With so many modes and maps already in rotation, two years and three expansions in, you might be forgiven for thinking that Destiny has done all it can with its Crucible PvP offering. Between the hyperactive, tactical assault of Clash, the more considered, quietly layered strategy of Control, the tense teamwork of its various objective modes, and the brutal proving ground of the ultra-hardcore Trials of Osiris, Destiny's robust but malleable shooting mechanics have been bent and reshaped in every which way. But now there's a new flavour of versus multiplayer coming in this month's Rise of Iron expansion.
Ostensibly, Supremacy is a team deathmatch affair, only this time around, there are two ways to score, allowing you to double your points for every kill. You'll get one when the body initially drops, as usual, but when the unfortunate Guardian his the deck, they'll drop their Crest, effectively an oversized Engram with the same rolling physics as the colourful, crystalline loot boxes you'll find throughout the game's PvE modes. Grab that, and you now have a second point. However, anyone can grab any Crest that's lying around, and all in play are indicated on the HUD, meaning that no haul is safe until you've snagged it.
What this leads to in practice is a delicate balance between fast, focused strategy and absolute chaos, in which chokepoints are centralised areas of resolute mayhem. In a one-on-one confrontation, things are pretty straightforward. One Guardian dies, the other collects the loot and goes on their merry way. Unless, of course, there's a double-kill - because let's face it, those still happen quite a lot in the Crucible, - in which case every player on the map will see a Crest of each colour drop (they're coded red and blue, in accordance to international multiplayer law) and the nearby and opportunistic will run straight over to bag them both. This leads to the other eventuality in Supremacy. All-out carnage.
When multiple players from each team butt heads in close proximity, Crests will likely tumble like spilt marbles. And then players will rush in to grab the spoils. And then, if either side has been smart and held some Guardians back out of the fray - or just lucks out, which also certainly happens - some of those players will very likely drop as well. And then there will be more Crests on the floor. And you see how this goes. And that's before Crests start rolling down hills, or bouncing away down stairs.
But for all the close-range anarchy in Supremacy, there's scope for real strategy as well. The smartest players will, as mentioned, roam in small packs, two taking attack duties while a third stays close but out of sight to keep the leads safe during pick-up, or kill any opposing player trying to run in. Grab a Crest from a fallen teammate before an opponent can, and you'll score a Crest denial, meaning that there are many points to be had for blocking collection.
Or perhaps snipers could work with medium to close-range players, spotting opportunities, liberating Crests from afar, and sending their partners in to mop up while providing cover. The possibility of using solitary players and their Crests as bait might also have legs, and obviously any Sunsinging Warlock with self-resurrection abilities equipped can just be a great big bastard, coming instantly back from the dead to score a Crest denial, a revenge kill, and a Crest pick-up for three whole points. I know this because I am that bastard, and I had a great time.
As for the new maps that come along with Supremacy, during my session I played on Skyline and Last Exit. Both are good, but contrast highly in their styles. The former sports a small warren of corridors and chambers on one side, and a wide open-air platform on the other, making it a haven of chokepoint devastation, and ripe for long-range kills with risky sprints to the Crest. Last Exit, however, is all about the close-range ambushes. Made out of an abandoned subway system on Venus, typified by tight tunnels and tighter corners, and littered with broken down trains for hiding in, if you're a shotgunner, this is your new holiday home.
But there's another rather interesting new addition in the co-operative area as well. Picking up where The Taken King’s Court of Oryx left of, Archon's Forge is a Patrol-based combat arena where players can summon enemy waves and score loot for taking them down. The difference is that unlike the Court's focus on boss fights, the Forge is a set-up more akin to the Prison of Elders’ Horde battles. Think of it as a hybrid of the two.
Actually, that's not the only difference. The other thing is the way that the Forge is accessed. Its single arena can be walked into freely from the Plaguelands sandbox map, but needs to be activated with a SIVA offering, a new item that can be found throughout the world and received as an activity reward. Different tiers summon different waves, which deliver different rewards of their own, but once a fight starts, the arena locks down. At this point, any further players who want to get in on the action must buy in with a key, but with the arena barrier blocking all view of who and what is being fought, there should be a degree of gamble in arriving late.
Not that there's too long a wait between fights. Each battle only lasts around five minutes, making for a faster, more immediate, intense and anarchic experience with a fast turnaround. It's likely to turn into a constant fight-party once Rise of Iron goes live, though the scale of its higher-tier skirmishes is yet to be seen.
Even at the low level I was demoed though, it's a riot, the aggressive mobs replenishing quickly and frequently, an effect made all the more pronounced by the Forge arena's smaller size compared to those of the Prison of Elders. But at the same time, the fun is amplified by the giddiness of its design, a huge verticality serviced by multiple, high-set platforms and some hefty plinths and monoliths for hopping between. Coupled with the increased number of combatants on both sides, it's a heck of a goofy and explosive mix.
No doubt things will become far more strategic - and far more fraught - at higher levels, when big rewards are on the line. But at the same time, the immediacy of the Forge’s overall set-up, and the scope for cathartically destructive, freeform nonsense, are certainly appealing in a game where regimented strategies and hiding behind boxes have occasionally become standard in high-level play.
As such, the blend of strategy and silliness might make a fitting companion for the Crucible's Supremacy. After all, Destiny has always been a game designed to let anyone have any kind of fun they want, whenever they want. And it's a waste to take things entirely seriously when wolf-laden rocket launchers and purple space-magic are up for grabs.