Destiny – Iron Banner Wrap-up

Destiny Rise of IronThe first post-Rise of Iron Iron Banner wrapped up with yesterday’s reset, and like I do every month, I thought I’d talk a little bit about my experience with the 6v6 end-game Crucible activity. Since this was the first time that Supremacy was even available to play, there’s a little bit more to unpack than usual.

Supremacy as a game-mode is the perfect fit for the first Iron Banner. It’s one where even lower Light players or less skilled players can contribute in a meaningful way to the team. Grabbing those Crests should be your primary concern, and having that option there for lower Light players means that they can score for the team and still build their super bar up and then use that to help swing matches in those power-play moments. Where Supremacy gets a little frustrating though is that it also encourages the current “insta-kill” meta. Weapons with super low Time to Kill were all I saw – powerful handcannons, crazy fast Rate of Fire pulse and autorifles, super stable scout rifles, and the same max impact shotguns that have lived in the Crucible for over a year. Because the scoring system for Supremacy by nature drives you to closer ranges, those weapons are actually important to the team score. It’s not inherently a bad thing because the meta really needs to be addressed across the board, not just in Supremacy, but it certainly provided for a couple frustrating moments in almost every game. There’s nothing worse than outshooting an enemy with your Hawkmoon, then having a ghost bullet sneak in and let them close to insta-kill shotgun range. I would probably expect a weapon patch with the upcoming Festival of the Lost event, or at the latest November.

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As for the actual Iron Banner part of the last week, I have to admit, this one surprised me a bit. I went in fully expecting to die a ton because of people who had banked Exotic engrams and rep materials and had run the Raid a couple times and as a result they were up near the current Light level cap. Sure enough, the very first game I played I was 11 Light below the next lowest player in the lobby. As the game loaded in, I was ready to just be frustrated and die lots; but as it turned out, I ended up with the best K/D and the highest score in the game. Yes, Light Level definitely matters in Iron Banner – I couldn’t survive things I normally should, and moves that should get kills weren’t – but on the whole, it felt a lot more even than I was expecting. I don’t know if it’s just because in normal Crucible play everything is already so fast, or if they did change the way it works, but either way I had a ton of fun playing Iron Banner matches this past week.

A big part of that fun came from the fact that this was easily the most rewarding Iron Banner that I can remember. It was a very rare instance to not see at least one Legendary drop after a match, and it felt like Three of Coins netted Exotics a bit more consistently as well. Over the course of the week, between post-match rewards, Exotics, bounty rewards, and the Quest rewards my main character raised his Light by almost ten full levels. That’s using some new Iron Banner weapons and armor, both of which are super cool looking and the weapons sound amazing; as well as infusing duplicates or sub-par rolls. In truth, the only item I didn’t get to drop that I was chasing was a Ghost shell, since the Iron Banner one looks awesome. If this is how the rewards will be moving forward – presumably it’s the same in Trials and will be with the timed events – then playing just about any activity is instantly more worthwhile than ever. There are certainly still a couple issues in the game sure, but I think overall Rise of Iron has done an incredibly good job of breathing new life into Destiny.

Destiny’s New Leveling Problem

Destiny Rise of IronDestiny has a well documented rocky lifespan – from story issues to stagnant multiplayer balance. One thing that Bungie fixed with The Taken King last year was the convoluted levelling system and streamlined it to the system we know now. Light is still what really determines your power, especially when you hit Level 40, but it’s a lot easier to understand and progress now than it was in the “Forever 29” days of Vanilla. However, with the launch of Rise of Iron a new issue has popped up with the levelling, and it’s just going to be highlighted brighter this week with Iron Banner returning.

I didn’t really see a lot of talk over the weekend with Trials of Osiris coming back, but that tends to see less players than Iron Banner does. Now that Iron Banner is back the fact that there are going to be a lot of players with huge gaps in Light is going to make for a very frustrating experience for some people. I’m only sitting at about 354 on my Titan and not even 350 on my alts, but because there’s a section in the Rise of Iron book for hitting Rank 5 I’m going to play a bunch of IB this week. The loot looks really cool – I think the weapons are the same as the Iron Lord drops (I got lucky in Archon’s Forge last night and got the sniper and fusion rifle) and the armor looks awesome. That means I know I’m going to be fighting a major uphill battle since even playing regular Crucible matches last night I saw players up in the 370 Light range. And I know that there are people up above 380 and plenty with Light lower than I have. That wide gap is the level problem that I want to talk about.

