There's a weapon in Destiny (opens in new tab) that its players - for all their efforts and millions of combined play-hours - simply cannot find. It's call the Sleeper Simulant, a new Heavy Fusion Rifle, and we know it exists because it appeared as part of The Taken King's pre-release promo. There's a picture of it below. In many ways Sleeper Simulant perfectly represents the new, improved Destiny philosophy ushered in by its Year Two systems, and Taken King expansion: this game is no longer about luck; it's about teamwork.
Destiny's first year was shrouded in controversy and criticism - some of it warranted, some of it unfair. Perhaps the biggest issue Bungie faced, when it considered how to reinvent the game for its second year, was that of 'grind' and random loot drops. How to reward persistence (to keep people coming back to the game day after day), but eliminate the element of luck (which makes time spent in-game feel ultimately futile)? While it's only fair that those who put in the time and effort to engage with a game get the best gear, the system of handing it out randomly, and rewarding simple persistence, flies in the face of what Destiny does best: teamwork, creating a sense of community, and building a universe that players want to exist within. The game is at its very best when it behaves the way it promised, as a world-class shooter wrapped up in a deep, involving MMO. Year One Destiny, if I'm being unkind, was a shooter with random loot-drops where you could quite happily never speak to another soul and still murder everyone in the Crucible with Thorn (opens in new tab).
The search for the Sleeper Simulant is a perfect example of how things have changed, and the direction the game is heading in. It's bringing communities together, all hell-bent on being the first to discover this new weapon (which is itself a brand new class of weapon) from the cryptic clues left lying around by Bungie. "I think the power to gather together has always been a strength of the community,” says Weston Albert founder of @BungieInformer (opens in new tab). “But now that Bungie has introduced a secret that needs to be cracked, it's given the community a focal point and that gathering together has intensified. The discovery of Black Spindle sent a shockwave through the community and now you have Guardians scouring every Daily Heroic and trying to discover the next Black Spindle.”
This treasure hunt is still stumping the smartest corners of the community, and it's one created by the lessons learned by the developers after a year of both critical and loving feedback from fans. There's an excellent, and rather involved breakdown of the most important clues in this article from Forbes (opens in new tab). The summary, though, is that people simply haven't worked out how to start the quest that might reward them with the weapon.
It all stems from an unnamed Relic (opens in new tab) discovered in the Destiny Item Database. It's clearly an Exotic quest (it's labelled as such in the item description), and there are six nodes within the item that appear to need fulfilling in order to complete it. Most believe that the Dark Age relic fragments you find and turn into Banshee-44 the Gunsmith are related to the quest - that makes perfect sense, as they appear as Legendary Fusion Rifles in your inventory - but the actual nodes themselves are subjects for debate. The Plasma Confinement modules, referenced in three of the nodes, are clearly related to Warsats on Earth, the Moon, and Mars... but there's no clue about how to open them, or where they actually are.
Many believe that the secret lies inside either The Prometheus Code or The Archive missions. They're both referenced in the clue fragments currently unearthed by the community, and most think that these mission's Heroic versions will come with secret areas not found in the vanilla versions available from the map screen. Bungie has already teased fans by saying that Hard and Heroic versions of Destiny's missions will contain hidden stuff for people to find, a fact backed-up by the discovery of the Black Spindle Exotic Sniper Rifle (opens in new tab) during the Heroic version of Lost to Light.
If the last few paragraphs have you scratching your head and feeling vaguely dazed and confused, don't worry. The hunt for Sleeper Simulant has everyone stumped... so far. What it's doing is uniting a community towards a common goal, and it has people digging into the game - and its lore - like never before. That's a smart move from Bungie, who has been criticised in the past for hiding Destiny's story inside the Grimoire (opens in new tab) and extended universe. And it's not just the Sleeper Simulant either - clues for unlocking other Exotics, special items, and Emblems have been spread across the game for groups of players to find and figure out. Even the Taken King Collector's Edition is packed full of clues printed onto the various goodies included in the package. It's very reminiscent of when games like Metal Gear Solid hid codes and clues inside the instruction manuals or on the back of the packaging, to be discovered and shared excitedly by those who found them.
“We've already seen the Exotic version of The Stranger's Rifle, No Time to Explain," says Albert. "We know it exists, but no one has found it. It might be connected to the hidden encounter in the Paradox mission, which was discovered last week. That's a good lead, considering The Stranger's Rifle and it's connection to the Vex, time travel, etc. (and the Exo Stranger's possible connection to Future War Cult, who you'll visit to continue that hidden quest line). I bet there are a few Exotic weapons still hidden somewhere. I don't think Bungie is a one-trick pony though - I wouldn't expect every hidden Exotic to be found inside of a Daily.”
Creating a constant engagement with Destiny is one of Bungie's key aims, and is fast becoming one of its greatest achievements. Little secrets like Sleeper Simulant exist to keep players talking and playing a game that simply can't afford to output brand-new content on a regular basis. It provides depth, rather than breadth, to a shooter that's solid enough to stand up to the constant examination of its millions of players. We've seen examples of this in the past - the Vault of Glass Raid being one of the earliest - where Guardians are forced to work together to best the puzzles set out by the developers.
The Taken King saw the potential in this idea, and expanded it into almost all aspects of the Year Two experience. The Kings Fall Raid? Not only is it a complex series of conundrums and shooting set-pieces, but there's stuff in there - like a secret room - which adds extra mystery to the whole event. The new missions that pop up and demand level 41 and above? They're near-impossible to solo, and force you to team up with others. The Court of Oryx? Sure, you can solo the low-level runes, but the need to form a fireteam and employ strategy becomes essential.
So, now it's not just a case of turning up for enough hours to earn your Exotic kit. Simply grinding the Raids and Strikes won't necessarily generate the stuff you want or need. You have to get out there and find it, by interacting with other players, working together, and engaging with the various communities and online media that follow the game. In other words, Destiny is becoming the MMO it always had aspirations to be. Yes, you can still solo the game and have the bare minimum of interaction with other people - there's certainly enough content here to discover on your own - but there's also this extra layer that allows you to dig as deep as you're comfortable with.
It also helps that the community has taken so well to the game. Bungie can, to an extent, rely on the generosity and general good-nature of its players, and has started to shift the focus of some content to take advantage of this. “Honestly, it's the best gaming community I've ever been a part of," says Albert. "It would be easy for some gamers to find a secret and then try their best to keep it a secret. The Destiny community is not elitist in that way at all. I talk to and play with randoms all the time, and they are just as helpful and willing to share time, information, and laughs as anyone on my regular fireteam. So it's the right community to have trying to search out these secrets.”
It's this multi-tiered approach, this ability to keep both newbies and hardcore players entertained, which will allow Destiny its ambitious, ten-year life-span. It’s tough to know whether this was the plan from the very start, whether the obfuscation of the lore and vaguely explained systems were all part of some grand scheme (and I’m sure if you asked anyone at Bungie, they’d smile and say “Of course”) to tease the bigger picture out over a decade. Either way, it’s a smart tactic to keep notoriously fickle gamers coming back for more, and to have the players surface the narrative for you, making them feel like they’re part of the world; like it belongs to them. Plus, the Sleeper Simulant is a hell of a gun. As Albert puts it: “It's a super sexy looking weapon. And it's been called the next Gjallarhorn. That's enough to get any Guardian interested. But then you inject some mystery into all of it and voila, you have what is currently the most sought after gun in Destiny.”
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a Heavy Fusion Rifle to find...