in Critical Discussion, Games

Talkin’ TWAB: Bounties and Prismatic What Now?

This is something I’ve been thinking about doing for some time now: more discussion regarding what I like and what I don’t like in games. I think it’s only natural to start with Destiny 2, which is a game I have played (and continue to play) in rather obscene quantities with my son and other groups we’ve found out there.

In talking about games, I’m going to try very hard to follow the advice on game design feedback that I have digested from this Twitter thread, which is worth your attention:

I also thought it’d be a decent idea to start with talking through Bungie’s weekly updates and patch notes for Destiny 2, which are something on which pretty much everyone has an opinion, and affect a fairly large number of people who play a game over many hours. (My son and I have around 600 hours each in Destiny 2 to date.)

This week’s This Week at Bungie (or “TWAB”) can be found here, but read on for some snippets and commentary on the announcements therein. It should be noted that I’m only going to touch on game-specific announcements and not the links to external coverage or GuardianCon stuff.

Bounties

Bounties, which are tiny bite-sized tasks you take on to earn XP and (at least in Destiny 1) faction reputation, are coming back to Destiny. This is pretty great, especially if they are going to exist alongside the Challenges system that has been present in Destiny 2 since launch.

With the original launch of Destiny, bounties provided a set of daily objectives that players could use to advance faction reputation or earn XP to level up their gear. These were removed to streamline the activity experience in Destiny 2 and reduce the number of “chores” that players felt compelled to complete every day. In retrospect, we realized that was an over-correction, and optional daily objectives to achieve specific goals are something we want to restore.

This is pretty great communication in that it both provides the rationale for making the change and talks about their self-criticism of the same.

The bounties returning to Destiny 2 in Update 1.2.3 are a return to most of the properties of bounties in The Taken King. They will be obtained from a variety of vendors, they will generally award XP and faction reputation (though some will offer even better rewards), and can be redeemed “in the field” to immediately claim your rewards. In Forsaken, you may also see some bounties drop in the wild.

Setting expectations to what players were used to with Destiny 1 and the Taken King era makes me feel good. I know what to expect. Being able to redeem them instantly is also good.

After related teases for content only to find out they haven’t been that great, I’m kind of hesitant to get excited about “some will offer better rewards” at this point. Hopefully, that’s something of significance.

There are two new mechanics. Bounties will expire if left uncompleted, and acquiring them will cost a small amount of Glimmer. We wanted to avoid the “grab every bounty you see until your inventory is packed and sort them out later” experience without constraining players to the tiny inventory they found in previous iterations of the game.

Also pretty great; the game will benefit from some additional Glimmer economy sinks, so having something that’s not buying 50k worth of mods at the Gunsmith is welcome. As Glimmer costs to apply shaders are going away with the launch of Forsaken, it provides something else to take that currency away from us.

I’m also assuming these will be designed in such a way that they will give solo players something to do, which is likewise welcome.

It’s fair to observe that we didn’t answer every question you might ask about the return of bounties. What would be the fun in that? You’ll discover exactly how they work and where you can find them next week, and in all the weeks that will follow.

This is a pretty good tease of an announcement. It gives us just enough to understand what they will look like and a tiny bit about how they are changing, and leaves the rest for us to explore on Tuesday.

I dig the design on the bounty icons, by the way:

Patch Notes Preview

I’m certain this doesn’t cover everything, and I’ll comment on the patch notes when they land on Tuesday anyway. It does include some developer commentary regarding modifiers for Heroic Strikes, which are interesting in a few ways:

Blackout: We wanted to ensure that enemy melees are threatening, but this shouldn’t dismiss a player’s Power progression or the stats they chose to invest in with their armor. As such, this modifier is changing somewhat: it still increases enemy melee damage significantly, but it’s now no longer a guarantee of players being defeated by a single melee from many enemies.

Two-shot melee for things like Thralls is still dangerous, but shouldn’t feel as bad as what we have now. Blackout has been pretty punishing in specific strikes. (Most notably Exodus Crash, which had to be removed from the playlist.)

It would be nice to get the actual stat number here in the patch notes; if I recall correctly, the original value was given out when the modifiers landed, so it would be nice to have the comparison.

Grounded: There are many times players are considered “airborne” when they’re not actually jumping. To account for that, we are reducing the damage threshold so players aren’t punished for things outside of their control. Additionally, we’re looking to prevent players from falling to their demise from a height of 2 meters, just as they happen to land on a rock or some other small object.

I find it amusing that the same state that made the MIDA Mini-Tool quest objectives so easy to complete—just stand on a rock or something and shoot and it’s a “mid-air kill”—made Grounded unexpectedly punishing. It’s interesting that they are toning this down rather than changing that state detection, which would indicate one of the two things is vastly easier than the other.

Landing on weird geometry and dying happens kind of all over the place in random spots. I see it most often when traversing Vex-based terrain for whatever reason, but hitting some objects on the ground at just the right/wrong angles seems to amplify falling damage. I always found it mildly amusing more than problematic, but it happening less won’t be unwelcome.

The Prismatic Matrix

Oh boy.

Hm.

This is one of those things where Bungie’s not going to win, because most reasonings they could put forth for this change are going to be interpreted by the community as a cover for more nefarious designs, whether they exist or not.

It’s also a good example of Bungie seemingly failing to understand how players optimize for things. (Honestly? I don’t believe they fail to understand this, but the communication on this matter indicates otherwise and will make players grumpy.)

I should first explain the concept of the Prismatic Matrix and how I as a player optimized my behavior around it.

