There have always been at least two Destinys. There's the Destiny that most people play, where you fly around the galaxy with your friends, blowing up aliens and carefully managing your vault space. Then there's competitive Destiny, where players go headshot-to-headshot to see who's deadliest.
I avoided Destiny's competitive Crucible for most of my first year with the game. I was content to do PvE (player vs. environment) strikes and raids, and I had been turned off by the fast-paced brutality of PvP (player vs. player) matches. That changed when Bungie launched the Trials of Osiris tournament in May of 2015. I became obsessed with the merciless weekend competition. I became a Crucible die-hard.
That being said, I'm no Crucible expert. I get the sense that Destiny PvP is approaching a turning point, but I've never been competitive on a level that lets me see the bigger picture. To get some additional perspectives, I reached out to some of my favourite YouTubers and streamers. I hit up Ari "TripleWRECK" Smith, a laid-back streamer who consistently surprises me with his ability to beat the odds in the clutch; Christian "Mr. Fruit" Miller, whose YouTube weapon reviews are informative and funny; Stefan "Datto" Jonke, a font of Destiny knowledge who is adept at tackling the game's most well-hidden secrets; and SirDimetrious, a taciturn sniper whose PvP montage videos are probably the most impressive Destiny things I've ever seen.
Over email, I asked each of them about the current state of the PvP meta, the best classes and maps, Bungie's willingness to listen to player feedback, and what the future of the game might hold. I've edited their responses in places for clarity.
What's The Meta, Man?
In any competitive PvP game, the "meta" is the agreed-upon most effective combination of weapons, classes, and team makeup. At any given time, almost every competitive game has a dominant meta. Overwatch has one for the strongest characters, and Hearthstone for the best decks. Gears of War has one for the best guns, and Battlefield 1 for the best vehicles and classes. Destiny is no different, so I started off by asking everyone what they thought of the current meta.
All four guys had slightly different takes on the current meta, some more positive than others. "It's definitely not perfect, but I think weapon balance is slightly better than it has been before," said Datto.
"Destiny's PvP balance for most players has never been better," said TripleWreck, "but at a high level I feel that Crucible is not in a healthy place. Primary weapons are unfortunately too weak as a whole, and as a result the game has become very one-dimensional at higher levels of play, since the swift mobility in Destiny allows guardians to escape most primary battles."
"I think that although Destiny has good weapon and class balance, [that] takes away the qualities that made Destiny so enjoyable in the first place," said SirDimetrious. "The speed and uniqueness of a fast-paced, hand cannon-based meta that implemented a lot of vertical movement was what made it so much fun for me."
Mr. Fruit just sounded a little worn out by it all. "Destiny's PvP is in an exhausting state," he said. "Perhaps it's the fatigue of playing since beta, or the fact that the dominant weapons are seeing more of a mainstay in your everyday arsenal. If you're playing to win - then you're going to equip those weapons. The more people use the same weapon/archetype, the more people being to follow suit and we begin to find ourselves in a VERY defined and stale meta."
Above: TripleWreck says "no."
Most everyone agrees on the current favoured PvP guns: Crucible is dominated by fast-firing pulse rifles like Blind Perdition or The Clever Dragon, the occasional rangey hand cannon like The Palindrome, and high-impact shotguns like Matador 64. Datto and Mr. Fruit both run with Blind Perdition in their primary slot, and I've frequently seen TripleWreck running the similar Grasp of Malok as his primary (with a roll I'll forever be jealous of). Mr. Fruit and TripleWreck say they have been using sidearms as their special weapon.
"I've been having a lot of fun using a somewhat-unorthodox loadout," TripleWreck said. "Max subclass agility, Radiant Dance Machines, MIDA Multi-Tool, and a sidearm. I probably wouldn't play a tournament with this setup, but I've been pleasantly surprised by how effective it can be, especially since sidearms got a nice buff in the last patch."
They all play different classes, naturally. Datto favours a Striker Titan, mostly for its ability to shut down other players. "Fist of Havoc just ends any problems coming your way. Bladedancer? Smashed. Self-res Warlock? Smashed." Mr. Fruit favours a Hunter Gunslinger. "I've had to make the move to Hunter with the release of Rise of Iron and to me, it's the most fun subclass in PvP across any class."
TripleWreck also plays a Hunter, though he favours the Nightstalker subclass. He says it lets him take more risks with movement. "I've always been a fan of gameplay elements that widen the skill-gap (Titan skating for example), so making plays with Shadestep is incredibly gratifying."
Because high-level players are so skilled, they're able to have success with whatever weapons or subclasses they choose to use. They're certainly aware of the meta and are willing to switch things up when the chips are down, but they could probably beat most of us with a random crappy auto rifle and a clunky blue sniper.
