After several failed attempts at defeating Crota, everyone in the fireteam -- frustrated and tired -- ultimately agreed with the fireteam leader. I sighed to myself quietly, although I doubt I was the only one to do so.
"Wait, there's a way to cheese Crota?" I asked.
"Yup. So here's what we gotta do..."
The fireteam leader then proceeded to explain what is, quite simply, one the most ridiculous exploits I have ever heard of. In order to cheese Crota, the fireteam leader would leave the group, enter the raid by himself, and have the rest of the fireteam join up on him. Then, we would initiate the fight, with everyone staying inside of the two side chambers once they'd been cleared. After this, the entire fireteam would fire on Crota and lower his shield to make him kneel, and JUST as the kneeling animation began to play, the fireteam leader would sever his connection as the host, either by quitting Destiny entirely or, even more ridiculously, by manually pulling out his ethernet cable. This, according to the other members of the team, would force Crota to stay knelt indefinitely, so that all that remained to do was wait for the fireteam leader to rejoin, kill the Swordbearer, and then one person could kill Crota with a single sword.
Needless to say, when I heard this I wasn't sure if I was more baffled or impressed by the whole thing. Crota's End had been out for merely three weeks now... how had someone even come up with this stuff? Well whoever they were, they were clearly much resourceful and cunning than both the raid designers and the QA team assigned to Crota's End... or was that really it? My developer's intuition told me that there was something much more complex at work here, so I decided to probe even deeper to try to determine just what caused players to put so much effort into finding exploits instead of beating things the "intended way."
First, let's recap my entire experience of completing the raid this week:
Crota's End - Normal Mode
Completed: Tuesday, December 23rd (1 sitting)
Lamp Run - Non-Cheesed (3 players survived, took about 5 attempts)
Gatekeepers/Bridge - Cheesed (1st attempt)
Shrieker Chest - Cheesed (Failed 1st attempt, reloaded checkpoint on another character until succeeded)
Ir Yut, The Deathsinger - Non-Cheesed (About a dozen attempts, nearly ended the raid group prematurely)
Crota - Cheesed (Took several attempts, however)
So technically speaking, of the 5 "events" in the Crota's End raid, my group technically completed 3 of them by cheesing. The Shrieker's Chest is kind of a stretch here, since technically we failed the first try and just reloaded it on a character who didn't have the door locked yet until we got inside the chest room, but I still consider this to be a kind of "exploit" so I've left it in. This means that approximately 60% of the raid was completed by using methods outside of the intended design of the raid. That's a pretty glaring figure considering that raids are technically the "end game" content of Destiny. So what's really at work here? Well a number of things...
In my opinion, it all primarily boils down to "player attitude." Of the 5 events that make up Crota's End, my fireteam immediately defaulted to "cheesing" as the primary strategy for each scenario when available. In fact the two events that weren't cheesed -- the Lamp Run and Ir Yut -- were only completed un-cheesed because there existed no known method of cheesing those parts of the raid. And yet even despite this knowledge, several fireteam members would still repeatedly ask "Are we sure there's no way to cheese this?" during those events. This was particularly true of the Ir Yut battle, which took the longest time of all of the events this week, and almost resulted in the group breaking up on the grounds that we couldn't seem to complete it with this group and no one currently had access to the "Crota checkpoint." Analyzing this playthrough further has led me to the following conclusions regarding player attitudes toward cheesing:
1. If players find a part of the raid too difficult, they will naturally try to discover an alternative strategy that can be used to complete that part. This may include finding "cheese strategies" or "exploits" for that particular segment, either on purpose or by accident.
2. This means that, even though a QA tester may be tasked with trying to "break" the raid in anticipatory ways, a player is always going to be more innovative and more determined when it comes to finding exploits. This is because it is the QA tester's job to find exploits whereas for the player... their very progress in the game lies at stake (which is arguably a much stronger motivation). If a player cannot progress through the raid, then they cannot get more rewards, so they will naturally try to seek out ways to reach those reward checkpoints at any cost.
3. If a player knows that an event can be exploited, no matter how badly they want to complete that event "normally," there is a good chance that they will resort to cheesing if the challenge is proving too difficult for their current fireteam (rather than just quit). Furthermore, the likelihood of resorting to cheese is even greater if the player in question has personally participated in a particular method of cheesing before.
Combining these 3 factors results in a sort of overall "consideration hierarchy" with regard to cheesing in raids:
Hierarchy of Cheesing Thresholds
Time > Loot > Patience > Fun > Pride
Let's elaborate on this breakdown even further:
A player's foremost consideration when attempting a raid is "Time." Committing yourself to a raid typically means setting aside a few hours to dedicate yourself to a single chunk of gaming. The time needed to complete the raid usually decreases with raid familiarity and fireteam synergy, but in the end, raid content still demands the largest stretch of continuous time in the game to complete. This means that if a player feels like they are running out of time to play, or that they've spent more time trying to complete the raid than they would have liked to in the first place, then they will usually search for ways to finish the raid faster (with the fastest alternative method typically being "cheese").
