Destiny is a game that has perhaps been judged a bit harder than it should have been, largely due to the Borderlands comparisons that circled around the title before its launch. To be honest, it’s probably hard to create a co-op focused first-person shooter with a focus on loot, and not be compared to that franchise. So, whenever a friend of mine asks if they should consider picking the game up, I tell them the following: “If you want a Borderlands-sized loot game by the developers of Halo, then no. If you want a Halo-sized game with loot elements added to the mix, then yes. Even more-so if you’re the type of person who mostly cares about great gameplay, and places much less emphasis on the need for quality storytelling.”
If you go into Destiny with realistic expectations of what the game actually is, chances are you’re going to have a good time. The same can probably be said for The Dark Below, its first expansion, although those expectations will likely have to be set a bit lower this time around. We’ll discuss the quality of the DLC itself later in the review, but first there are a few issues that I’d like to address.
If you’re still playing Destiny, you probably already own the new DLC expansion, even if you might not have purchased the right to play it just yet. You see, Destiny recently received a mandatory update, and the content for the optional DLC was part of that required patch.
Considering that we’re living in a world where bandwidth caps and painfully slow download speeds still exist for many people, I find it completely inexcusable for developers to force players to download their DLC before paying for it.
Even ignoring issues of bandwidth caps and Internet speed, we’re still talking about forcing customers to devote space on their hard drives to content that they haven’t purchased. Destiny is actually a fairly minor offender here, as I believe the most egregious example I’ve seen so far is Capcom’s Dead Rising 3 and its repulsive 13GB mandatory download of a paid DLC update, but it’s still all kinds of consumer unfriendly, and it’s a trend that needs to stop.
A similarly unwelcome issue comes from the weekly strikes that are required to collect strange coins, which are the currency used to buy most of the best weapons in the game. The strike this week requires The Dark Below DLC, and players without the expansion have not been given an alternate weekly strike to complete in its absence. To be blunt, it’s needlessly inconveniencing players who have chosen not to download the expansion, and is making it unnecessarily more difficult for them to acquire exotic weapons and gear. It’s something Bungie could perhaps fix by adding an alternate weekly strike, but it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
Lastly, there’s the matter of how the DLC handles the increased level cap of 32, which was previously 30. If you want access to better versions of the exotic weapons and armor you’ve spent hours upon hours earning and levelling up for, then you’ll need to use in-game currency and rare materials to repurchase them, and will also need to re-level each weapon and item again from scratch.
Based on how many hours players have devoted to accumulating and levelling their gear, this is a ridiculous and completely unwelcome addition to the game. Furthermore, only ten or so random legendary weapons and items are available for upgrade in a given week, and the upgrades can only be purchased on weekends, which just adds to the aggravation.
Okay, with all of that out of the way, let’s talk about the expansion itself.
The story starts off at the Tower, with you being informed by a new character that the Hive want to summon an ancient evil named Crota, and that you need to stop them. That sounds like a fairly epic task, but in reality it can be accomplished in less than an hour, at least aside from the raid. You might remember hearing about Crota from the Sword of Crota mission in the main game. Well, now it’s time to put an end to the dark god himself.
The first mission — which, for some reason, cannot be replayed after finishing it for the fist time — has you back on earth and looking through the Grottos to kill some high ranking official from the Hive army. The second mission has you on earth again and exploring a bunker under the Forgotten Shore. The third and last mission sees you back on the moon and attempting to stop the Hive from completing their ritual to wake Crota’s soul.
The two missions you can actually replay are short but fun. Both of them end in large rooms filled with enemies, so they kind of feel like mini-strike missions in that respect, especially the last one.
Through it all, you’ll be revisiting many of the same areas and environments that are found in the base game. You’ll also be killing the same enemies that you’ve killed thousands of times already. Then, after the three story missions are complete, you’ll be sent on a quest to find and kill more of those those same enemies in the same old areas yet again. After that? Well, you’ll be sent on another quest to kill some highly specific hive enemies that you might not find without a visit to the Internet. And after all that, you’ll finally unlock the strike, which is pretty much going backwards through the Skywatch area from the main game.
I never had any delusions of a completely new planet to explore or anything, but I had hoped I’d be able to say, “Wow, this part of the moon doesn’t look like any other place on the moon!” Sadly, that’s not the case.
There are certainly some high-points to this DLC, but even those are somewhat recycled. The three new multiplayer maps are pretty good, even if they are built using existing textures and scenery from the core game. One map is on earth, one inside the moon, and the last map is set in the game’s final area, The Black Garden. Thankfully, there’s also a new playlist devoted to The Dark Below multiplayer maps, which makes it easy to find a game using the new content.
Players on Sony consoles also get access to another strike, which was definitely my favorite of the two. The Sony-exclusive strike makes use of the Black Garden environment as well, which was a lot more enjoyable than going backwards through Skywatch. Of course, it’s basically just the Black Garden in reverse, but at least I’ve seen far less of that environment, seeing as it’s basically the end of the game.
The expansion also brings several new legendary and exotic weapons to the table, and you’ll get a new legendary weapon simply for finishing the three main story missions. After that you’ll get another quest that will eventually lead to some legendary armor. For a game with random loot, it’s nice to have mission rewards like this now and then.
The biggest highlight for hardcore players will likely be the new raid. Just like the first raid, this new one requires six players and doesn’t support matchmaking, which means no random players can join you, and you pretty much have to find a group of five other people who want to play a lengthy, confusing, and highly difficult Destiny mission with you. But I’m not the level 30 character that is required to play the new raid, nor do I have five other friends who are at level 30 and willing to join me. It’s a high barrier to entry, but should provide a good deal of entertainment for those who can meet its demanding requirements.
I’m aware that there will be some who ask how I can assign a score to the DLC when I haven’t actually played all of the content, and that’s a fair question to ask. At the same time, you can also ask if Bungie should be making people pay for raid content that many will never actually use. In the end, it’s all subjective, and I don’t believe that there’s an objective answer to any of these questions. Just know that when you see the score below, it doesn’t include the raid content, which seems to be comprised mostly of art assets and enemies from the moon levels of the main game.
With three story missions, three multiplayer levels, a new strike mission (two on Sony consoles), and a new raid mission, The Dark Below really does sound like a lot of content. At least, until you learn what you’re actually getting is almost completely recycled, at which point things seem a bit less inviting. It certainly doesn’t keep the expansion from being fun, but it does hurt the overall experience.
If you’re in the small percentage of people who have completed the first raid, hit the level cap, own most of the better exotic weapons, and are still looking for more content, then there’s a good chance that you’ll be satisfied with the content offered here. If you want new gear to level, this DLC definitely has your back. The same is true for those who are seriously addicted to the competitive multiplayer, and really want some new battlegrounds. But if you’re wanting story content and new environments to explore, and you don’t have five friends to raid alongside you, I can’t really recommend this add-on to you.
Destiny is a fun game with a lot of potential to become a great franchise. In fact, when its nearly inevitable sequel is released, I’ll be very surprised if I don’t purchase a copy on day one. But none of that changes the fact that this isn’t want I wanted to see from the game’s first expansion. Although I won’t deny that I did enjoy my time with The Dark Below, the amount of re-purposed content and reused game assets make this far from the necessity that it should have been, and that’s an absolute shame.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the expansion, which was provided to us.
Destiny's first expansion is a fun but mostly uneventful assortment of "been there, done that" moments, which only hardcore fans should consider purchasing.