The only real reason that that wide of a gap exists is thanks to the way that Rise of Iron launched, combined with the changes that Bungie made to engram decrypting. With The Taken King and the major shift from Year One to Year Two, banked engrams – including exotics – would only decrypt to Year One values. Since there isn’t as much of a shift from Taken King to Rise of Iron, Bungie didn’t decide to call this officially Year Three. As a result, players could bank tons of engrams – legendary and exotic – and when they decrypted them, they followed the new rules for engrams. Playing the story was enough to get beyond the point of the 340 Light that blue engrams decrypt at. Combined with a full stack of legendary marks to upgrade our Ghost shell, if you had a full vault of engrams, you could get a huge jumpstart on upgrading. Bungie had intended for the time from about 350 to 365 to be a slower grind – that’s where legendary engrams become most useful, and was intended to be the lead-in to the raid for the end-game level gear. That’s when Heroic Strike drops are relevant, where Archon’s Forge should have been populated constantly, and when your faction reward packages matter the most. The problem I think is twofold here – people could skip past this spot with enough engrams and materials to exchange; and the end-game activities returning so quickly after launched put pressure on players to hit those high levels as fast as possible. This meant that hardcore players were constantly grinding launch week to be raid ready on day one – I had friends that were in that group, playing pretty much all week long and got through the raid that first weekend. But there are way more players that don’t have that time and can’t grind out Heroic Strikes for hours to get a handful of drops. That’s what creates this huge gap in power – it’s going to be there for months now with no real way to close it quickly. People who are raid ready will just keep raiding and getting high level drops, while people who only play a few hours here and there will be stuck in the grind for longer. It’s not an inherently bad thing, only really when you look at things like Trials and Iron Banner, which Bungie has been talking up with the new loot to earn.

It’s unfortunately too late to really fix the issue – that gap is there, and the only fix is to just push through the grind with Iron Banner, Strikes, faction packages, Trials or the raid. What I’d love to see though is with Festival of the Lost this month, that actually have loot that can help players with limited time to level up. Crimson Doubles did that with Ghost shells, SRL did with class items and helmet back before “loot 2.0” was in place. Festival of the Lost only had the masks, which are cool, but they don’t have Light associated with them. I kinda have a feeling that when it comes around we’ll see something like sterling treasures with the masks or new loot dropping at Light 3 just like the Taken gear did in April. With no major expansions on the horizon until the full sequel – which is a whole different can of worms to talk about – there’s plenty of time to grind up the levels, it just stinks that there’s this huge gap right now as we go into the first Supremacy Iron Banner.

Destiny: Rise of Iron – Looking Forward

Destiny Rise of IronI’ve now played through the story content in Destiny: Rise of Iron on two of my three characters, and I’m starting to really be excited for what comes next. I know that seems really shortsighted of me, like I’m moving away from Rise already. But that’s not exactly what I mean here. Instead I’m talking more generally about how ever since The Taken King, Bungie has fundamentally changed how they’re approaching telling the story of Destiny.

In-game, that’s meant scrapping the amorphous story direction in favor of quests that tie together story missions with a coherent thread between them. That, combined with the better writing in the lead-ins to the missions along with new cinematics that advance the story and you’re starting to see player being able to better connect with the world. It’s not just players who go out and read the Grimoire – which we’ll talk about in a second – who have an understanding on the story now. Playing the actual game will get you enough of the story to know what’s going on. I don’t know if they changed writing staff for in-game work, but it certainly feels like it over the last year as it’s gotten less reliant on cliches and every character actually feels grounded, even the somewhat over the top ones like Eris and Saladin. Cayde-6 and your Ghost have emerged over the last year as the real standouts of the cast, mainly thanks to the strength of their voice actors. Rise of Iron continues that with Saladin and Shiro-4 both actually having character. With this most likely being the last big addition to the first Destiny game, Bungie has been doing a phenomenal job of doing as much as they can with the current framework. It’s night-and-day from how the game looked and felt at launch. And over this last year, it’s gotten me more excited about what Bungie could do with a new game.

One of the biggest things that I want to see in the sequel has to be an in-game way to read the Grimoire. That desire comes from just how damn good the Grimoire cards are. Much has been made about how threadbare the story is in Destiny, especially at launch. Where that doesn’t ring true is in those cards – they’re written incredibly well and flesh out the world so incredibly well. Things that seem like they don’t matter in the long run like Rasputin’s role in the grand scheme of things turn out to have much deeper ripples. Reading his cards in particular paints an interesting picture of just how the Traveler came to rest where it does now – there’s a very real chance that Rasputin shot down the Traveler to prevent it from leaving humanity behind for the Darkness. Why would Rasputin think that the Traveler would do that? Well keep reading the Grimoire and you see that it has a little history doing that – that is how the Fallen came to be Fallen; and beyond that, the Traveler has a intricate relation with the Hive and their Worm Gods going all the way back to the very beginning. Because the story is so well told in those cards and helps create a really interesting world to play in, that’s really why it has to be in-game in the sequel. There are way too many players who won’t read the cards because they don’t live in-game. I would love to see something like Mass Effect‘s codex – that would be the best way to do it I think. If you take that ability to dive deeper into the lore of the game, combine it with the more focused in-game storytelling along with the inevitable steps forward in gameplay and I think the series will be where we always wanted it to be. The future is super bright for Destiny and to me, Rise of Iron is a great step in the right direction.

