The Iron Banner – Or How to Find The Worst Parts of the Current Destiny Meta

Destiny Lord Saladin

Once again we’re back in Destiny – but this time we’re looking at what’s supposed to be an end-game activity: The Iron Banner. I’ve written about the Iron Banner a long time ago – way back during it’s first appearance. It pops up pretty much every other week these days – using the more updated settings they implemented months ago. This week is my first journey back into the Banner since I’ve come back to Destiny, and I am in for a long PvP week. Let’s talk about why.

First and foremost – the current meta is terrible. I’ve written about it, along with just about every Destiny streamer, blogger and YouTuber. The margin for error is basically nonexistent, and requires you to use certain specific weapons or archetypes. Normally, in the Crucible, you’ll see a few hold-outs – using weapons that don’t benefit from the current meta for a variety of reasons. My reasoning is that I don’t like contributing to the issues, so I refuse to use Thorn or Last Word; but I can’t turn down Red Death, because of the prevalence of those guns. Other may like using other weapons for challenges – especially streamers and YouTubers (AKA the No Land Beyond users). Because the normal Crucible doesn’t have level advantages enabled, the margin for error, as slim as it is, is a bit bigger. You can make a few more aggressive moves and still survive. Because it’s not considered an end-game activity, it also helps foster some experimentation. Try out different builds – armor, weapons, perks – in the Crucible and then apply them to Trials of Osiris. That doesn’t happen in Iron Banner.

Destiny Thorn

Iron Banner was considered an end-game event – it used to net you max level gear. Now the gear you buy will only get you to level 33, you’ll still have to Etheric Light your way to 34. The loot drops from completion are I believe higher tiered, but that’s relying on RNG – an unreliable method at best. But it still holds that air of end-game. You are encouraged, because of level advantages, to bring your strongest gear. And because of that, you’ll pretty much only see those absolute top-tier weapons. In a few hours of Iron Banner yesterday, I think I can count on one hand the number of people that weren’t using either Red Death, Thorn or Last Word. Add in that I was consistently the only Titan in the game – not only on my team, but in the game – and it’s really easy to see exactly what the current meta rewards. Warlocks and Hunters have always been the best PvP classes – Blink/shotgun basically ensures that remains the case. Even though most of us playing Iron Banner are already Level 34 with good gear, there’s still a desire to try to get those perfect rolled weapons. And that reinforces the Thorn/Last Word/Red Death primary weapon trinity. If you use anything else – with the exception being the other Top-Tier legendaries (Messenger) – you’re at a disadvantage.

Iron Banner, and the Crucible in general, is actually a lot of fun. Because Bungie has done such a great job of putting in the foundation with the action, PvP is a blast. When it works. Unfortunately, the current meta just doesn’t work. Even way back at launch – when Suros reigned supreme – the overall picture was a lot more even. And as a result, it was a bit more fun. I found myself having a lot more fun then than now. Now I have to play to counter very specific tactics/weapons; as opposed to using whatever I want to have fun. In truth, the only real reason that I’m even playing Iron Banner is for those Etheric Lights to buy – that way I can max out a few last pieces of gear before The Taken King makes it all obsolete.

Advertisements

Destiny, Call of Duty and Halo’s Online Status – November 20, 2014

Destiny The Dark BelowThis has been an interesting week for the new “big three” of online shooters. All three – Destiny, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and Halo: The Master Chief Collection – either have already gotten, or will get today, a pretty substantial patch. Destiny’s dropped early on in the week – this is the first in a series of planned patches to prepare for the first Expansion, “The Dark Below” on December 9. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare got an update yesterday that addressed a number of multiplayer specific issues, which is at least the second patch that is based around connection issues online in as many weeks. Finally, the Halo: The Master Chief Collection is getting a pretty loaded patch at some point this afternoon. The patch notes – which I was just harping on the other day – were released this morning in advance of the actual install of the patch. Based on what they released, this patch should really make playing it online an actual option now.

Advanced Warfare Cover

With all the patches, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at each game’s current status online. Let’s start with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – it’s only been out for three weeks, but has already gotten a number of patches. Typically with Call of Duty games, the patches address weapon balance issues as well as spawn location fixes, to go along with map exploits. But because of a rather rocky launch, these first few weeks have been filled with patches to improve the connectivity of the game. Admittedly, since Halo released, I have been playing more of that, but I did dive back in to some Call of Duty yesterday – and I can say that the game definitely plays much smoother than it did even last week. I think now the game is finally to a stable enough point where Sledgehammer Games can start looking at those other issues – the weapons I think definitely need a bit of a re-balance, as do the spawns. I had a game last night on Greenband where I spawned directly below an enemy – twice – in a Hardcore TDM game. I had similar spawns on Instinct as well. You can’t have that for long, or the online game suffers as a whole. I have faith in Sledgehammer, based around how well they’ve handled these first three weeks, that they’ll get things under control.

