If you've been competing in Destiny's intense new Trials of Osiris multiplayer event, you may have noticed something: Almost every player you go up against is using the same gun.
That gun is a weird-looking revolver called Thorn. If there are three players on a given Trials team, it's a safe bet that at least two of those players will be holding Thorns. If you're playing in this week's Iron Banner PvP event or even just playing in regular old competitive Crucible matches, it's much the same — the hissing "snick" of Thorn-fire echoes across every virtual battlefield.
Thorn is popular for a reason: It's arguably — or maybe even inarguably — the most powerful PvP gun in the game.
Thorn is an exotic-level hand cannon, which is Destiny terminology for "a big pistol that you use as your primary gun." It can only be obtained by working through an onerous, multi-stage bounty quest that requires a large time commitment and a lot of grinding and repetition. However, on the whole, Thorn is easier to get than most other exotic guns, because you don't have to sit around waiting for it to drop. Once you obtain the bounty — which you'll have an opportunity to do fairly regularly — you can actively go and get it. As a result, a whole lot of players have one.
At first glance, Thorn simply appears to be a decent hand cannon — it does a lot of damage per shot and has good accuracy perks. It's also super cool-looking. But like all exotic weapons in Destiny, Thorn has a unique special ability — in this case, a perk called "Mark of the Devourer" that allows you to "sting" enemies you hit with your first shot, causing additional damage over a short period of time.
That ability, combined with Thorn's good long-range accuracy and high damage, makes it a ridiculously useful gun for PvP combat. PvP in Destiny is all about managing your shields and health — if you can bring down an opponent's shields without taking damage to your own, you can usually close for the kill and take them out before they can get you. Thorn not only knocks down an opponent's shields, it delays their shield recharge and causes more damage over time, making it even easier to push up on them and finish them off.
If you get hit by Thorn — "I'm Thorned," you'll tell your teammates with urgent irritation — you'll know it immediately. Your screen will begin to pulsate green, you'll hear a loud crackling sound and watch in horror as your health bar slowly goes lower and lower. You'll be stuck on the defensive for several precious seconds longer than you would be were you facing any other gun in the game, and you'll be much more likely to die as a result of taking subsequent damage.
Look around any regular hub of Destiny conversation and you'll see players voicing frustration not just with the gun, but with its ubiquity. Thorn debates have raged for months, but with the recently-released House of Wolves' newfound focus on PvP multiplayer, the conversation has picked up new momentum. The subject is often hotly debated, and there's no consensus on how Bungie should best deal with Thorn, or whether any change is needed at all.
Some players argue — fairly — that an exotic gun is supposed to be game-changing, and that skilled players should have no trouble countering Thorn with other powerful exotics like Red Death (a rifle that heals you after you score a kill) and The Last Word (a hand cannon that allows you to unleash a hail of hip-fire bullets at close range). Furthermore, gear will never be a substitute for skill, and a skilled-enough player can wreck his or her opponents using whatever weapon they choose.
To my eye, any time a gun is as widely used as Thorn, the scales have probably tipped a bit too far in one direction. I've been playing a lot of competitive Crucible over the last couple of weeks, and the percentage of high-level players using Thorn is often comical. In Iron Banner, I'd estimate that more than half of the times I'm killed by a primary weapon, it's Thorn. I've come to call Trials of Osiris the "Trials of Thornsiris," because damn near everyone is using the gun. Many of my friends and clan-mates joke around about it, and even those who have a Thorn say they wish it'd be made a bit less powerful, if only because they'd like a reason to use some of their other weapons.
Early in Destiny's lifespan, the Crucible had a similar problem with auto-rifles. Most every player used an auto-rifle, and the Suros Regime exotic rifle ruled supreme. Match after match, it was wall-to-wall Suroses, until Bungie tweaked auto-rifles a number of times and made them, and the Suros in particular, much less effective. Many think that Bungie overcorrected for the problem, in fact. These days, auto rifles are rarely seen in PvP, and a player using Suros is an anomalous blast from the past.
Thorn, meanwhile, was actually buffed early this year. Its initial incarnation was more difficult to use, before Bungie increased the magazine size, sped up its reload and leveled out stability and handling. Some players think the answer to the current Thorn-flood is to return the gun to its pre-buff stats, though I could see that simply making Thorn-lovers angry. Better, perhaps, to simply re-buff a few other guns (I'd love to use my Suros again!) while slightly lowering some of Thorn's stats, its range in particular. Thorn is a hand cannon, and it seems to me that it should work best as a mid-range gun. Lately, I find myself getting Thorned from across the map, which doesn't seem quite right.
I don't have access to Bungie's stats on Thorn-usage over the last few months, and only they know the full extent of the gun's powers and (over)use. Regarding a nerf, the consensus among many in the Destiny community is not if, but when and to what degree. I wouldn't be surprised to see an update from Bungie about it in the coming days or weeks, particularly given the overall popularity of Trials of Osiris. But, as we all know by now, Bungie works in mysterious, often incommunicative ways.
In the meantime, I'm still kicking myself for ditching the Thorn bounty so many times in the past. I don't care that it's a headache to complete; the next time I have the option, I'll drop everything and get it done. Thorn may be an annoying, overused gun, but I still totally want one.