Update, December 12, 2017: Since this article was published, Bungie has announced that the Prometheus Lens will be nerfed out of Crucible viability until the studio has time to rebalance it in the new year.
Last week was, to be fair, a pretty rough time in Destiny 2 - and I think it's also fair to imagine that went for Guardians and Bungie alike. On Tuesday, after six months of teasing - or three years, if you factor in how long the titular character has loomed large as a major part of Destiny lore - the Curse of Osiris expansion delivered a slight and forgettable narrative campaign, a new 'explorable' location roughly the size of a Combined Arms PvP map, and a grind for eleven new weapons that plays out over exactly the same activities we've been grinding since the vanilla game's launch in September.
There's some good new Raid content, and some nice (if not revolutionary) quality-of-life updates have rolled out across the board, separate from the expansion itself. But at the same time, some vanilla content that was previously accessible for free is now locked behind the expansion, and the new gear includes a bunch of repurposed Exotics from the first game - in some cases drastically downgraded from their original forms. That doesn't help the perception that Destiny's once-outlandish weapon design has lost its teeth in the sequel, leading to a safe and unadventurous sandbox.
But then, amid all the Things That Reddit Did Not Like, Bungie made a mistake that turned out to be its best move in months. It released a new, Exotic Trace Rifle called the Prometheus Lens. The Lens was rapidly deemed to be overpowered to a broken degree, but Bungie went ahead with the weekend's hardcore, Trials of the Nine PvP event anyway. Many called for a cancellation, but instead, Bungie steered into the skid, putting the gun in weekend seller Xur's line-up, ensuring community-wide ownership and three days of laser-lit chaos. Because when everyone's super, no-one is.
I was wary at first, but the move was inspired. Naturally, I bought the Lens in an instant and headed straight into the Crucible to witness the nonsense it was wreaking. But I found not nonsense; not the knockabout, throwaway carnage I expected. I found a glorious, invigorating burst of Destiny 2 as it could and should be.
If you want to know what Exotic armor you could be rocking to match your Exotic Trace Rifle, check out our breakdown on every piece of Exotic armor added in Curse of Osiris.
Here's the thing with the Prometheus Lens: it kills people fast. It's not the brutally unfair, instantaneous murder-button some would have you believe, but compared to most of the Energy weapons in Destiny 2, it's pretty lethal. It fires a continuous laser beam, and at the point of impact, that beam's power grows exponentially, an area-of-effect damage bubble getting bigger and bigger the longer the trigger is held. It will melt people pretty quickly at close- and medium-range, provided you can keep the beam trained on a moving target, and at long-range you can use that growing death-bubble to negate cover and 'thread the needle,' firing the beam through doorways and small gaps in order to drop what amounts to a room-filling, permanent nuke-blast on the other side.
The Prometheus Lens is silly, then. In its raw power and its creative functionality, it is notably in advance of most other weapons currently available in Destiny 2. It is also, without a doubt, exactly what Destiny 2 needs. Because here's the other thing with the Lens: It makes Destiny 2 unsafe, deeply adventurous, and potently exciting like it has never been before.
The decreased time-to-kill that comes with the Lens is the key revelation. Crucible players have long felt that the reduced lethality of Destiny 2's weapons - intended to make PvP more inviting, and encourage tighter, more intimate, back-and-forth skirmishes between small, coordinated squads - has flattened the excitement over the long-term. And it has. While the slower TTK does facilitate the worthy aspirations listed, as the months have gone on and the meta has solidified, it has choked the life out of any combat approach that isn't concentrated team-fire. With individual Guardians having no meaningful facility to fight back against stacked odds, methodically moving and firing as a group has become not just a good option, but the only option.
There's satisfaction to a well-coordinated strike, but on the whole, rather than reducing the frustration of fast, one-sided takedowns, Destiny 2 has inadvertently built the Crucible around exactly that, while providing precisely one means of achieving or defending against the result. Whether you win or lose, this solitary path to success has made the Crucible prescriptive and increasingly dull. And that's before you even get into a weapon meta where the stupendously overpowered High-Calibre Rounds perk - whose screen-rattling impact effect simply shuts down retaliation - has made a mere two (otherwise unremarkable) guns competitive to the point of domination. There might be a certain sort of balance to the model, but with little room for adaptive, expressive play and emergent, solo tactics, it's hardly the sort of setup that attracts Bungie fans to the studio's games.
The Prometheus Lens though, has just put a big, fizzing, cartoon bomb under all of the above, and run away cackling like The Joker.
An army of one
Through the Prometheus Lens, the core, gleeful essence of Destiny's space-magic, one-Guardian-army power fantasy is back. After months of cowering behind corners and quietly sneaking around, trying to find teammates before I even consider attacking - and knowing that the moment I clap eyes on two or more opponents, the outcome is decided - suddenly I'm a walking apocalypse again. With smart enough use of movement and tactics, I can now vaporize two or three enemies at a time in open combat. I can boldly sprint, leap, strafe, and soar through Destiny's PvP playgrounds once more, fueled by carefully considered cockiness, entirely confident that I can handle whatever I might run into (or at least have a really good time trying).
pic.twitter.com/xYVjtuZFA3December 8, 2017
With the Lens, I now feel like a capable, powerful, resourceful Warlock again, rather than a weakling child. Destiny is once more about creative offense, rather than cowering defense and retreat. My first instinct is glorious, sparking, neon devastation once more. I don't need friends to back me up.