Destiny: Rise of Iron – Launch Day Thoughts

Destiny Rise of IronIt’s finally here, the last expansion for DestinyRise of Iron, and man have I been super excited for this one. Over the last couple few months, Bungie has done a fantastic job of building the hype for this expansion, which is something they’ve always been great with. I played through the story content yesterday, along with a couple patrols into the Plaguelands and matches of Supremacy and thought I’d put down a few thoughts I had. Be warned, there will be spoilers for the story ahead.

Going in, we knew that this was going to be a smaller experience than The Taken King was.But that hopefully was going to mean that we were getting a well focused story – somewhat of a rarity in the world of Destiny unfortunately. After playing through the narrative, I honestly think that this is exactly the step that Bungie needed to take with it. Yes, it’s short but it tells a story that’s easily relatable – Saladin’s story is one that pops up pretty frequently in fantasy/sci-fi. The lone survivor/watch tasked with keeping an ancient evil from returning – it’s nothing groundbreaking, but easy to understand and get invested in. Add in the new CG cutscenes, and you have easily the most engaging story in Destiny yet. That alone would be good, but when you look at the actual content in the narrative, you see that Bungie is finally diving into the deep lore they’ve got and putting it into the game. This expansion in particular sets the table for some incredible possibilities. I mentioned that I’ll talk about spoilers – the biggest one is the final fight in the story missions. After tracking down a way to stop SIVA, you head back to the place where the Iron Lords fell – the Replication Chamber – to initiate the self-destruct. This is where you find that SIVA has taken the fallen Iron Lords armor and infected it, using their armor as surrogates to fight you. It’s unclear just how much of the Iron Lords remained in there – from a consciousness point – but it was a pretty awesome twist to end the story. I was totally sure that we’d get some kind of Splicer Fallen boss, not a totally new enemy. From a gameplay standpoint, that’s pretty cool because I think it opens up possibilities for Raid bosses in Wrath of the Machine.

The new strike is pretty cool too – The Wretched Eye – albeit a little straightforward. I hope that as we keep moving forward, we see more variety and complexity in the strikes. You already see elements of it in the new version of The Devils’ Lair, Sepiks Perfected – using the new Shock and Null cannons to break his shielding. I like the Wretched Eye fight for its frantic pace – there are a lot of things to keep track of – the blind, raging Ogre chasing you, the Splicer with one of the more dangerous enemy attacks out there, plus plenty of dregs and shanks that show up as the fight progresses. It’s one that I can totally see being a hard fight with some modifiers on for Nightfalls, in particular void burn. The new locations – both the Plaguelands and Felwinter Peak – are easily the best new locations that Bungie has put in since Vanilla. My only issue with Felwinter is that damn secret SIVA cluster hiding at the very top of the peak – platforming in Destiny is already tricky, and the jumps you have to make to get up there are frustrating as hell. The Plaguelands are really cool from a visual standing – it’s very different from any other area in-game. Earth is probably the most industrial location, and even the Cosmodrome doesn’t hold a candle to here. Lava falls, huge beached tankers, and giant Fallen keeps make each distinct zone feel different enough to keep you exploring. There are still a few secrets out there I’m sure, but I like that the Hive majors that drop Splicer Keys spawn often enough where just running Patrol for a bit should net you a good stack. I think when you look at the Dreadnaught and now The Plaguelands you can see that Bungie is trying to make Patrol a more rewarding and valuable activity. I’ve always liked Patrol just because you can hop in and explore the gorgeous vistas that Bungie has created. Now that Patrol actually can net me some useful rewards, it’s even better.

