Everyone’s favorite Iron Lord, Lord Saladin, re-appeared in the Tower on Tuesday, October 10th for our first look at the Destiny 2 Iron Banner event. For the uninitiated, the Iron Banner is a revolving PvP (Player versus Player) tournament that appears in the Destiny universe about every four to six weeks. Guardians battle each other for gear exclusive to the Iron Banner. This is the first iteration of Iron Banner in Bungie’s MMO/RPG/FPS sequel, Destiny 2, and there are some new changes that have caused quite the stir in the community.
The first change to the Iron Banner tournament is a static change made to all PvP modes in Destiny 2. It is now 4 vs 4 combat, replacing 6 vs 6 combat. As a player who enjoys PvP the most when playing with friends (and maybe enjoying a few beverages), this is definitely a drawback for me. Friday night Iron Banner sessions with my clanmates, watching my KDR dip in relation to my BAC, were some of my favorite experiences in Destiny.
The original Iron Banner had a complicated leveling system. Players would acquire an Iron Banner emblem, shader (items that modify your gear color), and class item. Each item as equipped would begin stacking buffs to allow you to earn more experience in your Iron Banner matches. Wins would count for full XP and losses would grant you a medallion (5 max) that would be turned in for 80% XP the next time you won a match. XP Bounties also helped you level up by getting kills with a certain weapon type or hitting a certain number of wins. The goal was to grind to Rank 5, obtaining exclusive drops from the loot pool along the way and allowing you to purchase a few selected Iron Banner items from the vendor at Rank 3 and Rank 5. Things would be streamlined a bit as Destiny wore on in it’s life cycle, as the buffs were applied regardless of what emblem, shader, or class item you had equipped, but the core grind remained the same.
Iron Banner’s progression system has changed in Destiny 2. Bounties, medallions, and ranks have been replaced with Iron Banner engrams. These engrams are acquired by turning in tokens to Lord Saladin. Tokens are earned for participation, but more tokens are earned for match wins. These engrams have a chance of decrypting into any item in the current Iron Banner loot pool. No more gear is locked behind ranked progression gates.
The change Bungie made that really got the salt flowing in the Destiny community was that your Power Level (formerly Light Level in Destiny) no longer matters. If a 280 Light Level player squared off against a 240 Light Level player with the same weapon, the damage would be scaled accordingly with the lower level player doing less damage while taking much more damage. This move was obviously made, along with a host of other changes, to keep the casual player base more engaged in Destiny 2. Don’t have your 2nd character at max level? Doesn’t matter. Jump in to the Iron Banner and skill will be your only barrier to greatness and exclusive loot.
I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I appreciated the gear check that was present in the previous incarnations of Iron Banner. While it didn’t matter much in Year 3, in earlier years you really had to be smart about gear selection and how to outfit your Guardian heading in. If your character was 20 levels below max, you had to give some serious thought about whether or not you would use that character knowing you were at a disadvantage in damage and recovery. Now the only barrier to entry is that your character has completed the main story campaign. So if you’ve killed Ghaul, strap in and go see your favorite wolf-loving Iron Lord to see what’s poppin’ in Iron Banner.
Since Power Level is no longer an issue, I grabbed my Titan who just finished the campaign the night before and jumped in with my clanmates to try and get some loot. Iron Banner has always been locked as one specific game mode on a rotation of maps. For this Iron Banner, the game mode is Control. Control has 3 location rings on the map that you must capture and “control” while defeating enemies to score. More rings you hold when you get kills, the more they are worth. This is my favorite Destiny 2 PvP game mode.
My team jumped in and the gameplay was to be expected. The first thing that started to bump me, however, was the end of the match. Previously in the end game screen you would see the team’s performance along with what loot dropped for them in that particular match. “Dammit you got the shotgun I wanted!!!” and other raucous refrains were common. That was part of the fun. I soon realized, not only would I not see my team’s loot, there are no more Iron Banner loot “drops” (loot awarded at match end). The only drops awarded were lower level gear not associated with this event and is only seen on your screen. This definitely removed some of the luster for me.
We completed about two hours worth of matches and it was time to see Lord Saladin to turn in our tokens for engrams. Twenty tokens will grant you one engram which can contain a weapon, armor piece, emblem, or armor/weapon mods. While I don’t like this new leveling system, I was still excited to spam some engrams and get some loot. To say this experience was underwhelming is like calling a Carolina Reaper Chili “moderately spicy”.
As I opened each engram I quickly came to the realization that an Iron Banner engram doesn’t necessarily give you exclusive Iron Banner gear. I was rewarded with mostly Legendary Vendor items that can be obtained running any of Destiny 2’s Crucible activities. I surveyed my haul and after opening five Iron Banner Engrams, I was awarded with two pieces of Iron Banner gear. One helmet and one pulse rifle. Had I not already despised the leveling system changes this would’ve been a problem. Now that the horrible leveling change is compounded with a puzzling loot system that lacks real reward, I am beginning to wonder about the viability of this week long event.
That brings me to the actual loot itself. Iron Banner has always been about unique armor and bad-ass guns. Bungie got it half right. The armor sets for this event harken back to the Samurai days of feudal Japan. They look magnificent and I was absolutely stoked that I got the Titan helmet. My disappointment in only getting one armor item out of five engrams was exacerbated by the fact that I couldn’t wait to be the baddest Space Samurai in the galaxy. Not only does the Titan armor look truly outstanding, but the armor for all classes are a must have. This was without question the most well done aspect of the new Iron Banner.
Then there are the guns. While outfitting your Guardian is one of the most fun aspects of Destiny 2, it’s an FPS, so you don’t see your character on screen for the most part. What we really want is the guns. You play Destiny 2’s Iron Banner to deal swift space vengeance with a plethora of murderous munitions. This is where Bungie really screwed the wolf.
These guns bring all the excitement of Ben Stein reading stereo instructions. Re-skinned, forgettable weapons that are so bland, I mistakenly dismantled the only weapon I received because I thought it was just another Legendary Vendor item. Iron Banner weapons were previously unmistakably identifiable as part of this event. That is no longer the case. Some are the same weapon models from the original Destiny that are just re-skinned in a horrible green hue only R. Lee Ermey could love. With only one day of testing down, we will have to wait and see if the performance of these whack weapons outweigh their atypical aesthetics.
Overall, I am not really excited to go back and play this new Iron Banner. Bungie took away a lot of what was fun in this event and replaced it with a streamlined system that leaves you wanting more and not in a good way. Destiny streamer King Gothalion summed it up best in the Tweet below:
The token system as a whole makes getting loot feel like getting prizes at Chuck-E-Cheese. Not like being an immortal warrior kickin butt
— Gothalion (@Gothalion) October 10, 2017
It does feel a bit like Chuck E. Cheese. Here’s to hoping Bungie listens to community feedback (that doesn’t involve doxxing or death threats) and makes some needed changes before the next event. If not, I may just go play Whack-A-Mole.