Destiny 2’s Iron Banner event made its debut this week, another carryover from the first game that’s been tweaked enough to require a reappraisal. Unfortunately, it’s lost something along the way.
Iron Banner is a week-long event that comes around every six weeks or so. It centers on the competitive Crucible, and in the first game, it tweaked the standard Crucible template in several ways. There was a separate event-specific vendor, loot table, and rank system, all tied to how you performed as you played. Matches were all set to a single game-type, usually Control-point domination, and player levels actually made a (very slight) difference in how much damage they dished out or received.
Destiny 2’s Iron Banner changes almost every part of the original Iron Banner formula, in addition to the many changes the sequel makes to the Crucible overall. You no longer rank up by playing, nor does your rank allow you to directly purchase items from the Iron Banner vendor. Instead, you earn tokens from wins and losses and cash them in at that vendor, same as with other Destiny 2 events. You no longer have to kit yourself out in Iron Banner gear or use special items to max your XP. And in the clearest difference, higher-level characters will no longer enjoy a slight damage advantage when compared with lower-level characters.
Much of the streamlining Bungie has done with Destiny 2 has been for the better, regardless of its (likely) short-term impact on the endless replayability of endgame. But now that I’ve spent an evening with the new Iron Banner, it’s clear that something is missing. Iron Banner has lost some crucial part of its identity.
Iron Banner used to occupy a space in between the hardcore sweat of Trials and the more casual vibe of ordinary Crucible. During Destiny 1, I rarely had the time or inclination to compete seriously in Trials, but I would routinely gear up for Iron Banner whenever it rolled around. A bunch of people from my clan would usually be online that week, and folks would pop into and out of one another’s parties freely. We’d team up, trash-talk, win some, lose some. At the start of the week, I’d see that the vendor had a gun I really wanted, and it was pretty easy to get to the rank I needed to buy it. And while the actual damage boost I got from being high level was almost meaningless, I still felt rewarded to have spent time building a loadout that would help me win.
Those systems have been removed, and the new Iron Banner is struggling to fill the space left in their absence. The new token reward system feels like the easiest thing to point to as a problem, but I don’t think that’s really it. Destiny 2 has shifted to a token economy for just about everything. Trials of the Nine, Faction Rally, and even the Leviathan raid lean toward rewarding players with tokens instead of in-activity loot drops. While the token system can be deflating compared with the first game’s more traditional drops, each of those activities still has a distinct identity.
The raid, obviously, is a raid. Trials sets itself apart from the usual Competitive playlist with its elimination-style punchcards, discrete social space and noticeably fiercer level of competition. Faction Rally allowed for an anodyne but enjoyable propaganda war between the factions, and more tangibly, encouraged players to explore Lost Sectors they may not have checked out previously. Iron Banner, by way of comparison, mostly just feels like Crucible with an expanded loot table.
It’s not bad, exactly. It’s just indistinct. It’s nice to have a Crucible playlist that’s nothing but Control matches, because Control remains one of the most solidly enjoyable of Destiny’s PvP modes. (Destiny 2, unlike its predecessor, doesn’t let you select modes before you start.) I played for a couple hours without fear of the usual back-to-back Supremacy matches that seem to dominate my time in the Crucible otherwise. I’m also always glad when there’s new loot to chase, though after playing all evening and only getting a couple of armor pieces, I do wish I could be saving up for a guaranteed weapon purchase.
Of all of Destiny 1’s varied challenges and timed activities, Iron Banner was the most steadfast. It wasn’t my favorite thing to do, but I always had a good time. Whenever it rolled around, it provided an enjoyable excuse to get back into the game if I’d been taking some time off. Some friends and I would party up, put on our Iron Banner regalia, and go blow some stuff up. The new Iron Banner feels less necessary. It could use some sort of tweak, some creative something to give it a more distinct identity. As it stands, it’s just not very exciting.