It May Be Time to Retire the Iron Banner

So we’re a little over one month into Destiny 2, and you’ve probably heard the complaints. The endgame sucks. The shader system sucks. The mod system sucks. And my personal favorite: one guy responding to a TWAB written by Cozmo that DeeJ should be “impeached.” Looking at the DTG reddit for more than two minutes makes it appear that Bungie has created the worst game ever known to mankind and that they intentionally did so sucker “casuals” out of their money and then roll around in a big pile of money with Activision. I could talk all day about how insulting it must be to a game developer to face Watergate-esque corporate conspiracy allegations from a crowd of spoiled children on the internet after pouring your guts out into the release of a game, but it’s a perpetual losing battle. Expecting large amounts of people to remain professional about a game’s status and development is a pipe dream. Isolate one of those people and ask them, you will likely get a professional response and constructive feedback. Put that same person in a crowd? Nothing but mindless insults and otherwise pathetic and unhelpful behavior. That’s just human nature.

With the complaints about a non-existent endgame, undeveloped Crucible, and recycled loot, Iron Banner had its back up against the wall before it started. But after it started, it somehow managed to exceed its expectations of failure and vault the community into new heights of frustration with the endgame direction of Destiny 2.

However, as frustrating as it is to watch some of the behavior of the angry mob that has hijacked Destiny’s community, they’re not wrong. There is something wrong with D2’s endgame on a very fundamental basis, which is a very surprising and confusing roadblock to meet after an incredibly improved story. I’m not pretending to have all the answers, and I do believe the game is still built on a very solid foundation and that the fix is likely easier that we think, but I do recognize that the “grind” is all but gone.

When you break down what the “grind” is, it’s not simply about working toward the end goal of obtaining whatever benchmark is ahead of you. The draw along that road is exclusivity — getting your hands on something rare that no one else has and demonstrating your unique prowess by the simple virtue of having something most do not. Again, it’s human nature. We want stuff because other people don’t have that stuff. Once everyone has that stuff, it’s no longer cool and we need new unique stuff that the other people don’t have. And when they’re guns that kill aliens, they’re really cool to have while enjoying others not having them. It’s part of what made Destiny a staple in popular culture. The average guy on the street who doesn’t play video games is likely to know next to nothing about the game — except that you need to have a Gjallarhorn.

The grind is a pendulum that swings between two general polar ends — exclusion and inclusion. Since the launch of the Destiny franchise, that pendulum has swung further and further towards inclusion, which gives the endgame a perception of being short and meaningless. Nothing serves as a better timeline to track this than the history of Iron Banner. Once a highly-anticipated method of grinding for rare items that were unique to the player, the event is now a barely noticeable addition to the Crucible. In order to start swinging the grind pendulum back down, a sacrifice of Destiny’s past may be in order, and we should start by looking at Iron Banner.

A Brief History of the Iron Banner

So let me take you on a stroll down memory lane with a walk-through of the Iron Banana throughout the history of the Destiny franchise. And if you’re new to the game with D2, allow me to give you a quick history lesson and clarify something. Many call it Iron Banana instead of Iron Banner. That’s not a typo. I don’t know why. Many also call Lord Saladin other names such as Lord Saladhead, Lord Saladhands, and Lord Saladfingers. Again, I don’t know why. I’ve never seen him making a salad, but I have no evidence that he doesn’t make salads, either. I guess he looks like someone that would make a very nice artisan salad with fresh ingredients, and then drown it in ranch dressing like a barbarian. He probably eats bananas sideways, too.

Anyways, Iron Banner launched back in the first year of D1 along with its PvE counterpart, Queen’s Wrath (which was gone soon after). The timing was the same — IB would come around every month for one week, and Lord Saladin would show up at his post in the Tower (until he got evicted and moved to the Iron Temple in Year 3). However, the early Iron Banner was markedly different from what you see now. You had to grind your character up to certain levels to have the ability to purchase high-level armor and weapons that had the unique ability to have their perks altered for a little extra Glimmer. You only gained reputation if you won games, and the chances of having one of the offered weapons drop as a post-match award was incredibly slim. You had to invest in IB shaders, emblems, and class items to boost your grinding potential along the way. You had to complete bounties each day to help with progress. And once you got up to level 5, those weapons were expensive. Walking out of a Year 1 Iron Banner with all the offered weapons and armor was not an easy task, and was definitely not a guarantee unless you really put your time in and prepared.

Year 1 Lord Saladin

Now here’s something you should know about me right off the bat — I am terrible at making efficient decisions in this game. I’m a very bad grinder. Prior to my first Iron Banner way back then, one of my friends had been telling me to vault my items that could be turned into the Cryptarch for Glimmer (Ether Seeds, Axiomatic Beads, etc.) and that I needed a “guardian savings account” for the upcoming Iron Banner. I didn’t listen to him and spent my Glimmer on shaders or emblems or whatever Eva Levante was selling. Sure enough, IB came around and I slowly grinded up to level 5 to get my hands on that awesome-looking Timur’s Lash hand cannon. But along the way, I bought the armor that Saladin was selling as I ranked up. So by the time I got to level 5, I was already broke. And I had no guardian savings account. So no Timur’s Lash for me this time around, and no one to blame but myself for reckless Glimmer spending and not knowing how to farm the Exclusion Zone mission for Glimmer yet.

Now take a story like mine that I personally laugh about and post it on reddit. And watch it snowball into a call for revolt against the game developers and accusations of a personal vendetta. The internet masses complained about how hard the grind was. They weren’t part of the exclusive rank 5 group and thought they should be. And the pendulum swung down away from exclusion.

