Or die trying: why I entered Destiny’s PvP Crucible

By Brenna Hillier, Monday, 30 November 2015 13:34 GMT

There’s a huge gap between Destiny PvE and PvP, but it can be spanned.

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I love Destiny, but I hate PvP. It’s been a problem.

I have always hated competitive multiplayer, especially against strangers. I didn’t grow up playing against others and every time I’ve tried to get into it has just been a disaster. Perhaps that’s because I’ve never had a gaming group to jolly me through the awful first hours of learning this skill and shelter me from the worst excesses of “gamer culture”, but until quite recently I believed it was because PvP is absolute trash. Just utter garbage.

Well, I was wrong. Just as I hated shooters before I played Far Cry 3, I have been sold on PvP by Destiny.

Bungie hasn’t overcome the problems of PvP, but the rewards on offer to PvE players who take the plunge are getting more and more attractive.

I was tricked into it. With The Taken King, Bungie has been even more determined to get players to try every aspect of the experience rather than remain corralled into one mode. Quests insist players make the effort to at least try the raid, and special hidden Exotics pull them into dailies.

PvP has benefited from similar lures. I first went in because I needed Legendary Marks in a hurry, and all you have to do to get some is show up on one of the featured playlists. It seemed worth the effort of enduring an embarrassing loss.

It happened to be Control of some sort, and I was quite pleased; I’d spent some time in Control when a clan called the Rock Throwers were kind enough to nurse me through a few matches in order to secure my Laurea Prima. My role in these matches had been to sit quietly out of the way, and I’d spent most of the time watching wide-eyed, trying to figure out how other Guardians seemed to know just where to be and what to do.

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So I knew the rules, at least, and to my great delight I even knew the map: Vertigo. My goal had been to just not die, so as not to give points away to the enemy even if I couldn’t help my own team, but now I had the beginnings of a plan.

After Googling “best gun for Destiny PvP newb” earlier in the day, I took Red Death in hand and plonked my ass firmly down on the zone by our spawn, far from the action. I waited. Sure enough, someone came flying out of the Vex gate on a nearby platform. Whether they planned to push my zone or just to flank someone else, I don’t know – but what they got was a series of precise headshots.

“I got one,” I breathed. “I got one!”

Then I got another one. And another one. Eventually someone wised up and brought a friend with him, and I got them both. This happened a few more times, and it took a Super to knock me off the first time. When they sent a group of four next time I figured they’d finally wised to my little trick and I should probably concede.

But I was already starting to see how this might be fun, and when Iron Banner rolled around, with all that swoon-worthy gear, I knew I had to get it – or die trying.

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There are a lot of reasons why PvE players are reluctant to dive into PvP in any game, let alone one which other players have been slowly mastering for over a year.

There are basic problems with PvP, and they’re exacerbated by a pervasive culture. The problems are: a steep learning curve, the infrequency of balanced matches, and the unpleasantness of the experience for those who cop the unhappy end of an imbalanced match. The cultural multipliers are: hyper-competitiveness and aggressive discourtesy.

To expand on these problems: it usually not fun to lose multiplayer matches. When the competition is well-balanced, scores are close at the end of the match and everyone manages to do well and make a contribution, then yeah: it’s not bad.

Add to this some shithead teabagging you or dancing on your corpse – or perhaps even sending you gloating messages – and you’d be forgiven for switching off after your first round.

But this almost never happens to beginners, and I’ve been told even veterans will spend a frustratingly large amount of time poorly matchmade against much better players, or grouped up with others who can’t hold up their end. (When you’re being killed over and over again by groups of three or four while your teammates spin in place miles away, apparently unable to find their triggers, it’s not a good time. It’s shitty.)

Add to this some shithead teabagging you or dancing on your corpse – or perhaps even sending you gloating messages – and you’d be forgiven for switching off after your first round.

