In Destiny's competitive Crucible multiplayer, the most fearsome foe you'll face isn't a flame-slinging warlock or a knife-throwing hunter — it's lag.
One minute, you'll be merrily floating around a PVP match, shotgunning fools and flinging space magic with abandon. The next, you'll see something… impossible. An enemy will be standing in one place, then suddenly, he'll be somewhere else. You'll shoot him, and nothing will happen. He'll teleport somewhere else. You'll shoot him again, but his health bar will remain untouched. Suddenly, you'll die. Apparently he killed you, but his PS4 took a bit too long to tell your PS4 about it. You're still dead, though. If your team loses the match, you'll still lose.
Welcome to Destiny lag. It's a problem that has plagued the game since its launch last fall, and if anything, it's gotten worse as time has gone on. I hadn't been as aware of it as I am now, because I've only gotten into competitive PVP over the last month and a half. Destiny PVP is a really good time, but hoo man, can that lag be a bummer.
Lag regularly ruins Destiny matches, sowing chaos on the battlefield. While there are players who will purposefully exploit lag by using tools like lag-switches to induce lag in the middle of a match, I sense that the majority of laggers are just people with poor connections. It might not even be that simple — I've seen matches where every player suddenly gets a "red bar" denoting a poor connection, despite us all being in the green at the outset. Lag can strike at any time, for what seems like a variety of reasons.
Not every Destiny match suffers from lag. In fact, the majority my time in the Crucible has been free of the worst, teleporting-opponents variety of lag. But lag infects matches with enough regularity that its specter looms over even the best-connected contests. If you asked any group of dedicated Destiny PVP players for lag stories, you'd get dozens.
Last night during the popular on-again-off-again Iron Banner event, I came up against one of the laggiest teams I've ever played with. This kind of thing would happen regularly:
See how my opponent seems to teleport over to my left, then suddenly reappears in midair? I was so fixated on trying to figure out what the hell was going on that another player was able to easily shoot me.
Then there's stuff like this:
One of the guys I was playing with called that "a glitch in the Matrix." First, the guy I'm shooting at runs through the door twice in rapid succession. Which time was the "real" time? Which of my bullets landed? Shortly after that, he and his whole team rush me, but it feels just a touch off, like they all came out a bit too fast. Then a guy just magically teleports the last six feet toward me before killing me.
When you're in a laggy Destiny match, you start to doubt everything you're seeing. Are those two guys really capping the B control point? Is that guy really coming around on your left? Sure, you could close on that unaware player and take him out, but would you really? Or would you shoot him a bunch of times only to realise he's not even standing there — it was just lag making it look like he was?
I've seen plenty of theorizing online about how Bungie could fix this problem. Destiny currently lacks dedicated servers, meaning that each match's connection quality is dictated by its players' connection qualities. The most obvious solution to the lag issue, then, would be for Bungie to add dedicated servers, which would centralize things and could do a lot to kill lag. As to why Bungie hasn't gone this route, I can't say. Dedicated servers aren't cheap, so it's likely that cost is a factor.
Destiny's new, hardcore Trials of Osiris multiplayer event has brought Destiny's lag issue into sharper relief, just as it has highlighted several other longstanding problems with the game's PVP. Bad enough that you're taking on yet another team armed with Thorns and final round Efrideet's Spears, now it turns out one of their players is lagging to hell and back. You're not even going to have a chance at a straight-up fight. Bungie says that connection quality, not skill level, is the defining criteria for matchmaking in Trials, but I've seen enough laggy Trials matches over the last few weeks to know that lag is a problem even there.
When Destiny PVP is good — which, again, is the majority of the time — it's a ton of fun. Trials of Osiris has become a minor (ok, major) obsession of mine. (I'll have more about it later this week.) Trials features high-enough level play that it's easy to see Destiny taking the next step toward pro-gaming legitimacy, with international tournaments attended by the biggest names in pro FPS gaming. But the game just isn't there yet, and if Bungie can't solve the lag issue, it likely never will be.
With the House of Wolves expansion, Bungie seems to be pushing players more into PVP, trying to get everyone using all the parts of the Destiny buffalo. It's worked, at least for me — I'm now deeply invested in Crucible and in improving my game. I'm certainly having enough fun to justify the time I've spent practicing and competing, but it sure would be nice to see Bungie do something that actually takes care of lag once and for all. As it stands, Destiny's lag situation is a huge bummer.