Destiny 2 in 2020 – Let’s talk about elemental damage

Destiny 2 has a number of systems that feel poorly thought out, rushed, or in the game simply because they were on someone’s checklist. I’m going to talk about two of them because they annoy me the most – elemental damage and Light/Power.

Let’s start with elemental damage.

What the actual fuck is the point?

Elemental damage and shields have been in Destiny since its launch in 2014. Solar, arc, and void have always been present, as have elemental shields on enemies. For most of Destiny’s life, both elements and elemental shields didn’t mean much.

In Destiny 1, elements only mattered when playing activities with burns active. Using an elemental weapon that matches the currently active burn meant that you’d deal 300% more damage. It was also the only real gameplay incentive to switch between weapons of different elements for different activities, outside of personal preference.

In Destiny 2, destroying an elemental shield with the matching damage type will cause an explosion dealing respectable damage in a respectable area. Burns, which gave a 300% damage boost, have been replaced by singes, which provide a 25% damage boost.

So the only place where elemental matching actually matters is in relatively high-end content – high-handicap Nightfalls, higher tiers of the Ordeal, Nightmare hunts, Raids, that sort of thing. In general, for everyday content, it doesn’t matter what the color of your bullets are because shit just dies regardless.

And nothing has been done to make this system meaningful for five. goddamn. years.

Why is no one thinking about this?

Elemental damage can, and should, have an actual gameplay impact. Let’s say solar damage results in a burn and damage over time. Arc is a stun or a stagger. Void is a debuff, either to health or to damage.

If you want to take things further, these buffs can be stacking and the manner of application can vary by weapon. Assuming all elemental damage effects can stack up to four times, a handcannon would apply two stacks per bullet, while pulses, autos, and SMGs would apply one stack per bullet, and scouts would apply one per bullet. Higher stacks equals higher DOT from solar, longer stun for arc, stronger debuff from void. For elemental secondaries, shotguns and fusions would apply one stack per pellet or bolt; snipers would be two per head or body shot.

Stack application, by the way, could vary by RPM to keep things interesting – do you want to trade a little damage to stack debuffs and DOTs faster, or would you rather focus on upfront damage and leave crowd control and/or buffs/debuffs to someone else. It would add an interesting spin to endgame loadout choices, and an entirely different way to approach roles in three- and six-player content.

Then, if you want to take things further still, combo these effects. Hell, rip off Anthem’s primer and detonator combo system because that’s one thing Anthem did really well. Have four stacks of solar damage on something? Switch to a kinetic weapon and finish the thing off for a massive fiery explosion in a respectable area. Four stacks of arc on something? Finish with kinetic sniper to stun everything in a large area.

Hell, if you want to take things even further, consider mod synergies. There could be mods for either elemental or kinetic primaries that give you a stacking reload speed and/or fire rate buff for each solar effect on an enemy in a given radius. Or an armour mod that increases movement speed – not just sprint – for five seconds for each arc-stunned enemy, stacking up to a maximum of thirty seconds. Or a class item mod that reduces your ability cooldowns for each enemy debuffed by void damage.

And if you really want to have fun, bring exotics into the mix. Instead of Borealis and Hard Light just being able to switch elements, they could apply one stack of all three debuffs with each bullet – but only up to three stacks total. Exploding someone will all three stacks would apply all three damage effects – burn, stun, and debuff to everything in a smaller area.

Izanagi’s Burden could synergise with elemental kills, so that for every enemy killed by an element, the damage of the next bullet goes up by 77%, stacking up to 7 times on a single bullet. Once you exceed seven stacks, it spills over to the next bullet in the magazine, up to a maximum of three uber-swole bullets. That way, for example, if six people were to take Izanagi’s Burden into a raid and shoot Galhran, they’d tear him a new one so wide and so fast that Savathun would feel it.

Armour could get the same treatment too. Imagine a Hallowfire Heart that allows your burn effects to spread automatically to nearby enemies – or one that sets you on fire when activated so that you can just run through a map and set everything ablaze (while eating a handful of red crayons to keep yourself fueled).

(In case it was not immediately obvious, I am a Titan main and red crayons are delicious.)

Imagine an Insurmountable Skullfort that lets you always stun anything you charge into for twenty seconds, including majors, ultras, and bosses, but with a percentage chance to explode in an area for massive arc damage to both yourself and enemies, and also stun yourself in the process because it is simply a very Titan thing to do.

Imagine an Antaeus Wards that comes with two settings that you can toggle at will. The first allows you to slide into an enemy and kick the stacks out of them and onto nearby enemies. Shoot one Fallen Captain, kick him, and suddenly his ten Vandal friends are all screaming and on fire. The second allows you to slide into an enemy and absorb the stacks into yourself – solar gives you a massive damage buff for ten seconds, arc gives you a lightning shield that reflects damage, void gives you nightmares and make you question all of your life choices leading up to this moment.

And finally, if you want to go absolutely batshit crazy, imagine subclass synergies. Titans can consume the middle tree Sunbreaker melee to briefly empower a grenade launcher or a rocket launcher and fire massive exploding hammers that set the entire world and an adjacent moon on fire. But melee cooldown would be doubled or tripled so that you can’t spam it all the time.

Warlocks can use arc web to empower rapid-fire weapons – SMGs, autos, LMGs – so that the bullets chain lightning, apply stacks, and call down lightning strikes on random enemies just to be unpleasant. Hunters could shove a smoke down the barrel of their guns, causing them to confuse enemies that they hit, forcing those enemies to attack their allies or just spray bullets (or space magic) wildly in all directions.

Basically, what I’m saying is: do something meaningful

We’ve had a half-arsed, colour matching system for five whole years and nothing – absolutely goddamn nothing – has been done about it. With the last two seasons – Undying and Dawn – we’ve gotten boxes of new weapons with a handful of interesting perks, activities that are basically the equivalent of colouring by the numbers, and six months worth of experiences that are deeply, intensely forgettable.

There’s nothing to look forward to in new loot because there are no systems in game that make engaging with new loot interesting. The only things that matter about a gun are how good it feels, how quickly it kills, and how good it looks. So, as a result, the first set of guns with outlaw and rampage/kill clip/other miscellaneous damage boost felt powerful. The ones after that are just more of the same with a new paint job and a different body.

There’s very little about weapons in Destiny that feels inventive, interesting, or exciting. And the problem isn’t necessarily the guns themselves. It’s the fact that the systems around them are primitive and haven’t been updated, revisited, or improved in any meaningful capacity at all across the entirety of Destiny’s life. Hell, if elements actually mattered, being able to swap elements in year 1 of Destiny 2 would have been such an exciting way to give players ways to customise the weapons they love. That would have been cool. But, like so much of almost everything Destiny, Bungie introduces something to the game and stops just short of actually making it a good idea or an interesting meaningful system or experience to explore, understand, and master.

Destiny’s annual pass and post-Forsaken expansions have gone a fair way towards solving the content problem. At least there’s stuff to do on a regular basis. But for a while now, a very long while, what Destiny has really been lacking is imagination.

Trevor Coelho

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