Solving Destiny’s Most Insane Puzzle – Outbreak Prime
At 11:30pm last night, I was getting ready to log out of Destiny when someone popped into my group’s party chat to declare that someone had solved the puzzle. The “puzzle,” in this case, was the ARG-style community project that first intrigued players yesterday morning, and the “they” was the entirety of the Destiny community working in concert to confront a seemingly unsolvable problem. My party, including fellow Destiny enthusiast and editor-in-chief, Andy McNamara, began to buzz with excitement. It was already late. Some of us had to work in the morning. But should we do it? Should we take our own shot at it?
Cut to more than four hours later, and the cheering of an exhausted but triumphant raid team as we opened a treasure chest, and a chance to acquire Destiny’s most exclusive weapon.
Let me take a step back and explain. As Rise of Iron rolled out last week, many players knew of the existence of Outbreak Prime, an amazing looking new exotic pulse rifle that was planned for release in the game. But no one knew how to obtain the gun. Simultaneously, clever raid teams had been spending the days since the September 23rd launch of Wrath of the Machine attempting to uncover all of the raid’s many secrets. And there are plenty to discover. There are more chests and hidden secrets in this six-person expedition than any raid in the game’s two-year history, including cleverly disguised secret clusters of SIVA, and loot chests hidden at the top of complex jump puzzles.
In addition, those same enterprising raid groups had begun to uncover hidden, static-filled monitors in out-of-the way places, and a room at the tail end of the raid that showed off one final intriguing box. Turning on the monitors throughout the raid deactivated laser grids that blocked the way to this chest, except for one. What were we missing? What waited beyond that last infuriating lock?
The possible solution began to make its appearance yesterday, on Tuesday morning, as a new Bungie site offered a puzzling dilemma. Once logged into your account, this site provides an indecipherable string of letters and numbers. Details about a forwarding protocol and node sensors is followed by a complex string of code – largely meaningless on its own. But it is decipherable in concert with thousands of other players who have also received their own code string. The community got to work.
The Hive Mind
I want to pause here and note my fascination with what was happening here. Bungie had introduced an official puzzle that had a direct effect on the in-game world of Destiny, but there was literally no way to solve it on one’s own. Only the community in concert, and with incredible coordination, would be able to decipher the next step. Here was last year's obsession with the Sleeper Simulant weapon, but this time, there were no conspiracy theories. It was the real thing.
Destiny communities (most notably the Destiny Reddit and Raid Secrets groups) began to compile the code. Individual pieces fit together in a precise way with other pieces. After enormous spreadsheets of info and decoding complicated cyphers, a connection became clear. The code led to tiny fragments of an image. And after hours of work (no doubt hundreds or thousands of actual person-hours), a full image appeared. A sequence of diamond shapes in rows and columns, gathered around a larger central diamond. Even with the solution, a non-player or even casual Destiny player would be at a loss. But for those who had spent the last days exploring the latest raid, this was no mystery. The image clearly depicted the enigmatic room near the end of the Wrath of the Machine raid, filled with gigantic battery-like canisters.
Raid teams got to work. The enthusiastic Destiny streamer Datto and his raid team deserve enormous credit, as they dove in (along with other enthusiasts) to confront the next set of challenges, and they were the first ones to crack the solution and share it. And it was a doozy. At first glance, it seems almost too complex for a video game puzzle – as one is doing it, you marvel a little bit that the rabbit hole could possibly be this deep.
Down The Digital Rabbit Hole
Here’s what Datto and his team discovered, followed by hundreds more groups as the late hours of the night wore on.
By playing through the entire raid, you must turn on a sequence of three earlier monitors. One is hidden above the inoperative ventilation fan in the back left safe room of the Archpriest boss fight. A second appears in the second jumping puzzle sequence, high atop a climb of exposed piping. A third demands that players shoot a panel off the right wall after the Siege Engine fight, and jump down into a hidden corridor. Another fourth monitor (not to be activated until later) teased from the blocked corridor itself within the final boss room.
But a last linked set of missing monitors is where the ARG image comes into play. Late in the raid, you come into a specimen room filled with both enemies and pillars of SIVA threads. Two members of the raid group must go to the far right and left sides of this crowded chamber, and wait next to two inoperative monitors.
Meanwhile, the four remaining team members continue to run forward through the darkened depths of the Splicer’s inner sanctum, eventually emerging into an imposing and cavernous space of canisters, navigable by a diamond-shaped walkway. Examine the picture from the ARG, and the four teammates can determine which of the many canisters must be jumped onto to initiate a rumbling continuation of the puzzle.
Back in the chamber, I hear Andy exclaim. “The monitor is up!”
When one of the two raid team members by the monitors activates the monitor, both of them begin to see a sequence of four-digit numbers flash onto the screen. For the next couple of hours, we puzzled over the sequences. Even with the advice of the internet, only a few groups had figured it out in those early hours, and advice was contradictory and confusing.
