Three months following the game's initial launch, Destiny's first piece of major DLC is finally upon us. But does The Dark Below address many players' concerns with the game proper, or are we simply looking at more of the same?
Well, there's no need to be coy about it since it's right there in the bloody title of the article; the answer is 100 percent, more of the same. If you were hoping that The Dark Below would beef up Destiny's story or systems to some substantial degree, then you might as well stop reading right now. While a little something extra is plugged into nearly every facet of the game with this first DLC pack, nothing here is going to change anyone's mind concerning Destiny as a whole. If you thought the original was tedious and uninspired, you're going to be equally disappointed by The Dark Below. If, however, you're one of those players who enjoys Destiny's brand of storytelling, reward systems and tight gunplay, then you're in for a dose of exactly that.
First, let's take a look at The Dark Below by the numbers. You're getting a trio of new story missions revolving around Eris Morn, a new Tower inhabitant with a severe case of “oh, wow, does she have three glowing eyes that are crying oil?” This lady was part of the original strike team sent to take down the Hive god, Crota; a mission that apparently went sideways in record time. Now she's back at the tower, trying to recruit able-bodies Guardians with enough grit to shine a light into the darkest corners of the moon.
This amounts to three new story missions that, while extremely short, at least offer some decent shooting and much-improved story telling courtesy of one-sided dialogues with Eris herself. If you weren't a fan of your Ghost's commentary during the game proper, then this is a huge step in the right direction. I still hold that a couple of cutscenes placed here and there to introduce these new characters would help make our allies in the Tower feel less like mission/gear vending machines, but at least Eris' chatter during the missions is interesting and well executed.
These quick missions lead directly into the DLC's main attraction, the new six-player raid, Crota's end. Just like the Vault of Glass from the game proper, Crota's End is a multi-sectioned shoot-a-thon that requires cooperation and a hell of a lot of bullets to muscle your way through, with some of the game's biggest rewards in terms of both gameplay and loot.
Speaking of loot, there's lots of new goodies to be had once you download The Dark Below. There are multiple new suits of armor for each Guardian class, lots of new weapons to discover and more. You'll earn the best gear more easily by tackling the raid, or you can rely on luck or purchase some decent new duds from Eris or the rest of the game's various vendors. Said gear has the ability to take your Guardian up to a new max level of 32, which is probably a good goal to shoot for if you hope to stand a chance against Crota.
For those of you with only a couple of friends handy, The Dark Below also offers a pair of new Strikes to sink your teeth into, with Will of Crota available to all players and The Undying Mind serving as a PlayStation exclusive until next fall. Since The Undying Mind isn't directly connected to this whole Crota business, those of you gaming on the Xbox shouldn't feel all that worried about continuity or anything. But no, that doesn't mean that this type of exclusivity doesn't still suck.
Eris also has a few additional quests and bounties for players to go on which, in turn, grants access to more guns and gear. But, just like the game proper, these all basically boil down to go here and kill X number of things, do X without dying, etc.
Finally, for those of you who prefer to prove your skills in PvP combat, then you'll be happy to know that The Dark Below also includes a trio of new multiplayer maps. Pantheon takes place in the Black Garden (Yes!) while Skyshock returns to Earth and The Cauldron is set within its namesake from the game's story. Just like the initial roster of maps, these are all well-designed battlefields that offer nice visual cues for cooperative chatter, open spaces, hidden nooks, the occasional mounted turret, tight corridors and, if you're playing on Skyshock, vehicles.
Considering the fact that most DLC packs for modern shooters simply pack in a foursome of new multiplayer maps for 15 bucks, I have a hard time arguing against The Dark Below's steeper $20 price tag. You get a decent amount of content for that asking price that's on par with the norm.
What I do have a gripe with, though, is a lack of anything that made me excited to sit down at this keyboard and type about The Dark Below. I'm a fan of Destiny and, yes, I'm one of those people who has no problem with its grindy-as-all-hell reward loop gameplay. But I guess I was hoping for something more inspired when I booted up the DLC for the first time. Instead, I walked over to Eris and, without anything feeling like a proper introduction to the character or the new narrative, I was thrust directly into the new missions that were over practically as soon as they began.
It all boils down to a lack of presentation. The content is solid, but I lack any real sense of why I’m going on these missions or why I should care. There’s a decent chunk of flavor text peppered throughout the missions themselves, but something is getting lost in translation here and I have absolutely no idea where the disconnect is.
Finally, there’s the now well-documented issue that when the new Strikes pop up in the weekly rotation of Heroic and Nightfall events, it effectively locks non-DLC players out of those missions for the week. Given the fact that those are a huge part of gaining gear, resources and experience for late game players, that’s a huge oversight that needs to be addressed. It seems like the solution would be as simple as creating a second play list of Heroic and Nightfall Strikes for those who don’t own the DLC, but I could be wrong. DLC should never gimp a portion of the game proper, though, and that’s exactly what The Dark Below has done to Destiny at this point. I imagine things will only get more complicated when House of Wolves launches in 2015, creating an even more complicated concoction of players and what DLC they do or do not own.
Like the game proper, The Dark Below isn’t without its issues. If you plan on buying the DLC, then at least the greatest issue of all (mentioned just above) is averted. Otherwise, you shouldn’t go in expecting anything game changing. The storytelling, while improved, is still lackluster. You’re still going to be doing the same types of activities over and over again, working through a seemingly endless loop in order to gather and upgrade the new patch of top-tier gear that, let’s face it, will be replaced once again as soon as the next DLC drops. Those new multiplayer maps, Strikes and the Raid are all well and good, but nothing here is going to change your opinion of Destiny.
To be clear, I’m not saying your opinion needs to be changed, either. If you weren’t blown away by Destiny, then you have absolutely no reason to fork over more cash for this DLC. If, however, you’ve kept coming back for more in the weeks following the game’s release, then the new DLC gives you more reasons than ever to keep doing exactly that. It’s not revolutionary, but The Dark Below is a fair amount of content that will keep you busy for another ridiculous number of hours of grinding.
Players: 1 (With co-op/multiplayer options)
Platforms: PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360