A long time ago, some random dude on the internet wrote an article about Halo 2. It sounded critical — the piece was called Broken Halo — but it was done in good faith and meant to help the fine folks at Bungie. The guy who wrote the article got a job at Bungie, presumably because they liked his moxie, and because they understood his criticism would benefit them. Now that guy, Luke Smith, is like, one of the boss men on Destiny. I hope Bungie is still cool with that kind of criticism, because I love what they do and they made a gun that meant the world to me. I want to talk about why and why that gun can’t exist anymore. The piece might sound a little critical. It’s not meant to be. I want to be helpful and interesting here. I hope that comes across.
hey, i’m back from gdc. my game paratopic won an award for excellence in audio design at the IGFs because chris, my sound guy, is one of the best there is. a lot of people don’t know this, but chris was super important to the entire process; he wasn’t just “the sound guy,” he helped shape so much of the world and gameplay. anyways, this article’s running a little hot because of how gdc interrupted my schedule. sorry about that!!! i could only do one draft in order to get it done this month! i am still looking for work, so if you know anyone who wants a guy to help with fps combat or investment loops, im your guy. hit me up at @docsquiddy on twitter.
In a first person shooter, a good gun is many things. It’s an effective tool for problem solving, it’s an audiovisual feast, it’s a constant companion, it’s your best friend. A good gun is there for you through every engagement; it might not always be the best weapon for the job, but it’s the one you rely on because you know you can. A good gun, a truly good gun, is a gun that makes you happy. This gun doesn’t make a game easier for you, but it will always feel right.
For me, the best gun in the world is a gun from Destiny called the Hung Jury SR4.
Destiny’s launch didn’t go as well as anyone would have liked. High off the triumphs of games like Halo 3 and Reach, Bungie seemed invincible, but when Destiny launched in 2014, not everyone was happy. Plagued by some odd design decisions and a frustrating story, some people were quick to dump on one of the most interesting games of the generation.
But the one thing that absolutely everyone seemed to agree on was this: Destiny’s shooting was unimpeachable. The sandbox designers at Bungie are the best in the business. Even when you’d get a rare loot package only to open it up to find it contained common gear, or when you ran out of things to do, that immensely satisfying gunplay was there to back you up.
Over time, Bungie turned Destiny into one of the best games I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. As my health issues remained untreated thanks to poverty and the chronic pain got unbearable, it was Destiny that I kept coming back to. Destiny was a way to go places with friends from around the world. It was a way to bond with one of my brothers; we went flawless in Trials of Osiris together. Heck, Christmas 2014, I couldn’t afford any presents for my family, so I logged onto my brother’s account while he was away and diligently filled up his postmaster and inventory with Legendary packages over the course of several weeks. He was elated.
I don’t normally do this. I don’t normally talk about my personal connection with a game, because everyone has personal connections with games, but I’m talking about a gun and why that gun is as good as it is, and to do that, I have to talk a bit about why.
When I write about games, I like to stick to mechanics and psychology. How do we, as designers, get a game to stick in a player’s head? How do we encourage them to feel what we want them to feel?
Game design is the art of motivating players to take interesting action.
That’s it. That’s all game design is. It’s sitting there, determining how you want a player to feel, and making the game that facilitates that feeling. When it comes to guns, the best gun isn’t the gun that clears enemies the fastest, it’s the one that makes the game fun to play. If you could kill everything in one hit, games would no longer be fun. Take shotguns, for instance. I love shotguns because they let you play aggressively, getting right up in an enemy’s face and burst them down. I also love how shotguns reload one shell at a time, so you can panic reload one shot to give yourself room to breathe, rather than wait for an entire reload process.
I have my issues with shotgun design (Kotaku turned my writing into a best-of article, much to my surprise, so a list of ‘interesting shotguns’ became ‘best’ and some great shotguns got left out! sorry about that) in shooters, but yeah, I’m a big fan of shotguns and how they work.
First person shooters are about mobility. Shotguns push players to close the gap between themselves and enemies; they encourage high-mobility, aggressive play. A well-designed shotgun is the quintessential first person shooter weapon, it’s why Doom 2016 was so well loved; that entire game was about short range, aggressive combat.