Finding the solution wasn’t one of those “aha” moments where everything was just so obvious. No, even when we solved it, we waited with bated breath to make sure we had it right.
The two monitor readers listed off their sequence of binary numbers, shouting out things like “0101” and “0010,” which in turn could be translated into standard decimals like 05 or 02. The person shouting numbers from the left monitor turns out to have a vertical column coordinate, and the right monitor code string is the horizontal row coordinate. Back in the canister room, the other four of us have to stand on the walkway in front of each of four quadrants, labeled from 00 to 03. Each quadrant has rows and columns of canisters, and by translating the shouted binary, we could find the correct canister upon which to leap. Then, in an infuriating final moment of patience, we wait for several moments to see if the sequence keys in. At long last, the canisters all light up. The central diamond unfolds. And within, sitting beside a chest with a new exclusive emblem, the next monitor was available to activate.
Back to the Fight
By now, we’re all tense and tired. But what are we going to do? Stop there? Only five days after the raid launched, we’ve only beaten the final boss, Aksis, a few times. And none of us were this tired when we had. Mistakes were inevitable. We were missing bomb throws, falling off the edges of the map, and forgetting to shout out necessary communication. Wipe. Wipe. Wipe. Win!
As Aksis disintegrated into a cloud of SIVA particles, we ran forward to grab our loot, and I was delighted to get my raid helmet. But it was back behind the battle arena where the real reward awaited. Dropping down off the back platform on the left side of the map, we crowded into a corridor with one last monitor, and tapped activate. The chest was open, and we had won. Or had we?
The Quest Begins
Opening the final raid chest was a huge triumph, but by no means was it the end of the unfolding of onion layers. The final chest doesn’t contain the elusive Outbreak Prime pulse rifle. Rather, it holds a mysterious object called the SIVA engine, whose “energy flow must be synchronized and routed through its layered operating systems.”
Back at the Iron Temple atop Felwinter Peak, the gunsmith Shiro-4 had a new quest for me. “Be the Battery” is a unique mission, and one with an unusual requirement. Whether it’s about wielding a pulse rifle in battle, or engaging in public events in Destiny’s new zone, the sequence once again doubles down on the theme that pervades this entire mysterious web of secrets – community. I must complete the next steps with both a Hunter and a Titan at the side of my Warlock.
Bungie is exploring a sophisticated concept here. Whether it’s the initial ARG, the complex communication and coordination in the binary puzzle within the raid, or this newest demand that I work with other Guardians to fuel my recently acquired engine, this is a questline about working together. One of the first trailers for Destiny teased the idea: “The strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.” Two years later, just as Lord Saladin has dubbed our Guardians as Young Wolves, the developers at Bungie have offered their most potent expression of that theme. Individual players must contribute their skills and knowledge to this venture, but only by working in concert can we acquire the desired reward.
Andy and I pulled in our friend, Chase, who we’ve fought beside in countless raids over the months. And off we rode to confront a nightfall strike and power up our battery.
The latter stages of the Outbreak Prime quest are hard to wait through. Most of the activities involved joining my team in familiar activities that are anything but novel. A nightfall strike and the completion of public events. Killing random enemies with a pulse rifle. And then, in between these familiar activities, my SIVA engine requires some arithmetic through yet another puzzle sequence, setting up precise charge amounts along a grid of potential additions and subtractions. Along the way, I have to stay teamed up with my fireteam, so we have a complete group comprising a Hunter, Titan, and Warlock at each step along the way.
After a long morning and afternoon of Crucible matches, Archon’s Forge victories, and other seemingly random activities, the final task reunites our smaller fireteam with the rest of the raid team, and yet another full runthrough of the raid, in order to gather the last pieces to activate our dormant quest item. After another victory, and one last grid-based math puzzle (this time unique to my particular character), Shiro-4 finally offers the chance to collect my prize. The Outbreak Prime pulse rifle drops at 390 light with that satisfying clap of a new exotic; it's the highest value of any equipment piece I’ve yet seen in the game. My teammates share in the victory, as we each walk away with our new go-to primary weapon.
As I sit here now writing these last words about the last many hours of discovery and questing within the game, I’m reminded of why I continue to play Destiny after so many months. It is the way triumphs like these are so frequently shared, making a win all the sweeter for sharing it with friends. It’s the ever-increasing complexity of the game systems, like the audacity to ask a video game audience to translate binary code in order to access an in-game reward. It’s the way these quests link back to a larger story about the world, its threats, and its heroes. And it’s the sensation of confronting a task different from anything I’ve seen in other games, and overcoming the challenge.
I wish the best of luck to all the Guardians out there pursuing that same challenge even as we speak. I’m off to shoot my new favorite gun. And only then, perhaps I'll get some sleep.