Over the last couple of weeks, several of us here at Kotaku have worked our way through Destiny’s new King’s Fall raid. Some of us really like it. Others, not so much.
Jason and I have completed the raid a bunch of times—we went in cold the day it came out, and along with our usual raid crew, figured most things out on our own. A few weeks later, both Stephen and Luke got to a high enough level to raid with us, so we took them through as well.
Yesterday, we sat down to talk about what everyone thought.
Heads up: This post contains written and visual spoilers for the King’s Fall raid.
Kirk: We are gathered here today to discuss Destiny’s new King’s Fall raid. It’s got giant monsters; it’s got jumping puzzles; it’s got hidden secrets. It’s got a boss that is apparently an explicit H.P. Lovecraft reference. I’ve run it a bunch of times; Jason’s done it several times; Stephen and Luke have played it one time apiece. Broadly speaking, what do you each think?
Jason: It owns.
Stephen: I was underwhelmed. In a game that succeeds when it presents you things that you’d happily play again, I don’t want to play it again. Unlike the perpetually-enjoyable strikes and the fun other raid I’ve played—Vault of Glass—the emphasis on platforming in sections of King’s Fall hurt the raid badly. Shooting in the game feels good. Platforming doesn’t.
Luke: Yeah, I wasn’t the biggest fan either. I feel like the only thing compelling me to run it again is to get some swag, not actually play through it all again.
Kirk: I’m willing to bet that part of you guys’ reaction is that you both ran it with us after we’d already done the problem solving necessary to figure out each boss. Was it weird to run the raid and simply be told by other players what to do? “Okay, for this boss, you just stand here, then when we say go, you jump down here, and shoot…” I can’t imagine that’s nearly as fun without first going through the process of figuring everything out as a team.
Luke: No, I think that actually saved it for me. If I’d had to solve puzzles while also dying endlessly I’d have probably bailed not long after the start.
Stephen: I’m more of a Zelda guy than a Mario guy, so I would have preferred to figure more things out with other players at the same time. But I’m enough of a Mario guy—and enough of a Metroid Prime guy—to know that jumping from one spaceship to another in first person might be fun once or twice, but jumping onto little ledges in a sloped cavern, avoiding pistons along the way, is no fun even once, not with this game’s camera, controls and tools. King’s Fall is marvelous when your Guardian’s feet are on the ground, during that relay section where you’re trying to open a door and during the fight against that really powerful ogre. That stuff’s good, but not good enough to make me want to run it again.
Kirk: To what Luke’s saying, that’s interesting—for me, the best part of the raid is the trial and error process. You work as a team and find strategies for the fight, and there’s always this moment when you realize that you’re on the right track… and then you finally beat the boss and it’s a huge rush. I’ve noticed that for my core raid group—a collection of around 10 people who run it every week—we’ve already become fairly mechanical about the whole thing. We run the raid for loot, which is much less rewarding and exciting. I already miss that initial rush of discovery and excitement.
Stephen: Yeah, I do wish I experienced that.
Luke: But it’s not what I like out of Destiny, and I think this is something we’re going to run into a bit in this chat, given the people involved. The main thing I took away from raiding with a bunch of “experts” was that you guys are playing almost an entirely different game to the one I’m playing. You’re playing this vast number-driven quest full of terminology and secrets. I’m playing a fun (mostly) singleplayer shooter with cool outfits. Where you guys clearly love it, I found the raid exhausting. It just doesn’t gel with the way I normally play this game.
Stephen: Kirk, at least admit that the Dreadnought’s pretty drab! The raid is limited by the aesthetic palate they had to work with, too. I’d have preferred a raid in the Cosmodrome. That place looks awesome.
Kirk: Oh, believe me, you’re not talking to a raid apologist or anything. I think King’s Fall is really good, but I can understand you guys’ criticisms so far. The raid has some striking visuals, but the Hive aesthetic is a drag in general. We’ve only had three raids in Destiny, and two of them have been hive-themed. Considering how cool this game can look, it’s too bad that so much of Destiny has been spent on this race of dried-out space-mummies. Like, hooray, another collection of chitinous raid armor and guns that look like peeled shrimp. Awesome.
Luke: I got two pieces of raid gear, and use neither, because they are so gross.
Kirk: At least there’s infusing. I mostly use raid armor to infuse other better, cooler-looking armor that I’ve specifically chosen for my character to wear.