Destiny

As for Destiny, the patches at this point tend to have less to do with connection issues, and more to do with in-game tweaks and additions. Bungie can have patches focused around this now, thanks to the game’s launching two full months ago. They’ve used their time with the game well – the connections are stable, a lot of the exploits have been addressed, and for the most part, the game is about as complete as they can get it. This most recent patch accomplished a few things – primarily, it laid the framework for the upcoming DLC, “The Dark Below.” New geometry was placed, both in story missions to prevent leaving the world, as well as in Crucible maps to fix some exploits. Other additions were small, but I think they add a lot – there’s now a preview for shaders, as well as emblems, the customization vendor now sells more shaders, and players can hold up to 10 total bounties now, which is a little touch, but really helps. The other big Destiny item for this week is the return of the Iron Banner. Much was made of the fact that the Iron Banner wasn’t quite what they had said it would be – Bungie took that to heart, and went back to the drawing board. They’ve come back with a set-up that actually takes stats into account to a larger extent; five ranks of reputation to go through, and gear that is actually worth building up to get; as well as a new buff that makes it easier for players to get rep later in the week. It’s a step in the right direction for these timed events; I’m more curious to see how they approach the story based ones though.

Halo Master Chief Collection

Finally, we get to Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Oh boy, where to begin – the fact that matchmaking has basically been unplayable since launch? Or that even in private lobbies, playing Custom Games (which are always fun in Halo, even 13 years later) is a major chore? I could start with the UI issues involving the Roster not showing my friends as playing the game, even when I know for a fact they are. There are plenty of issues to deal with – so many that it worries me about how they may even impact Halo 5: Guardians. Luckily, 343 Industries acted pretty quickly, putting a server side patch up last week that they say helped; and at the same time coming up with a pretty substantial patch for this week. Today, that bigger patch drops – and man, those patch notes are pretty encouraging. From the looks of things, this patch is pretty much totally focused around getting matchmaking to work, keeping parties together during and after games, and making the UI functional for joining friends. There are a couple of other little things in the patch like fixing the player cards and emblems from resetting after games, as well as some achievement tweaks, but in general, this is a patch that is based around getting the game working online as fast as possible. If it works, we could start seeing more playlist hoppers open, along with the competitive series starting. If not, than I really think 343 is in trouble – the Holiday buying season is here, and if their game isn’t working, people will pass it up for other games this Holiday.

Destiny Iron Banner First Appearance Wrap Up

DestinyWe have a busy week ahead of us this week, with the launch tomorrow of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Starting tomorrow I’ll be running through each character, giving build tips for each one, both playing solo, as well as co-op; beyond that I also will be posting my general impressions on the game. The Destiny posts will probably slow down a bit, but I’ll be playing it consistently still, and if anything major pops up, I’ll be sure to write it down here, or over on Twitter. If I did the planning correct, Borderlands content should bring us right up to the release of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, which I plan on also having plenty of content for. So buckle up, we’re officially in the busy portion of the year.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s shift focus back to Destiny. Today is the last full day of the Iron Banner Crucible event, at least the end of its first appearance. It’s been an interesting first impression I think. Going in, a lot of players, myself included, thought that it was a pure leveled experience. All of the promotion of the event made it seem that every bit of gear that you had upgraded was going to matter – meaning you needed to make sure everything was as maxed as possible. In practice though, it’s still a bit of a curved playing field  In the last Bungie weekly update, they went through a bit more of the mechanics behind the gameplay. It turns out that in the Iron Banner, they cap the level difference at 7 levels, meaning that even players that bring in new characters can still get kills and perform well. There are plenty of videos online of level 5 characters entering the Iron Banner and dominating. Bungie said that your skill gets you 80% of the way – I think it’s probably higher than that. Players that know how to best play the Crucible can still totally do well, even against high level enemies. They did say that low level gear and characters will have a longer time-to-kill than high level gear and characters, but that doesn’t necessary matter in a lot of cases, especially since the Iron Banner only had Control available; meaning teamwork goes a long way to determining success.

