This isn't over until Shaxx sings. And he's very shy.
I love Destiny 2's Iron Banner event. I have done ever since the game first launched. I ran a mile from it in the original game - intimidated as I was by endgame PvP activities back then - I don't think I even stepped foot in it during the whole run of the first game. It was something to be admired from a distance. Guardians in the Tower wearing the armour with the iron tree logo on it were Guardians that I was in awe of. On the launch of the second game though, I was pulled into the inaugural Iron Banner event of the game with a bunch of longstanding clanmates - and I fell hopelessly head over heels in love with it. And I'm still in love with it to this day. That love for it is probably the reason I've come to loathe some elements of it with such a passion.
For those of you who don't follow Destiny 2, the Iron Banner is a monthly PvP event in which light level matters. Two teams of six compete for zones and kills - with the big difference between this mode and the game's standard Control game type being that capturing all 3 zones on the map will lock the enemy team out of capturing them for a minute or so - and during this time any kills made by the team who achieved the lockout count for more points. These moments are referred to as "The Hunt" and they can get the blood pumping more than most other events that occur in the Crucible. If you're part of the team who earned it, you'll gang up and go on a rampage, with caution thrown to the wind as you seek out and destroy the enemy team as quickly and as brutally as possible. If you're part of the team that's locked out... your mission is simply to survive it. In that moment, the all-out combat becomes a game of cat and mouse where hiding can sometimes be the most effective tactic.
When it's going well, it's the most fun I ever have in PvP. Rolling into Iron Banner on its opening evening has become a tradition for the clan I'm a member of; we'll start forming fireteams as people log on. If they're flying an Iron Banner emblem, they get invited to the party and then into a fireteam - and it's not unusual for us to have several full teams on the go by the middle of the evening. Rolling as a full fireteam generally means the game will end on a mercy rule; which happens when one team gets so far ahead on points that the other will not be able to catch up in the time remaining in the game.
So if the mechanics of it are fun, and the lore is interesting, and rolling with a team is a blast... then where are the problems, I hear you ask. Well, they are there. And there are quite a few of them at this point - mostly tied into the seasonal quest that forms a part of the event's multiple appearances across the season. Those problems take the form of the quest itself, and with the rewards that it provides. Put simply, the quest itself seems designed to limit the fun some players can have - and the rewards don't feel like enough of a reward to warrant pushing on through the quest. Stasis is the same annoyance that it is in the wider Crucible as well.
Like most quests in Destiny, it's a multi-stage quest. Each season, the quest steps themselves change but the structure remains broadly the same. There's a step involving capturing zones and getting melee and ability kills. This season, this is followed by a step requiring hand cannon kills. Then a step requiring sniper rifle kills. Then shotgun kills. Finally, heavy machine gun kills. Your reward for this? Some armour (that you've likely already got) and a shader that doesn't really do it for me. The structure of the quest isn't really the issue - even if the rewards are underwhelming. Having a series of hoops to jump through is a pretty standard way of getting players to engage with content - it's more the prescriptiveness of those steps. At this point, forcing players to use particular weapon types feels... unnecessarily restrictive - especially given how many different types of weapons the game now has, how good so many of them feel and, perhaps most importantly, how so many of them are viable in PvP at the moment.
From a personal perspective, the hand cannon step was fine. I generally run with an exotic hand cannon called Crimson as one of my two go-to Crucible primary weapons (the other being the exotic auto rifle Suros Regime). The sniper rifle step was... challenging. I earned my Revoker a couple of seasons back - an undertaking which required to me become, if not a good sniper, then at least a competent one. However, since earning it, I've barely equipped a sniper rifle. After a couple of games in which I made precisely zero progress toward completing the step, I found myself on a map called Widow's Court - full of sniper lanes. I hunkered down and sacrificed my combat efficiency at the altar of quest step progress, landing all 10 kills required with my trusty Frozen Orbit.
The shotgun step had me swearing at my TV. Shotguns have long been overpowered in the Crucible with two of them (Felwinter's Lie and Astral Horizon) standing so far ahead of the rest of the pack that they had to be nerfed at the start of the season. They still kill from far too far away - but for a player who's adopted a style of mid-range combat, they force me to play in a way that I don't enjoy and am not good at. The step before had forced me to engage enemy players from further away than I liked, and this one forced me to get up close and personal with them in a way that I liked even less. At this point, any possibility of me playing the objective and contributing to a team victory was out of the window - I simply couldn't concentrate on achieving both things at once.
That step done, the final step reveals itself. Three heavy machine gun kills. That's it. Three. How hard can it be? Well, as it turns out - getting the kills was the easy bit. As soon as I obtained heavy ammo (which spawns intermittently in specific locations on each map), I turned around and mowed down the nearest three enemy Guardians. The issue - as you might expect - was getting the ammo in the first place. Three games went by without me being able to get close to it. All notion of capturing zones was out of the window for both teams - all anyone was interested in was obtaining heavy ammo, with most of the players involved battling purely for control of the spawn.
And therein lies the problem. The restrictive quest steps force players to play in very specific ways - and as most players progress at roughly the same pace, it means ending up against entire teams of snipers, or entire teams of rushing shotgunners, or multiple games that descend into a scrum for the heavy ammo drops. Those games against snipers and shotgunners were the worst - as so many other players seem to be able to use these weapons far more effectively than I can. I can't speak for everyone of course, but I'd be willing to bet that most players experienced at least one step in the quest that forced them outside of their comfort zone - in one of the sweatier competitive modes. I personally know players who rarely use hand cannons, actively avoid snipers, and never run heavy machine guns. This quest was driving them crazy with frustration - and in the case of some of them, caused them to walk away from the mode and just head back to the regular Crucible.
The fact that the rewards are, at this point, below the standard we've come to expect just reinforces that frustration. There hasn't been a new armour set since... forever. While the weapon loot pool is large, the perks that are exclusive to Iron Banner weapon rewards have been outshone by the new perks added to weapons in recent seasons. All in all, besides the simple fun of taking part, there's little reason to participate. Most Destiny players though aren't in it only for the fun - the loot is the objective, and from Iron Banner it's been lacking for a while. Just as Trials of Osiris has had overhauls in recent seasons, Iron Banner is now long past being due for one. New rewards would help - but for now, I'd settle for more variation in that quest. Maybe different steps for different classes; or the same steps but in a different order could help to ease the frustration.
I'll keep on playing Iron Banner every time it rolls around. As I said at the start, I still absolutely love the game mode. It's my favourite 'event' in Destiny 2 - I just wish I could tell everyone how much I love it without the next sentence leaving my mouth having to begin with the word 'but.' For now though, it feels like a shadow of its former self. I have my fingers crossed that it'll see some love and attention in the seasons to come.