On Friday, Oct. 23 Bungie released the hard mode version of’s King’s Fall raid.
By the weekly reset on Tuesday, only 0.5 percent of Destiny players on PlayStation 4 had managed to earn the trophy for defeating the hard raid’s final boss, Oryx the Taken King. Even if only about 20 percent of players who have tried Destiny since Sept. 2014 are still playing, as suggested by the percentage of total PS4 Destiny players who have earned the Taken King campaign trophy, that still means only about 2 percent of currently-active players were up to the task of defeating Destiny’s hardest boss.
And among those few successful raiders, as is traditional in Destiny, were many who won by circumventing a central mechanic of the fight. This is what Destiny players refer to as a "cheese."
This article contains spoilers for Destiny’s raids
A history of "cheesing" in Destiny
Destiny can be an incredibly difficult and time-consuming game, especially for players who want to progress into its endgame. As a result, the players have become extremely adept at seizing any weaknesses they can find in the game’s most challenging activities, including some that were clearly unintended by the developers.
Some players consider killing bosses in unintended ways to be cheating, but most Destiny players consider it fair game to do anything that doesn’t involve actively exploiting a bug or a glitch.
So, for example, when players discovered that the final Vault of Glass boss, Atheon, would fall off a cliff and die if you could position him properly, and then force him backwards with grenades, that was a "cheese." Atheon’s pathing AI was working as intended; he was supposed to step back out of the area-of-effect radius of a grenade. And the cliff was clearly functioning properly as well. Bungie didn’t intend for this to happen, but it was possible, and it felt more like playing the game than breaking the game.
The players figured it wasn’t their fault that Bungie had failed to foresee potential interactions between the properly-functioning pathing AI and the properly-functioning cliff physics. So, for a couple of glorious weeks, players had an easy way to collect their Mythoclasts, before Bungie patched in an invisible wall to prevent Atheon from falling.
Destiny’s new Halloween event commemorates the Atheon cheese with a quest that requires players to jump off the Tower to their deaths while wearing an Atheon mask.
A number of other, similar interactions were discovered in Vault of Glass and Crota’s End. The Vault’s Templar, like Atheon, could also be persuaded to fall off a ledge with a proper application of area-effect grenades, and players discovered several different ways to complete the bridge event in Crota’s End without having to resort to the intended method of having players cross the bridge one-by-one while using the relic sword to kill invulnerable knights that spawned with each bridge.
There were a number of "cheesy" strategies for the Nightfall versions of Year One strikes as well. Players would poke bosses with ammo-regenerating Icebreaker sniper rifles from adjacent rooms, or hide under platforms or on overhanging chandeliers, to avoid damage. These tactics were seen as necessary because these strikes carried elemental burn modifiers that tripled certain kinds of damage, as well as a mechanic that booted the group to orbit and forced players to restart the strike if all of them died. With the Year Two update, Bungie radically changed elemental burns and the Nightfall strike rule-set, and they nerfed the Icebreaker.
However, when players discovered that they could glitch out Crota, the final boss of The Dark Below expansion, by having their party host yank out their LAN cable at a certain time, most players viewed that as taking things a little too far.
That felt like cheating.
Destiny’s current final boss is really hard
The Oryx fight is the most complicated encounter Destiny has ever asked players to deal with. The fight takes place in an arena with four pillars topped by switches that players can activate by standing on them. A relic appears in the sky above one of them, and players must jump on the other three in the correct, counterclockwise order to make platforms appear above the arena that a designated runner can jump across in order to claim the relic.
If the three players on the pillars touch the switches in the wrong order, the runner will not be able to collect the relic. If any of them dies or steps off his switch, the platforms in the sky will disappear and the runner will fall.
While the runner is navigating the platforms, major Taken ogres will spawn next to each of the four pillars. The five players on the ground — three on the switches and two in the middle — must quickly kill the ogres, who drop corrupted light bombs. On hard mode, after each ogre dies, a knight will spawn on the other side of the arena, and try to run to the corrupted light and destroy it, and the players on the pillars must kill those knights.
Everybody has to get their task done very quickly, because, after a few seconds, a Hive tomb ship will drop off an invincible knight called the Vessel of Oryx and then strafe the arena, killing any players who are still on the pillars.