Bungie design is a lot like that too; go back to Halo, note how the AR isn’t super accurate so you can tackle fights up close. Look at how the golden triangle of guns, grenades, and melee is all about closing the distance. Check out the arena design in Halo and Destiny games. That nice, close range combat is everything. Really good shooters make you move. Destiny does this by making most of its encounters pretty small, compared to other games (not to say there aren’t fights like the giant Crota room, of course, but most fights in Destiny are gonna get you up close with your enemies).
The game design of the shooter is usually done to give you that pulse-pounding, aggressive sense of badass, and quick, close to mid-range combat achieves that the best.
In short, a great video game gun encourages interesting, engaging play that fits the ~vibes~ you as the designer want the player to feel.
Those of you who know me know I love shotguns. I’m the shotgun guy, but Hung Jury SR4 is not a shotgun. It’s a semi-automatic rifle.
So why do I think it’s the best?
Destiny was good by the May after its launch. It was. But so many people had kinda left it because the initial release had some weaknesses, and a single DLC pack wasn’t going to get anyone to come back. I loved the House of Wolves meta. Great perks, every endgame activity mattered, really fun hand cannon meta in the crucible (I tended to use scout rifles, but it was a JOY to use Hawkmoon), and Hunter tripmines were so satisfying to use.
BTW, YOU CAN SKIP THE ITALICIZED PARAGRAPHS, THEY’RE JUST SIDEBARS FOR ME TO NERD OUT OVER A GAME THAT I CAN’T PLAY ANYMORE BUT LOVED DEARLY
(tripmine’s intended purpose is as a trap, but they’re so OBVIOUS to opposing players and ridiculously slow that they’re easy to avoid or run through without taking damage. they simply do not work as traps at all; however, when you stuck someone in the head with one, it had that perfect, Ninja Gaiden Black level of stickiness WHEEE-POP! that made it a joy to use that the swarm and incendiary grenades never achieved — removing that stickiness from tripmines made hunters less fun for no real reason imo. sorry for the fanboy rant. i used to run young ahamkhara’s spine with double tripmines, but after they stopped being sticky, grenades just kinda became unfun to use completely, which hurt the experience in a big way; d2 upping the grenade time from 25 seconds to like 120 seconds and removing double tripmines AND unicorning means there is no really fun hunter grenade anymore; the combat loses a bunch of slick chunkiness)
Then along came The Taken King.
A lot of people will cite The Taken King as Destiny’s return to glory. I’d suggest that The Taken King was the point at which a lot of people who had abandoned Destiny after they completed the campaign or maybe even the first DLC came back.
Don’t get me wrong, I love House of Wolves, but like… I’ve consulted on enough games to see this time and time again: players come back, the game has improved a lot, and they cite the most recent release as The Thing That Improved The Game, but that’s usually only half the story. Since The Taken King served as a soft relaunch of the game, it’s seen as The Awesome Thing. But House of Wolves was fuckin great. Destiny was in an amazing place before The Taken King even launched.
Oryx just made almost everything better.
(i say almost because content rot was introduced here: a ton of activities I paid for and loved grinding suddenly became non-viable. they existed but you’d get guns (and armor?) that capped out at 170 light, so all these really amazing things I’d worked so hard to get were useless; my friend Cory hated that he only got Vex Mythoclast a week before Taken King dropped, which made it useless; service-based games should never make you feel that way!!! anyways, this is a problem destiny 2 is facing right now, but usgamer has tapped me to write about that, so im gonna do my best to explain that helpfully in another piece very soon)
So let’s talk about guns-as-loot.
In a game like Halo, the designers work incredibly hard to design a very specific set of weapons. Seriously, there’s an incredible talk by former Bungie legend Jamie Griesemer about how changing the sniper rifle shot time from 0.5 to 0.7 seconds was a huge thing.
The advantage of this is that the designers can very carefully curate a specific selection of guns to be used in combat and build their entire multiplayer mode around this. The disadvantage is that if you want to make an online, service-based game, designed to be played as a hobby, and there are only 15 guns, uh… players will leave your game.
Games like Borderlands took a bunch of guns, looked at the stats, and went “yeah, instead of a finely tuned PVE experience, what if we just randomized everything? Number of shots in the mag, amount of damage you do, whatever.” You go through those games, discarding guns willy nilly.
In a looter shooter, having billions of guns means no gun really matters. Just pick the most effective gun until you find another, more effective gun. I love Borderlands, but… well, I’m not wild about the gunplay.
Then there’s Destiny.
