Escalation Protocol, coming to Destiny 2 as part of its Warmind expansion launching next week, looks to be where players will be spending a lot of their time in D2’s new endgame. Naturally, we wanted to learn more, so we reached out to Ben Wommack at Bungie, the design lead on Escalation Protocol. Ben shared some new details with us about what the event entails, how the Destiny 2 team has learned from their Curse of Osiris expansion, and — of course — what kinds of sweet, sweet loot Guardians can expect to earn.
PlayStation.Blog: Tell us a little bit about Escalation Protocol. What was the inspiration for this event?
Ben Wommack, Design Lead on Escalation Protocol: An end-game, challenging, horde mode-esque public activity that is triggered in Free Roam, where players fight increasingly difficult waves of Hive culminating in a unique boss encounter. That’s Escalation Protocol in a nutshell!
The event takes place in a new Destination on the planet Mars, the Hellas Basin. Both of the two public zones in the Hellas Basin will feature Escalation Protocol, and like the rest of Destiny 2, exploration of the Destination allows 3-person fireteams with a maximum of 9 players.
As you can imagine, we looked back at a some of our favorite public events and cyclical activities from previous Destiny releases for inspiration (Archon’s Forge, Court of Oryx, Prison of Elders, Witch’s Ritual, etc.). We wanted to capture many of the same characteristics of those modes while making something new that fits seamlessly into the Warmind world and end-game. Plus, there was a universal desire to make Escalation Protocol more challenging, as we’ve been seeing a lot of requests in the Destiny community for more difficult activities.
PSB: What did the team learn from the response to Destiny 2’s first expansion? Does Escalation Protocol take this into consideration?
BW: Wow did we learn a lot from Curse of Osiris! The Mercury Destination feeling too small and how little players could progress when exploring it were two lessons learned, among many others.
We took those lessons to heart with the Hellas Basin Destination, and with Escalation Protocol. The event will send you all around the zone it’s triggered in, summoning intensely challenging waves in varied encounter spots. Unique and desirable gear is guarded by weekly rotating public bosses at the end of an Escalation Protocol event. Other end-game pursuits will tie into Escalation Protocol as well, giving players even more reasons to come back throughout the weekly reset.
Warmind will introduce players to Ana Bray, a new character who will be familiar to anybody who’s dug into the lore of the Destiny universe.
PSB: What type of player are you building this for? Will lower level players be able to hop in and contribute, or is this more along the lines of a Raid Lair or Trials-level activity?
BW: Escalation Protocol is definitely end-game content, created to stand alongside the Nightfall, Trials, and the Raid. Expect a challenge which will demand max-level gear, the right strategies from your fireteam, and top-level play to succeed with just the three of you. Of course, Escalation Protocol is different from other end-game activities because it takes place in a public zone, so we’re counting on players from multiple fireteams regularly working together to conquer the event.
Players of any level in the zone can engage with the event and contribute just like with other public events in D2. Lower level players might melt under the onslaught of high-level Hive, but their presence and bullets will still count, and they will still get some rewards.
PSB: What kinds of loot will players earn from Escalation Protocol? Will players be able to earn max-level loot from it?
BW: Expect unique armor, weapons (featuring new perks), and vanity items as rewards for playing Escalation Protocol alongside normal public event rewards.
The unique armor is awarded in a way we haven’t done before; players will earn the armor pieces in a specific order (one a week) until they collect the whole set. After they’ve collected the whole set it will just award a random piece. Each armor piece rewarded will drop as an upgrade, like a piece of gear awarded from completing a milestone.
Also, we are making the weapons and vanity items from this event farmable. I’m really excited by the legendary sniper rifle you can get from the event, which has an amazing new perk that’s super fun to use!
PSB: So it’s similar to Court of Oryx, or Archon’s Forge? What did the development team learn from these? How is this different?
BW: Court of Oryx and Archon’s Forge had a lot of similarities while also fulfilling a different fantasy than the other. Court asked players to solve ‘boss puzzles’ in efficient ways while Archon’s Forge provided horde mode-esque encounter challenges. Both of these events could snowball into hours of play and piles of loot, and Escalation Protocol is aiming to land between the two while having the same effect.
One big lesson learned from the past events is how quickly folks got used to the encounter setups and the most efficient strategies. This proficiency was part of the fun of coming back to each event, but also removed some of the tension of the activities and reduced their capacity as end-game pursuits compared to the Raid or Trials. We set off with Escalation Protocol to make something more consistently challenging, while also trying to retain the social availability and ‘just one more round’ collaborative fun that similar past activities have had.
The biggest differences between Escalation Protocol and those past activities are the difficulty level and the loot we’re rewarding players with. This time around we expect 3-5 players at max level to feel required, which gives us more opportunities to award more powerful and varied loot.
Players will face new ice-enhanced Hive enemies in Warmind.
PSB: If up to 9 players can participate, how difficult are these challenges going to be? Are most players going to be able to complete all waves?
BW: First of all, all of the waves in the event are near or at the level cap, meaning at launch most players will feel pretty under leveled. we expect players to believe something like 9 players will be required until they level up enough!
Second, we’ve deliberately tuned Escalation Protocol to be achievable by the most prepared and coordinated max-level 3 person fireteams for the Warmind expansion. Taking on this event with only three people is harrowing but not impossible, so any additional fireteams who join the event will relieve the pressure on that core well-geared fireteam to coordinate their strategy for any given wave.
Finally, we believe most players will have the opportunity to complete the event if they can find another group to coordinate with. That’s a big reason the event takes place in public zones, to give all kinds of players opportunities to collide with each other and tackle the event together.
PSB: How do you expect nine players to be able to coordinate with such a challenging event in a public space?
BW: Escalation Protocol is not like a raid where every person in the zone has a specific role they must perform in coordination to succeed. We believe having a fireteam of three coordinating players who make the right moves at the right times will allow any additional players to be effective just by doing what Guardians do best—shooting enemies in the face, reviving downed players, throwing around space magic, etc.
Of course, we’ll see the real coordination shine through once players at large start to understand the event. That’s when we’ll see groups of 4-5 solo players, who aren’t even speaking to each other, inherently working together because they all learned the strategies independently. This happened in the past with Court of Oryx and Archon’s Forge, and we’ll eventually see it with Escalation Protocol as well, though the bar for success will definitely be higher.
PSB: How do different instances of Escalation Protocol differ? Will the enemies and bosses change, and will you be making adjustments throughout season 3?
BW: The two public zones where players encounter Escalation Protocol have functionally identical versions of the event, though the terrain and encounter spaces will of course be different. We’re trying very hard to make the presence and opportunity of the event feel constant, leaving the impression it could be kicked off anywhere at any moment.
As Season 3 progresses, a total of five unique bosses will rotate in each week as the culminating fight for the Escalation Protocol event. After week 5, the first boss will rotate back in, just like the Court of Oryx bosses did from TTK.
Destiny 2: Warmind launches May 8. You can learn more and pre-order it here.