Why Destiny 2's 'elites' vs 'casuals' balance drama missed the point

·9 min read
 A Warlock fires Divinity
A Warlock fires Divinity

Weapon balance is a constant talking point in Destiny 2—something that every player has an opinion on. But does being the best at a game mean you know what's best for it? Late last week, Destiny 2 raid champ Saltagreppo tested that question with a tweet thread that called for a nerf to Divinity, one of the best support weapons in the game.

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Divinity is an exotic trace rifle that works by creating a bubble around its target. Any damage to that bubble is increased by 30%. Meaning, while Divinity itself doesn't do much damage to its target, it causes other players to do dramatically more. In a six-person raid team, the DPS loss of having one person running Divinity is more than made up for by the 30% increase that each of the five other players can deal against a boss. It's a no-brainer of a pick.

Saltagreppo's point is that it makes DPS checks too much of a non-factor. Not only is the damage increase itself great, but the bubble is much easier to hit than, for instance, a boss's crit spot. Heads small; bubbles big. This is why it's trivial to run current boss DPS favourites like Stormchaser, which might otherwise be more skillful picks due to the difficulty of getting each of three-burst linear fusion's shots to land. Divinity is the answer.

The solution that Saltagreppo—a member of Clan Elysium, the team that won the last three of Destiny 2's raid races—proposes was pretty drastic. Essentially, he argues, if you need the big target that Divinity provides, it should come at the cost of damage modifiers. And not just Divinity's own damage modifier, but any other source of global debuff that you can currently apply.

The replies, by and large, do not agree.

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This, I am told, was a drama. Content creators sprang into action to offer up their take, which was less about Divinity, and more about the fact that it's dangerous to request nerfs in public. The overarching mood of YouTube commentariat can be summarised as: "Yeah, this is what happens when you poke the bear." A sort of amused sympathy is laced through the replies. They've been there, done that, and have the ratios to prove it.

But was this a community drama in any meaningful sense? Seeing content creators position this as some 'elite' vs 'casual' battle feels disingenuous. The Destiny 2 subreddit seemed bored of the discussion before it even began. Only a couple of posts on the topic garnered any real conversation, all of them heavily downvoted. And this is a forum that loves beating a dead horse—there are, months later, still daily posts about how Solar 3.0 is bad for Warlocks (it isn't).

Datto's video on the topic is instructive, precisely because it does what he accuses Saltagreppo of doing—missing the forest for the trees. He refers to Reddit and the Twitter repliers as the casual side of the community, opposed to the hardcore's calls for nerfs and higher difficulty. But the community is not a homogenous entity, and its most casual members certainly aren't active on Reddit or replying to raid champions on Twitter. Destiny 2's casual community, by and large, doesn't even own Divinity. According to Light.gg, less than half of users who registered to have their loadouts tracked by the site own the weapon—and that's already an incredibly self-selecting portion of the playerbase. If there are battlelines here, it already discounts millions of players who are just having fun in the game.

The responses to Saltagreppo's tweet are predictably excessive, but all they're really indicative of is that a bunch of people strongly disagree with his idea. I'm not sure there's a grander point here: one of the best raiders in the game is offering up ideas that will make things better for one of the best raiders in the game. The replies—be they nuanced, incredulous or depressingly rude—are responding to that idea from the perspective of people who aren't one of the best raiders in the game. These are fundamentally different experiences.

A Warlock fires Divinity
A Warlock fires Divinity

Even the basic premise that "the community" reacts negatively to any call to the nerf is wrong, in my experience. Much of the response to yesterday's Loreley Splendor nerf was just, "yeah, fair enough". Plenty of people are willing to accept that, in light of the Light 3.0 reworks, Guardians are probably too good at clearing up trash mobs. And, frankly, people are just bored of running Arbalest—an exotic linear fusion that trivialises Match Game modifiers and deals with Anti-Barrier champions in end game activities. There are plenty of things in Destiny 2 that are obviously overpowered, and even the people that crutch on them are often willing to admit that's the case.

The community is not a homogenous entity, and its most casual members certainly aren't active on Reddit or replying to raid champions on Twitter.

That's not to say that there aren't people—perhaps even a large number—who will respond with vitriol for even the most reasonable take. Destiny 2 is a large game, and some of the people who play it have some truly baffling opinions. Datto brings up the response he received to pre-nerf Well of Radiance, a super that, if run with Lunafaction Boots, would automatically refill your gun's ammo as you fired. It was undeniably overpowered. It absolutely needed a nerf. I'm sure content creators who advocated for that nerf got plenty of pushback for their trouble. But that's not a reflection of some monolithic community opinion. It's just some people getting mad.

It's true that no player deserves to be piled on for their balance opinions, whatever perspective they're coming from. I think there's a real fear from some that top players and content creators have an outsized effect on Bungie's sandbox tweaks. The result being that some 'regular' players seem to try to counter the perceived size of a player's visibility with volume—hammering home their opinion as if to create proof it isn't widely supported. One of Bungie's social media managers weighed in on why that sucks.

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But just as opinions from every skill level can be heard, they can also be ignored. Whether Divinity needs a nerf is a question that, for Bungie, is more nuanced than a single player's opinion. It's also more informed than a few hundred people getting angry in the replies. The studio will have reams of data about the weapon's use, which will prove as if not more important than sentiment or vibes.

Does Divinity need a nerf? I do take Saltagreppo's point that it's very strongly tuned right now. It applies the highest tier of global debuff to its target with very little downtime and with relative safety. And because global debuffs don't stack, it nullifies the need for other methods of application, like Tractor Cannon or Tether. I certainly wouldn't be mad if it was knocked down to a lower tier.

But other than rebalancing its percentage debuff in a way that means more skillful players could apply better damage through other means—which, let's be honest, is hardly the game's biggest priority in terms of balance—it seems like it's operating as intended. Divinity is somewhat unique in the Destiny 2 sandbox in that it's a desirable boss weapon that offers a different playstyle to the norm. Support is a valid role for MMO design, and it's a nice part of Destiny 2's sandbox. And, frankly, the idea that it's nullifying difficulty in raids displays a gross overestimation of the overall playerbase's ability.

Ehroar offered the best take I've seen on Saltagreppo's proposed changes, which is that all they would do is disempower lower skilled players. At the more skilled end, players can already do what Saltagreppo is calling for. They already have the ability to stack global debuffs and hit headshots in such a way that the loss of Divinity would be felt, but easily overcome.

I've recently spent the last few months sherpa-ing the PCG team through Destiny 2's raids, and, let me tell you, over here, things look very different. Even with Divinity in action, we are not one-phasing bosses. We're going in with vastly varied loadouts and expertise, and—by and large—without the meta DPS picks that ensure a smooth and consistent experience. Divinity, for us, helps give these newer raiders the space to actually learn the mechanics without also worrying about enrage timers or optimal damage positioning and execution.

Put simply, and most obviously, the skill gap between the kind of person who can win three World's First raid races in a row, and the sort of person who's just stepping into their very first raid is insurmountable. It's not just mechanical skill, it's the very knowledge of how Destiny 2's systems work—the complicated and counterintuitive ways that buffs and debuffs can be stacked, and the importance of mod setups and stat distributions.

And there are far more people in that position—who are just getting a taste of what Destiny 2 raiding is like. I don't disagree that there are likely better ways to reward and incentivise the game's most skilled players without hurting the much larger portion of the playerbase that get value from what Divinity does.