The first of Destiny’s planned expansions, The Dark Below pits players against a new foe, Crota. An ancient Hive enemy lurking in the Darkness, building an army to conquer earth and wipe out the remaining guardians. Facilitated by an introductory cutscene, the Dark Below sets the tone for an adventure into the depths of the Moon’s Hellmouth.
The Dark Below adds a new set of missions to the game, three story, two strikes, three multiplayer maps and one Raid. The story missions need to be completed first, and these are dispensed by a additional NPC quest-giver within the tower. The story missions themselves involve chasing down a Hive boss, as it seeks to resurrect Crota. This however, sounds more interesting than it is as from the introductory cutscene alone you’ll notice that Crota himself is merely an upscaled hive knight with a different skin, while the armies of Crota are merely the wizards, knights and thrall that you’ve become accustomed to during Destiny’s core experience. Although this is pretty typical of Destiny in its tradition of recycling its own content, it’s disappointing to see that the focus of this expansion isn’t unique. Similarly, the locations you’ll visit on the three story missions are mostly recycled from the main campaign, although occasionally you step into some areas that were previously locked away.
To say all of the content was on the disc prior to the launch of this expansion, isn’t fair. The locations may have existed, however Bungie have clearly added the missions in respect to patterns of enemy spawns. Unfortunately this is literally all that the expansion can be credited for in terms of what it adds to these areas. It enables you to access small sections of the game previously inaccessible, but these areas are merely filled with enemies you’ve encountered before. As a result, their attack patterns are identical to what you’ve overcome before, and subsequently none of the story missions are either challenging, or entertaining. Fortunately they don’t last very long, with each occupying a maximum of 15 minutes there’s less than an hours worth of story content here. It’s important to use the word story cautiously here, as the bulk of the narrative available takes the from of the introductory cut-scene with very little exposition provided beyond that.
The two strikes are a similar affair, borrowing much from the content already present in the game, and adding very little. The two Strike bosses are both merely enlarged versions of existing enemies, with Omnigul being a Wizard and The Undying Mind being a hydra with minor variation in shield distribution. It’s derivative, dull and while the content can be enjoyable if you enjoy Destiny’s core experience, it does very little to add to the game as everything present baring the Raid can be experienced within under two hours. From then on any lifespan is artificially extended through extensive requirements to grind in order to gain new loot, or upgrade your existing.
The final added piece of co-operative content, and probably the highlight for many is the Raid. The Dark Below itself is an entertaining affair provided you can find the team to run it. Here you need a coordinated team of 6 players in order to overcome the foes that await below. Those familiar with the Raid mechanics from the Vault of Glass won’t have much difficulty as for the most part, the Hive Raid isn’t especially challenging and relies more on gimmicks and quirks (artificial difficulty) that players aren’t explicitly informed of, rather than crafting a genuinely refined, or engaging experience. The same can be said for the boss himself, and while I won’t spoil the experience, this boss fight itself is rather simplistic and underwhelming in comparison to the time-traveling adventures of the Vault of Glass.
A larger problem is that Destiny now requires you to run this Raid to get level 32. In other MMOs, typically players will have a wide range of content and pathways that they can participate in in order to achieve the maximum level. Destiny is much more restrictive. If you can’t find a team to complete the Raid then this expansion certainly isn’t worthwhile, as it will be difficult to obtain any better gear than the level 31 items sold by vendors. Of course, achieving 32 itself is somewhat arbitrary as it doesn’t necessarily enable you to do anything you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to; you run the Raid on normal so you can get better gear and run the Raid on hard, you run the Raid on hard so you can get better gear and… run the Raid on hard again? It’s unclear what purpose this serves other than to waste your own time, perhaps Bungie expect consumers to achieve level 32 to prepare for their next expansion, but given the quality of The Dark Below expansion, that’s not a particularly enthralling prospect.
Despite these issues, personally I find myself invested in Destiny and it’s experience because of the group of friends I play with. Irrespective of the quality of the content I enjoy the core experience and the games lifespan is vastly extended because of those social interactions. Fundamentally this expansion adds something more for us to do, and that in turn facilitates further adventures with our group, however it’s a shame that most of this content isn’t especially compelling. The Dark Below simply doesn’t add much that’s worthwhile, and beyond beyond the single, underwhelming Raid and additional equipment there’s not much reason to invest either your time, or cash here. Some may find value in the experience based on the communities and social groups they engage with, however without an active clan that you enjoy playing with, The Dark Below has very little to offer.
The three multiplayer maps present another problem with The Dark Below. These three maps, while moderately entertaining fail to differentiate themselves from the core multiplayer experience in any meaningful way, by that I mean they don’t offer any distinct gameplay experiences of their own; there are no new vehicles or map-features that change any of the traditional multiplayer dynamics, so while a change of scenery is pleasant, they’re unlikely to prove compelling for long periods of time. A more crucial problem is the manner in which paid multiplayer maps segregate a community, and in Destiny’s case this reduces the value of this content. If you want to play the new maps you have to restrict yourself to a playlist exclusively for those with the expansion, the new maps don’t feature elsewhere. Being stuck in a playlist that merely rotates three maps isn’t entertaining for long, so the majority will go back to playing the regular modes and maps with the other half of the community. Destiny’s separate playlist prevents these two portions of the community from being entirely segregated, but ultimately you’re forced to choose between playing the new content, or selecting a more varied playlist without the new content you’ve acquired, and neither of these options prove especially compelling.
Finally consumers of Destiny’s core content should take offense to the manner in which Bungie have chosen to distribute its latest expansion. The sheer presence of the The Dark Below actively devalues the core experience as it now features weekly strikes, nightfalls, and daily heroic missions that are occasionally restricted only to those that own the new content. Content should always sell itself on its own merits, and devaluing the core experience to inflate the value of their expansion is a cheap, and abrasive marketing tactic that’s harmful to Destiny’s community as a whole.
- If you already enjoy what Destiny has to offer, then this adds a little more of that
- New Raid will prove challenging for most groups
- New weapons and equipment
- Story content is very short
- Artificially inflates value by reducing the value of the core experience
- Most locations and enemies aren’t new, but recycled from the core game
- Additional multiplayer maps serve to segregate the community
- It’s a grind with no clear purpose
Consequently, its difficult to recommend The Dark Below to anyone. While the expansion itself can be enjoyable if you can find the right group of people, the same could be said of Superman 64, and that alone doesn’t objectively make a good game; if enjoyment is dependent on good company then there will certainly be many that take little pleasure in The Dark Below. The largest failing is that it represents terribly poor value for money relative to the content that’s actually on offer. Raid aside, everything can be experienced in a matter of hours, and from there everything else is just a grind. Meanwhile the Raid, while entertaining with the right group of people, is relatively underwhelming with mechanics that initially learn towards artificial difficulty rather than refined, genuinely challenging design. All of the flaws from Destiny’s core experience manifest themselves again, yet present themselves in a package that represents respectively lower value for money. Ultimately The Dark Below could be said to represent everything that Bungie have learnt from the consumer reception of the core game… nothing at all.