Destiny Lord Saladin

I talked a little about my thoughts on the rewards for the Iron Banner back on the first day it was available, but now that it’s closing, I want to reinforce those thoughts. In general, the gear that you can buy from Lord Saladin, at least as a PvP Striker, the armor isn’t too desirable – both the gauntlets and chest piece have Intellect and Strength boosts. The Intellect is nice, but Discipline is much more desirable for PvP, and you can find gear with both Intellect and Discipline on them on the Tower. The Machine Gun that he has is a solid option, assuming that you haven’t been able to come across one already, but requires you to do a whole lot of Iron Banner grinding. And the random rewards for playing games aren’t really worth the time – legendary weapons that are decent, but there are better options out there. Instead of being a place for Endgame characters to test out their best gear and skills – and getting gear that’s equivalent to the Raid gear – the Iron Banner in practice is just a slightly tougher version of the Crucible. And the rewards aren’t really worth the trouble (aside from the Shader, which looks pretty badass on my Titan). Bungie did address a lot of these points in the weekly update – going forward to the next time the Iron Banner is up, I fully expect it to look a lot different.

Destiny Queen of the Reef

The other thing that the Iron Banner closing brings with it is the end of the scheduled events for the first couple months of Destiny. As of the time of writing this, Bungie hasn’t released any promotion for the next set of events. I don’t know exactly what it coming up in the next couple weeks – I doubt that the Queen’s Emissary will be back so quickly – we might go back to weekly Crucible playlists (Salvage), or maybe we’ll get a new event entirely. I mentioned when I wrapped up the Queen’s Wrath event that I could see them bringing in the Exo Stranger as a weekly event, taking bounties from her to hunt down enemies and get legendary gear, much like the Queen’s Wrath. Bungie is in a strange spot right now – there’s still a couple months until the first DLC, but they need something to keep players invested in that time as other major games come out. They can do that with solid timed events – Queen’s Wrath and Iron Banner are good starts, but they need a little bit more with them, and I think we might start seeing that soon.

Destiny Iron Banner Event Early Impressions

DestinyAs I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the Queen’s Wrath event ending has in turn resulted in the beginning of the next timed event for Destiny, the Iron Banner Crucible playlist. In contrast to the Queen’s Wrath, the Iron Banner is entirely a PvP event, at this point exclusively using the Control gametype. The other major selling point of participating in the event is that level advantages have been turned on, meaning that the actual stats for weapons and armor take effect. I played around with the playlist a bit yesterday and thought I’d put down my impressions of the event early on in it’s time available.

First off, I’m writing from a level 27 Titan perspective, so I will admit that I’m unsure how the matchmaking works with characters that are at different levels. I was matched with pretty much level 26-29 characters in the games I played. My initial thoughts really were that the most important piece of gear is a maxed out Legendary or Exotic auto rifle. My Shadow Price (one of the Legendary Vanguard autos) is not actually at max damage and I could very easily tell a difference between my rifle’s performance versus a player using the same weapon with more damage upgrades applied. This just places further emphasis on getting those Ascendant materials to upgrade the high level items. The problem is that those materials are really difficult to get in large amounts. You can grab two for doing the daily mission at level 28, but others really are at the whim of the RNG. Public events are a good option, mainly because they’re easy to track with destinypublicevents.com now, but the only time Ascendant material is guaranteed from them is the first of the day. What this translates to is a lot more grinding to perform well against enemies in the Iron Banner.

Destiny Lord Saladin

The problem with that is that the rewards for playing in the Iron Banner aren’t really anything extravagant. The two armor pieces that you can buy from Lord Saladin are standard Legendary fare, but the Titan’s gear at least, has stats that I don’t really think benefit the class. The only weapon available for purchase is a heavy machine gun that is pretty solid, but as a heavy weapon it’s use is limited. Add in that I think rocket launchers are a much better option for PvP and I think that further limits the use of Jolder’s Hammer. The other items available – the cosmetic stuff – all looks pretty good, but does require you to play a bunch of games to build up reputation with Lord Saladin. The other issue with the rewards is that I wasn’t able to really notice any difference with the random rewards for finishing games. With that being the case, and with no real inclination to pick up any of the gear that can be bought, I would just as soon keep playing the standardized Crucible matches.

