Destiny, a video game in which players roam the solar system getting angry at Destiny, recently introduced some changes to exotic weapons and armor, and today, as we finally see the last of those changes in action, it's become clear that they're a total mess.
Let me explain. About two weeks ago, Bungie totally overhauled Destiny's exotic gear—you know, the yellow-colored stuff, only lets you use one weapon and one piece of armor at a time—to change the upgrade system and make weapons more powerful. Now, instead of using the "ascendant" shards and energy you use to upgrade legendary gear, you have to use something way rarer—an item called the Exotic Shard that you can only get from A) Xur, the weekend vendor, or B) dismantling other exotic gear. Also, all the weapons got some decent buffs.
So far, so good. Overall, those are Decent Changes.
But there's another wrinkle to this system. Since just about all of the old exotic weapons and armor are capped based on vanilla Destiny's values—including, most importantly, the level-granting Light, which caps at 30 on all old exotic armor—Bungie needed to figure out a way to get old gear on par with the new stuff they've introduced in the newly-released DLC, The Dark Below. Enter the Xur Upgrade System, a baffling, infuriating feature that's left me scratching my head and wondering what they were thinking.
To use this system, you need to take your old exotics to Xur, the vendor that appears in the Tower from Friday-Sunday morning. At Xur, you can swap one of your old exotics for a new and improved item with the same name and features but different base values—new exotic weapons will now go up to 331 attack; new armor will now go up to 36 light. You can only do this swapping at Xur, and you can only swap the items that he has available on any given weekend.
This introduces a number of problems.
Problem 1 - Since Xur's inventory of Exotic upgrades rotates every week, you're stuck waiting for him to have the specific items you need on any given Friday—and if you can't play Destiny on the one weekend he has your upgrade, you're shit out of luck. It's a slot machine. There is no way to alleviate this problem short of getting lucky or just tracking down another new exotic, which really just means MORE GRINDING.
Problem 2 - Buffing up your old exotics requires a ridiculous amount of glimmer—over 7,000 per item—suddenly turning it from a currency that was almost useless to a valuable commodity. What does that mean? MORE GRINDING.
Problem 3 - This is the worst one: when you swap an old exotic to a new one, it resets the whole item's progress. You lose all of your boosts and upgrades. You'll have to grind for experience, get a bunch of glimmer to make up for the 7,000+ you just spent, and upgrade the whole damn thing again. It doesn't matter how much time and energy you put into your old exotics. In other words—wait for it—it's time for MORE GRINDING.
Combine this with the arbitrary weekly cap on Vanguard/Crucible marks, the new "Commendation" requirement, and other tweaks that feel designed to inhibit our progress, and it's hard not to feel really frustrated by The Dark Below in general. The whole system feels ill-conceived and messy, as if Bungie's designers didn't entirely think through the fact that attaching levels to equipment could totally skew the game's balance by making old loot feel obsolete every few months, so they had to tip the scale by adding a series of arbitrary obstacles to extend the time we spend with the game.
But, of course, Destiny is still really interesting and fun to play. This week my six-man fireteam has been powering through Crota's End, the new raid that came with The Dark Below, and like in the Vault of Glass before it, we're having a total blast trying to solve and tackle each challenge. That's what makes Bungie's decisions so infuriating. They've made a game that's really fun to play, yet they can't seem to figure out how to change or add new things without making us grind and grind and grind and grind. I feel like Destiny is both the best and the worst game of the year.