Destiny Prison of Elders won’t last without changes

prison-of-eldersI already wrote a post about some of the big picture concerns I have with Destiny’s latest DLC House of Wolves, and it will be on my YouTube channel later today. In that post I made sure to establish ground level problems that I see with the new content. My fear is that it will continue to push many in the community away, while the rest of us can have a sense of satisfaction and something to do each week with most of the best gear. After a solid week of playing the Prison of Elders and bagging Skolas three times as well as three Elder Ciphers, I have some specific gripes and critiques about how this content is wrong headed in some ways and flat out convoluted in others. The reason these changes are important is because The Prison of Elders is some of the most fun I have had in Destiny.

No checkpoints? Seriously?

When I first watched the reveal of the Prison of Elders on the live Twitch stream I missed the part where Deej said there would be no checkpoints. I remarked to those in my stream that it was safe to assume each cleared round would serve as a checkpoint to come back to later. Someone rightly corrected me, and at the time I thought it was a poor decision on Bungie’s part. After a good amount of experience with the Prison and all the various waves, rounds, burns, and challenges, I can say the absence of checkpoints is incredibly disappointing. Once again the player is being micromanaged for what I assume is a fear of exploits. So players get dropped from the game and can’t come back if they are on the boss round because you will be told the fireteam is too close to finishing (HINT: Rejoin after a wipe and it lets you in). Or life can just get in the way and you have to walk away from a nearly completed run. I suppose I can see some people trying to hop in at the end of a Prison run to get an easy win, but for the most part people play them from beginning to end with a full team out of necessity. You could probably easily play level 28 and even 32 with just two people, and then let someone jump in at the last minute, but who would do this and why? And who would do it so much that it would matter? Level 34 and 35 of the Prison are far too difficult for this, but honestly, if people wanted to run two man teams and then for some strange reason let their friend jump in at the end, then by all means, let them play the game that way. Bungie needs to get out of the way and let their game thrive and evolve in the organic way it wants to instead of constantly waving a paternalistic finger at the community and saying, “No, no, you can’t do that.”

The later level prison runs can take a while if you don’t know what you’re doing or have weak players with weak gear. And unlike the Raids which have checkpoints, you can’t really run these effectively shorthanded, so you need your teammates to dedicate a decent chunk of time to completing them. Twice now I have gotten to Skolas and had schedule constraints or something come up that took me away from the game. And because of the lack of checkpoints I’m forced to basically throw my hands up and say, “Welp guess I wasted the last 40 minutes of my life.” Even if you run the rounds flawlessly, which surprisingly enough on my first 35 run we never wiped, each round easily takes 5-10 minutes plus waiting time in the airlock. So on a really good run you are looking at 25-35 minutes to get to Skolas, which isn’t too bad, but it certainly won’t be the norm for every team and every attempt. Most teams will die, wipe, learn hard lessons about where to stand and which enemies to run from. With just a few mistakes and wipes, it can easily take an hour just to get to the final boss. Once at the final boss you are dependent on specific strategies, timing, and gear to pull off pretty challenging and well timed victories. Here again is where design elements of Destiny grates against the player.

A significant portion of my time was spent standing around waiting for supers and ammo synthesis to recharge. Too much of Destiny is built around extending playtime and engagement levels, so the player ends up doing literally nothing while they wait to take a crack at a boss again. A simple solution that doesn’t bring with it any element of exploit would be to refill ammo, reset synthesis timers, and fill supers whenever your whole team dies. What game mechanic breaks down by giving a team a fresh start when anyone with any semblance of intelligence stands around and waits for it anyway? Or they just farm the room for ammo and kill enemies and then intentionally wipe. All of this leads to attempts at Skolas or the final 34 boss fight taking longer than you might anticipate, sending many players to orbit empty handed due to real life commitments and responsibilities calling them away. Give us checkpoints, Bungie, or people will decide it isn’t worth the frustration and time, and your plan to increase engagement levels will backfire.

What rewards?

Another problem with the Prison is the rewards. Practically everything you get is pretty poultry in comparison to any raid gear or coveted exotics. And while someone might point out that not everyone has a Fatebringer or a Gjallarhorn, the players best equipped the beat the harder levels and bosses almost certainly have some of the best gear in the game. You can definitely beat the harder levels of the Prison without maxed guns from the Raids, but it will be notably harder and take longer. I already touched on the problem with having split loot pools and putting most of the best gear in PVP, and this becomes very apparent after a grueling battle with Skolas or a 34 boss only to get a non-elemental assault rifle that is quickly broken down when compared to the gear used to achieve victory. And the elder ciphers and new exotics are certainly cool, but they are rare, and they are exotics, so they come with their own downside.

I was going to end this post with a section about more balanced fights, but Bungie has already shown they are listening with the nerf and buff to the Qodron fight. He was beatable before, but the slightest mistake typically meant restarting due to the previous containment fields and weaker jail breaker. Hopefully suggestions continue hitting a consistent theme and Bungie tweaks and improves the Prison of Elders because it is honestly some of the most fun I’ve had in the game. That’s why these improvements and changes are necessary. You are putting really good content in a bad light and turning people off with silly decisions like a lack of checkpoints and meager rewards. The way it is built and plays is something they can continually add to and expand, creating larger fights with larger fireteams in the future. But if they don’t keep the community interested and just wear them out with silly mechanics and unrewarding experiences, one of Destiny’s funnest pieces of content may get shelved by many.

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