My only real issues that I’ve had so far are based around two things: the Archon’s Forge and Crucible play. The Crucible is still stuck in this really frustrating meta – crazy high power hand-cannons and shotguns just are the only competitive option, and Supremacy drives players to that even more. I know that we’re probably going to see a balance patch in the next couple weeks post-launch, but I really hope it comes soon. It’s just not fun to play in a lot of different ways, which is a shame because Supremacy as a mode is a lot of fun. The Archon’s Forge though is a little trickier to figure out what Bungie needs to do. It’s supposed to be essentially a new version of the Court of Oryx – a public space to play increasingly difficult challenges for unique rewards. The big problem is that it’s a handful of zones away – not a huge deal since you can spawn Sparrows in the Plaguelands; and that you can only have one offering at a time. The actual mechanics with the arena are a little odd too – you spawn the encounter, and if you don’t enter right away, you may end up locking yourself out. To re-enter, you need a Splicer Key; which is the case should you die and respawn yourself. I think of all the new content we have right now – at least until we see how the raid shakes out – this is where Bungie needs to look for some changes. I’m okay with only having one offering, but make it so it’s one of each rarity, and that they drop a bit more often. The loot also needs to be a bit more consistent, especially for the people who don’t actually present the offering – Court of Oryx was good because you could earn high Light blues even if you didn’t present the rune.

Overall though, from top to bottom, Rise of Iron is exactly what I think Destiny needed. It’s a fantastic addition to the game, and most importantly, shows what direction I think the game is heading as we move closer to the full sequel. If they can keep finding ways to tell stories that are focused – especially on a larger scale – I think Bungie will finally be nearing the potential that Destiny has always shown. Even if you’ve been away from the game for a while, this is a great time to get back – it’s totally worth it.

Forza Horizon 3 Open Beta Thoughts

forza-horizon-3Over the weekend, Turn 10 and Microsoft put out a demo for the upcoming Forza Horizon 3, pairing well with the first game being free for the first half of this month. I spent a little bit messing around with the new festival down under in Australia and wanted to put down a few thoughts I had with it.

Firstly, I’m admittedly not the greatest racing game player in the world, especially with the more realistic style games. That said, I have really enjoyed playing Forza games since I started my first time with Forza 5. The games have enough forgiveness to help those of us that aren’t the smoothest of racers. I’m sure that my Driveatar in the Forza world is a giant pain to deal with, with plenty of aggressive lines. That still is the case with the Horizon games – the races may be a little less strict, since their set on “real” roads – I just like the free roam nature a lot more. With this new game, the new setting really helps make it feel like a step forward. I know Forza Horizon 2 was set in a very different place from the first game – the Mediterranean Coast in Europe vs. Colorado – but this new variety in locations Down Under is so different from the other two games that it really breathes life into it. Driving from the beaches right through to a dense jungle in one fell swoop is pretty damn cool, especially when you look at what really makes the Forza games special – the visuals.

My favorite part of any Forza game is looking at these amazing cars, that I have a less than zero percent chance of ever owning, hopping in, and driving away with graphics that are incredible. They’ve always been some of the most visually impressive games on the Xbox, both while you’re actually out racing and when you’re inspecting the cars to see all the minute details. Even playing the original game now, four years later, it still looks fantastic compared with 360 games from that era – hell it looks better than some games do today. But looking at this new game, it’s like night and day – the graphics have progressed on consoles so far so fast that it blows my mind. These kind of graphics ten years ago were only possible on super high end PCs – now it’s on your TV thanks to a $300 console, and it’s only going to be better if you’ve got the Xbox One S uprezzing it to 4K. There’s a reason why everyone made a big deal about the PS4 Pro not having native 4K, while next year’s Xbox Project Scorpio is going to natively render in 4K. Ultra HD is here, and damn does it make games like Forza look amazing.

Racing games are weird to recommend, in that if your skill level isn’t great they can be super frustrating. I’m, again, not great with them, but thanks to shows like Top Gear, I really like luxury cars and high end sports cars and classic sports cars, so I’ll keep playing Forza through the frustrations. I have no problem dropping the skill level to easy to beat them if I have to. They’re a lot like Fighting games in that way – super frustrating, but I still enjoy a couple of them. The demo is free, and since the game is coming out soon, now is definitely the time to grab it to try it out. I thought it was a really fun time, maybe a bit more of the same with gameplay in the Forza world, but certainly a gorgeous experience.

Destiny: Rise of Iron Private Matches Pre-Launch Thoughts

Destiny Rise of IronWe’re under a week away from launch for Destiny: Rise of Iron, and with this week’s weekly reset made a major new feature in the addition live in-game now. If you’ve been playing Crucible over the last two years you already know that the addition of Private Matches has been one of the biggest features coming to the game. It’s not exactly the Custom Games that the community has been clamoring for, it’s absolutely a step in the right direction. Bungie has a history with Destiny of doing something in-game the week going into a launch – House of Wolves had the Queen’s Wrath, Dark Below had Eris show up, and Taken King had all the changes to the in-game systems live early. With that track record, I think we were all looking for something this week, but I don’t know how many people were thinking Private Matches a full week early. A final Iron Banner with Saladin at the Tower was my bet, turns out we got a pretty sizable patch last week and now a whole new way to play PvP matches.