Next is "Loot," which is the second strongest motivation in the raid. If it comes down to a choice between cheesing to ensure getting loot or not cheesing and potentially not getting loot, then a player will almost certainly choose to cheese. Loot obviously plays a vital role in Destiny and the psychology behind loot rewards would warrant several posts of its own, but again, as far as the raids are concerned, loot plays an integral part in whether or not a player chooses to cheese. In fact in Crota's End, many players choose to grab the first chest and complete the Lamp Run either by themselves or with significantly smaller groups (because the design allows them to); then cheese the Gatekeeper/Bridge event (most notably by team wiping and then Warlock resurrecting at the last second before restart, which forces the Ogres to come out on the other side of the map); then completely skip the Ir Yut fight (because it currently doesn't drop any loot); and lastly find someone who already has the Crota checkpoint and join up with them in order to quickly cheese the final encounter. This is because this is technically the quickest and most efficient way to earn raid loot and since loot is the second strongest cheese consideration, most people will naturally opt to take this route when given the opportunity.
"Patience" is next. These are the individuals who have plenty of time, aren't particularly die-hard about loot, but simply can't be bothered with failure after failure. If the raids in Destiny exemplify the hardest content in the game and present players with the greatest overall challenge, then these are the people who will willingly cheese when the difficulty curve proves too steep for their fireteam. These are the players who grow frustrated by failed attempts rather quickly, and rather than try to push for a new approach or encourage players to simply try again, these players will gladly result to cheese if it is available rather than risk further failures. It could be argued that for these players, failure represents a problem with the fireteam itself, and so cheesing is a guaranteed way to progress forward. After all, why needlessly place your hopes on the notion that the team might eventually manage to complete an encounter when you can practically ensure success by cheesing?
The next consideration in line is "Fun." Players that resort to cheese at this threshold have time, place much less value on loot, and also have an abundance of patience. These players ultimately cross the threshold for cheesing when they are no longer having fun, which is typically caused when other players have thresholds that occur earlier than theirs. That is to say, when other players begin to get frustrated, angry, impatient, or quit all together, these players typically stop enjoying themselves and will often resort to cheesing in order to placate unhappy players and keep the momentum (and by extension, the fun) moving forward. For these players, if cheesing means keeping everyone happy and enjoying themselves, then they're usually all for it, so naturally learning how to "cheese correctly" becomes part of their own repertoire not just for personal reasons, but out of a desire for fireteam harmony/appeasement. If everyone else wants to cheese, and you don't want to cheese, then you will most likely end up having to find a new raid group... which, by most players' standards, isn't a particularly fun situation to find oneself in.
Lastly is "Pride." These are the players who value personal accomplishment over all else, which typically translates to being able to say that you've completed the raid without having to rely on any exploits. For these players, enjoyment comes from discovering the raid for themselves, formulating a strategy to beat the raid (without attempting to break the systems that are in place), and relishing in the rewards earned by completing things "normally." The irony here, however, is that this final threshold consideration has actually come full circle in that the newest form of "raid pride" seems to be becoming the first person to discover a new exploit or method of cheese. This is most evident when looking at community creations such as the "Destiny Confirmed Legends List" on Reddit, which not only lists the "World First" clans, but also individuals who have managed to find ways to exploit the raids, even to the point of soloing it alone. So in this respect, not only is "Pride" technically the final threshold for cheesing attitudes, but it has also become one of the primary motivators for players to go out and specifically find new ways to break the raids. This notion suggests that, in a world where potential exploits are so frequently overlooked, the challenge of the raid no longer becomes "How do we beat this?" but "How do we break this?"
So how does one address cheesing and the players' attitudes towards it? The answers may seem somewhat harsh, but they do appear to be rather necessary if you wish to maintain the integrity of raids being the "pinnacle" of Destiny content. Here is a list of some potential solutions to addressing cheese in raids:
1. Give select groups of players the opportunity to run the raid before launch.
Now this isn't a criticism of the QA teams responsible for checking raid content, but let's face it, "gamers" are some of the most resourceful, motivated, and innovative people on the planet. Even a professional game tester is not going to catch every potential exploit, which is why it is critical to give this content to trusted individuals to test raids in a closed, monitored environment in order to see what they will come up with. Possibly even more important is to test raid content without maxed weapons and gear. This is crucial because most cheese and exploits are discovered by groups who find the content too difficult and must then resort to cheesing in order to just barely scrape by. The motivation to discover exploits isn't as strong for fireteams that are evenly matched or overpowered because their gear is appropriate to the raid level, so forcing testers to try and complete encounters while underleveled should force them to find bugs and exploits even more effectively. It's likely that Bungie already puts this into practice, but if not, then they should definitely consider starting.
