With the launch of Shadowkeep, Bungie’s been trying a few new things with Destiny 2. The Seasonal Artifact is an item that solves many of the game’s previous problems with power spikes and also manages to put a leash on Power creep, at least to some extent. Each Season’s Artifact lets players unlock a variety of mods to equip in their weapons and armor, and because it goes away at the end of the season, Bungie can allow some of the more creative builds to ride the course knowing that they’ll soon be replaced. It’s a great system in theory, and in practice, it’s shown a lot of promise too, but I think there’s still room for improvement, particularly when it comes to the convoluted implementation of the system.
“Goddammit, I forget to switch back to my anti-barrier mod,” is a phrase I’ve heard all too often from members of my fireteam. It’s frequently paired with “I’m out of glimmer. I can’t equip that mod.” Setting aside the fact that the current mod system—both Armor 2.0 and on weapons—is a little cumbersome to work with and doesn’t promote easily playing around with builds, new mechanics that came along with Shadowkeep and Season of the Undying now require certain mods to be equipped. It also suddenly makes Exotic weapons lesser because of their inability to slot mods. Aside from a rework of the entire mod system (allowing for Artifact-specific mod slots, reducing the cost of switching out mods, reworking how elemental affinities limit builds, etc.), there are certain changes to the Artifact itself that could make the system a lot less frustrating.
The Artifact as a Seasonal Skill Tree
One of the elements from Destiny 1 that players miss the most is the ability to have full customization and control over their subclass skill tree. Bungie’s been working on that for a while, and I think we’re in a pretty good place with the current system, but there’s another place where a skill tree could work: the Artifact.
Instead of unlocking mods for use, what if the Artifact was simply a skill tree that applied the selected buff/ability once unlocked? Unlock SMG anti-barrier rounds, and now all SMGs are effective against those Barrier Champions. Unstoppable rounds on hand cannons? Now you can use Ace, Thorn, or any other variety of great Exotic hand cannon choices in content that features Unstoppable Champions. Grab the Oppressive Darkness perk, and suddenly all of your void grenades add a weakening effect without having to make sure that you have enough energy on your chest armor to equip it, and then actually remembering to equip it.
Of course, I understand that a change like this couldn’t come without retuning and rebalancing how Artifact unlocks work, perhaps reducing the number of perks or abilities you can get or limiting the number of unlocks per column, but there are a few important things this change would do for the game. For one, it would make the first column unlocks more relevant. These mods focus on gaining glimmer and destination materials, and it would make a lot more sense for these to be intrinsic always active abilities.
Second, it would solve the Champion issue, allowing more freedom in weapon usage and fewer instances of simply forgetting yet another step in prepping for activities. It’s one thing to have nuanced build crafting, it’s another to have so many steps for players to remember before even hopping into a Raid, Nightfall, or other content. I understand why Bungie doesn’t want to allow general mod usage on Exotic weapons. That would lead to some broken builds. But not allowing the anti-Champion abilities on them severely limits loadout variety and underpowers Exotics. Having these as intrinsic ability unlocks solves both problems.
Finally, it would allow for more creative build crafting without relying on Armor 2.0, which is currently undergoing some growing pains of its own as Bungie figures out exactly how they want the system to work. I’m a hardcore Destiny player with way too many hours under my belt, and with so many things to do in Destiny, having yet another convoluted layer to crafting my build makes me simply not even want to engage with the system. (I have a similar complaint about Shaders being consumables and having too many steps.)
Now, don’t think for a moment that I don’t love the RPG and crafting builds and what the intended goals were for the Artifact and Armor 2.0. I’m thrilled at the direction that Bungie is headed with a lot of this. There just comes a point when there are too many roadblocks to being able to engage with the system in an effective and fun way. The intertwining of the Artifact and Armor 2.0 (and mods in general) is creating a knot of problems while each needs to iron out its own issues.
Why the Artifact as Mods Doesn’t Work
Okay, so it does work when you look at the crazy builds that some of the top-tier Destiny players are coming up with, but in general, many of each system’s problems are much easier to solve when you separate the two. Bungie introduced both the Artifact and the Armor 2.0 systems at the same time (and let’s not forget adding Champion enemies into the mix). Whenever Bungie adds something new, no matter how good, there are always some growing pains to deal with in ways that players engage. By linking the two (or three, if again, including Champions), many problems with each get conflated into the other one. Any changes or updates made to Armor 2.0 impact how the Artifact works and vice versa. If each system stood on its own, each system could have its problems solved on its own.
I know that some of Bungie’s intent with the Artifact is to potentially add some of the mods to the permanent pool eventually, using the limited Seasonal space as a way of testing out their efficacy. They could still do this, turning the abilities they choose into mods once the Artifact goes away. Once the mods are permanent, they can have a place in the Armor 2.0 system.
I know lots of people who I would consider hardcore Destiny players still get a question mark over their heads when it comes to Artifact mods and applying them to their builds. I was in a Raid just a few days ago where multiple people once again forgot to switch out Champion mods on weapons, and then again, when playing different activities the next day. This is a seasoned group of Destiny players. I can’t imagine what engaging with this whole system feels like as a more casual or new player.
Again, I don’t want Bungie to stop diving down the rabbit hole of RPG complexity and creating this crazy first-person action MMO. What I would like is to see some of the unnecessary and cumbersome roadblocks to systems removed so that I can more easily engage with those deep systems that allow me to customize exactly how I play. Making the Artifact a Seasonal skill tree could be a great first step.