As the Destiny landscape and economy changed, so did Iron Banner, the game’s constant. With Year 2 and the introduction of The Taken King expansion, legendary marks were introduced into the game as a new form of currency. IB still came around every month, and still required grinding up to level 5 reputation with wins and new featured weapons and armor for sale. But with the legendary mark system, it was easier to purchase the armor and weapons, and players had a guaranteed source of marks from daily and weekly activities and knew to stock up for Iron Banner. Well I knew, at least, after the great ACbullman Timur’s Lash Debacle of 2014.

Year 2 Lord Saladin

Other people didn’t know, and didn’t get those exclusive weapons. Once again, the internet masses complained again about how hard the grind was. And the pendulum swung down further.

Fast forward to the twilight of The Taken King. The game was beginning to show its age, and something was needed to breathe life into the game. The player base wanted to get back to the grind, but didn’t want to actually grind in the traditional Destiny sense. They wanted to grind and be consistently rewarded for their time investment. Bungie implemented an impactful change to the grind with the “April Update,” and post-match weapon drop rates improved as well as more consistent incremental leveling. You didn’t need to prepare to buy the offered weapons anymore, as there was a good chance of getting one to drop.

The momentum had already started. The pendulum kept swinging.

Fast forward even further to Rise of Iron. Built around the retooled endgame grind from the April Update, Rise of Iron launched an Iron Banner at a new social space, the Iron Temple, with a new vendor, Lady Efrideet. The general format was the same, but there was no need to purchase the armor or weapons offered by Lady Efrideet — you would get a big handful of them to drop in the process of getting to rank 5, making the journey to rank 5 nothing more than a safety net in the extreme case where you somehow got no drops (which would have been an amazing feat of awful luck).

Year 3 Lady Efrideet

Iron Banner quickly began to fade throughout Year 3, but the momentum was still there and the pendulum kept swinging.

And now we’re back in the present. Lord Saladin is back at the Tower for his monthly Iron Banana stroll. He apparently has no memory of who the hell you are despite dubbing you “Young Wolf” and handing you a sword less than a year ago. He also apparently has no memory of Efrideet, as he claims to be the last living Iron Lord. You get tokens for winning and tokens for losing. You turn in the tokens and get a weapon or armor piece every time. Then you go back to the Iron Banner competition, which is just Quickplay Crucible. There’s nothing to distinguish Iron Banner from general Quickplay other than the fact that it’s always control and you get loot from Saladin instead of Shaxx.

Destiny 2 Lord Saladin

And despite the state of Iron Banner, the pendulum could still keep swinging up toward inclusion. On the top of DTG reddit, there were still complaints that people didn’t have the full armor set yet after only days into the event.

Iron Banner as a Barometer of Destiny’s Endgame Grind

Three years ago, Lord Saladin came to the Tower with a selection of the only “re-rollable” weapons, some of the deadliest weapons in PvP, for a hefty price tag and a commitment to grinding for wins. It was one of the biggest grinds in Destiny’s endgame, and as a result one of the biggest points of grief, but also one of the biggest draws.

This past week, Lord Saladin came to the Tower as just another vendor who takes tokens in exchange for weapons and armor. The tokens rain from the sky, win or lose, and all the weapons and armor pieces are available. The weapons and armor are, well, more weapons and armor. If you played enough this week, you could have nearly every IB weapon and a full armor set without winning a single match. The grind seems almost entirely dependent on how much tolerance you have for frustrating spawn deaths.

The pendulum has clearly swung too far, and everyone is simply getting everything. And everyone craves what no one else has, so therefore, everyone feels like they have nothing and don’t care about their rewards. If I had to trace back to when the pendulum crossed a point of no return, it would have to be the April Update during Year 2. It was a welcome addition to breathe life back into a dated D1, but has since evolved to the point where legendary loot rains upon guardians for simply existing within the game. In the end, Iron Banner feels to me like a relic from Destiny that doesn’t fit in Destiny 2. It does, however, continue to serve well as a barometer of the endgame — it just isn’t reading very good results.

Does Iron Banner Fit in Destiny’s Future?

As you can probably tell by now, I’m addressing the endgame as well as Iron Banner, as I’ve always felt that the two were inextricably tied together. Iron Banner has always been an event intended for the guardians at the end of the long grind to the top, making it a measuring stick for the status of the endgame. However, in Destiny 2’s economy, it seems as though everyone is already at the top; and as Iron Banner has always served to take the temperature of the endgame, this one came back icy cold.

Destiny 2 enjoyed a successful launch and a lot of great feedback on the revamped story. The new endgame, however, has not been so great. It’s easy for the internet masses to blame it on Bungie. There’s literally a post on reddit right now heavily implying that Bungie is using “psychological manipulation” to force people to play Destiny 2. That’s an actual thing going on right now. But you only have to look back at the history of the Iron Banner to see that the very own demands of some of the Destiny community are responsible for the endgame we currently have. Maybe we need a new measuring stick and a new endgame PvP event. One that doesn’t involve Lords of Salad and Iron Bananas.

Bungie is not at a dead end with Destiny 2 — not even close. I don’t want to give you the impression that I’m claiming D2 to be dead. Some may say it’s stalled, but I like to think that it’s a blank slate. Bungie has built a great canvas upon which to paint, develop, and refine its endgame. It can go in so many different directions. There’s so much opportunity to look forward to as Bungie launches the PC version and begins re-tooling the endgame for future content. I have faith that Bungie will fix the endgame problems, and I don’t think it will take all that much to do it. But I think we need a new measuring stick for the endgame. After all, this is a new game. I’d love to see Bungie leave the Iron Lords behind and find a new way to measure the endgame temperature moving forward.

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