2. Avoid placing raid encounters/events that can be completed by anything less than a full fireteam of six.
This one's pretty simple, but surprisingly effective at culling cheese. The Vault of Glass is a perfect example, most of the cheese in that raid was enemy specific: pushing the Templar off the level, pushing Atheon off the level, etc. But most of the encounters literally could not be beaten without a full team present. Having events such as needing to stand on multiple platforms at the same time or even forcing fireteams to split up in order to cover as much ground as possible (such as with the Oracles during the Templar fight) are fantastic ways of making players work together to solve problems correctly rather than inspiring them to look for ways to just cheese things. Segments like the Lamp Run in Crota's End, while still really fun and original, also don't particularly require a ton of teamwork, as individuals can solo these segments of the raid successfully because of their design. In truth, no part of a raid should be able to be completed by anything less than a full fireteam working in tandem (or at the most, with one player dead), and to design things otherwise genuinely marginalizes the importance and "prestige" of completing raid content.
3. Ramp up raid difficulty.
Let's be honest here, raids should be mind-blowingly difficult. I actually didn't manage to complete all of Crota's End the first week it was out, and it honestly should probably be that way for most people on their first attempts. But knowing that there are some people out there who can successfully solo the raid is somewhat embarrassing and is definitely contrary to the principles of what "raid content" should be. Part of this goes back to item #2: that is, making road blocks that literally cannot be passed except by a full fireteam. But the other part is just making the raids more difficult themselves. Now naturally this risks ostracizing many players from raid content all together, but the question we must ask ourselves is "Who should really be beating the raids to begin with?" I am guessing that there is no matchmaking for raids because Bungie wishes to set a higher bar of entry for raid content, which begins with actually managing to put together a competent group of players. So if this is the case, then the only way a raid can ever be considered too "difficult" is if the numbers (i.e. damage vs. defense) are just way too one sided in the enemy's favor. By making enemies and encounters themselves more difficult, the option to cheese because a moot one because players who aren't focusing on completing tasks correctly simply can't survive. And let's face it, a dead player (aside from Sunsinger Warlocks) is typically going have a difficult time successfully cheesing an encounter.
4. Never, EVER make an event that doesn't give loot.
It doesn't matter if the loot table from a given encounter includes gear and weapons or just gives shards/energy, no major encounter should EVER be lootless. The Ir Yut, The Deathsinger fight is arguably the most challenging and best designed encounter in Crota's End (especially since no one has managed to find a way to cheese it), but this fact is irrelevant if players are skipping over the encounter all together and joining players with "checkpoints" past this fight since "it doesn't drop loot anyway, so who cares?" A named boss fight in particular should always drop some sort of loot, so failing to do so merely gives players an excuse to try and bypass that part of the raid all together, which leads us to the next point...
5. Rework "raid checkpoints."
This one would probably require the most effort, particularly on the engineering end of things, but it would also be very effective at eliminating cheese. Here's the current trend for players each Tuesday when the raids reset:
- Log in with main character.
- Get standard raid group going.
- Get to a chest anywhere in the raid.
- Open chest with main character.
- Exit raid.
- Log into another character.
- Re-join raid with standard group.
- Open chest with this character.
- Automatically unlock checkpoint with this character as well.
- Rinse and repeat.
As a developer, it's pretty disappointing to witness. Here we are, in THE raid, the ultimate challenge in Destiny, and players are essentially getting free loot and free rides past certain encounters by abusing the checkpoint system and basically allowing players to "cut in line" so to speak. This system definitely needs to be reworked to prevent players from joining on other players when their characters don't already have access to certain checkpoints in the raid themselves. If a fireteam makes it to the Gatekeeper/Bridge encounter in Crota's End, I should not be able to rejoin that fireteam with another one of my characters if I haven't already completed the Lamp Run that week: it's that simple. Obviously the technical end of things would require more work to make this successful, but the current system is rather demeaning to the intended design and importance of raid content.
These are the major points of correction that I would recommend addressing in order to combat "cheese" and exploits in raids, all of which would play a vital role in helping restore raid content to its rightful place as "only for the best of the best." When players automatically resort to cheesing content, Destiny ceases to be a game and instead becomes merely a bug hunt, which invalidates all of the hard work that team members put into creating that content and -- more importantly -- makes players take the game much less seriously. In-raid discussions no longer revolve around subjects such as "Which enemies should we take out first?" and shift instead to "Alright, let's just all kill ourselves and glitch the event?" It's a ridiculous paradigm and one that needs to stop if Destiny wishes to maintain its status of being a game known for its "quality raid content."