I did do a quick comparison last night as well between the Iron Banner and regular Crucible Control to see just how different they are. The biggest difference I found was just how much more survivable the default Crucible is – having standardized damage makes losing your shields not quite nearly as much of a death sentence as it is in the Iron Banner. In the Crucible you can tweak your loadout more so to play with gear that you like, with Iron Banner, you want to make sure it’s all the best possible gear. Ultimately, I think the Iron Banner really is built for players that have already run through the Vault of Glass and have the rewards from that – it’s got value for players with incredible gear, but for those of us still rocking some blue items, it might be too much.

Destiny Queen’s Wrath Event Wrap-Up

The first major timed event in Destiny, The Queen’s Wrath, wrapped up early this morning here on the east coast so I thought I would offer up my thoughts on how it went. From what I can tell, this is probably how events will unfold going forward, using the Queen’s Wrath as a blueprint.

Destiny Queen of the Reef

What I mean by that is that each event will have specific bounties that are available at the Tower to increase your reputation with that particular faction. With the Queen, the bounties that were PvE all involved killing Fallen in some capacity – either with headshots, specific bosses or killing enough to get 200 ether drops from them; while the PvP bounties needed you to kill other Guardians with headshots with specific weapons, or be wearing the Queen’s cosmetic items (Emblem, Shader and Class Armor). In general I found the PvE bounties to be much much easier to complete, really with no trouble at all – the boss bounties didn’t even require a Heroic modifier, so it was possible to do the missions at the base level to blow through them. The Crucible bounties on the other hand were a lot harder – the only headshot bounties I ever saw were using Scout Rifles or Hand Cannons – both weapons that currently are lacking in PvP compared to the Auto Rifles. Beyond that, to even wear the Queen’s items you had to get her reputation up to rank two, which required a bit of a grind with those bounties.

As with the Vanguard and Crucible bounties, the ultimate goal is to get that rep up to rank three to be able to buy the level 20 legendary weapons. Unfortunately, the weapons that the Queen had weren’t particularly better than the ones that the Vanguard, Crucible or faction reps already sold, and players had a better chance of having a level three rep with one of those vendors already going into the Queen’s Wrath event. The other incentive to completing the bounties were the “Kill Orders” that you got for each bounty. Essentially having one of these mission rewards opened up a high level variant of previous missions with the Epic modifier on. Playing these missions got you pretty solid drops from the enemies, plus at the end of each mission, you were guaranteed a legendary item, usually purple Queen’s armor. The issue is that the rewards were completely random – I got the same gauntlets and helmet every time we ran the missions. At the time (and still now) I already had purchased legendary gauntlets from the Vanguard, so only the helmet was useful for me. Every other item I got was turned into armor parts. It was also possible to get legendary weapons as random rewards at the end of missions, but it was totally random – out of the close to 10 missions my fireteam ran, we only had one person get one sniper rifle, and that was only the ones we ran together. It all comes back to the only loot issue that I have with Destiny right now – the engrams weren’t the problem, it’s the inconsistency of high level loot drops for high level character.

Destiny Lord Saladin

As for how the event itself unfolded, I think it went well – the bounties did add some extra wrinkles to the same old missions, and the Queen’s Wrath missions were really fun to run, thanks to the added difficulty. I think the real benefit from the Queen’s Wrath event is showing that just little tweaks to the gameplay can really add a lot of value to them. It’s like the last part of the Thorn Exotic bounty – taking the Summoning Pits strike and cranking it up to level 26 with Epic on made it a whole hell of a lot of fun. The same extended to the Queen’s missions – running into the same bosses, but at a level where they’re actually a threat again, no matter what level you are is exciting. I think that we’ll probably see similar events in the future, perhaps for different factions, but as for who those factions would be I’m not sure – maybe the Exo Stranger? I also fully expect to see the Queen’s Emissary show back up at the Tower before too long. But for now she’s set off back to the Reef, and in her place now the Iron Banner has opened – and that means it’s time to make sure your high tier gear is pretty well maxed out to survive.

Let’s Take a More Detailed Look at the Destiny Beta: The Crucible

DestinyAll week I’ve been running through my thoughts on the beta for Destiny, starting with an overview, then going through the classes and yesterday the locations. Today I want to hit the other major portion of the game we were able to experience, the Crucible, or Destiny’s PvP arena. With a game like Destiny I was a little uneasy at how Bungie would approach PvP – they’ve always done a great job with competitive multiplayer but I was worried how the leveled gear would impact it. Luckily, Bungie took that into account and created the Crucible to suit their ideas for PvP.