Stephen: All that said, the idea of multiplayer co-op levels built for collaborative puzzle solving is a relatively untapped part of game development. So I love the concept of raids and would like to see Bungie do more with that. I’d also love them to apply this design to smaller single-bite levels, which seems to be the direction Nintendo is going with Zelda: Tri-Force Heroes—a collection of dungeons meant to be sorted through in three-player co-op. The raid makes me excited to try to get into the next Call of Duty zombies stuff, because I think those are also based on co-op sorting-things-out together designs.
Back to King’s Fall, though, I liked the final boss encounter and really most of the parts of the raid that involved a division of labor. I liked sections that let people who are good at sniping stick to that, while others who are good at platforming or targeting a boss with heavy ammo could do that. Luke, you like the strikes, right? They’re so fun, and I find that they don’t get that old, since the loop between getting gear and being able to run the raid faster with that better gear seems tighter
Luke: I do! I love playing the strikes, especially the new ones. They’re just about the right length and level of effort I can spare after a day’s work.
Stephen: Yeah, the new Russia strike is really good and kind of a junior raid. Some nice, light puzzle-solving.
Kirk: I like the concept of “junior raids,” especially with the new strikes—which really just means they’re playing their intended role in the ecosystem of the game, right? Strikes are meant to exist as a middle-ground endgame thing that can be approached more casually than the raid. They’re not a substitute, but they can definitely be more enjoyable. I like just casually running strikes in a way that feels very different to me than raiding.
Then again, Bungie could never design a strike boss with as many moving parts as the King’s Fall bosses, since they have to make it possible to complete each strike with two strangers. Some of the new strikes are already pushing it in that respect, I’d say.
Luke: Yeah, the bit with the electricity and the exploding drones is a bit much (if you’re playing with strangers).
Kirk: And the whole Echo Chamber strike—I’ve had a lot of teams just bail on that one. You get people who don’t know what they’re doing, and you realize oh shit, I’m going to be stuck doing this for the next hour…
Stephen: Is that the Venus one where you have to transfer things from post to post?
Stephen: I was that guy!
Stephen: I had no clue. But I figured it out and we won.
Jason: Stephen, I get it if you don’t like the raid’s jumping puzzles, but all four of the bosses in King’s Fall are straight out of Zelda — they’re killer! I could do Oryx every week — no matter how many times I kill him, it never stops being satisfying just because everything requires such perfect timing and precision.
Stephen: Notice that there is very little jumping involved in killing most of those bosses, Jason.
Jason: Ha ha — well the jumping parts of the last two bosses zoom you out to third-person for a reason!
Kirk: So we’re talking pretty broadly, but I want to get more specific about which sections you guys liked and didn’t like. The start of the raid goes from opening the door to platforming through the shipyard to running that relay race and opening the door to the Warpriest fight. Do you think that all works, as an intro to the raid?
Luke: It was like 5am when I ran it. I remember hating the jumping section, and that’s about it.
Kirk: Yeah, I mostly just remember hearing you sigh loudly into your mic a bunch.
Stephen: The shipyard is the most visually striking section of the raid. I love its look but feel it pushes the platforming in the game to its limits. The designers did a good job of keeping the lines of sight open for all players, so I very much like that players who make it through can easily spot and guide players who are still working their way through it. It looks goofy, though, to have Guardians just jumping stiffly from the top of one ship to the other. The scale also seems off. The relay section is excellent, as I mentioned before. It forces team-based shooting and efficient movement on a 2D plane—both Destiny strengths.
Kirk: I like the relay race a bunch, too, Stephen—it has a great flow to it, and I like how it mirrors the design of the “open the door” challenge at the start. It’s a good warmup, and isn’t actually that hard, so it’s a good confidence booster before the real bosses start coming.
Luke: Oh, THAT mission. With the orbs, and the shields, and the beams, and the knights! I liked that one.
Kirk: After that comes the Warpriest, which is the first proper boss fight of the raid. I’ve noticed that Destiny raid encounters take one of two approaches. Sometimes, everyone has to be good at everything, but other times, your team can assign roles. The fights where you can assign roles are generally less stressful than the random ones. In the Warpriest, you can assign roles—who steps on which platform, who calls out the order, who gets the aura each time—which is nice, since like most things in the raid, it’s very unforgiving.