I asked each player for their favourite moment in meta history. "The Thorn meta will forever be the most fast-paced meta with the sharpest learning curve and skill-gap," said SirDimetrious, referring to the summer of 2015 when Thorn and The Last Word took all comers and the Blink jumping ability had not yet been de-clawed.
"I miss when Hawkmoon would absolutely destroy people," said Datto, calling it his favourite gun of year one. "I think I, like a lot of people, romanticize those year-one metas a little more than we probably should," he admitted.
"I miss the early Suros days because it was basically the only time when auto rifles were truly dominant," he added, referring to the beloved Suros Regime auto rifle, which was savagely nerfed early in Destiny's lifespan and never really recovered.
There was plenty of love all around for the Suros. "Perhaps it's the nostalgia, but the first meta [that was] plagued with Suros and Vex [was] the best because it was an Auto Rifle dominant meta and I love me some Auto Rifles," said Mr. Fruit. Even SirDimetrious agreed: "I do miss the Suros days."
Nerf This, Buff That
Over the last two years, Bungie has issued a number of notorious nerfs — and welcomed buffs — to weapons and subclasses. Their goal has always been balance, though a side-effect usually involves a bunch of players holding forth on why Bungie tweaked the wrong thing.
Almost everyone I emailed with agreed on one good nerf: The removal of the Shot Package shotgun perk in fall of 2015. That perk significantly narrowed a shotgun's spread if you aimed down your sights before firing, which led to some outrageous "sniper shotgun" moments. Its removal was a blessing.
"People forget how far you could snipe people with Shot Package," said TripleWreck. "It practically doubled the effective range. Granted it was hilarious fun, but I don't think it was healthy for the game at all."
Datto agreed, albeit with a slightly different take. "Removing Shot Package from shotguns was good because it was a perk that just everyone was aiming to get," he said. "If you didn't have Shot Package, it felt like a waste to even hold onto the shotgun you got. I think removing it was a good move and let people not have to worry about getting it on their shotgun."
Above: SirDimetrious cleans up.
It's a sad feeling to get a gun you've really wanted only to see people say it's garbage because it doesn't have the one perk it needs to have a "god roll." Datto allowed that this is still a problem with other so-called god perks. "I'm looking at you, Rifled Barrel."
Each player said they'd welcomed a few other tweaks over the years, as well. Mr. Fruit's favourite nerf was when Bungie de-fanged the hand cannon Thorn, "because screw that thing." TripleWreck praised Bungie's nerfing of the Final Round perk on sniper rifles, and it's hard to disagree on that one.
I also asked which nerfs everyone hated, and got some varied responses. "The Suros nerf back in year 1 was bad, not because Suros got nerfed, but because Bungie ended up nerfing ALL auto rifles," said Datto. "Auto rifles have not recovered since and are still basically a non-factor or are outclassed."
Mr. Fruit agreed about auto rifles. He wasn't a fan of "the meta right around Taken King that more or less killed most Auto Rifles." TripleWreck was broader in his criticisms: "As it stands now, I am most frustrated by the continual nerfing of primary weapons to the point where they ironically take a backseat to specials, supers, grenades, and melee. I miss the previous metas where primaries were stronger, there were more gunfights, and the overall skill-gap was larger."
SirDimetrious was on the same page, though he was blunter in his assessment: "The single worst nerf that Bungie has put into effect was every single weapon patch beyond year one."
Is Bungie Listening?
The meta-story of Destiny is the push and pull between game's players and its developers. That has mostly manifested itself around patches and changes that closed exploits and changed core functionality in the PvE game. PvP players have their own relationship with the women and men behind the curtain.
"I think Bungie worries too much about pleasing everyone," said SirDimetrious, "especially the less experienced players."
"I feel like I could argue this both ways," said Datto. "On the one hand, it feels like the community sometimes asks for things that they individually want, rather than what would be best for the overall scene of the game. Or they suggest things that are unreasonable, although not all the time. I'm definitely guilty of doing that with my rants over hardcore-focused content."
"I think what Bungie does currently is great," said Mr. Fruit. "They have found a great way to include their audience but also [maintain] their vision." They're not fast enough to address problems and issues patches, he said, but "I also think there are other reasons as to why that would be. (cough Destiny 2 cough)."
"They're certainly faster [with updates] than they were in year 1, that's for certain," said Datto. "I know they have said they're focused on quarterly balance updates, but I think some extra communication with regards to certain weapons or abilities would be nice."
"It's easy to say that the game needs to be a certain way because all of us have our own ideas about what is 'best' for the game," said TripleWreck. "All we can do is give our feedback as vocally and honestly as possible while also making the best of whatever direction Destiny goes."