Destiny curates its guns a lot more thoughtfully. It starts by saying “okay, there are x number of weapon types, like rocket launchers, hand cannons, shotguns, and scout rifles. Inside those types, there are x amount of archetypes, like the high impact scout rifle, the medium-high impact scout rifle, the medium-low impact scout rifle, and the low impact scout rifle.” (impact is basically the amount of damage the bullet does; you can go with high rate of fire and low impact, or low rate of fire and high impact)
So, if you get a Hung Jury SR4, you’re going to get a medium high impact scout rifle every time.
Now, how do you make that fun?
Destiny 2 tried to make every gun static — that meant that every time you got, say, a Better Devils hand cannon, it was the same gun. Basically, Destiny ran into the same problem Halo would have as an online game, it just had more guns overall. Eventually, players ran out of guns, rewards became predictable (having helped a lot of people with these games, lemme tell ya: unpredictable rewards are what people want — not “will I get something?” but “what will I get?”).
In Destiny 1, guns were different: every gun came with a fixed series of base stats, but dropped with a randomized series of perks. We’d call that a roll. Someone would say “hey, what roll did you get on your Hung Jury SR4?” and I’d say “oh, I got Triple Tap and Firefly.”
But here’s the thing: dropping with just one perk isn’t going to make a gun fun. Let’s say I got a Hung Jury with Firefly. Cool. That means that every headshot kill I get is going to make an enemy explode. Is that better than the Hung Jury with Triple Tap, the perk that gives you a free bullet for every 3 critical shots you land? It’s hard to say. You run the risk of people holding onto a lot of guns for specific situations, which ends up making the game feel super bad as people swap. Multiple perks make the game feel a lot better because they enable synergies.
Here’s Hung Jury SR4.
Some guns drop in the wild, as loot during activities, while others show up in vendor inventories. This is great for player engagement reasons, because it gets you checking in on the game every week or so to see if the vendor has a gun you might want. A fixed, seasonal inventory means there’s no reason to visit a vendor more than once. A rotating stock means you’re always coming back to see if anything cool has shown up (this is one reason the rotating stock of the vendor Xur is so popular). Hung Jury SR4 was the Dead Orbit faction vendor gun back when The Taken King dropped, but it was possible to get this roll in the wild as well.
So, on the left, we have a column that indicates my gun’s elemental damage (kinetic, arc, solar, or void; in this case, it’s kinetic) and a button I can press to increase my gun’s power by sacrificing a more powerful gun.
Next to it, we have a column that changes the sights. These sights are randomly rolled, and all of them change the gun’s stats and reticle slightly for whatever suits you best.
After that, we have a random perk — in this case, it’s Triple Tap, which says “rapidly landing precision hits will return one round to the magazine.” That means if I hit a boss in his weak point 3 times, I get one bullet back, whether I kill him or not. After that, we have another column, with two perks, which again, are randomized based on the drop. Extended Magazine, the one I have selected, gives me four more bullets, bringing my magazine to 20.
I picked Extended Magazine because of Triple Tap. I fire — 20, 19, 18, and bam, I get a round back. Now I have 19 rounds left. 19, 18, 17, bam, now I have 18 rounds left. Assuming I don’t miss my shots, I end up with a really satisfying gun.
Hand-Laid Stock, the perk below Extended Magazine, greatly increases stability, which is awesome for triple tap, but I’m good enough at aiming that I don’t feel I need it.
In the next column, same thing. There’s Firefly, another precision hit perk, which causes a target I kill with a precision hit to explode, and Underdog, which slightly boosts range and handling when my health is low.
Underdog isn’t… that great of a perk. On a controller, I can’t tell the difference in handling; adjusting my joystick sensitivity by 1 gives me a greater impact than when Underdog hits. The range boost doesn’t really matter much either — at long range, I’m running away from my enemies and taking cover, and at short range, a range boost isn’t going to benefit me in any way; it’s better just to switch to a shotgun.
Not only that, but Underdog requires you to play poorly; if you’re playing well, it never procs, so it’s never useful to you, because your health isn’t low. If you’re playing poorly, then it procs, but the benefits it’s supposed to provide aren’t going to help you in a low-health situation, because your goal is to escape, not to stay in combat and shoot people with a medium range weapon.
But with Triple Tap, Extended Mag, and Firefly, Hung Jury is a beast. Those perks work extremely well together. There’s a synergy at play.
