D.U.C.T.: More Applied Schema Theory in ‘Destiny 2’

A while back, I wrote about how Destiny 2’s Duality dungeon utilized schema theory to help guide guardians through the activity’s mechanics. Schema Theory, in essence, is the idea that our brain organizes information in a series of relational models, and we use the schema to try to interpret information. When you’re driving a rental car, using a public library’s computer, solving a math equation you’ve never seen before, you access your brain’s schema to help navigate the new, but still familiar, experience.

Schema lets us relate things to other things, and on occasion sometimes we try to force a schema where one doesn’t really exist. For example, throughout the duration of the Destiny franchise, there’s been a call for more defined roles akin to the Holy Trinity of MMORPG of DPS/Tank/Support. 

However, the nature of Destiny from its gameplay and encounter design do not lend themselves to these hard and steady roles like a traditional MMORPG or even hero shooters since the shared world shooter is ostensibly designed to be able to be completed with any combination of class/subclass composition.

That said, one of the notable features of schema is that it can be modified to meet the actualities of the circumstances, and after several years and a lot of Grandmaster Nightfall content, I have cultivated what I have come to refer to as the D.U.C.T. schema, or Damage/Utility/Control Trinity.

Whether intentionally or inadvertently, Destiny 2 has incentivized team building in a unique way that runs parallel to the standard paradigm but ends up playing very differently in the buildcraft. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s turn back the clock and look at the evolution of the game and examine why it took so long for a proper parallel trinity to form.

In the Beginning, There Were Multi Flavored Explosions

When Destiny originally launched in 2014, the distinction between classes at their core were cosmetic and aesthetic. Warlocks with their space magic could dabble in the destructive power of the void or the destructive power of the sun. Hunters had the solar powered Golden Gun with many knives or the close quarters arc blade. Titans were infused with lightning fists or void fists. But throughout all of this, at the game’s conception all of these abilities served a single purpose: to kill things as efficiently as possible. In this respect, there was absolutely no other role to possibly fill.

Official Destiny Gameplay Reveal Video

In fact, the only things that could even remotely be considered a non-damage roll were the Defender’s Ward of Dawn super, which created a safe haven that could be customized to either provide armor inside the bubble, an over-shield outside the bubble, or a weapon boost outside the bubble. This video is from a few years later, but it gets the point across.

Destiny 2: Season of Dawn – “Corridors of Time Part 1” – (Meeting Saint-14 Mission)

Warlocks also had access to Sunsinger’s radiance to improve ability regen, but for the most part the meta settled on their self-resurrection capability since “not-dying” is ultimately one of the most powerful tools in any game. And as such, at least one Titan would be asked to run bubbles during end game content, and Warlocks were often shoehorned into self-rez as a backup.

A Semblance of Control

This continued on for the entire first year of the game, until the Taken King which completed the trinity of light-based subclasses. And while Titans got orange colored throwing hammers and Warlocks got electric blue Emperor Palpatine hands, Hunters got access to the first iteration of crowd control with the Shadowshot: a power super that would tether large groups of enemies providing the first any sort of crowd control available. Inevitably, this meant that in Player versus Environment activities, Hunters erred towards Nightstalkers.

Rise of Iron didn’t change the class dynamics significantly, so we’ll just skip to Destiny 2 Vanila, where one of the bigger fundamental changes were the additions of class specific abilities. Just like that Warlocks had access to rifts, Titans had a physical barricade they could manifest, and the dodge was democratized to all Hunter subclasses and given some utility. These abilities added just an additional dimension to the playstyle and truly made the different classes play differently.

And now there is support for support?

All of this came to a head when Forsaken came around as Bungie decided to create an actual, traditional Support class with the alternate super for Dawnblades: the Well of Radiance. With actual healing grenades and a super that created an empowering field that both bolstered damage and health regen, the Well became a staple for all end game content.

The next paradigm shift would come two expansions later with Beyond Light introducing Stasis, the first proper crowd control-based element that provided a wholly new playstyle with the ability to slow/freeze/shatter enemies. Over the course of the year, Stasis would become a potent part of the sandbox, most notably the Bleak Watcher from Warlocks that created an autonomous turret that could minimize threats all on its own.

Of course, this power creep led Bungie to revisit the light-based classes with Witch Queen. Over three seasons, we saw Void 3.0 give Hunters an unparalleled set of utility tools with several ways to become invisible on command, Titans get a potent overshield near on demand, and Voidlocks remaining fairly untouched given that their kit was pretty potent to begin with. Solar 3.0 and Arc 3.0 uplifting the classes to match a much more aggressive and arduous sandbox. 

