Bungie just partially disabled an exploit players are using to shorten Destiny 2’s latest Power grind, but the cheating fits this season’s themes.
Destiny 2‘s new Season of Arrivals has brought a rise in the game’s Power cap, kicking off another period in which players are earning new gear to strengthen their characters. Climbing the Power ladder is one of the core elements of Destiny, as is finding any way to shortcut the process through exploits, bugs, and other lucky happenings. Season of Arrivals has a bug like that, but instead of fixing it, which Bungie has already partially dealt with. But instead of hampering players’ ability to use the shortcut, the developer should leave it in the game–because it actually has some spooky thematic resonance.
The exploit players are using comes from the newly introduced Umbral Engrams, Arrivals’ season-specific gear system. Umbral Engrams drop from all activities in the game right now, and you can use a special machine to “focus” them, allowing you to change your random gear drop into one from a specific category you choose. You can focus Umbral Engrams to become seasonal armor or seasonal weapons, or make them focus on particular stats.
Usually, Umbral Engrams drop at a certain Power level that’s in line with your character’s other gear. Thanks to a bug, if you focus your engrams to become seasonal armor, they often get a big Power spike. That makes them akin to “Powerful” weekly drops in the world, allowing players to quickly get up to the “soft” Power cap of 1,050. That’s almost the highest you can get your gear this season–to get up to 1,060, you need to do “Pinnacle” activities, like Destiny 2’s raids and dungeons.
The thing about Umbral Engrams is that they drop from any activity, including the Forge activities added with the Black Armory season that popped up after the Forsaken expansion. The Forge is something players have exploited since it was released, because the game would quickly load you into a new Forge run soon after one ended. You could enter the activity and leave your game, allowing it to run over and over again. Forges ended and started so quickly that Destiny 2 wouldn’t kick you out for being AFK, and even if you fail the event (since you’re not playing), you still are sometimes awarded an Umbral Engram. So through the first weekend of the Season of Arrivals, players would just load into the Forge and leaving their games running, gathering a bunch of Umbral Engrams, and decrypting them to jump their characters up to the 1,050 with no grinding and no work.
That’s definitely not how Bungie intended to play the Season of Arrivals, and already, the developer has partially put a stop to the exploit. Starting on Monday, the developer made a change so that Forge activities won’t start automatically after one ends–you’ll now be kicked to orbit when a Forge activity concludes, meaning you’ll have to manually restart it for another chance at a quick Umbral Engram.
This is a quick way to deal with an exploit, and it was expected that Bungie would put a stop to it. But really, Bungie should just leave the bug be–it’s a perfect accidental addition to the Season of Arrivals’ story.
Players who’ve been keeping up with the lore of Destiny 2’s story arc since the Forsaken expansion know that things are getting muddled in the world of Bungie’s MMO. In the early days of Destiny and its story, things were pretty black and white: the player Guardians wield the Light, a “good” kind of space magic, and the bad guys have, use, and worship the Darkness, the “bad” kind of space magic.
But especially since the Forsaken expansion, that dichotomy has slowly been morphing to make the Darkness a much more nebulous and nuanced force as we’ve awaited the arrival of a spooky, unknown new group of seemingly evil aliens. And now, those powerful creatures who wield the Darkness have shown up in the solar system–and they’re not invading, but offering gifts.
The Season of Arrivals has seen the Pyramid ships we’ve been waiting on since the end of Destiny 2’s vanilla campaign finally, uh, arriving, and that’s created a new seasonal activity called Contact and a new way of earning gear–the aforementioned Umbral Engrams. These are similar to the Engrams Destiny players have been picking up since the first game to get new weapons and armor–the difference, from a story perspective, is that these Engrams are infused with Darkness. These are the “gifts” the Darkness is presenting to players.
There are a few stories floating around in the Destiny lore about what interacting with the Darkness is actually like, and it’s not always the frightening destruction of the Collapse, the event that ended the Golden Age of humanity hundreds of years in the games’ past. Lately, the Darkness has been more about trying to seduce Guardians with promises of power. One story, about a fireteam called the Kentarch-3, details a group of Guardians who went into the Black Garden and were given some kind of strange, incredible power by the Darkness they encountered there. The three Guardians eventually turned on each other as that power seemingly corrupted them.
Right now, players are farming activities where they die repeatedly and don’t actually play, in order to get a quick path to high-level gear using Umbral Engrams. That sounds exactly like the Darkness tempting and seducing the good guys with promises of easy power. What if the Umbral Engrams aren’t bugged at all? What if they’re working exactly as intended?
That’s actually a fun and frightening thought, where the meta side of Destiny 2’s Power grind could intersect with the story side of what Bungie wants players to experience–by succumbing to the exploit, we’re playing right into the Darkness’s hands. What’s more, allowing players to use the Forge exploit to grow their Power quickly doesn’t really hurt anybody. Guardians who aren’t in the know might get annoyed with other players being AFK if they’re actually trying to successfully complete the Forge, but most players exploiting the system actively avoid messing up anyone else’s day by putting on the lowest-level gear they can. That drops the exploiters’ Power levels so they won’t get matched with people genuinely trying to run the activity.
And sure, the exploit gets you close to endgame content quickly, like the new dungeon, Prophecy, which recommends a starting Power level of 1,040. But Umbral Engrams can’t get you to 1,060, the peak Power level. To get that, you still need to grind some of Destiny 2’s toughest stuff. You can speed your way to Pinnacle activities with the Darkness’s help, but you still have to defeat the game’s most difficult challenges to continue, and being able to start those activities doesn’t guarantee you’ll have the skill or capability to finish them.
And that, too, feeds into the idea that power gained from the Darkness is a double-edged sword. It’s quick and it’s easy, but how useful is it? Are you truly benefitting from leaping over the grind but not earning the experience that comes with a slower ascent (if not practically, at least thematically)? Are these gifts from the Darkness all they’re cracked up to be?
It’s fun to imagine Bungie taking advantage of the situation. Sure, you can enjoy a speedy Power grind in the Season of Arrivals, but maybe that decision will come back to haunt you next season. Bungie could use player data to implement another story element, where perhaps the Darkness asks something in return for all these “gifts.” And as a player, your actions would suddenly matter in a way they often don’t in Destiny 2, as your choice of how to play the game, and whether to effectively cheat, have unforeseen consequences.
In any case, this is one of those serendipitous times when an in-game bug actually feels more like a feature. Bungie has an opportunity to play it up and use it to Destiny 2’s advantage. Let us have our easy, possibly easy power, Bungie–you can even find a way to make us regret it later. It’ll make for an even cooler story for you to tell.
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