Hung Jury was a great gun to use, but when its perks all hit right, the gun was an absolute joy. It played well when it didn’t work, and it played beautifully when it did.
Great game guns reward you for playing well. If you don’t play optimally, they’re still enjoyable weapons, but playing optimal brings out the best in them.
Don’t get me wrong, if you wanted a powerful weapon, there were so many better guns to choose from. Hung Jury wasn’t great because it was The Most Powerful Gun, it was great because it felt amazing, because the perks worked for it, and because even when you didn’t proc all the perks, it still felt amazing.
In Destiny 2, there’s a perk called Surrounded that grants bonus damage when 3 or more enemies are in close proximity. That’s not a great perk for scout rifles, because you’re not going to be standing next to enemies when using it most of the time. On a shotgun, which one-shots most smaller enemies, that perk wouldn’t be very useful either, because if you can kill someone with one trigger pull, doing more damage to them isn’t going to change the number of trigger pulls you use to kill them. In PVP, Surrounded isn’t a very good perk either, because if you’re surrounded by three enemies, you’re already dead thanks to Destiny 2’s teamshot meta, where two or more players will always defeat a single opposing player.
On an SMG, however, where you’re spraying into a crowd at short range, surrounded is a very good PVE perk to have. It’s not going to help you much with a big yellow-bar minotaur, but it should help you wipe out a bunch of smaller enemies really quickly.
Likewise, hip fire grip, which makes it easier to hit enemies without aiming down the sights is useless on a sniper, because snipers don’t even have a reticle for hip fire, but on an SMG, it’s fantastic. So a Hip Fire Grip/Surrounded SMG might be a solid choice, but a Hip Fire Grip/Surrounded sniper or scout rifle would suck.
So let’s talk about scout rifles.
Scout rifles are basically Halo’s Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR). They’re accurate, high damage, high impact semi-automatic rifles (meaning each time you pull the trigger, you fire one bullet), not quite as powerful or as accurate as a sniper rifle. There’s a beautiful rhythm to using DMRs that have always made me happy; one accurate shot, one kill. But despite this, they’re forgiving enough that you can still do a body shot or two to clear smaller enemies. They’re just really good all-around weapons that can fire as fast or as slow as you need ’em to, and they take advantage of the super tasty responsiveness that makes Bungie’s enemy reactivity so dang good.
They’re simple. One shot, one reaction. They’re in the sweet spot between effort expended and meaningful outcome. When you hit something with a scout rifle, it goes down. Plus, hey, it’s a lot easier on my hands than holding down the trigger of an assault rifle. It’s one reason why I prefer hand cannons and scout rifles, which behave in very similar ways, to every other gun in Destiny.
Hung Jury SR4 is a medium range weapon; most of Destiny’s levels are built for close to medium range combat (snipers were mostly useful in the really big raid encounters, crucible maps, or open world patrol zones, but not great for most strikes or story missions). Scout rifles do good body damage but reward skilled players for nailing headshots. Hung Jury SR4’s god roll — the name given to rolls that synergized well and made the guns incredibly fun to use — of triple tap and firefly rewarded players for using the weapon as it was meant to be used, as a laser-accurate precision weapon.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t like Omolon-manufactured guns like Hung Jury SR4 at first; give me the powerful whip-crack of a gunpowder explosion launching a bullet past the sound barrier any day. A gun that somehow doubled as its own 3D printer, printing the bullets as you shoot them? Cool idea, but the actual gun sound was so weird at first, I wasn’t a fan.
You’d end up with this really, really soothing bap bap bap — chk-chk — bap — skadoosh — bap bap — chk-chk — bap-bap-bap — chk-chk that felt absolutely thrilling to use. Every three precision hits, a round loads into your mag, and you can hear it. Every precision kill, skadoosh, there goes firefly. Sure, a sniper would be better for boss damage, and a shotgun’s going to take care of minotaurs more, but when it came to just pure gun feel, in Destiny, the king of gun feel, there was nothing that came close to Hung Jury SR4.
I grew to love it anyways. Body shots? Still a capable gun. Headshots? Super rewarding. It wasn’t the best, but it was so absolutely thrilling to use, it kicked all kinds of ass in every fight I brought it to. Sure, there were plenty of amazing guns in Destiny… but… how do I put this?
