Opinion – The Brilliant Blunder Of Destiny 2’s Laser Tag Weekend

by Matt Miller on Dec 11, 2017 at 05:39 PM

Curse of Osiris, the first expansion to Destiny 2, released last week. I’ve been playing a lot in the lead-up to writing a review, which I’m waiting to finalize until after the patch that goes live this week, an addition that promises to add significant features that should be factored into a full evaluation. 

In the meantime, I’ve watched with great amusement the saga of the Prometheus Lens, the brand new exotic trace rifle that appeared alongside the expansion – a flame ray-firing beam of disaster. As early as launch day, a few players had been lucky enough to get the weapon to drop, and it didn’t take long for the competitive Crucible to see its power. Bungie quickly recognized the problem of the overpowered gun, and the developer acknowledged a bug that boosts Prometheus Lens’ destructive capability. This thing was a beast, boasting a time-to-kill unheard of in the current meta, and making virtually any other weapon (or even super) feel pale in comparison for pure winning potential. 

It meant that those who had gotten the loot drop were suddenly kings of the hill. Until Friday. That morning, the enigmatic vendor known as Xur arrived as he always does with exotic armor and weapons to peddle…including the Prometheus Lens. Quickly dubbed laser tag by the wider community of Destiny players, virtually every match was a light show of flashing red beams, sudden vaporizations, and frantic leaping flights from danger. Suddenly, the Crucible wasn’t just a little broken – it was a disaster. A beautiful, hilarious, wildly fun disaster, and exactly what Destiny 2 needs more of. 

Let’s back up. Am I saying that I want the Crucible to feature all-Prometheus Lens all the time? No. This gun should be scaled back, and supposedly, it will be with the forthcoming patch in less than 24 hours. Am I even saying that these super-fast time-to-kill rates are the recipe for a more enjoyable Crucible? Contrary to what some in the community have proclaimed, I don’t think so. While some competitive streamers have been frustrated by the current state of Destiny 2’s PvP, I know many less-skilled players (who are perhaps also less vocal in the community) who have felt engaged with the Crucible for the first time, and that is thanks, in part, to it being a more deliberate and team-oriented game. The speed and excitement of the current Crucible meta does need work, with more variety for both high-skill players and newcomers, but I’m not convinced that the answer is to suddenly make every game mode into a frenzied killfest. 

Instead, this weekend’s unexpected and unplanned bout of laser tag insanity is the kind of one-off craziness that Destiny 2 needs to embrace. Bungie deserves a lot of credit for recognizing the mistake of Prometheus Lens shortly after Curse of Osiris launched, and ensuring that everyone could get in on the action by having Xur sell the offending weapon. It may have been an accident, but Bungie responded with agility and good humor. As a player, once I got over the sudden change, I had a blast (literally) blowing away competitors with the Prometheus Lens, and enjoying the sudden shift in playstyle that came along with it. 

Standard Crucible weapons and supers were at a dramatic disadvantage over this most recent weekend

If the Prometheus Lens remained this way, it would be terrible. Destiny 2, like its predecessor, is a game that relies on a complex interplay of different weapon types, classes, and game types. Stripping all of that away would dramatically lessen the depth of the game systems, and in short order, the game would lose all its luster. But a few days of broken laser destruction? That’s something I can get behind. 

Whether you always agree with Bungie’s sandbox and balance decisions, I’ve spoken enough with the developers at that studio to know how carefully they consider every change they make to what is ultimately an incredibly complex interplay of game mechanics. By and large, that drive for balance is a good thing, but with respect to the hard work the team does, Bungie could afford to loosen the constraints from time to time, and implement the same brand of hysteria that overwhelmed the Crucible this weekend, but on purpose instead of by mistake.  

Imagine a weekend competitive event for the Crucible in which you had no gun ammo, but your melee ability was always primed to full. What if occasional PVE planetary flashpoints included overwhelming invasions of enemy attackers across an entire destination for those that opted into the experience (an idea that Bungie toyed with in pre-release events for Destiny’s previous expansions)? How about a frantic Marathon Man-like chase through the underbelly of the Leviathan raid, with Cabal War Beasts nipping at the party’s heels like a futuristic running of the bulls, killing off stragglers who don’t get out of the way? These aren’t good ideas in the sense of balanced, carefully curated content. But they represent the tone of play that many players would enjoy: A dynamic and ever-shifting playspace where the standard rules are made to be broken, balance be damned. 

In the age of games-as-service, Destiny 2 is just one of many games that needs to become more agile and reactive to its fans, and offer opportunities for creative play and surprises on a regular basis. I’ve been heartened that Destiny 2 has tried hard in its first months of release to consistently include weekly events like Faction Rallies and Iron Banner. Even though those events haven’t yet hit their full potential, it’s a good first step. But more dramatic change-ups will be required to keep the game feeling lively and adventurous. Like the Outbreak Prime quest in Rise of Iron, or the horrendously broken loot cave of Destiny's launch, fans like being in on the secrets of a game’s past, and even its mistakes. 

I’m more cognizant than many that a big game like Destiny 2 is an unwieldy ship to steer in a new direction. It’s hard to implement sweeping mini-events or short-term modes, and make sure that the entire boat doesn’t go down in flames in the process. It’s easy for me to say: “Bungie should just do this!,” and ignore the work that is involved. Even so, I saw over this weekend how much fun could emerge from the introduction of one accidentally broken gun. I can only imagine that the same sort of thing, created with intent and forethought, could be even better.