Escalation Protocol was one of Bungie’s big selling points for Destiny 2: Warmind. The mode was set to improve upon similar features from past expansions, like the Court of Oryx from Destiny: The Taken King or Archon’s Forge from Destiny: Rise of Iron.
Like those exercises, Escalation Protocol is Destiny magic — when it works. A room full of players covering each other’s backs and whaling on bad guys from all sides is better than almost any other casual activity I’ve done in the series. But Escalation Protocol carries the same baggage as the original Destiny’s public-space modes: You can’t get more than three players into a fireteam in a patrol zone.
With Escalation Protocol, Bungie promised a kind of challenge that players had never seen before. In a development diary released before Warmind, Jacob Benton, one of Destiny 2’s design leads, said, “If [the developers] can beat this, it’s probably still too easy.” The difficulty certainly checks out, with the activity being nearly impossible for a small group of players to complete.
This is where Escalation Protocol encourages team play. If you go in with three players, even Guardians near the power cap of 385, the final boss is still almost impossible to take down at its 400 power level. But that’s as big as your group can be under Bungie’s current fireteam permissions — the limit is three players per squad, even though there’s room for nine players in an instance of a patrol space.
Players have tried all manner of workarounds for the fireteam issue. Some simply keep matching into the same space over and over and over again until they get lucky. Others have actually resorted to bringing in their friends by having strangers invite them and then leave the session entirely.
This process can take up to an hour if you’re unlucky. Every time I jump into an Escalation Protocol session, it begins with this nonsensical hunt for friends by randomly dropping into areas. Once we’re finally all together, we still can’t even move to the other side of the map, or the groups will become separated again. And so I find myself in a constant waiting game. If I want to try fighting in the other area, we have to regroup all over again.
Plus, as is the case with so many Destiny activities, the rewards are hardly worth the effort. You get drops at the end of wave three, five and seven. However, the last chest is the only one that rewards new loot. The other two chests almost always reveal two tokens and a blue drop, a Destiny meme thanks to Curse of Osiris.
Aside from the glaring issues with Escalation Protocol’s rewards and grouping structure, it’s some of the most fun I’ve ever experienced in Destiny. Getting a group of six people to coordinate in a raid is more satisfying than anything else, but running around a public space with nine players is simply bedlam.
When the mission starts, the enemies fall one by one to each single shot, and you feel like an unstoppable army of Guardians. But as the mission pushes forward, your team’s numbers will grow in value. Each shot hardly puts a dent in the enemy’s gigantic health bars. When you take down that round six boss, you feel the impact of every bullet fired by your teammates.
Jumping around and assisting each other is Destiny 2’s co-op madness at its best. People love Destiny because it feels so good to play, and killing stuff with nine people in a group feels better than going it alone. But it all becomes too hard to commit to. I’d love to run this mode more regularly, but not when I have to spend an hour forming a full group before each attempt.
Destiny has always been a series of “buts” and excuses. For every great thing you experience, you have to look past a dozen other issues first. The shame with Escalation Protocol isn’t the mode itself, but everything that surrounds it. It’s death by a thousand cuts.
With a mode like this, you need players excited to run up and participate every time it’s activated. But with nonsensical matchmaking and hourlong group-building sessions, Escalation Protocol may be doomed to the same fate as its predecessors: fun, but far too frustrating to ever regularly engage with.
For more on Destiny 2: Warmind, check out our review of the expansion.