Also, while all this is happening, Taken acolytes and centurions are spawning into the arena to try to kill everybody.
If the runner manages to claim the relic, he can use it to steal the invincibility aura from the Vessel, creating a bubble of safety for the raid, from which they can shoot Oryx when his chest opens up, which stuns him. This gives players a few seconds to kill the acolytes and centurions and run to the corrupted light bombs the ogres dropped.
Standing on the bombs for a few seconds causes them to detonate after a short delay, during which the players can run back to the safety of the relic aura before everything explodes. All the bombs need to go off at the same time, because if one detonates early, the players doing the other bombs will be caught in the explosion and die.
If you do everything right, you will detonate four corrupted light bombs, but if the knights destroyed some of your bombs, you may get fewer. You have to detonate 16 bombs in order to kill Oryx, which means you have to do all that again. And again. And again.
In between each relic phase, Oryx tries to kill the raid a couple of different ways: While his health is above 50 percent he will launch tracking bombs after players that they have to run away from. Once the boss gets below 50 percent he will teleport players one by one into a pocket dimension where they must battle an Echo of Oryx. If they don’t kill the Echo in time, everybody dies, and the Echo also attacks with a powerful sword that can kill players who aren’t fast enough to get out of the way.
If this sounds elaborate and confusing, it’s because it is, but there are videos of the fight embedded in this article if that helps you to make more sense of it.
Other factors besides complexity make this a very difficult encounter. With the exception of Sunsinger warlocks using their Radiance super to self-revive, there is no way to resurrect players who die in hard mode raid encounters in Destiny, so if anyone makes a mistake, the group has to start the whole encounter over.
The recommended light level for this fight is 320, but since no gear above 310 existed prior to the release of the hard mode raid, and since getting gear is dependent on random drops, most experienced raiders went into the raid with light levels between 305 and 308. Even with good loot from the previous bosses, few players managed to get higher than 310 or 311, which meant they were dealing about a third less damage than they’d be doing on an encounter whose light they could match or exceed.
A lot of players simply couldn’t kill those ogres and knights fast enough under these conditions. So, they found a way to "cheese."
Oryx: No Knights
After Oryx staggers, there’s a pause that players using the normal method spend cleaning up the acolytes and centurions, and then running for their bombs. In fact, Oryx will be stunned for nearly thirty seconds if you don’t do anything but shoot his chest during that period.
Players realized that if they just left their ogres alive, the knights and other enemies wouldn’t spawn. After staggering Oryx, they finished off the ogres and then quickly jumped down and detonated the bombs before the knights could get from their spawn points to the bombs.
This cut the knight sniping out of the encounter, which is a major skill check, and it also obviated the need to quickly dispatch the enemies, which means that this strategy can be performed by players whose light levels are too low to do the encounter the normal way.
But is it cheating?
Bungie has clearly learned some lessons from the mischievous behavior of Vault of Glass players and the bug-plagued launch of Crota’s End; King’s Fall is much more polished and much less exploitable than previous Destiny raids.
The no-knights Oryx strategy is an inventive solution that allows players with low light levels to beat an encounter that was designed to be a hard gear check, and it’s a reminder of how inventive this community can be, but it doesn’t break the encounter the way previous "cheese" strategies have. And it has one big drawback: the ogres.
Destiny’s ogres are nasty enemies. They have lethal stomp attacks they can use against players who get too close, and they shoot freakin’ laser beams out of their eyes from range. They don’t get to cause much trouble for players who use the normal strategy, because they die almost as soon as they spawn. But the no-knights strategy means they are going to be walking around, doing their ogre thing unchecked, at least for a few seconds each phase.
They become an uncontrolled element in a fight that’s very much centered on controlling all the things that are happening. It’s pretty easy for somebody to get shot by an ogre’s eye-beam, or for an ogre wandering across the middle of the arena to stomp the relic carrier before he can steal the aura from the Vessel, or for someone to detonate a bomb too early because the bombs end up in arbitrary locations dependent on where the ogres wander.
So, if Bungie doesn’t patch the game to stop players from doing this, it’s pretty likely that the method will fall out of favor as players earn more gear, and are better able to dispatch the enemies and execute the normal strategy. This is one of those tactics that falls between "exploits" and "cheating," but until Bungie rules on whether it's fair play? Go get 'em.