Maps, Maps, Maps
I asked each player their favourite and least favourite PvP maps, and was surprised by how many of them cited the same one. "To this day my favourite map is still Rusted Lands," said TripleWreck. "Plenty of good sight-lines, plays well with different game modes, and while not symmetrical is still balanced for both sides."
"Rusted Lands," agreed Datto. "I think it's just a pretty well put together map, good lanes for every type of weapon, any weapon can be dominant, I just enjoy it." Mr. Fruit had the same pick. "Rusted Lands still plays excellent and brings me back to the beta days."
Above: Rusted Lands.
SirDimetrious was the only one with a different pick. "My favourite crucible map is Twilight Gap because of the angles it has for Last Word + Sniper players in competitive matches," he said. In his opinion, a good map has "symmetrical, relatively small map design that doesn't have too heavy of a power-point that teams can camp on."
TripleWreck also elaborated on what he thinks makes a Crucible map work. "A good map in my mind is one that allows a variety of different play-styles to be effective" he said. "A good example of that is Burning Shrine. It has many open areas for sniping but also pockets of cover for aggressive players to take advantage of."
Their least favourite maps varied. "Thieves' Den is absolutely awful in my opinion," said TripleWreck. "It is essentially all the things I hate in a map: doors, tunnels, and restrictive CQC."
Datto said he dislikes Cathedral of Dusk. "Visually, great, but it just feels like it takes an eternity to get back into the action, although it doesn't frustrate me as much as it used to. Very difficult to cap the rift on this map, too."
Mr. Fruit was more generalized, saying he dislikes "any map with primarily close quarters, so, most of them. I just hate having to play around so many shotguns."
Destiny As A Esport
While Destiny has a lively competitive scene, it's still regarded as being a ways off from becoming a true esport like Counter-Strike GO or even Overwatch. Datto said two things might be holding the game back from attaining esports legitimacy.
"Number one is the random nature of drops and guns," he said. "If guy A is only able to get a sub-par shotgun because a good one didn't drop for him, and guy B IS able to get the better shotgun, then A is already at a disadvantage. There's no way to normalize that in current play other than telling everyone they need to use vendor weapons.
"Number two is just pure variance. There are so many abilities and counters that it almost feels like too much to balance for. You look at something like CS:GO, there's not that much variance. You got guns, they shoot; you have grenades, throw them; here's a bomb, go. There's no worrying about this guy's grenade sticking to a player or this guy has a dodge roll, but this guy doesn't. It is very pure.
"Destiny is a mash of a lot of things and competitive players actually have ruled out certain perks from being used in play. That's due to either an RNG [random number generator] based nature of an event happening (Luck in the Chamber), or something they think is just unfair. That includes exotic armour as well, because certain exotics are just plain better than others.
"So, the more you need to filter down Destiny into its pure form, the more of the game's identity you end up losing. I remember my clan started to come up with a ruleset a while back that kept things fair and we just ended up stripping so much away of what made Destiny actually Destiny."
Mr. Fruit had a similar take: "The fact alone that there's so many different guns and archetypes, and then that you'll have to be hoping to get a gun to drop for you WITH the perfect roll to compete is the more serious issue," he said. "Balancing is the #1 thing I look at when it comes to competitiveness."
The problem, he said, echoing Datto, is that "in order to fix that, you change up what makes Destiny... well, Destiny."
Hopes For The Future
With a year or more until the proper sequel, Destiny's PvP future is uncertain. Plenty of players will continue to face off in the Crucible, and it's safe to assume that some of the skills we build up this year will translate over to whatever competitive modes appear in Destiny 2.
I asked each player: If they could make one change to Destiny PvP, what would it be?
"Without question it would be true custom games," said TripleWreck. "Full control over loadouts, game settings, perks, etc." Datto was on a similar page: "I guess first would be some sort of normalization for weapons or even more specific options for private matches."
"It's great that we have private games," TripleWreck elaborated, "but for competitive play some added depth would do wonders. Look at Halo 3's comprehensive custom games and the sheer customisation they offer. That's my dream for Destiny."
Mr. Fruit was more specific: he'd go after special ammo. "Special Weapons are cool, but not when they're everyone's primaries. Spawn with even less special ammo, and then spawn even less crates."
SirDimetrious cut right to the point, as usual: "I would delete all Crucible changes applied after Year One Destiny."
While Bungie hasn't said anything official about Destiny 2, we've heard that the game will be a proper sequel in the vein of Diablo 2, which likely means everyone will have to start new characters from scratch. As well-versed as we've all become with the ever-changing nature of Destiny PvP, there's also something refreshing about the prospect of starting over again.
"The prospect of starting fresh is very exciting," said TripleWreck. "There are a lot of criticisms of Destiny, many of which are valid, but I still love the game. It's going to be a long wait, I imagine, but I have a feeling it will be worth it."