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Destiny 2: Black Armory - nocking an arrow to aim at a Cabal enemy Bungie

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Destiny 2’s hardest puzzle took 81 hours to solve — and split the community in half

The story of Niobe Labs, one of the most controversial events in Destiny history

On Jan. 8, Bungie released the toughest puzzle it had ever designed for a Destiny game: Niobe Labs. The reward? The first team to complete it would unlock new content for everyone in the world. The race was on.

The first Destiny raid took 14 hours to figure out. Forsaken’s Last Wish raid? 19 hours. But after 27 hours, Niobe Labs was still unsolved. And it was becoming a problem for Bungie. This is the story of how it all went down.

Niobe Labs, the biggest Destiny puzzle to date

Since the schedule for Black Armory dropped in late November, speculation about what Niobe Labs could be has circled the Destiny community. Some players thought it could be another dungeon like Shattered Throne, after spotting it on the roadmap for seemingly no reason. Others thought that it was the name of the fourth and final forge.

Instead, Bungie revealed that the completion of Niobe Labs would unlock the fourth and final Black Armory forge: Bergusia. Players ventured into the EDZ location to try becoming the first team to unlock content for the entire community.

A quick sparrow ride took them to a chasm that has existed in Destiny 2 since the game launched back in 2017. But where there was once a bottomless pit, there was now a makeshift bridge. One short journey into unknown territory later, players dropped into Niobe Labs for the first time.

A giant bunker, Niobe Labs looked fairly inconspicuous to the naked eye. But like a few other Black Armory locations, it was littered with hidden symbols (visible only by looking through the scopes of specific weapons). After a few hours of scouring the lab for clues, teams finally figured out how to start the event that would eventually split the community.

Here’s a nearly 20-minute video from Destiny 2 streamer and content creator Datto explaining how to solve all seven bypasses.

The next 27 hours

That event is called Niobe’s Torment, and it’s a harder version of all the other Black Armory puzzles. Unlike past puzzles (where failure just meant inputting another code), failing to progress through Niobe’s Torment meant starting over from the very beginning.

A rune cipher from Black Armory
Reddit user Kaiot

At the start of the event, waves of Fallen attacked Niobe Labs, including a big Captain protected by shield drones. The puzzle didn’t start until all the enemies had been wiped out. When the arena was clear and quiet, a cipher appeared on the computer monitors hanging over the lab. Some cryptic hint was displayed there — something that must be solved in order to progress.

This involved a complex combination of thinking through the cipher and using the Black Armory weapons to shoot symbols in a particular order, standing in a particular place or doing a particular action. In some cases, this process involved getting to the cipher, taking a screenshot, and then staring at it in Photoshop for 40 minutes in order to solve the great mystery.

One of the ciphers, for example, showed some wings and the letters F, L, and Y. After spending some time debating what the game was asking them to do, the Niobe’s Torment runners decided to try jumping while they typed. It worked, and the team moved onto the next puzzle.

A proposed cipher for one of the Black Armory puzzles
User engin33rguy on the raid secrets subreddit

After each cipher and puzzle, the bypass level would increase, and the game would offer a harder wave of enemies and a more difficult puzzle to solve. The teams — consisting of players around the world and Destiny streamers with hordes of viewers — made it through the first five bypasses relatively quickly, only spending an hour or two on each. But bypass six and seven would take so long to solve that Bungie would eventually de-couple the puzzle from the content entirely.

Bypass six took hours longer than the previous bypasses, with many viewers and streamers going to bed mid-way through solving it. By the morning, they’d managed to mostly solve bypass six, although there seemed to be some confusion on if it’d been solved naturally or brute-forced, making bypass seven that much harder.

A map of Niobe’s Lab
Found via reddit user soccerjonesy’s post on the Raid Secrets subreddit

As bypass seven droned on, Niobe Labs had been open for over 24 hours. Almost all the other big-name streamers had gone to sleep, with Datto and xGladd staying up through the night, beating their heads against the puzzle. By the morning, even Datto had given up, and only xGladd remained.

With no true end in sight, Bungie dropped a statement revealing they were decoupling the forge from Niobe’s Lab, and that all players would gain access to it in only a few hours. This split the community in half — if only for another 24 hours.

Destiny divided

The side that wanted Bungie to release the Bergusia forge is relatively easy to understand. They felt like Bungie was holding back finished content artificially, putting out puzzles that were meant to be solved by streamers or people with tons of free time.

The other side was filled with disappointed fans wondering how Bungie could cave. To them, this was a community-focused event originally intended to be solved by anyone. Streamers — as always — have the advantage of thousands of viewers trying to help them. But as Bungie was quick to point out on its Twitter account (in a since-deleted tweet), anyone could take on Niobe’s Torment.

Bungie via Polygon

For players invested in the completion of Niobe Labs, the announcement of the content unlock was frustrating. In the replies to Bungie’s original tweet, players expressed frustration on behalf of the streamers who’d spent hours trying to solve the puzzle.

Other players simply expressed that this wasn’t the way they wanted things to go. And even those that were originally frustrated seemed displeased with Bungie’s course of action. A majority of the responses to Bungie’s original announcement that it would open Bergusia are negative, suggesting that, while the community was divided in the original execution of Niobe’s Lab, they could still come together to agree that Bungie had mishandled the situation.

Some players also seemed worried about upcoming content drops as well. The Penumbra mini-expansion, due out later this summer, is supposedly designed to be all about secrets. With the way Niobe Labs turned out, this could potentially cause issues for future puzzle designs.

Bungie’s decoupling of the content seems tied to community reaction.

Solved

With the help of a hint that Bungie tweeted (seen above) and the Destiny Raid Secrets subreddit, xGladd went back and finished Niobe Labs. Start to finish, it took them just over 81 hours to solve.

xGladd also extended a friendly hand to other streamers and requested that Bungie give credit to the community as a whole, rather than to one single fireteam.

Since dropping the hint, Bungie has yet to say anything about Niobe Labs aside from confirming that a group of Guardians solved it, however. At the time of this writing, the studio has yet to officially confirm a world-first fireteam.

With the puzzle already behind the community, and the big-news separation of Activision and Bungie, the entire Niobe Labs event seems to have been mostly forgotten, replaced by discussions of the weekly reset and the usual problems players complain about. Posts about Niobe Labs have few interactions and discussion has been relegated to a relatively quiet mega-thread.

But the memory of Niobe Labs is almost sure to resurface the next time Bungie releases a puzzle. But as far as Destiny history is concerned, Niobe Labs will likely be a blip on the radar — a communitywide 48-hour argument that was replaced by more exciting news for the community at large.

The lingering question is instead how Bungie will remember it, and whether this event could possibly change Joker’s Wild, Penumbra, or any other Destiny 2 plans for the future. An answer remains beyond our grasp for now.

Update (Jan. 17): Bungie later confirmed that the puzzle was actually bugged and the hint given was something that should have been visible to players from the start.