Infusion isn’t really something that’s debated all that much within the Destiny community. There seems to be a pretty big chunk of players who believe that it’s the best leveling system the game has come up with yet. Despite my objections, that may actually be true, but that doesn’t mean the infusion system in its current form is anywhere close to perfect. There are a number of aspects that need to be rethought at the very least, or the system may need to be replaced entirely.
Where to start? How about with three items that should not factor into light level at all, as they increase the grind to frustrating level, have minimal impact on gameplay and are potentially missing microtransactions for Bungie that players would be happy to pay for, in some cases.
Ghost Shells – We might as well start with these, as it’s the first of two cosmetic items that Bungie gave unexplainable weight to under the new light system. While many do like little touches found in Ghost Shells like the ability to find more planetary materials, that’s really all they’re good for, and nothing about them should create a situation where it’s the one thing players need to make sure their character is max level. They should still be collectible and have a few perks, but they should not be included in the light system. They should remain cosmetic, able to be found in the game, but also potentially sold for Silver, as Bungie is really limiting themselves by selling 30 different emotes where only one can be equipped at a time, and stuff like Sparrow Racing Books shouldn’t be sold at all. Ghost Shells should not be the end-all, be-all reward of an entire event like Crimson Days just because they have a light level attached to them. That’s lame and unnecessary.
Artifacts – They’re pointless, aren’t they? they’re an item invented for light level balancing, and something else you have to grind for despite having a nearly negligible impact on gameplay. And on top of all that, they’re not even a cosmetic addition to your character. They’re an item slot for the sake of being an item slot. If you're going to grind for something, you want it to have a meaningful impact on my character in some way, either cosmetically, gameplay-wise or both. Artifacts just…exist, and that’s not good enough to tie them to light level.
Class Items – This is the most obvious misstep of all, as Bungie took the one purely cosmetic item slot in the game and tied it into your character’s stats. This is a huge mistake because it means that you have to wear whatever class item is the highest light, rather than one you’d like to wear for cosmetic reasons at any given time. It’s nice you can sink all your infusion into your favorite, perhaps. But at higher levels, to even try alternates you’ll have to dump half a dozen other high-light class items into a different class item to make it “viable” for higher light activities. And this is all for an item that’s meant to be cosmetic.
Class items should always stay cosmetic, as it’s often a reward in and of itself making your character look cooler (see people grinding for eons for Strike-specific cloaks and bonds). This is yet another item that Bungie could potentially sell as a microtransaction if the light component was removed. Leaving it tied to a light level makes the actual game more frustrating, and limits their own monetization options. We're not saying class items should only be sold in the store, as they should be able to be found in the game as well, but yes, selling a few of them for Silver could have been a solid sales idea that has now disappeared, thanks to light level and their ability to be infused.
So in short, light level should be stripped from Ghost Shells and Class Items, and Artifacts shouldn’t even exist unless they start showing up as a cosmetic, or have more a more meaningful impact on your build.
But that was just a warm up.
Weapon and Armor Diversity Suffers Because of Infusion
A big problem with the infusion system in its current form is that while it lets you level up your stable of “favorites,” guns and pieces of armor, it sort of locks you into that “build” unless you want to sink an ungodly amount of time into maxing your entire arsenal, which is more or less impossible under the current system.
Take a simple weapon drop. You get an exotic engram from 3oC. It turns into Hereafter, a cool-looking Sniper Rifle, though it arrives at light level 290. Now, you have a 315 1000 Yard Stare that’s been your go-to for ages, but you’re curious about how this new gun works. The problem is, in order to equip it without your entire light level taking a huge dip, you’re going to have to dump a ton of resources into it. Exotics not only require high light items to be sacrificed to them, but also exotic shards, which effectively cost 13 Strange Coins a pop, if you don’t have any lying around.
So what do you do? To get this thing even remotely “viable” you have to sink a 305 Shotgun into it, which brings it up to uh, some other light level you have to calculate using an out of game calculator, then you’ll maybe sink a 308 Fusion into it. Then a 312 Sniper. Then that 315 Sidearm you’ve been saving for just this occasion and finally you’re at roughly the same level as your current weapon. All it cost you was a bunch of high light gear and a multitude of expensive exotic shards. And turns out you still like your 1000 Yard Stare better after all.
Now repeat this for pretty much every item in the game. Yes, some items will drop higher and you can use higher light stuff to infuse with fewer steps, but it’s still always this endless process of infusion where every item requires multiple infusions to upgrade in order for you to be able to equip them without sinking your overall light level. What’s the end result here? Limited experimentation with different builds. You stick to your old favorites, because those are the ones you’ve invested so much into, and switching to almost anything else with knock down your light level.
The Etheric Light system was not perfect, but at least it only created two tiers, ascended and not-ascended. But now, you’ll have a weapon ranging from 280 to 320 with a sliding, unpredictable scale in between. Will I like this weapon better at 303? 309? 314? 319? How much do I need to sink into this thing before I feel the investment was worth it, or realize I wasted all those resources? At least with Etheric, it was much more binary.