Hung Jury SR4 was my baby. It’s the game that was with me when I killed Oryx. It was the gun that stuck with me through countless nightfalls with some of the best, most memorable people I’ve ever played with. Hung Jury SR4 was the gun that made me feel good when I couldn’t afford to see a doctor and had to lay there, in pain, on the couch, just wanting to feel happy about myself. Hung Jury SR4 meant the world to me. It was my buddy.
This is the kind of gun you want in a service-based online shooter. This is the gun where you go “man, I remember picking it up. I have all these great memories of using this gun. This one gun was my everything. It was with me through thick and thin. Holding this gun makes me happy.”
Then along came Destiny 2, and Bungie destroyed all our loot off screen during a cutscene so we could get new loot.
This new gun looks a lot like Hung Jury SR4, but don’t be fooled. It’s called Oxygen SR3, and while it shares a similar body and a similar perk, it’s not the same gun.
More on that in a bit.
When Destiny 2 launched, it launched with fixed rolls and only one perk, as opposed to 3. We talked about why that was a problem above. There were actually some more issues with the game, like shotguns being in the heavy slot, which meant no one was using shotguns (because why would you use a shotgun when a rocket launcher would be more effective?), which meant the combat felt really flat, but Bungie kicked all kinds of butt and reworked the entire combat system in the Summer of 2018, really fleshing out the combat experience in a super satisfying way.
In Destiny, guns came in three slots. You had the ranged bullet throwers going in the first slot (rifles, revolvers, that kind of thing), the burst weapons in the secondary slot (high damage, low mag size or rate of fire weapons, very risk/reward driven), and then the heavy weapons (highest damage, rarest ammo, bring huge peaks into combat that feel incredible).
In Destiny 2, you still had 3 shots, but you had kinetic weapons (initially ranged bullet throwers, but eventually most weapon types), elemental weapons (same as above), and heavy weapons (shotguns, sniper rifles, and fusion rifles were moved into the other categories, while swords/multi-shot grenade launchers, rocket launchers stayed, and machine guns were added).
Ostensibly, kinetic weapons do a bit more damage than elemental weapons, but elemental weapons are better against shields, but the difference doesn’t seem like that big a deal. I’m not really sure why Bungie has refused to make every gun elemental, and I’d love it if they explained why, but hey, whatever, its their prerogative. I’m just a guy who plays the game and is curious about it. Elemental primaries like Vision of Confluence used to be thrilling because they were rare, but Bungie turned them into exotics (usually reserved for guns so powerful you can only have one in your inventory) in Year 3, which… I dunno, I don’t understand the thought process there, and I’d like to.
Okay, right, getting sidetracked.
So, anyways, with Destiny 2, Bungie did things differently, and a lot of it slowed the game down. Grenades went from 25 seconds to like 120 seconds, fusion rifle reserves dropped to like… 14 rounds??? and so on and so forth.
While Bungie addressed a lot of these issues in the Go Fast update, some things stayed the way they were. Like, back in the day, we used to have weekly “Burns” in Nightfall (really hard) strikes. Guardians did like 200% damage with the elemental burn, enemies did like 300%. It was awesome. Destiny 2 has singes, which are like 25% more elemental damage. There’s a lot of weird little things that slow the game down, and I would love to fly up to Washington to ask the designers what makes Singe more desirable than Burn.
One thing they did, though?
They changed Firefly.
Good thing: Dragonfly can be Arc, Solar, or Void, rather than just Solar.
Bad thing: Dragonfly does less damage, doesn’t boost your reload speed (firefly apparently did that too!), and doesn’t seem to have the radius that firefly did, meaning that when you shoot someone, you MIGHT hit someone else… but you probably won’t. A cool crowd clear-thing becomes, like… pretty lights… unless you have the Dragonfly Spec mod. Then it feels pretty good.
Even then, Oxygen SR3 doesn’t feel quite as capable as its older brother. It doesn’t have triple tap, meaning you never get that satisfying chk-chk. Instead, it’s got a perk that increases range and a range masterwork (a innate stat that slightly increases one perk), but because most combat encounters in Destiny aren’t super long range, it’s a gun with one cool perk, Dragonfly, and Meganeura, a unique perk which boosts the power of Dragonfly after successive kills. Remember what I said about Destiny guns with just one perk not being that great? Meganeura neat… but it’s just a passive buff to dragonfly. Triple Tap + Dragonfly is where it’s at. Plus, a 16 round magazine is nowhere near as potent as a 20 round magazine with triple tap.