CRUCIBLE BASICS
To help even the playing field for guardians, Bungie took a smart approach to the Crucible. It doesn’t actually unlock for players until they reach level 5, and even then, all the level advantages are turned off, meaning that the playing field is a level as possible. Some upgrades are still in play, in particular it looked like weapon and armor and class modifiers all still worked, but the actual stats were evened out for all players. Beyond that, it’s easy to get into the Crucible, just set the playlist you want to play as your destination from orbit and you’re off. The other nice thing is that once the Crucible is unlocked on one character, the other two characters on a profile can access it as soon as they reach the Tower. This makes it easy to try the other classes in PvP quickly, albeit most likely not at full power yet.

Destiny Crucible

CONTROL BASICS
In the beta we only had access to one gametype – Control – which functioned like a domination gametype, but one where kills also added to the team score. Because they added in that feature to the scoring, the score limit needed to be high enough to make the games still last long enough to feel satisfying; but at the same time, teamplay is still rewarded and capturing the points is still the best way to raise your teams score. One thing that I noticed was very important was managing ammo for special and heavy weapons. I ran with a shotgun and HMG for my special and heavy weapons, and found that they each were capable of turning a point defense in my favor quickly if used correctly. Add in managing grenades, melee and super ability cooldowns, and it’s a much more mental shooter than Halo or Call of Duty is. I found that the Warlock and Titan were both better suited for clearing control points, while Hunters were great for providing overwatch, as it relates to their super abilities.

CRUCIBLE MAPS
We only had two maps to play in the beta, one that was set on Venus, The Shores of Time and one set on the Moon, First Light. Of the two, I enjoyed Shores of Time much more so, I think just because First Light is a bigger map, and my Titan build was designed more for close combat than long range fights. First Light also featured vehicles, including Pikes, personal Sparrows and the Interceptor – which during the beta was clearly over powered, to the extent that Bungie has already addressed it for the retail release. Shores of Time played to me much more like a classic Halo map – frantic, with lots of close range action punctuated with spots of sniper fire. The locations of the control points on Shores of Time made it very easy to start running circuits for both defense and offense, meaning that there really wasn’t ever a break in the action. First Light on the other hand felt almost too spread out, especially based around a couple of the spawn locations, which just felt too far from any particular map feature. Spawn locations are one of those things that are always being tweaked with any online shooter though, so I expect Bungie to be working on those throughout Destiny‘s lifespan.

Destiny Lord Saladin

THE IRON BANNER
The other aspect of the Crucible that we got to see was the Iron Banner, a timed playlist that turned on level advantages, meaning that the stats and levels of you character and gear mattered. I’ll admit I was hesitant to head in as early as my fireteam did, just because at that point I was using a Pulse Rifle that I wasn’t super happy with, and my shotgun actually became my primary weapon. However, there were two new maps, Rusted Lands, set on Earth and Blind Watch, which was set on Mars that were exclusive to the Iron Banner. Both these maps felt good, closer in scale to Shores of Time than First Light, with good sight lines, and plenty of choke points. Of the two, I think I preferred Rusted Lands a little, mainly because the Control Points were easier to navigate between without prior map knowledge. I also felt that as the game plays at this point in time, using an Auto Rifle or Scout Rifle is really the only way to go – the recoil patterns on Pulse Rifles make it difficult to hit multiple Criticals, while Hand Cannons have small clips and long reloads, making it less likely for you to come out on top of longer fights. As for gear, going in with green, or Uncommon, gear seemed to be the only way to go, since most green items have some kind of upgrades associated with them.

CRUCIBLE TWEAKS
Overall, I think Bungie has a good way of approaching the PvP aspect of Destiny on their hands with the Crucible. I like that in order to unlock multiple playlists, you have to progress in level, encouraging players to play the story, strike and explore modes and not just sit in PvP the whole time. That said, there are a few little things that I hope to see Bungie address for the final retail build. First and foremost, the spawns – in general I felt that the spawn locations were alright, but in a few instances, I spawned either right next to an enemy, or in one game, twice in a row with an enemy looking right at me with his weapon ready to go; but as I said, spawns are always being tweaked online. Second, I’m a little wary of how the Iron Banner will go when the full game ships – whether it will be a timed playlist, and more importantly, whether matchmaking will take into account players’ levels. I think that the second point is much more important, I can’t imagine going in as a level 5 character and matching up with level 20s being any fun at all. Finally is that I’m just curious as to how the other gamemodes will work, as well as the final map count. Bungie has a history of having a really strong map list throughout the Halo series, so I feel pretty confident that will still be the case here. Once again though, I’m stuck waiting until September to find out – only one month left to go.