack energy when you get an orb.
Theoretically, if you get a good perk roll and a bad attack/defense roll, you can get another one with a better attack/defense roll and infuse the first piece to raise its stats. And if you get a perfect perk roll, you can just keep infusing it for the rest of the year with all your future raid gear in that slot. But infusion only transfers 80 percent of attack/defense difference if the spread between the items is greater than five points, so you may need multiple infusions to make a poor defense roll match a high one.
In recent posts on NeoGAF, Bungie developer Luke Smith argued that randomized attack/defense rolls aren't a problem, saying that players don't need more than 300 Light for any content "currently in the game" and that he enjoys chasing after perfect random rolls on gear.
But the hard-mode version of the raid is not "currently in the game," and Bungie hasn't told us how much Light we'll need for that. Killing an extremely challenging boss to get a chest piece that boosts the wrong subclass, or a helm that randomly has a lousy perk instead of a great one, isn't fun.
There's absolutely no reason why "extra ammo for fusion rifles" couldn't be "extra ammo for special weapons" — which was a perk that we got on Year One raid items — or why "bonus armor when using an Arc-based subclass" can't just be "bonus armor." Well, no reason, except to make some of our raid drops disappointing, and to force players to run the same content multiple times in order to get better random stats and perks on gear they've already earned. It's an odd system that limits the utility of what should be the best drops in the game.
It also seems like Bungie is designing its gear acquisition curve around players who raid three times per week on three characters of the same class. While it may make sense to limit what those players can get, these systems tend to punish players who raid less often or play on all three classes.
Personally, I play two Warlocks and a Titan, and I am considering — not for the first time — deleting the Titan for a third Warlock. I like playing the Titan, and there's nothing fun about the idea of getting rid of him for another Warlock, but the drops across three raids seem too rare to make it possible to put together two sets of well-rolled high-Light raid armor. Although I'd like to play a Hunter, I believe that if I tried to play all three classes, all my characters would fall behind.
Destiny's new exotic upgrade system is its worst ever
After The Dark Below, Bungie reduced the extreme XP requirements necessary to upgrade exotic gear, but the way the infusion system interacts with exotics might be even worse than any of the old Year One systems.
When you get an exotic from an engram, or as a raid or Nightfall reward, it generally drops at 290 Light. If you buy one from Xur or from the exotic upgrade kiosk, it's at 280. To get these items up to snuff for raids, you have to upgrade them through the infusion system.
There are several problems with this: First, exotics have a more prohibitive infusion penalty than legendary items. If the item you're infusing is more than four attack or defense points levels lower than the item you're destroying, you only get 70 percent of the difference. And second, every time you infuse an exotic item, you have to use an Exotic Shard, which can now be obtained only by dismantling another exotic item.
If I have a 310 legendary Anguish of Drystan, which is the raid-drop auto rifle, and I use it to upgrade my 290 exotic Zhalo Supercell, I'll end up with only a 304. If I want to get the Supercell all the way to 310, I have to get it up to 306 first by infusing it with other weapons. That means two or three high-rolled non-raid blue or legendary items to get it to near 300, and then probably two raid drops to reach 306. Each of these infusions costs a shard.
I've already broken down most of my collection of Year One exotics to feed my Year Two gear, and I'm not sure what I'll do when I run out. I really liked collecting exotic gear but, in this system, there's no way to get enough shards or raid gear to upgrade a large collection of exotics to anything close to the quality of well-rolled raid items. I feel like I don't have the resources to dedicate to more than one key exotic armor piece for PvE, and maybe one for Crucible.
The only consolation is that once you pass 300 Light, you get a chance that your raid/nightfall reward exotics and exotic engrams will decode to 310-Light items. But this does little to help the exotics you collect on the way to 300 Light, or any exotics you get subsequently that don't hit this lucky roll.
Exotics are some of the coolest gear in Destiny. Previously, although they were difficult to level up, exotics rolled at whatever the maximum attack or defense stat was for the current content. In Year One, this allowed casual players to enjoy a couple of high-end items, and hardcore players often strove to collect all of them. The current upgrade system more or less confiscates a lot of these toys for no apparent reason.
One step forward; one step back
Destiny is a game that has a lot going for it; its core movement and shooting mechanics are extremely solid and fun, and its signature guns are fun to play with. Its raids combine elements of action games, platformers and MMOs into something that is compelling, unique and kind of revolutionary.
But the game keeps sabotaging itself by offering compromised rewards to dedicated players who overcome its greatest challenges, and by implementing punishing economies that create artificial barriers that prevent people from actually using the cool exotic gear they collect.
Destiny is constantly evolving, and generally in a good direction. Hopefully Bungie will get these issues ironed out soon.