It looks like Hung Jury SR4 in a lot of ways, and it sounds like SR4 too, but… well, it isn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, now that I have Dragonfly spec on it, it’s a pretty neat gun… but wouldn’t it be great if we had an actual Hung Jury?
Oh… hold on a second… what’s THIS?
Friends, this is Distant Relation. It’s the same archetype as Oxygen SR3, except it has Triple Tap and Dragonfly. Still doesn’t have the same magazine size, but it’s got a reload masterwork (I don’t know how significant this is, I don’t have any way to time a non-reload masterwork compared to a reload masterwork), which is nice. This is pretty close to a Hung Jury SR4, right? It’s virtually identical! And it doesn’t have that pesky Vanguard Logo on the side.
Sure, Dragonfly isn’t quite as powerful as Firefly, the magazine is smaller, and we don’t have as many perks to choose from, but the stats are pretty close, and it’s a solar scout gun so it can do extra damage to solar shields. Doesn’t that make it a pretty great gun?
Well… it would… But, hmm.
If I’m being completely sentimental, I’m going to straight up say: this isn’t my Hung Jury. The only way to get my Hung Jury, that beautiful/ugly/weird-sounding duckling, would be some kind of “hey, import your stuff from Destiny 1 PS4 into Destiny 2 PC” thing, which would be incredible, but almost certain not to happen because every gun would have to get remade, Bungie might not like the balance of certain guns, some perks might not exist (tripod for rocket launchers, for instance, but they really should bring that back; I loved that perk), and they’d have to actually redo all the guns in terms of textures because, even though the models exist, Destiny 2 has physically based rendering and Destiny didn’t, so that would take a lot of work. Personally, I think it would be worth it, but only Bungie knows what the return on investment would be for that.
So… yeah, I’m probably never getting my baby back. Other than occasionally running with it solo, in an empty and dead Destiny 1, there’s not much I can do.
But how about I be grateful for the fact that Bungie included not one, but two Baby Juries in their game? Surely nothing’s stopping me from having fun with those, right?
I realize that some of this stuff has sounded negative. Like, sure, when you spend over two thousand hours playing a game, you learn to like what you like and dislike what you don’t. I’d love it if Bungie made tripmines fun again, and I’d love it if Dragonfly felt as potent as Firefly, but what I’ve really wanted to do is sort of… build a case. For what, exactly, I’m not sure, but I want to make sure you have all the information I can give you about the subject.
I hope I’ve explained why scout rifles are fun, why Hung Jury was The Most Fun One, how the perk system is super compelling, and what makes for a good combo of perks (synergy!). I hope I’ve explained why Oxygen SR3 doesn’t quite have the synergy greatness of Hung Jury SR4.
If it wasn’t clear, I love Destiny, and my attachment to Hung Jury isn’t just because it’s really damn good, but because of my emotional connection to the gun. The realist in me knows I’m never getting my baby back… but you’re probably wondering… okay, so Distant Relation and SR4 are pretty good guns anyways, so can’t I just make do?
Well, I want to. There’s just… one tiny little problem.
Scout rifles in Destiny 2 suck.
This is a Pulse Rifle. I’m not a big fan of Pulse Rifles in general — they’re three- or four-round burst weapons that, in my opinion, Feel Bad™. Don’t get me wrong, they are pretty awesome, and as you can see, this Go Figure I have is a beast with a great roll (Outlaw/Rampage combo, in case you were wondering). Look at how this thing chews through enemies, though. I was intentionally trying not to get headshots for this clip.
This is a pretty normal encounter distance in Destiny. Not too close, not too far. Most combat arenas feel about this size; enemies don’t get much further away than this in most missions.
Now let’s try the same thing with Oxygen SR3.
With the first kill, you can see how I pop Dragonfly+Dragonfly Spec and pop two acolytes, but look at how long it takes to melt that big guy, the Hive Knight.
It doesn’t feel quite as good to take him down; it takes way more trigger pulls to do this.
I’ve talked a bit about suffering from chronic pain and chronic fatigue, and this is one of the reasons why I’ve had to stop using Scout Rifles. For whatever reasons, Bungie nerfed scout rifles a while ago, which means a lot more physical wear and tear on my stupid, shitty, extremely-needs-a-full-time-gig-so-i-can-go-to-a-doctor-and-not-die body to use the gun type I love using the most.
