I care a lot about fashion in games. A lot of the time, I find it one of the most overlooked aspects in games criticism. Not just looking at the meticulous design of characters, but looking at the clothes on their backs too.
I've always seen clothes as a direct reflection of myself. I dress depending on the mood, the weather, the occasion; sometimes everything combined. In games, even if I don't have the opportunity to customize my own looks, I look at a character's style as essential to their identity. JRPGs exemplify this trait, with each party member's clothes usually showing something new about themselves; such as in Final Fantasy XIII, where the characters Fang and Vanille have outfits that directly complement one another's, showing their past closeness before the two heroines are even share the same screen. In the recent game Uncharted: Lost Legacy, at one point co-lead Nadine quips that partner Chloe shouldn't be wearing a bright red shirt in a combat environment because it makes her stand out amidst the greenery. But Chloe doesn't care. The shirt represents her general casual attitude.
In some games though, constructing your character's outfits is everything. It's another way to engage with a game, but on a far more personal level. In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, I'd spend hours hand drawing my own designs for a particular dress, or alternatively, hunted within miscellaneous forums and blogs for QR codes of outfits to scan. (And yes, I do have J-Pop star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's best music video outfits embedded in my game.)
In Bungie's first foray outside of Halo within the shared-world shooter Destiny, they tickled the same itch for many players. While I bounced off of the game once I hit the level cap, a community of "Destiny Fashion" aficionados rose across social media—notably on Reddit—to share their uniquely curated outfits to an audience that cared. Just like that, a community of fashion-savvy space Warlocks, Titans, and Hunters, the three classes of Destiny, arose.
But I worry for their sustainability now. With Destiny 2's new consumable shaders that cost Glimmer (the in-game currency) to even use, is it going to make Destiny-made fashion suffer? Will the promise Destiny fashion die under Bungie's new decree?
Skimming the specific subreddit casually, it doesn't seem so. Players are still sharing their looks, now more customizable technically than ever before. But there's still the fear of the use-'em-and-lose'em of Shaders. For me personally, from observations I've made in Destiny 2's social space, and from interacting with friends, it seems a lot have fallen into what I'm going to call Shader Hoarder Syndrome.
Shaders, like all gear and shiny things in Destiny 2, have different levels of rarity. White is basic. Green is uncommon. Blue is rare. Purple is legendary. Gold, well, gold is exotic. Gold is the top tier for items you can get. You can't slap a shader on their guns (though there are "ornaments" to change their style), and you can only wear one exotic piece of armor and have one exotic weapon equipped at once. All's fair in love and power balancing to discourage unfair tilt.
As a result of the new Shaders system, where before a shader could be used infinitely, I've found myself hoarding the specific hues. For the legendaries, I have bright watermelon-themed colors and the extra-special white and light blue of "Xenosilver" kept on reserve for a special exotic. For the uncommons, I have a dozen of an ugly camouflage I doubt I'll ever use, as well as other common shaders that I slap in desperation on some higher-tier clothes to make it look at least slightly better. But mostly, my outfits have been a whole lot of what you see below in my colleague Mike Williams' get-up: complete messes. Fashion no-nos. What Cher from Clueless might call a full-on Monet.
Destiny Fashion's subreddit has a specific motto: "Look good, play good." For the community, dressing their Guardians as best as they can be is nearly as important as skill itself. What's even the point of frolicking as a space wizard-type with powerful guns if you can't even dress snazzy while doing so?
Clothes in games, especially multiplayer skewing ones, are markers of identity and singularity. In Destiny 2, shaders can finally be mixed and matched at last, meaning a set shader of four colors doesn't coat an entire outfit anymore; it only coats an individual helmet or boots if you wish. If only you didn't lose it as soon as you used it. (And coating over an already shader-covered item doesn't net you the old shader back. It's gone forever.)
It's frustrating, to say the least. In the first Destiny, shaders were a badge of honor. They screamed, "Look at me, I did this hard thing to get this dope color of armor." Now with hardly anyone I see even using shaders because they're afraid of losing them, they only scream, "Look at me, I wasted this on armor that I'll end up replacing as soon as I get more powerful gear in my next quest. Then I'll be filled with a lifetime of regret, yippee!" While it doesn't spell the end for Destiny-inclined in-game fashion, it does spell more cautious shading in the future.
Yet as I live and breathe, I'm still seeing some remarkably coordinated outfits, some that have made me seethe with jealousy. One looked like an elaborate king, radiant in all-white. Another was a gold-embellished pharoah. Another with cute bubblegum pink attire. My first true "look" was one that I hoped made others feel the same: consumed by sheer jealousy. I dyed an Exotic coat I got by chance a bright white; I threw a shader onto a legendary helmet, making it look like carbon fiber with a touch of gold. I looked incredibly good for a time. That is, until I was woefully underpowered, Exotic included so I could no longer really strengthen it through breaking down other items for "infusions." I had to move onto a new Exotic to equip: much stronger boots that had glowing blue things on them. But they don't look as cool, and that's a shame.
That's the primary issue with the new Shaders system. Players are now incapable of changing the colors of their outfits depending on their mood, depending on the scenario, like a normal person in their day-to-day life might. Instead, their colors are trapped in the confines of a particular item. We're stuck in a no-win scenario. We're afraid to lose the shaders by replacing it with something new, or we simply cast the item aside wholly to make way for another stronger piece (and in all likelihood, uglier, as RPGs tend to curse me… looking at you, The Witcher 3).
I wonder, with all the outcry in the media and among fans, if Bungie will ever walk back on this new system. Or at least, maybe implement a compromise like it not costing Glimmer to apply, or allowing you to get back old shaders that you override with others or dismantle entirely. It's probable though that nothing will change. Sure, as director Luke Smith says, after reaching Level 20 Shaders do pop up more like candy. But it's candy I don't want to eat, because it's too sweet, it's just a treat, and I feel like I have to wait until the most opportune time, as to not mess it up. It's like a fancy dessert.
And that's not what fashion is all about. Fashion is about living in the moment, in changing your outfits according to whatever you wish. The first Destiny, surprisingly, found a community rooted in that. Up until the day before Destiny 2 came out, players flocked to the subreddit to share their farewell outfits; showing off their looks for one fateful final time. Almost accidentally, Destiny became a lite-MMO in part defined by the customization of its outfits, in a way like how The World Ends With You is a JRPG defined by its stylish fashion, as was Destiny in its social-skewing fashion. As players dressed up according to Raids, Strikes, a stream of Crucible matches, and so on, as they did when they just wanted to show off a cool look, just because it looked swell. They embraced the stylish side of the game, where so many often ignore.
Destiny 2's new Shader system works squarely against the first game's. While some players won't care, there are still the ones who do. We can only hope for a compromise, a change, or at the very least increased Shader loot drops at this point. In all probability though, this might be what we're stuck with. We're all afflicted with Shader Hoarder Syndrome, and I doubt I'll ever toss that special Xenosilver onto anything because it's too special and good-looking to lose.