Destiny 2 has a cosmetics unlock system that grants players consumable color palettes for their gear, permanent appearance changes for some weapons and armor, emotes, vehicles, and other largely-cosmetic game rewards through what are called “Bright Engrams.” Bright Engrams are loot boxes that drop at certain XP thresholds after you have reached the level cap (which doesn’t take long), and you are given a 3x boost to your earned XP for the first three levels you earn per-character, per-week.

If you play around 10 hours a week, you would probably earn one to two of these loot boxes, depending on what activities you engaged and how much XP those activities granted. (This is a rough guess based on personal time expenditure.)

The drops you can earn from these loot boxes are time-locked to the “season” of gameplay (roughly three to four months) in which you earn them. Once a season is over, most of those rewards cannot be earned again, though some re-appear during later seasons in the store you can purchase using a currency you receive from destroying other cosmetic drops.

You can purchase additional Bright Engrams with Silver, which is an in-game currency that can only be purchased with real money.

The drops from the loot boxes are also—as near as anyone can tell—pure RNG, which leads to some people not being able to obtain specific items during a season, depending on their RNG luck, the rotation of the directly-purchasable items, and their own gameplay habits.

The Prismatic Matrix was presented to players as a way to cushion the RNG of the loot boxes and increase the chances of obtaining items they wanted:

At release, the Prismatic Matrix will feature 10 Eververse items from Season 3 each week it is active. Each item within the Prismatic Matrix is on a knockout list, which means every player is guaranteed to receive all featured items for a given week by the tenth activation. Earning items via Bright Engrams, Bright Dust, or previous Matrix activations will also knock rewards off the list. In turn, each activation guarantees players an item that they have never previously acquired.

With your first well-rested level-up each week, you’ll earn a Prismatic Facet, allowing one free use of the Prismatic Matrix. Prismatic Facets stack up to 3, so make sure to have proper inventory space before earning a rank-up on a given week. Players can also purchase more activations for 200 Silver each.

It looks like this in-UI:

So the concept as I understand it as a player here is:

  1. Loot boxes are subject to RNG.
  2. The Prismatic Matrix has ten items per week, which are on a knockout list. Once you have received one of those items, either from the Matrix or from a loot box, you can’t pull it out of the Matrix again that season.
  3. You get one pull from the Prismatic Matrix per week, and can store those pulls up to a maximum of three, at which point further pulls you earn are wasted.
  4. A pull from the Prismatic Matrix is evenly-weighted (assumption) among the options you haven’t knocked out of the list.

Serious players of a game are going to optimize their behavior to get the most of what they want over the time expenditure they use on a game. For this mechanic, the optimization from the player side looks like this:

I should not spend any pulls in a given week until one of two conditions exists. Either:

  • I have three pulls in my inventory and I must spend one to prevent my next one earned from being wasted, which means I will execute the pull on the last possible day of a given week, or:
  • The number of available nodes I haven’t knocked out is less than or equal to the number of pulls available in my current inventory.

A player optimizing in this way is not going to spend any pulls until at least the third week of the season, in the hopes of maximizing the chance at collecting every cosmetic item available for that season of play. Ideally, this means that towards the end of the season, I’m only spending my pulls to “clean up” the stuff I didn’t earn from my loot boxes.

And then Bungie says this today:

The original intent of the Prismatic Matrix was for it to be a special event—something to help players round out their collections, as the odds of earning the items that were eluding them improved as they continued to earn Bright Engrams. We had a limited number of weeks scheduled, designed to keep repetition to a minimum. That schedule of curated offerings is coming to an end, so the feature will be going on temporary hiatus starting next week. Thanks to some good feedback about this new feature, we’ve learned how we can make it better, so we’ll continue to support it in Forsaken. We look forward to your continued feedback and are excited to relaunch the Prismatic Matrix in the next season of Destiny 2.

The problem with this is that it doesn’t match with how the feature was announced and described to players. If, on launch, players had been informed that:

  • The Prismatic Matrix would only offer most things once, maybe twice? (I didn’t count the number of times things appeared.) and
  • The Prismatic Matrix would only be available for part of the loot box season and not the entire time period

There would be little concern for this change, and players would have optimized their gameplay differently. For example, I probably would have started spending my pulls earlier in the season at a chance to earn something I wanted, rather than leave it completely up to RNG.

The Prismatic Matrix has been fully knocked out for me for the last three weeks, and so I’ll end up with at least three pulls earned that will be completely wasted for my account, because I optimized for the apparent design of the feature.

This feels bad.

And because this intersects with something where players can pay real money to earn additional loot box RNG rolls, it takes on an even worse appearance for some players. I’m willing to accept that this is exactly what the plan had been all along, even though it doesn’t make me feel great about it.

But the thought process for many in the community is going to be such:

  • The Matrix was allowing us to get things more directly/less RNG-affected than straight-up loot boxes, so I needed fewer loot boxes to get the things I wanted.
  • Loot boxes are also available for real money purchase.
  • The Prismatic Matrix being available probably caused fewer players to purchase loot boxes with real money, because they had a better-weighted RNG source available if they were patient enough.
  • Fewer loot boxes = less microtransaction money for the publisher.
  • Therefore, the removal of the Prismatic Matrix is an attempt to push people back to purchasing loot boxes with real money because it worked too well in the players’ favor.

It doesn’t matter much to those players what the original intent of the feature was, or that it might have been planned to go away all along. That such a removal was not communicated from the start, and that the removal is happening with only one weeks’ notice, will cause players who had optimized their behaviors to think they are being fooled.

It is not a good look.

See You on Tuesday

This ended up being longer than I’d wanted, mostly due to having to establish some backstory on things. I’m also quite obviously out of writing practice, so I’ll try to write like this more often in the near future.

I’ll try to do this again for the patch notes coming in 1.2.3, which is being distributed on Tuesday. If you liked what you read here, let me know on Twitter or toss me a follow on Twitch.