If you’ve played Destiny, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the Loot Cave. Or maybe it’s successor, Loot Cave 2.0. (Not very creative with names, are they?) The gist is this: the way Destiny‘s loot system works is primarily based on Engrams, or little bundles of categorical rarity that you have to have decoded into actual loot. The color scheme should be familiar to nearly all of you, starting with white and going to green to blue to purple and finally to gold.
Destiny, in its pseudo MMO-ness, has a similarly standard respawn structure. There are particular entrance points into the world where enemies can enter. Sometimes they are dropped by massive teleporting alien ships and other times they seems to blip and bloop simply into and out of existence. And then there are the times they come scurrying out of a literal hole in the ground. But they will only appear if the game thinks no one is watching.
This is where the Loot Cave comes into play. The first was located in the Cosmodrome area of Old Russia. With a legion of Guardians huddling around a slab of rock and shooting into a cave, it was a puzzling sight. But combine the two aforementioned aspects (loot drops and enemy respawns), and you have a Loot Cave. From that rock formation, you are far enough that the game thinks you can’t see the furtive birthing of foes. But with a zoom scope and a few friends, you can fire endlessly into that hole and be massively reward for your efforts. We’re talking kaboodles of blues and purps here, guys.
In a recent patch, though, Bungie saw fit to nerf the honey pot—among other things. But just as quickly as they did so, another cave popped up. Also in Old Russia, this was even easier because the enemies had a tendency to seek you out if they got past your wall of hot death. And something tells me it’s only a matter of time until they patch this one as well.
The interesting thing, though, is that Bungie seemed to genuinely understand the grassroots thing borne by their game. From a blog post regarding then-impending changes: “The social experience of a cave farming run is amazing…The speed at which the community organized around this activity was inspiring and humbling to us.”
But then further along, they also say, “shooting at a black hole for hours on end isn’t our dream for how Destiny is played.” These words very literally translate to the fact that players broke the system, counter to some opinions that it’s a feature and not a bug. While making good points and well written, the developers are straight-up saying that this was not intended.
Of course some people will always choose the path of least (interesting) resistance. Shooting into a dark cave that spits out goodies? Bingo bango. But really the problem here is that the progression after level 20 is so incredibly boring that the best option all around is to join the ammo dump fest into a Loot Cave. That’s why you are so rarely alone at the caves. Even when instanced into separate realities of a handful of players, you will still find people at the caves.
There are other influencing artifacts to this treasure hunt, though. Namely the formerly cryptic rewards coming from the Cryptarch (the guy who decodes your Engrams for you). Bungie had to deliberately drop an injected element of randomness to the decryption, a choice previously made seemingly to only obfuscate the value of any given piece of loot.
The color of the engram didn’t always coordinate to the item it would result in, bringing about many bouts of frustration and rage and tweeting, especially (and usually) when a legendary drop only ended up being a rare piece of armor. The patch that removed the first Loot Cave also forced every engram to decode to its colored value or higher. It additionally forcibly downgraded all legendary engrams to rare ones, with the patch notes suggesting players decrypt before the patch while admitting “but let’s be honest–even if you don’t, we all know they were blues already…”
Strangely enough, neither of are the true wrench in the works of Destiny, merely symptoms. Truly, the main problem that sprouts these smaller albeit more visible problems is that Bungie missed a vital part of designing an MMO: communication. It’s fine and well that your mission’s objectives are always delightfully highlighted on your screen but the game lacks communication in regards to how it should be played.
Alternatives to the intended design are usually taught to be less-than-viable. Dark Souls, for instance, teaches you that lesson through severely brutal deaths. But the alternative to Destiny‘s proper way to grind for gear is entirely too sustainable, which is to say shooting for hours on end into a dark Russian hole. Nothing teaches you otherwise because you are rewarded for you efforts eventually. The science checks out.
But much like World of Warcraft, the preeminent product of effective MMO design, late-level progression comes easiest in the form of faction alignment. You earn reputation and currencies and then you get your big rewards. That concept is rather alien to a console game and fighting an uphill battle against the ever so inviting fallacy of uncertain but immediate rewards. Turning in bounties gets you substantial gains in experience and faction points as well as afford you the occasional opportunity to engage with exotic bounties for exotic-level loot.
While Destiny intends for you to earn Vanguard and Crucible points to buy gear from the respective charter’s dealer, it doesn’t really communicate to you that is the end game of this point gathering. From the outset, it appears as if you are collecting points for each faction just to collect points. And then along the way you chance into access to engrams and special quests and the like. But through hyperbolic discounting, you trick yourself into playing into the Loot Cave’s hands.
It’s clear that Bungie has its shooting down. Destiny feels as good as Halo ever did. (The similarities between the two games are striking and honestly somewhat disconcerting, but we’ll get to that later.) But it’s also clear that in all that time of hewing one hand into a finely tuned gun, Bungie forgot to shape the other into an MMO, driving you to both loot and understand the loot. Maybe it’s something patchable and maybe it’s something too base to be smoothed over. We’ll soon find out.