Everyone else seems to feel the same way. All weekend, every (notably packed-out) Crucible map I entered was teeming with Guardians charging about solo, with life-affirming bravado. The quiet, nervous sneaking is gone. The reliance on strength in numbers has evaporated. With every Guardian now feeling individually capable once more - despite knowingly going up against the exact same power they themselves wield - we're launching ourselves around the place and merrily engaging in exactly the kind of high-flying, ever-changing, creatively-minded duels we once used to. Exactly the kind of duels that are the reason we chose Destiny over any other shooter.
And for all the renewed excitement it's brought, the Prometheus Lens hasn't actually broken anything. Team strategies still work if you choose to use them, you just no longer have to. Movement and map knowledge still win out over raw power, but now you can be freer and more experimental, no longer fearful that risky, non-standard play will equate with suicide. Everyone is using the laser du jour, but it isn't so much dominating Destiny 2 as influencing its dynamics for the better. Because here's the third thing with the Prometheus Lens. It isn't actually overpowered at all. Everything else is underpowered. The Prometheus Lens is just... fun.
In celebration of Prometheus Lens weekend, here is the screen grab from Halo Reach that I saved years ago which eventually inspired the weapon. pic.twitter.com/5eJr9nuSqNDecember 8, 2017
For all of its fast-killing potential, the gun is rife with well-balanced downsides. It gets really wobbly at long-range, making sniping near-impossible; if you can trigger its signature area-of effect trick from afar, you've really earned it. Its reliance on sustained damage commits the user to prolonged, focused bursts of fire, more often than not while scoped, making for a serious case of risk vs. reward in terms of awareness.
And, most obviously of all, using the Lens lights the aggressor up like Tron's Christmas Tree. Ain't no-one sneaking up on no-one with this thing. To use the Lens is to proudly bellow "Here I am, fight me!" before engaging the world in whatever dynamic lunacy ensues. Which is exactly as Destiny 2 PvP should be. After months of being invisibly sniped by cowardly, distant MIDA Multi-Tools, and staggered into inaction by cheap, sneaky, high-calibre Uriel's Gift fire, the Prometheus Lens brings honesty back to the Crucible. And goddamn, the place feels alive again.
PvP feels alive again
Wonderfully, offense is only half of the Lens' influence. The other joy it brings is a knock-on effect on the entire combat ecosystem. Knowing that the Lens is out there, and that it will kill you fast if you don't deal with it, seems to have inspired everyone to find brand new ways of doing just that. The Lens is in no way unbeatable; I know this well from both ends of the equation. But given its raw power, the combined effort to find the means of beating it has blown the combat sandbox wide open again.
Some are whipping around architecture to get close with a submachine gun or the long-underused shotgun. Some are seriously upping their kinetic, aerial traversal to dodge sustained fire while dueling. Some are playing with rapid weapon-switches and all of the above to confuse the Lens user, throw down all kinds of unpredictable 'softener' damage, before finishing with a laser sweep of their own. I even had a match yesterday where I was repeatedly countered by a Guardian using a sniper, and no-one uses snipers in the Crucible ever since they were reclassified as a Power weapon. This weekend has transformed, energized, and relit the game for everyone.
And all it took, really, was a silly, high-powered weapon that breaks all of Bungie's current rules. In fact, not even that. Because while the Prometheus Lens was ostensibly the star of the show, what it represents is more important, and even more promising. In the Lens and its ubiquity, we have a proven case-study for the fact that a more aggressive, more power-focused, entirely more extravagant Destiny 2 can not only work, but thrive.
I'm not going to be as tinfoil-hat as to believe that this whole scenario was set up to deliberately test-drive a potential rebalance. But regardless of the circumstances that brought it about, this past weekend has given us a vibrant flash of what the game really can be. Far from ruining things, the power of the Lens has supercharged Destiny 2's combat, maintaining all the great, focused, strategic aspirations of Bungie's sequel, but infusing it with the strident, exhilarating energy of its predecessor.
It's made for a faster, freer, more exciting, and much more player-driven PvP experience, and the master-stroke of ensuring that same experience to everyone, via Xur, has opened a crack in the door to show us a fantastic potential future, should Bungie decide not to nerf the weapon's joys out of existence, and instead bring more of the game up to its level.
More weapons of its ilk - ideally whole rebalanced weapon classes - which capitalize on fast kill-times with unusual but demanding perks, and push the player-base to defeat them with something more creative, personal, and surprising than team-fire, will make things better. A lot better. And they'll do so very, very quickly. Bungie, if you're reading this: the Prometheus Lens might have been a mistake, but it's the best mistake you've ever made. If you'd be willing to make a few more like it, on purpose this time, I'll book my every weekend over to you right now.