By making voice chat opt-in, and by not adding randoms to the “players met” section of the PS4 dashboard, Destiny does a pretty good job of protecting at least some players from the worst behaviours, and the report menu is easy to use if you want to slam an “unfriendly” label on the teabaggers.

But the hyper-competitive nature of the multiplayer scene is more insidious than abusive messages and bad manners in-match; it extends even to those who probably consider themselves above such things, in the form of “git gud” culture.

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When a newb jumps into a group to try and learn the ropes as they go, or even looks in from the outside, other players casually and often unconsciously make them unwelcome. They’ll disparage their own and others efforts, and make snap-judgments based on metrics. There are many players, both beginner and veteran, who have been led to believe that it’s a great source of shame to get a less than whole number KDR, even though – ah ha ha, I love this – even though someone has to get a sub-1.0 KDR for someone else to get a plus-1.0 KDR. Someone always has to lose for the other person to win. It’s impossible for everyone to get a plus-1.0 KDR, and losing is just something that has to happen – and yet many of us propagate a culture that bashes those on the receiving end.

Veterans aren’t maliciously keeping their secrets out of reach of newbs. Many of them have simply forgotten that they ever experienced a learning curve, after perhaps decades of multiplayer shooters.

The idea that players who struggle should just “git gud” extends to teaching, too. This is something I’ve observed first-hand, even among players who are kind, skilful teachers and sherpas in PvE situations. Faced with a newb who asks politely to be taught how to be better at Crucible modes, veterans fall silent, or perhaps mutter something like “learn the maps” or “get better gear”. It’s very rare to meet a multiplayer Guardian who will offer advice to a beginner.

This probably isn’t deliberate; veterans aren’t maliciously keeping their secrets out of reach of newbs. Many of them have simply forgotten that they ever experienced a learning curve, after perhaps decades of multiplayer shooters – Quake, Unreal, Halo, Call of Duty, Battlefield – and genuinely believe that the bar for entry-level skill is way, way higher than it actually is for total beginners. Having jumped into the Crucible early on, they didn’t experience the horrors of starting a competitive activity when everyone around you is more familiar with the material. They literally cannot understand why you’re having trouble with something that feels as natural as breathing.

Even for those veterans who do remember that they weren’t just born knowing how to frag, it can be difficult to put advice into words. Play is usually too fast-paced to allow for explanations, even if the poor baffled newb can keep up and you both stay alive long enough to deliver an effective lesson. Plus, so much of what matters in multiplayer develops as instinct, and is applied contextually to unique situations rather than serving as blanket rules.

So many barriers to entry. So many cultural disincentives.

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When it goes right, though: PvP is thrilling. It can be great fun, win or lose – and the more you play, the more you come to terms with the losing part. “I am outmatched here; I should grow stronger” and “How are they doing that? Can I learn it?” feel okay; and “I messed that up, and I should know better, because I am pretty good at this” is far superior to “I have no idea what’s happening and everything is terrible”.

Bungie hasn’t overcome the problems of PvP. The initial learning curve is still an awful experience and matchmaking still leaves much to be desired. But the rewards on offer to PvE players who take the plunge are getting more and more attractive; over the course of this latest Iron Banner, I went from Light 297 to 304, purchased the hand cannon, and gathered a huge pile of sweet loot from drops as I climbed to rank five.

I also died, over and over and over again. I died so many times.

All this has made me stronger, more raid ready and perhaps most importantly for the dress-ups brigade significantly cooler-looking. I’m excited to try again next time (I want that cloak like gah). I’m also brave enough to enter the daily and weekly Crucible playlists, and able to slowly chip away at PvP quests or Crucible missions in class quests.

I’ve fully converted. I want to play. I still get so mad I scream and throw cushions around. But I also look forward to it. I’m hungry for it. I’m gonna climb that ladder – or die trying.

If you’re thinking of making the jump to PvP, check out Brenna’s Destiny PvP tips for absolute newbs.

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