Even without disability, a lot of my friends are in a place where they’re just breaking down scout rifles. Nobody’s really happy with them right now, at least among all the players I’ve spoken to when doing sentiment analysis. Just tonight, a friend got two great rolls on scouts and broke ’em both down. No point in using scouts these days.
According to Bungie back in January 2019: “Scout Rifles are always going to be on the lower end of damage due to the safety that their range affords you…”
But… well, to be honest, I’m not really sure where scout rifles outperform pulse rifles. Doing some testing over the past few weeks in preparation for this piece, the only place my scout rifle was outperforming my pulse rifle was when enemies were so far away from me, I couldn’t reliably ping their crit spots anymore. In nearly all strike and mission encounters, pulse rifles reliably outperformed scout rifles at every range.
Look at the picture above. See where my reticle is? Like 150 yards out? That’s when scout rifles start reliably outperforming pulse rifles. You literally never need to shoot this far in Destiny 2. It’s an “advantage,” sure, but it’s not in line with most of the actual engagement spaces within the game. You’re maybe doing this at the start of some strikes, but that’s about it. The advantage vanishes in, say, any room of The Will of Thousands strike.
On paper, the scout rifle being balanced against the pulse rifle at range makes sense. In practice, I’ve never found a fight where a scout rifle is a better choice than a hand cannon, pulse rifle, auto rifle, bow, or any other gun in the game, except against weak enemies at range compared to shotguns. Scout rifles just don’t fit in, and as a result, like sidearms*, I find myself breaking down every single one.
Couple that with a fairly small mag size that you can burn through easily without managing to kill some of the game’s tougher enemies the way a pulse or auto rifle can, and things start feeling pretty meh (there’s a mag size increase perk, but it’s pathetic; it adds one round to most shotguns and snipers, for instance, and only like 3 or 4 bullets to a scout rifle — since Dragonfly is super weak without Dragonfly spec, that’s a much better mod to use; I keep getting radar spec and it sucks).
Pulse Rifles are in a Very Good Place right now. I don’t like them personally because of the way they feel, but they are exactly where they need to be, in my opinion.
Scout rifles? Not so much.
Here’s a clip of me killing some Hive on the Dreadnaught while I took a break from writing this piece. Look at how it takes two shots to clear an acolyte with body shots. I think a Knight takes five body shots to kill but couldn’t get a clip of it tonight. That’s a really good place for the gun to be; it’s where it feels the most fun.
Now check out this clip of me doing the same on Mars in Destiny 2. Look how many more shots it takes to kill the enemies. It’s a lot more clicks. It feels worse, not just from a design perspective, but also from the aforementioned accessibility perspective.
Four body shots to clear Hive. Four. With my pulse rifle, I could do that in one. You can see that in the pulse/scout comparison earlier in the article. Sure, optimally, with head shots, I could clear them in one on a scout, but higher level enemies still take way more hits to kill, and I’m not always playing optimally.
It feels as though Scout Rifles are designed so that you have to put in a lot more skill to achieve the same result as a lower skill weapon. Do I walk in with a pulse rifle and body shot an acolyte, easily, to kill him, or do I walk in with a scout rifle, take aim, and only if I hit will I achieve the same effect? More work for the same effect. Rather than being a great gun that rewards players for performing well with refunded bullets and explosions, like Hung Jury SR4, scout rifles in Destiny punish you for playing less than optimally.
(by the way, this is the problem with hunters in the crucible right now; a warlock and a titan can basically one hit kill you with their melee, and it’s pretty easy to pull off, and they’re rewarded with increased health/shields as a result in most builds I’ve seen, but a hunter has throwing knives or smoke, which may or may not hit, which definitely won’t kill — I’ve pulled off three in the year and a half since Destiny 2 released and all three were due to burn damage instead of the actual impact; i’ve been killed more by titans and warlocks in a single match; i don’t think i’ve ever been killed by a hunter melee ability in d2’s entire life — it seems like I have to work a lot harder to land a precision hit to maybe get a kill, and I get none of the rewards for it; it’s an issue I’ve seen a lot of hunters talk about; it feels like punishment for not playing at the absolute best level, rather than being rewarded for doing my best; it doesn’t make me feel equal with the other classes, and it’s one of those things that I’d like to understand better about Bungie’s design philosophy)
Gamers tend to take the path of least resistance, especially me. Look… I had a lot of fun trying the new raid, but I don’t get the medical care I need because I’m a poor guy from Kansas. I can’t afford a doctor, okay? Like, I hate to belabor the point, but… I mean, I played the Scourge of the Past raid for a few hours, and the toll it took on my body was… for the next several days, I’ve ended up sleeping something like 14 hours. With medical care, I’d be fine, but I don’t have it. Playing really intense stuff wipes me out, especially after a week spent at GDC. It sucks to talk about this, especially knowing how people discriminate against disability — I’ve been told not to talk about my health because it’s just gonna make it harder than it already is to get hired… but… I mean, if I don’t talk about it, who will?