It’s during this time that the fledgling concept of D.U.C.T. implanted itself into my head. There were times where we leaned heavily into crowd control effects that led my fireteams to slogs of fights, and other encounters where we tripled down on offensive that would be great so long as nothing went wrong. But this era of activities had been analyzed to hell and back, so there are plenty of guides on how to navigate with the tools available.


Lightfall, which saw a streamline of buildcraft and introduction of another flavor of crowd control element with strand, also introduced the Mars Heist – Battleground Grandmaster, which inspired D.U.C.T.

Unlike conventional strikes, Battlegrounds featured endless waves of adds with a mix of potent high priority targets that could end runs if left unchecked. My fireteam attempted to go into the activity before the guides were finalized, and we naturally found ourselves slotting into the roles of Damage/Utility/Control. These rolls weren’t hard and fast delineations but more archetypes that helped address the parts of the Grandmaster. Crowd control alone would only prolong fights, but damage alone couldn’t break through the sheer density, and having to dunk relics in the midst of the fray could be a death sentence without some sort of way to navigate in and out.

And after successfully navigating that particular activity, that became the framework, the schema if you will, that I began viewing the builds in the game.

The typical Tank/Support/DPS trinity is predicated on dedicated rolls for large groups. Damage/Utility/Crowd Control trinity is predicated on the flexible nature of Destiny 2’s buildcraft where any class is able to slot into any of the rolls to differing degrees of success.

Damage and DPS are clearly connected given what DPS stands for, but rather than referring to straight up boss damage, Damage in Destiny refers to a more straightforward destructive power. The ability to clear the field in an efficient matter. The traditionally thought role of DPS is something all participants are expected to do in some capacity, which is why having a DPS role in Destiny doesn’t quite translate.

Utility corresponds to support, and while yes, some of the utility tools in Destiny are convention healing and overshields, a lot of them are things like invisibility for capturing points and retrieving items, making ammo, and bolstering ability regen.

Control fulfills the same philosophical role of a tank, but given that “taunting” only exists in certain encounters, the execution is a little more indirect. Rather than physically being the target of dangerous hoards, control mitigates their threat.

And the reason I have come to use D.U.C.T. rather than try to shoehorn Destiny into the prime trinity, is that D.U.C.T. reflects the flexibility of the classes and encounter design. 

Given the origins of the classes, a lot of them have retained their destructive damage origins. Striker, Sunbreaker, Arcstrider, Gunslinger, Voidwalker, and Stormcaller retain their focus on massive damage output. Newer classes lend themselves to control with Revenant, Shadebinder, most iterations of Berserker, and Threadrunner, whereas utility falls to Sentinels, Nightstalkers, and Dawnblades. Broodweaver and Behemoth don’t neatly fall into the same classification, but they can be tinkered with to meet rolls. 

And while I’ve placed a large emphasis on classes, the weapons in the games also lend themselves to a similar alignment. Disorienting grenade launchers become pocket crowd control, whereas the Glaive provides an unparalleled utility with a massive 97.5% damage reduction.

When the PsiOp Moon – Battleground came around this season, my fireteams’ team comp reflected this paradigm. Crowd control from the Berserker’s shackle grenade and empowered suspending barricade made target priority easier for our Stormcaller to wreck a path of havoc, while our Nightstalker skirted about the battlefield like a wraith, retrieving key items and deftly acting as medic and providing a safe route out.

Now, the D.U.C.T. schema holds most consistently for newer Grandmaster. Older grandmasters can be solved with an aggressive amount of damage rolls and lack the key objectives where utility would shine. Dungeons, which are designed to be soloable, don’t have quite the same mandates for these triple considerations. Raid encounters vary wildly and with six people, the rolls don’t scale like a traditional MMORPG. However, thinking of buildcraft in this way has helped improve my game sense and how I compliment my team. While I like the destructive power of Heart of Inmost Light empowered pulse grenades, I recognize the potency of having a crowd control option with Berserker, and the team safety with Sentinels. 

Knowing that there is a role to fit makes it easier to understand why certain encounters are troublesomes and others that have become “solved” almost. And ultimately, this is the power of schema theory, the transformation of understanding using the basis of a different model altogether and D.U.C.T. will likely not be the last time I leverage schema theory to become better at the game and explaining.

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  • Mikkel Snyder is a technical writer by day and pop culture curator and critic all other times.

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