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One Questline Destiny Deserves – The Cryptarch’s Challenge

by Matt Miller on Dec 26, 2016 at 11:00 AM

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Even as Destiny players have been digging into Destiny’s latest content drop, The Dawning, I’ve been increasingly noticing one frustration that plagues my day-to-day play with the game. As I noted in my impressions of the winter event, the addition of several new weapon and armor pieces is a welcome one, but it exacerbates an already frustrating problem. Vault space continues to be an annoyance for many, and the problem is aggravated by an over-abundance of loot drops, many of which are largely irrelevant for most level-capped players. 

In a typical night of Destiny play, I often find myself having to spend decent chunks of time emptying out detritus that has piled up at the postmaster, and then running back and forth to the Cryptarch to decrypt and subsequently dismantle gear. What was once an exciting “identification” analogue to classic fantasy RPGs has transformed into a mostly rote experience, which is only occasionally broken by a decent new weapon. Even for players who have done a better job of keeping their vault in check, the constant need to decrypt mostly useless items has lost its charm. 

I recognize the dilemma facing the developers at Bungie. Expanding vault size has clearly presented some technical challenges in the past, and it has to be frustrating that even after significant expansions, it seems like no vault will be big enough for many hardcore players. On the player’s side, you have folks like myself, who are reticent to constantly be forced to delete the treasures from past conquests, simply to clear another spot in the grid. Sure, I don’t really need to hold on to my Year One Fatebringer, but it just feels wrong to summarily send it off into the void. With vaults and guardian inventories mostly full, the postmaster can fill up fast, leading to the need for constant visits. Bungie also faces the challenge that the idea of engram decryption is built into the DNA of Destiny’s lore and gameplay loop; I can understand the challenge to retrofitting the system. 

Nonetheless, I think Destiny players would be delighted to see some adjustment to the current formula, and at least part of the solution could come through a willingness to let players earn more power over their inventory through in-game activities that are consistent with the narrative. While there are any number of ways that the clever devs at Bungie could do that, just for an example, I found myself imagining the ways that the fictional order of the Cryptarchy could provide relief.

When your inventory is full, the postmaster begins to fill up fast

Longtime players already grasp the idea of who and what the Cryptarchs are within the Destiny fiction; this group of scholars, archaeologists, and historians are a learned order that is fascinated by esoteric elements of the universe, and they have developed the skills to decrypt coded engrams – complex patterns that can become physical objects like weapons and armor. 

I’d love to see a questline that finally delves deeper into the Cryptarchy, and finally gives players the tools to decrypt items for themselves, effectively letting us join the Cryptarchy. Not only would such a set of missions provide a fun chance for new storytelling, but it would free devoted players from the frustration of endless Tower trips for a process that feels antiquated within the game loop.

Master Rahool is a favorite NPC for many players, thanks to his curious nature and professorial demeanor. Why not take advantage of that attitude, and give the master Cryptarch a chance to pass on his knowledge to the Guardians he has already helped for so long? New missions could send players out to uncover lost engrams that are hidden throughout the various Destiny locations, and in return, Rahool could teach our Guardian (and Ghost) the secrets of engram decryption. Through the completion of these missions, players could slowly work their way up through different tiers of engrams, from blue decoherent rare ones all the way up to the high skill necessary to understand exotic engrams. 

Bungie has already taken the first step in supporting this idea within the fiction and mechanics of the game. The recent Dawning patch made it so that level 40 characters automatically decrypt and dismantle standard uncommon green engrams. In my story-oriented mind, I imagine that it means my Guardian has finally begun to unlock the secrets of the Cryptarchs through long use and exposure to engrams. The idea that such a change might be the first step in a larger questline involving the Cryptarchs gets me excited. 

By letting players decrypt items instantly without returning to the Tower, the process of inventory management becomes far friendlier to players. Whether Bungie opened that door through a dedicated narrative questline like the one I’m suggesting with the Cryptarch, or through another less story-focused method, the change would make a big difference to the most dedicated players of Destiny. 

It’s difficult to imagine all the many changes to the Destiny universe that are on the way when Bungie releases its big announced sequel in 2017. But in the meantime, increased inventory management and player item decryption options would be a welcome change to the existing game. And if Bungie plays its cards right, it could carry its fiction forward in an intriguing way as it does so.