Preview

Destiny: The Dark Below Expansion impressions, the highs and the lows

The more I play Destiny the better it seems to get; a theory that also applies to many massively-multiplayer titles. Now, I know Destiny isn’t an MMO as such, but it does share some similarities with the genre. With the ability to meet up with players in-game to take on missions, raids and strikes together, it offers a level of social interaction and camaraderie that is rarely seen in the shooter genre, while Bungie’s regular updates also ensure that the game world continues to evolve and improve.

On a daily basis, I learn something new about Destiny; another trick passed down from my experienced clan mates and PSN buddies to help me improve, new strategies to take down the Hive, and an increased knowledge about the game’s many different layers that aren’t explained in the game and are only gained from spending time in its company and with its community.

Subsequently, the more time I’ve spent with Destiny the more immersive it’s become. For those RPG and MMO-types that obsess over levelling up their characters, upgrading items and getting the best loot, Destiny is as addictive as crack-cocaine. Holding it together and providing its main highs and action-packed moments – amongst the more serious, sombre and sometimes mundane tasks of farming materials and attempting to reach that coveted next level – are some super-slick FPS mechanics.

Following PSU’s review of Destiny, I felt compelled to write a response to some of the criticism levelled at Bungie’s shooter. We won’t go over old ground here, but do read it if you have time. Destiny was a great game at launch, although I do feel that it took a while to get going with many hours spent repeating missions and scouring the same areas for materials before you reached the real good stuff. Inevitably, this put off some gamers who never did reach the sacred grounds of level 15 and beyond. With the support of Bungie, Destiny has improved since launch with numerous tweaks based on player feedback that have enhanced the game with the likes of weapon balancing, an improved loot system and the ability to chat with team members making it easier to meet up with people and enjoy the game the way it should be played, co-operatively. The next phase of that evolution is with the new expansion pack ‘The Dark Below,’ which launched this week and is aimed squarely at the core players, with a recommended level of 20+ to play the bulk of its content.

When I think of the phrase ‘expansion pack’ it throws me back to those times when I bought the likes of ‘The Shivering Isles’ to bolster my Elder Scrolls experience. With this wealth of content, players were treated to new realms ripe for exploration with 30-40 hours of additional content, new creatures, new dialogue, 200 new weapons and much more; it was ‘expansive’ to say the least. ‘The Dark Below’ doesn’t feel like that at all. Though I’ve had fun and enjoyed the hour it took for me to complete the missions, the following 20 minutes to complete additional quests, and a further 30 minutes to complete the first new Strike, I couldn’t help but feel that at £20 it’s over-priced for the amount of content on offer.

Okay, so let’s take a look at what’s on offer. On unlocking the new expansion pack, players will find a new NPC in The Tower in the form of Eris Morn, who offers a new set of three quests. The first mission, ‘Fist of Crota,’ starts off in an area that will be familiar to those who played the Devil’s Lair Strike. The only major difference in its opening section is that there are more Hive to contend with than usual as you head toward the Refinery; this is a theme that repeats throughout the missions with Bungie largely just adding more Hive into the battles rather than throwing in new enemy-types.

The highlight of the first mission is taking down a Major Knight called the Blade of Crota and then picking up his blade and using it (Halo’s Energy-Sword-style) to ground-pound and take out multiple enemies, earning your first new Bounty in the process (points earned here increase the standing of Crota’s Bane Faction and allow those affiliated to purchase its weapons and armour from the vendor). It’s certainly good fun seeing lower-ranked enemies get pummelled by this overpowered item. Heading into the caves of The Grottos, players experience a new effect that burdens their character so that he can’t jump in the air. It calls for a new strategy to the first boss battle against Sardon, which generally relies on running around in circles out of his way firing your weapon like John Rambo to keep him at bay. It’s certainly an entertaining fight, though the mission was over in less than 10 minutes on Level 30. I was certainly expecting it to continue for longer.

The second mission, ‘Siege of the Warmind,’ is much more interesting, with the appearance of Rasputin, a Warmind built to defend Earth. We learn that he’s protecting something within the Cosmodrome though don’t get to find out what it is: your task is to defend him from Crota’s agents. The mission, which leaves more questions than answers, is set on Earth, but there’s a great-looking new location in the form of Fallout-style shelter deep underground. Ultra Wizards, Knights, Thralls and Wakers of Crota put up a tough fight, which culminates in a frantic and exciting battle in the final arena. What makes this battle feel a little different to other missions in Destiny is that there’s classical music playing (Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6.) during the mayhem, which somehow seems to fit the intensity of the battle.

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Mission three, The Wakening, takes place on the Moon, which I found a little disappointing as it’s an area that I’ve explored dozens of times as I made my way toward the Temple of Crota. Once again though, there’s a new area of the Temple which looks suitably ornate, while the mission has some tense moments created by the sounds of silence followed by the piercing screams of Shriekers. There’s a new feature in terms of Vigil, which look like pools of gas that you have to jump over — step in them and you lose health. Just like the other missions, you spend time culling enemies before reaching the climactic boss battle, which takes a familiar pattern but is more heavily-produced than previous missions and the highlight of the story modes. In many of Destiny’s boss battles, there’s usually somewhere to hide away from the action to compose yourself when things get too chaotic, but I like how Bungie sneakily throws up a Vigil at the door of the one area where you could sit back and shoot enemies from afar. Try that tactic and a Major Knight repeatedly respawns, forcing you to go out into the main arena and fight head-on. It’s an enjoyable mission, but after a quick check of the clock I note that one hour has passed since I started these three missions (well, two-and-a-half), which left me feeling a little deflated at the lack of story-based content.