The Unknown “Level Advantage”
The other problem with infusion is that most of the time, you don’t really even understand what you’re chasing. Yes, it was not the best situation when the entire quest for new DLC was to gain two light levels, to go from 32 to 34, but that system did create clear power tiers. Through infusion’s much more spread-out light system, everything a lot more unpredictable, and the grind feels especially useless at higher levels.
For example, many top tier players are stuck at “forever 319,” yet this is much, much different than “forever 29” which was locking players at a lower power differential. The jump from 29 to 30 isn’t even remotely the same as going from 319 to 320. There’s almost no power difference at all in the latter case. Bungie may say that is a new innate advantage of the system, that it allows for more gradual power increases, but players are going to kill themselves to hit max level regardless. The problem is that max level no longer really means anything. Honestly, everything over 310 or so really isn’t really even necessary to complete any current content.
This also creates a weird dynamic in “power favored” PvP modes like Trials of Osiris and Iron Banner. Maybe there’s a chart that spells all this out somewhere, but for most players, it’s going to be hard to understand just how much of an advantage or disadvantage they have when going up against different light levels. Is 290 versus 310 insurmountable? What about 303 versus 308? 311 versus 320? 285 versus 315? Did I not win that 1v1 because that guy was four light levels higher than me, or am I just bad? It’s no longer just 29 versus 30 or 33 versus 34. It’s this massive, sliding scale of different damage input and outputs that may indeed be more simple than it appears, but may scare people off from these modes all the same. My solution for this (probably a separate post, but here are the cliffnotes) are that these PvP modes have level floors (must be 290-300 to get in), and use “seasonal” weapons (ie. no Thorn), but after that “level advantages” mean nothing in terms of damage output. Less headgames with the confusing light system, and the best players still rise to the top.
Right now, with infusion being such a gradual increase, it creates this unknown power dynamic in both PvP and PvE content where you simply don’t always understand how well you’ll be performing at a specific level. This did not happen previously when there were only 2-4 relevant light levels to consider between 30-34, as opposed to say, 40 from 280 to 320.
Time and Experience Need to Matter More
Since we're not a game designer, and have to comment merely as a player, we don’t have some sweeping solution to all this off the top of my head. We recognize that the past systems the game has introduced have had their own problems, yet we find ourselves preferring many aspects of the Etheric Light set-up, or earning specifically tiered gear from clear-cut activities rather than relying on a different sort of RNG for high-light drops these days.
But we think a big problem with all Destiny’s leveling systems from day one to here and now with infusion is that they force you into very specific types of activities, which limits the scope of the game significantly. At a certain point, unless you are playing nothing but the Raid on repeat over and over and over, you are never going to make any forward progress with other PvE content. Unless you’re playing Trials non-stop or grinding out Iron Banner every time it appears, you will not make progress on the PvP front.
For many players this is “the wall,” the place you hit where you just feel like you’ve stopped making any forward movement with your character after dozens of hours of play moving along at a relatively brisk pace. While high-end players can push past this, Destiny loses many, many people around this point. And it doesn’t have to.
While we don’t think the path to the endgame should be a yellow-brick road lined with daisies and rainbows, we think there need to be some mechanisms in place for players to make progress without having to rely on two endgame activities played on repeat. Yes, the Raid is the best PvE content and Trials is the most fun PvP thing you can do, but when you’re forced to effectively only do those things at a certain stage of the game because everything else has a snowball’s chance in hell of producing a relevant reward, that becomes an issue for many players.
We want a currency that can be gradually saved up and cashed in for any player to make progress, in some way or another. Maybe that’s tweaking how Motes or Coins work, maybe that’s introducing something new. But if I’m a player who wants to play regular Crucible 24/7 or just run Strikes non-stop, I’d like to be saving up for something, rather than the ability to buy 280 exotics or level nodes in my weapons faster. This why I’m in favor of something like Etheric Light coming back, as maybe you play long enough and you get the ability to max one weapon at long last (only 100 more in the vault to go!). That would be relevant progress to a player without breaking the game or making the path to max level too quick. Maybe infusion continues to exist in a certain sense, but instead of trickling upward, it advances in more significant blocks. 300 to 305, 305 to 310, and so on. And those blocks are unlockable through more than just waiting on RNG for high light items.
In the end, the main point of infusion is to increase the grind of the game, rather than provide a meaningful leveling experience for players. Yes, increasing the grind gives players something to do, and if max level was hit more quickly, there would be complaints about running out of content. And yet, we think it’s a better system to let a large number of players max out and feel like they’ve accomplished something, rather than quit at 317-319 because they can’t reach 320, a number that isn’t even important to hit from a gameplay perspective. That’s a poorly designed leveling system in my mind.
Everything about infusion is just to build a bigger grind. That’s why Ghosts, Artifacts and Class Items now have light (next up, Sparrows, Emotes, Shaders, Emblems!). That’s why the cost of infusing one weapon or one piece of armor to a “proper” level is so damn high. But we don’t think artificially extending playtime by withholding max level from players is a good thing. All it does is create confusion about power levels and force players to use specific go-to items all the time rather than encouraging experimentation and build diversity. Right now, the infusion system is more exhausting than it is useful for most players, and we think it’s in need of either a major overhaul, or outright replacement.
For more Destiny news and updates, come and join our facebook gaming community @ facebook.com/webjunkiesblog.