How and why Destiny 2’s PvE and PvP games should be tuned separately

Destiny 2 beta strike Modular Mind

Bungie are listening. In their latest weekly update, they’ve announced they will address the two biggest concerns I’ve seen thrown up by the Destiny 2 console beta: power ammo drop rates in PvE, and the idea that PvE is suffering from their push towards balance in PvP.

This is Rich’s take, but here’s what Matt made of the Destiny 2 beta.  

It’s all related, of course. More uptime with power weapons in PvE will alleviate the tedium that comes with using only the game’s workhorse guns. That will, in turn, address complaints that the beta’s boss – a towering cyborg named the Modular Mind – is a bit of a bullet sponge. (And on that note, Bungie also say that “Boss vitality” is on their list of tuning changes after the beta.)

However, the Modular Mind has got nothing on the original Destiny’s Valus Ta’aurc when it comes to sponginess – or, for that matter, most strike bosses before its Taken King expansion. It’s also one of the most dynamic fights in the series to date, as the floor vanishes beneath you, and the Mind changes its attack patterns. I think bullet sponge complaints are a little overblown – this is an area for minor tweaks, not drastic action.

The Modular Mind

How seriously are Bungie taking PvP, exactly?

The promised increase in power ammo drop rates is just such a tweak, and will help vary the flow of PvE. It’s a good start, but more is needed to fully restore the space-magic power fantasy at the core of Destiny, which has been undermined by Bungie’s attempts to fix its imbalanced – if occasionally brilliant – PvP game.

It’s clear that the new weapon slots were designed with PvP in mind, given Bungie’s abject failure to balance special weapons in that mode first time round. Ability cooldowns were also a big problem; players could hasten them with the right gear, leading to an ‘ability meta’ in PvP alongside the shifting weapons meta, which saw practically every engagement open with a grenade duel. This disrupted the game’s flow and took the focus off gunfighting, especially since some grenades were overpowered, and enabled some pretty cheap kills – salty Reddit posts about the Nightstalker’s wombo-combo or the Sunsinger’s pre-nerf Firebolts are but a short Google away, I’m sure. Now, both melee abilities and grenades are less lethal, ability cooldowns are universal, and they’re pretty damn slow.

These were necessary changes for a truly competitive PvP mode – something I think Bungie have always wanted – and they combine with slightly higher times-to-kill to create a more measured, skill-based game. I have a hunch that, once the launch is over and done with, we’ll see Bungie push Destiny 2 as an esport – most likely when the new Trials mode launches, which we’re expecting in late autumn.

From what I’ve played, I do think abilities could charge slightly faster, especially Supers; right now everyone tends to get theirs at the same time near the end of a match, which is a bit chaotic.

Balance at the expense of fantasy

A Cabal Gladiator in the Inverted Spire strike

The impact on PvE has been harmful. It doesn’t feel good to hit the grenade button and not throw a grenade because it’s still on cooldown, nor to get such little use out of your Super. These abilities are just fun; they look and feel amazing, whereas grinding down shielded mobs and bosses with the game’s least flashy weapons doesn’t. Giving us more power ammo and faster abilities will affect the challenge of PvE, of course, but my sense is that there’s some leeway here before we tip into easy mode.

An obvious solution is to make abilities and weapons behave differently in PvE than PvP. This is happening already, with some guns getting triple damage for critical hits in PvE – the PvP multiplier is nothing like as much – and it sounds like Bungie are going further: the last of the tuning changes they’ve promised are “grenade effectiveness in PvE” and “weapon damage against non-player combatants.”

I hope “grenade effectiveness” means faster cooldowns as well as more damage. That, combined with faster ability cooldowns generally and more power ammo, would take us pretty close to an ideal spot. I’d also like to see Bungie tweak damage falloff. Most guns – with scout rifles being the obvious exception – feel like they’ve been tuned for Crucible maps. SMGs, hand cannons, and sidearms were pretty useless on Inverted Spire, where many encounters take place at long ranges.

My gun works differently here

Guardians in Osiris armour, won in Destiny's ultimate PvP challenge

Since PvP and PvE don’t overlap in any way – you can’t attack other players in the open world, for instance – there’s no reason damage falloff can’t join headshot modifiers and ability cooldowns on the list of things that work differently in the Crucible.

It’s a bit inelegant (in that it makes no physical sense), but it’s only a continuation of a trend. The wedge between Destiny’s PvE and PvP has been real for a while – a weapon perk like triple tap, which refunds one bullet for every three that you put into an enemy’s head, is god-tier to a hardcore raider and trash-tier for a Crucible pro. The two communities have been grinding for different loot for most of Destiny’s life, and now that guns are getting balanced individually rather than by DPS archetypes, all that’s going to happen is that the PvE and PvP metas will get even more sharply defined.

That’s nothing to worry about, but this approach has its limits. I can see why some playersare calling for sniper rifles, shotguns, and fusion rifles to be restored to the second weapon slot, but I don’t think Bungie need to go that far; that would be a much bigger disconnect between the two modes, and presumably most of their PvE content has already been designed around the current system. I’m generally cautious about such radical, reactive fixes.

A numbers game

A Titan in Dead Orbit armourIt’s clear that Bungie’s ‘sandbox’ team – their name for the balance folk – have got a lot of work ahead if balancing is to be even more granular across PvE, PvP, and individual guns. But the big difference in the sequel is that it’s structured such that they can get it right, or near as dammit. Under this system, there exists a hypothetical state where weapons and abilities do the right damage, at the right ranges, and recharge at the right speeds to feel satisfying in PvE and fair in PvP.

There’s quite a long way to go, but my main takeaway from the beta is that the problem is no longer insurmountable. From here on out, it’s just a numbers game.