Destiny’s first expansion, The Dark Below, dropped last Tuesday, and first impressions reveal a thoroughly mixed bag.
A patch dropped just before the expansion gave players a much easier way to gain materials and upgrade gear, which many of us took advantage of, before revealing that those items would be pretty useless. Exotics can be upgraded, increasing their max attack from 300 to 331, but they lose all upgrades along the way. Plus, the list of exotics which can be upgraded is determined entirely by Xur’s random weekly inventory.
Legendary weapons and armor from the first raid, the Vault of Glass, cannot be upgraded, and can in fact be replaced by newly available superior equipment from vendors. I completed the raid ~10 times just to get two pieces of armor…. and I’ve already sharded both of them.
Compare this to new expansions in WoW. Gear from the high-tier raids would never last you through the whole next expansion, sure, but you wouldn’t replace it immediately. At least if Destiny offered cosmetic options like transmog there would be a reason to keep it around, but there’s no way to know if that’s even in the cards.
At least glimpses of the raid armor & weapons offer more unique perks than those in VoG. I think every weapon from that first raid only offered “deal more damage to oracles.”
So itemization overall has been disappointing and confusing. The new missions are more rewarding, but do absolutely nothing to redeem Destiny’s empty shell of a story. This is a sore spot for me. The Grimoire cards reveal such a detailed mythology, full of interesting characters and environments, and we see only the smallest fraction of that in-game. This approach has not changed in The Dark Below.
Bungie’s attempt to improve their storytelling centers around Eris, a new Tower NPC/rep grind who dispenses “quests”, new bounties, and a selection of emblems, shaders, and upgrade materials. Quests are basically just bounties, and the ones introduced by Eris lead you through three missions and a new strike. There’s an additional, Playstation exclusive strike as well. These missions are fine, basically the same level of quality as those in the vanilla release… BUT. They barely introduce new areas, and always start with running through environments you’ve already seen a hundred times. And they have the same “get to this point, then defend against a few waves of enemies” missions structure as literally every other mission. It’s just getting old.
This new story line has all the same old problems. Destiny has no villains, only monsters. What are we fighting against? Is Crota affiliated with the Darkness? Omnigul, the new strike boss, and Crota have no dialogue. No motivations. We’re fighting them because they’re bad. I’m not really surprised The Dark Below doesn’t show a major step here; it had to be pretty far in development by the time the game first released and they got hit with feedback. Not a lot of time to make huge changes. But I’ll be really disappointed if we don’t see some serious evolution in House of Wolves.
All that aside, the meat of the expansion lies in the new raid: Crota’s End. While the raid suffers from the same lack of story/motivation, at least Crota is introduced in story missions, whereas Vault of Glass was totally out of left field. You can tell the majority of Bungie’s work goes into raid design, and Crota’s End is an excellent followup to the superb first raid.
The encounters are fun and challenging, and the environment is awesome. Fantastic design. I ran through it this week with a great group. We finished most of the encounter in 3 hours one night, then went back in and spent another 3 hours finishing off Crota. We had a lot of close calls and noticed a few glitches (along with one super frustrating batch of lag) but managed to take him down in the end.
It was exciting for me to clear the new raid so close to launch. When Vault of Glass came out, I didn’t get in there for a few weeks, and by then most people had a pretty good handle on it. This felt a lot more like uncharted territory.
One thought – in the next raid, I would like to see more variety in enemy types. So far, all the enemies you see in raids are just reskins of the same old shit. Well, I guess Atheon was a little more unique. Crota’s just a big ol’ knight. I’d like to see some kind of massive final boss, where we have to attack different parts of his body one at a time maybe. No more scaled up humanoids; let’s see something truly weird.