I’m curious, Luke and Stephen: Were you guys totally aware of what was going on for the person holding the aura? Or were you just focused on shooting the boss every round?
Stephen: Someone holds an aura? News to me!
Luke: I was doing what people were yelling at me to do.
Stephen: Kirk does get pretty angry if things go south. So it’s best to obey.
Kirk: Ha, I only get angry at myself. I never get mad at teammates! It’s important raid etiquette.
Luke: Hah, man, he did! I saw a whole new side of Kirk, the frustrated drill sergeant!
Jason: You guys got the full Kirk Experience.
Luke: Readers, you think Kirk Hamilton is this super chill guy, but fuck up a Destiny raid and you have CROSSED HIM.
Stephen: And then he tries to mask his anger through pep talks. “Come on guys, we can do this!” are the words coming out of his mouth. But “You guys are fucking up; why are you such losers?” are how the words enter my ears.
Jason: “We have to not die, OK? We just have to not die”
Kirk: This is making me reevaluate a lot of things.
Stephen: You know what I like in the raids and in Destiny in general? The experience of reviving teammates and having them revive me. I love that in the few team multiplayer games I’ve played. The ethic of dropping what you’re doing to prioritize reviving a teammate feels good on so many levels. Later in the raid, when we were fighting the super-ogre, Tina died in the pit and I decided to dive in and revive her, while you guys were telling me it was a terrible idea. I revived her and escaped with just an inch of health. I felt like a hero! And a team player! (And then, shortly thereafter, we wiped.)
Jason: lollll yeah sometimes you have to restrain yourself for the sake of the group
Stephen: Can I play a war game as a heroic medic? Where I just keep diving in and reviving people?
Kirk: I do chafe sometimes at the rigidity of the new boss fights. They’re more complex than ever, but also more stringent. The roles are so defined that players all have to play their parts EXACTLY and any deviation will trigger a wipe. Everyone has to go here, then go here, then stand together here, then press these things in this exact order, etc.
Then again, that same rigidity opens the door for cool moments of heroism and unlikely saves. When things go slightly off the rails and you manage to recover, it’s all the more exciting because you know you should’ve been screwed. Hard mode—where there are typically no revives at all—tends to exacerbate all of that.
Jason: Yeah, raids allow for teamwork in a really cool, unique way — like that one hidden area in the tomb ship area where you split into two groups and help each other get the chest.
Stephen: There’s also the Maze and the Sisters. Short verdicts from me: the maze was either not fun or my brightness settings were too dark; not sure... the sisters were fun, especially when the entire raid party has to squeeze onto one platform to stay safe while shooting one of them, which was a nice flip to how you have to otherwise be spread out across the arena in that fight.
Luke: Did not enjoy maze one bit, enjoyed sisters for same reason. “Space Jam the witch” was a very fun thing to hear said 100 times.
Kirk: The maze becomes kind of rote once everyone knows where to go. Which isn’t really its “fault” or whatever, there’s just not much to it, so it loses its appeal the minute there’s nothing left to figure out.
Stephen: Look, I’m glad I played the raid once. And maybe that’s all I need from these raids. Once and done. I like that Destiny is big enough that I can ignore huge parts of it (Crucible, Trails of Osiris) and still have a great time. If there are things that are one-and-done for me (Raids, watching the cutscenes from the Year One missions), so be it.
I do think Destiny’s designers need to think about the range of actions they want to challenge players to do and decide whether they have given players the best tools to do them. With the current controls, a little less precision jumping and maybe some use of the speeder bikes would have made King’s Fall more appealing to me. As with Halo, Bungie gets to now decide whether it’s worth adding equipment to future iterations and that could either improve Raids or dilute the quality of the game. We’ll see!
Luke: Yeah, I’m glad I at least played it once. I would have continually felt like I was missing out on something if I hadn’t. But the way raids are structured is just so alien to the way I play Destiny (and most games) that I don’t know if I’ll ever bother with another one. Ah well. I’ll always have my raid fusion rifle. Which I never use.
Stephen: You also got to know a new side of Kirk, Luke!
Luke: Angry Dad Kirk, it was a pleasure.
Stephen: Yeah, pops. Thanks for guiding us through!
Kirk: You’re both welcome. It was fun showing you around. See you when hard mode comes out! It’ll be super chill, trust me.