The absence of cut-scenes and any voiceover from the Ghost makes things feel a little shallow and empty, though I wasn’t too concerned about that as it’s really what I expected considering Destiny’s lore is largely played out through Grimoire Cards. On heading back to Eris in the Tower, I was pleased to see that the missions weren’t complete as you then get issued with Patrol Quests that task you with finding the hand, heart and eyes of Crota, which you have to complete in order to play the Strikes. You could argue that this is ‘new’ content, but all it really boils down to is searching around existing planets for a mini-boss and then taking them down. (You can save yourself the search by checking out our Patrol mission guide).

The Will of Crota Strike pretty much plays out like any Strike in Destiny with the ability to bypass many enemies as you head toward the objective, before facing off in a gargantuan battle against Captains, Wizards and an incredible amount of enemies as you chip away at the main boss. Due to the sheer amount of enemies respawning, I spent most of this Strike stood in the doorway leading to the main boss room, moving backwards when necessary to regenerate health and use consumables; it was a death-trap entering the room where you easily get blinded by the sheer amount of bright flashes from enemy projectiles.

As a result, it’s not as visually impressive or exciting as some of the other Strikes, and didn’t require that much team-work and tactics to get through it, but there’s no argument that it’s still immensely satisfying to successfully defeat the boss. This Strike was no different and a legendary class item as a reward certainly made it worth the effort. There’s also another PlayStation-exclusive Strike in ‘The Dark Below’ and a Raid that veteran players can get stuck into. So, aside from the main story missions and quests, there’s a few more hours of gameplay to enjoy.

The main highlight of ‘The Dark Below’ so far has been the new maps in The Crucible. Skyshock, an old interplanetary defense array, is my favourite arena, with an open battlefield with downed-planes providing cover for ground warfare, turrets for firing off some heavy artillery and Pikes allowing you to zoom around the map causing a nuisance. There’s plenty of areas for snipers to take refuge, and it’s the first map on Destiny where I’ve actually done well staying put in one spot for most of the game and actually spent some quality time purely as a sniper. Bungie shows off its flare for map design superbly with these sniping spots giving way to close-quarter battles in the buildings in the middle of the map, while the position where heavy ammo drops is ingenious as players face a tough decision deciding whether to head out into the open and risk the wrath of snipers to nab them or not.

The next map is Panthean. Set within The Black Garden, it’s an ancient Vex Temple that is designed symmetrically, yet its maze-like structure makes it easy to get disorientated down its many stone-clad corridors. Hunters do well using its winding corridors to spring out at you and take you by surprise, though ranged-weapon experts can also enjoy the long corridor that leads from one end of the map to the other. This area has swiftly become a main point of action on the map and it’s good fun standing off against the other team before someone has the balls to either run down the corridor or go around the outskirts of the map and sneak up behind.

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Finally, there’s The Cauldron, an abandoned Hive ritual site. This map is my least favourite, but that may be because I’ve played it less than the others and haven’t got used to its unique layout. It’s a fairly small map, which ensures there’s a lot of action, but it’s also equipped with automatically-opening doors almost everywhere you turn that open and close when you get near to them. This can take you by surprise if you get disorientated. For example, it can appear that you’re in a room with only one entrance, but then a door will open from behind an enemy will rush in and kill you. Its design means it’s a map where you really have to be on your guard, constantly twisting and turning to work out exactly where those enemies you can see on the radar are going to spring from. Overall, the new maps certainly stand up to superb level design skills that we’ve seen in Destiny’s other maps and from Bungie in the past.

Finally, ‘The Dark Below’ brings with it some changes that will delight Destiny veterans. The ability to reach a new level cap of 32 brings a new motivation, while the Vanguard vendor offers a fresh range of legendary weapons and armor. There is also four new exotic weapons and a bunch of new exotic armour pieces to collect, giving players something exciting to aim for. It’s also worth noting that those who haven’t bought the expansion have also just got access to the new selection of legendary weapons and armour. However, some of those who haven’t bought the expansion are not happy. It has materialised that unless you have the expansion pack you can’t take part in the Nightfall or Weekly Missions associated with one of the missions on ‘The Dark Below’; and there isn’t an option to play another one associated with pre-expansion content. This means those players without the new content will have to sit out of playing a Strike about one week out of six. Obviously, those who have bought the expansion couldn’t care less, but I can understand why some might be aggrieved that they’re locked out of content for a week at a time.

While it does grate on me that I’ve ploughed many, many hours into Destiny and I’m still not strong enough to play the Vault of Glass, let alone Crota’s End Raid, I am now one of those players that has been totally hooked on its FPS mechanics and addicted to trying to get hold of the best gear and improve. That’s really why ‘The Dark Below’ disappoints me somewhat. Not because I haven’t enjoyed playing through the missions, the Strike or the many Crucible matches on the excellent new maps, but just because there’s no new planet to explore, no attempt to introduce more new characters or enemies, and a set of main missions that feel a little sparse in content. Of course, there’s still the Raid to come, which can take many hours to complete, but ‘The Dark Below’ does feel far from being an “expansion” and more like the unlocking of limited content that was already on the disc. Still, that won’t stop me from enjoying all that is good about Destiny, which has fast become one of my favourite shooters of all-time.