While the reveal of Destiny 2‘s upcoming The Witch Queen expansion has fans buzzing for many reasons, few of Bungie’s recent Destiny announcements have generated as much hype as quickly as the return of the Gjallarhorn.
For anyone not familiar with the Destiny series (or anyone who only started playing the franchise starting with Destiny 2), the pure excitement that this gun is generating at the moment has to be confusing. What is the gun and why is it causing some Destiny players to fondly reminisce about the “good old days?”
Well, the first part of that question is easy enough to answer. Gjallarhorn is an exotic rocket launcher that was available in Destiny since the game’s launch in 2014. Its ability to shoot rockets that would then “splinter” into smaller, homing rockets made it one of the more unique items in its class during the early days of the game. Of course, exotic weapons were incredibly hard to acquire in Destiny‘s early days, so many players never saw this weapon during that time and were certainly not in a position to easily acquire it for themselves.
That’s the key to answering the second part of the question that we posed above. See, Destiny wasn’t really “figured out” in its early days. During those first few weeks and months, there was a legitimate debate to be had about which of the game’s guns were strongest. Maybe someone online would claim that they acquired an exotic that was clearly overpowered, but the rarity of these weapons meant that many people never really got to see them for themselves outside of YouTube videos and the occasional in-game encounter with someone who acquired an exotic that you never saw before. Players weren’t even sure how many exotic weapons were in the game during those days.
More importantly, most players at that time tended to “overvalue” exotic primary weapons or exotic armor for the simple reason that they ended up using them more often than exotic heavy weapons like rocket launchers. Few people went out of their way to spend their precious resources on a gun like the Gjallarhorn. In fact, the Gjallarhorn was one of the earliest weapons sold by Destiny‘s exotic item merchant Xur, and few players at the time bothered to buy it even if they had the currency needed to do so.
That’s where things got interesting. See, those who took the chance on the Gjallarhorn or were lucky enough to acquire one randomly around that time began to experiment with it. The results were…stunning. Anyone who has ever played an MMO or really any kind of multiplayer game with weapons knows that you’ll occasionally get an item that is simply overpowered. Well, the Gjallarhorn wasn’t just overpowered; it was absurd. While it was complete overkill for all but the game’s toughest enemies (and wasn’t as valuable in PvP modes), the Gjallarhorn was capable of melting raid bosses and other late-game foes in ways that you just kind of had to laugh at. It honestly might be in the running for the most overpowered gun in the history of a non-single player FPS game.
As word of the gun’s absurd capabilities spread, players started to do whatever they could to acquire it. Since the gun was no longer available through Xur (and wouldn’t be for quite some time), that meant that most Destiny players simply had to grind as much content as possible in order to have a small chance of finally acquiring Gjallarhorn through a lucky drop. While Destiny‘s infamous “loot cave” helped people out a bit in their quest for the Gjallarhorn, you’re still talking about a relatively small number of players who were able to secure one for themselves during those initial months.
Unfortunately, that’s when things started to get awkward. See, once players realized how much easier it was to clear Destiny‘s toughest PvE content when you had a group of players all using the Gjallarhorn, many raid groups practically started demanding that players have one in order to be invited to a raid. While similar things have happened in MMOs and MMO-style games before, the power of Gjallarhorn made it so that many players never bothered to find alternate strategies simply because it was still easier to find a Gjallarhorn group than it was to clear Destiny‘s hardest content any other way. Not only was the power of the Gjallarhorn limiting inspiration for new strategies but it was creating a divide between the have and have nots that made it even more difficult for some Destiny players to find people to share the game’s high-end content with.
That proved to be the final straw for Bungie. Citing gatekeeping concerns as well as the Gjallarhorn’s unintended power levels, Bungie finally decided to nerf the Gjallarhorn in 2015. Again, it’s not unheard of for developers to nerf overpowered weapons, but what was so fascinating in this instance is that Bungie’s justification for doing so was less about the absurd power of the weapon and more about how that power was preventing people from building communities in the game and generally finding new ways to interact with each other.
The great irony there is that the Gjallarhorn has become this kind of strange rallying point for Destiny players who remember (perhaps a bit too fondly) when it was possible to acquire a gun in the game that felt almost magical. Bungie was right to nerf the Gjallarhorn, but as Destiny became a little more “figured out” and balanced, many found it easy to embrace a time when you could acquire a mythical item that was as powerful as the outlandish stories you heard about it suggested it was.
Destiny 2‘s Gjallarhorn will almost certainly not break the game again, but any stroll down memory lane will never be the same as the first time you walked that path.