Yesterday, Destiny players uncovered a secret challenge hiding in a back corner of the daily heroic story mission. If you could clear a ridiculously difficult gauntlet of ridiculously difficult enemies in a ridiculously short amount of time, you'd get a ridiculously cool gun called Black Spindle. It was wild.
If you played through the first half of the normal mission without your team wiping, you'd notice a door opening as you entered a chamber near the end. Go through the door, and you'd be granted access to the area where the Shadow Thief strike usually takes place. A ten-minute timer would appear, and you'd have to fight through two big rooms full of Taken and into a final boss room, where you'd have to kill the boss and all his minions before the timer ran out. Fail, and you'd have to start over from the very beginning.
If you cleared everything out in time, you'd get a Black Spindle sniper rifle, which is an exotic year-two version of the popular year-one raid weapon Black Hammer. (As an awesome easter egg, dismantling a year-one Black Hammer gives you a rune that acts as a sort of map to the location of the hidden Black Spindle area, via Ode1st on Reddit.)
Of course I immediately tackled The Black Spindle Challenge alongside my colleague Jason Schreier and Giant Bomb's Brad Shoemaker. It was crazy. We got worked. We ran through the first part of the level and made it to the detour where you begin the bonus challenge without much of a problem. But the minute we started the timed gauntlet, we just couldn't make it happen. We'd get to the boss room, but there simply wasn't enough time to kill everything. After a few tries against a seemingly endless horde of enemies, we gave up.
A little later on, another of our Destiny friends shared the latest buzz: apparently, the challenge is slightly easier with two people. I wasn't done trying, so I teamed up with Product Hunt games editor (and all-around Destiny mensch) Russ Frushtick to try two-manning it.
After a couple of tries, we pulled it off. Here's a video of our successful run, captured from my point of view:
It was, as I stated above, ridiculous. The Black Spindle Challenge is one of the most unforgiving, demanding challenges I've undertaken in Destiny. It's easily the toughest PvE activity I've attempted in the game since beating pre-nerf Skolas. (It was the void burn week, and we were up until 7AM. Whew.)
This was raid-level shit, and required raid-level preparation beforehand. Our strategy relied on clear communication and a couple rules of thumb.
- Upon entering each new room, we immediately focused fire on the Taken "orbs" that spawn in new enemies. We had a clear plan for taking out the orbs in the first room, the tank room, and the final room.
- Russ had a void sniper rifle and I had an arc sword as well as a fantastic solar shotgun that does bonus damage against fallen. (I got it from the raid. It owns.) There are three types of shielded enemies in the event: void-shielded wizards, solar-shielded knights, and arc-shielded centurions. As long as we called them out, we had the weapons to deal with all three.
- Russ was running a Nightstalker Hunter and I was a Sunbreaker Titan. Those two supers work extremely well together for this encounter -- Russ would tether minions and generate orbs of light, I would grab his orbs and drop flaming hammers on everything I could see.
- We blew it on our first two attempts by being too aggressive, taking too long in the second room, and dying too often in the boss room. A big part of our success in the last area was staying in cover and being as methodical as possible, focusing fire on the boss only after we'd killed a wave of smaller enemies. It was hard not to rush in, but it was far more effective -- and a better use of time -- to retreat and live to keep shooting than to charge in and die. The couple of times I died were when I rushed in with less than full health to try to take down a captain.
- As you'll see at the end, even though we executed nearly perfectly in the first two rooms, it was a nail-biter. Russ pulled off a clutch revive with a handful of seconds left, and I began desperately wailing on the boss with my sword while Russ opened up from a distance. We thought we were screwed, and didn't even realise there were no other minions left. When the boss fell -- with six seconds on the clock -- and I got the Black Spindle, I couldn't believe we had done it. I kinda still can't.
The Black Spindle challenge is "raid-level" in its difficulty, but it's very different in terms of design. The (terrific) new King's Fall raid is extremely complicated, filled with interlocking systems and complex mechanics that require your team to master varied roles and clearly communicate. It's as much an obstacle course as it is a combat challenge. The Black Spindle level is more down-and-dirty: Get in and kill everything before the timer runs out.
(Above: The coup de grace. Don't worry, Russ got a Black Spindle, too. His inventory was full, so it went to the postmaster.)
A few of my friends also managed to pull it off, and everyone tells a similar story. Every fight came down to the wire, and every victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat. Every Black Spindle was earned with a clutch last-second super or a desperate all-in play. Our stories' similarities speak to the strength of the encounter's design -- it's balanced so that people can just barely complete it, and only if everyone comes in at the top of their game and executes almost flawlessly. That kind of high-level balance is no small feat.
If you didn't manage it yesterday, you'll have to wait until "Lost to Light" pops up as the daily heroic mission to try again. Hopefully it won't be too long, and hopefully the strategies laid out here and elsewhere help more people pull it off. The Black Spindle challenge is easily one of the coolest things I've encountered in Destiny. I hope it's not the last secret we find.