Nerfing Destiny's best guns is the smartest move for the game's future

Over the last few months, weapon balance has become the number one concern of the hardcore Destiny community. We wanted an update; we wanted answers. Then, last week, we got answers - and well, not everybody is happy about it.

The changes in Crucible are something that we're simply not in a position to judge until we've playtested them for a long period. Theorycrafting can only take you so far: Bungie has tested them, we haven't. Most players accept that. There's been far more upset about the changes to Destiny's most powerful PvE weapons - Gjallarhorn, Ice Breaker, and Black Hammer. These three Solar damage powerhouses are single-handedly responsible for making Solar Burn Nightfalls trivially easy; they have all, in one way or another, enabled cheeses that allow players to bypass bosses. Nerfing them is the best possible thing Bungie could have done for the health of the game and the quality of The Taken King. The community is in uproar, but the worst thing Bungie could do right now is listen.

Ice Breaker has felt steadily less essential since its heyday, and these changes confirm it as a situational pick. I'd argue that this is the least necessary nerf, but Ice Breaker has always been a 'problem gun'. Its regenerating ammo supply enabled the most egregious cheeses in the base game, and decreasing its regen rate punishes players who rely on it solely for picking off bosses from under a box a hundred miles from the fight. It'll be more of a problem to miss a shot if your Fireteam is facing the Oracles in hard mode Vault of Glass, I guess - so don't miss.

Black Hammer needed to change, and this nerf feels rather generous to me. As it is, the gun completely trivialises static enemies and those with large precision damage spots and does this while granting the wielder infinite ammo. From the 2.0 patch onwards, it'll still do vastly more sustained damage-over-time than any other PvE sniper rifle - you'll just have to pick up a green ammo brick every now and then. It'll be more punishing to miss a shot, sure, but raising the skill ceiling for the game's most powerful weapons is not a bad thing. To say that it's been nerfed into the ground is vastly overstating things; whoever pilots those Fallen Devil Walkers is still completely screwed.

The most common argument against these changes goes that the problem with Destiny PvE isn't Gjallarhorn or Black Hammer but the game's encounter design. The Prison of Elders in particular is packed with damage-sponge enemies that are a chore to crack without these weapons; nerf them and these challenges become less fun for everybody.

There's a severe flaw with this argument, however, and it's this: without changing the weapons, Bungie can't change the way it designs encounters.

If it designs new encounters with fewer damage sponge enemies and don't nerf Gjallarhorn, Gjallarhorn will be absurdly powerful in those encounters. The weapon will stay mandatory. Players on LFG sites will still refuse to recruit people who don't have one. Even if it's not necessary, the vast majority of players would still prefer to finish a fight in 20 seconds rather than in a minute. Even if it's more fun to run with something else, efficiency will always win out in the minds of a reward-focused community.

If they don't nerf Gjallarhorn, then, the only option is to stay the current course: to make sure that there are enemies in the new Strikes and Raid capable of soaking up those wolfpack rounds. This is, I suspect, why the Prison of Elders is quite so happy to throw major Servitors and Wizards at you: they're there to tempt you into dumping your Gjallarhorn clip before you get to something more mission-critical, like a boss.

By nerfing the more extreme spikes in a player's potential damage output, Bungie give themselves the freedom to design encounters differently - it is not possible otherwise. They could also, if they wished, tweak Prison of Elders or the existing Raids to take this into account - remember when they reduced Skolas' health bar because that part of the Prison would no longer have an elemental burn? That kind of positive change is only possible if the player's power is moderated. It's a give-and-take.

These changes provide Bungie with space to make a better game. They allow the developers to use Solar Burn again. They allow them to use tanks and large static enemies again. The onus is now on Bungie to take advantage of this freedom: if it nerfs the community's favourite shortcut weapons and produce a run of new Strikes with just as many boring enemies, then the ire it receives will be earned. But this anger hasn't been earned yet.

Chris Thursten
Editor, PC Gamer Pro