Private Matches are a super important part of an FPS game’s longevity. They’re what keeps the game in players’ consoles/hard drives for years, not just the online play. It’s the ability to set up a private game that lets a competitive scene grow and thrive – MLG wouldn’t be as big as it’s grown without private lobbies. Over the last couple years, as Destiny has evolved and Bungie has tried to pin down just what they want the game to be, the lack of a private world for a competitive community to grow has been a bit of a noticeable gap. In one day, I’ve already seen tons of different options from streamers and community pillars hosting private games, or putting different ideas for what to play out into the world. We as a community have been trying modes like Hide and Go Seek, Infection; as well as going in-depth with testing things we’ve wanted to learn. There’s plenty here to dig into with Private Matches – maybe not as robust as Bungie games have had in the past, but still plenty to mess with.

Just going in to the maps solo yesterday, I got real sense of nostalgia – which maybe sounds a little weird. It’s really cool to go into these spaces that we play frequently, or in other cases, haven’t seen in months alone and find new things. I never once noticed the little floating Hive lights on the Drifter in one of the hallways back by the heavy spawn. Turning off the HUD and just exploring the arenas alone, listening to the ambient sound design, maybe putting on some music outside of the game and taking it all in is something that I think is going to be a real cool part of Private Matches. If nothing else comes out of it, it’s worth doing to go in and grab the 27 new Dead Ghosts that Bungie put into the Crucible Arenas. Each map has its own new Dead Ghost, and they can only be found in a Private instance. There are guides up already on YouTube or reddit, but I recommend trying to find them first without one – you’ll get a real appreciation for the maps. I came out of my Ghost hunt yesterday with, I think, a better understanding of the work the Crucible design team puts in. From details that litter the maps, to the actual mechanics like where boundaries are and what constitutes a soft-kill zone, you can really learn them with just a few minutes running solo.

Destiny: Rise of Iron Patch 2.4 Notes

Destiny Rise of IronAfter I wrote up my thoughts on the weapon balance changes coming with the 2.4 patch for Destiny, Bungie released the full patch notes before maintenance ended and the patch went live. Much like with the weapon changes, there’s a lot here that I think is a really good thing, and a couple other parts that could need more time to really nail down.

First, my favorite change in the patch has to do with Public Events. Back in Year One, they were something we chased down – hell, destinypublicevents.com was bookmarked by many a player in order to find them easier. They were rewarding, there was often a Vanguard bounty for finishing a few of them, and honestly, they were just fun to do. With The Taken King, they changed – only netting you a handful of Motes of Light, and no more Vanguard bounties to do. Well we don’t know about a returning bounty yet, but completing that first Gold Public Event is about to get a lot more rewarding. You’ll still get Motes of Light and XP, but on top of that you’re earn Legendary Marks and a Legendary Engram. We don’t know if that’s per character or account, but either way, a guaranteed legendary is always a good thing, especially with loot 2.0 from April. That, along with the new patrol zone when it opens up, really should help populate Patrol as a mode again. It’s not exactly the Loot Cave, but it’s a great way to get a quick upgrade.

The other really big change that I like is that Legendary weapon Engrams aren’t going to drop from post-game Crucible results anymore. Instead of getting weapon engrams, you will earn the Crucible specific weapons – Eyasluna, Red Spectre, those weapons. They’ve also fixed the drop rates on the Crucible ships as well – although that was an unannounced change in the patch notes. We know about new cosmetic options – sparrows, ghosts, shaders, ships – so having those drops rates actually working is a great thing.

If there’s anything about the patch that I’m not high on, it’s that engrams have been decrypting a little lower than I was expecting. I had blues that were decrypting at 240 or so, which is easily 60 Light below what I was getting before the patch. It could just be because at this point Year Two items are officially legacy gear, so they’ll be lower across the board; or it could be a little bug. We probably have to wait until the 20th to know for sure. I think pretty much everything else is a good move. The changes to the Crucible modes Elimination and Salvage are exactly what they need to keep them competitive. One heavy spawn helps fight camping and drives the action towards that ammo crate’s spawn. The new scoring in Salvage should push people to actually play the objective since you get rewarded more for captures now. There are a couple more little tweaks and additions I like – previewing the exotic weapon ornaments, Banshee selling armor materials, previewing a couple new shaders, and knowing that exotic boots are decrypting above 335 along with the Trespasser dropping from special weapon engrams is cool. It’s a great taste of what we can expect from Rise of Iron in just over a week now.