If it takes a lot more work and physical cost to make the scout rifle as effective as the pulse rifle, auto rifle, or hand cannon… why would anyone want to use a scout rifle? If the scout rifle only kicks ass at extreme ranges where landing precision shots is actually kinda pointless and the enemies can’t even hit you, what’s the point?
Anything my scout can do, my pulse can do better.
It feels as though what Bungie wants from scout rifles and what the level design supports are two different things. God, that sounds like I know better. Obviously I don’t know better. The folks at Bungie have the metrics, they can see how often people are using scout rifles; maybe they’re perfectly happy with where scout rifles are at, and that’s why scout rifles don’t get any more buffs. All I can tell you is that I’m not happy with them.
I understand the reality here: I can never have Hung Jury SR4 back. Scout rifles aren’t in the right place, and Bungie doesn’t seem keen on bringing back a gun with identical stats, much less one that looks the same (plus, faction gear is really boring, super rare, and not worth grinding; it was way more interesting when you could donate resources to factions and all progress in all activities pushed you closer to a faction package; it made grinding any activity just that much more worth it). The systems have changed. It’s certainly possible to include a 20-round Triple Tap Firefly scout that can two-shot body-shot enemies, but Bungie doesn’t want to, and hey, its their game.
Hung Jury SR4 is the greatest and best gun in the world. It is my favorite shooter gun of all time. I loved it. I loved everything about it. My friends all play on PC now, so sometimes, I go and wander the moon in solitude, popping Fallen and Hive enemies in the head, and for a few brief moments, I’m happy. Hung Jury was always by my side; it was the gun I used in some of my favorite nightfalls, the gun I used to take down Oryx while I waited impatiently for a friend, Drizzay, who never showed. I found out later he’d died. It was the gun I was holding when my brother told me he was glad for Destiny, because it had given us a way to bond. Hung Jury SR4 was the gun I held when I played with a 60 year old IT guy who raised pet lizards, when I sherpa’d people through their first raid, when I earned that t-shirt the last weekend the Oryx challenge was available. There are plenty of better, more optimal guns, but Hung Jury SR4 was mine. To me, it’s what Destiny is about; it was the manifestation of my legend more than any other gun in the game.
As designers, we often want to encourage players to try new things. Take Overwatch, for example. Jeff Kaplan said that his team had designed Overwatch to encourage diverse play; it’s a pretty common designer sentiment. But what they found was… players didn’t want that at all. As a designer, we want players to change things up so they don’t risk becoming bored. But… in reality, players like to main things. They like to pick something, stick with it, and get really good at it. It runs counter to a lot of design sensibilities, but it’s human nature. Let people main things. If something is popular, encourage them to try new things, but don’t worry too much about them sticking with what they love. Don’t play whack-a-mole with your players.
It’s okay to fall in love.
When I’m blasting through my latest Forge or taking down the monstrous Riven, I can’t help but feel just a bit sad. I play with pulse rifles and hand cannons now; they do what needs to be done, and they’re less physically costly for me with my unique limitations to use than scouts are now. I prefer Destiny’s scout rifle philosophy to Destiny 2’s. I don’t have a single scout rifle like it in Destiny 2, and it makes me sad.
I wish my favorite gun was right there with me.
*There’s a story about Return to Castle Wolfenstein, where, in playtests, the MP40 felt super weak to players. This frustrated the publisher, who demanded that the MP40 be buffed. The sound guys increased the bass on the MP40. No one complained that the MP40 was weak after that. Destiny’s sidearms are in the same place; the guns feel terrible, with people only willing to use them near the end of Destiny’s life because snipers, fusions, and shotguns spawned with almost NO ammunition at all. Nobody ever really liked them. I suspect giving them a different audio profile would result in a significant uptick in player use. They feel weak, even though they aren’t. No one likes a weak gun.