Destiny: The Dark Below Review

Destiny got its first "big" expansion, The Dark Below, this week. Does it deliver on its promise (and price)? Find out in our review!

Editor’s Note: Our reviewer has not completed The Dark Below raid content, but after some consideration, we do not think its completion will affect the overall outcome of this review.

I don’t tend to buy most DLC. Why? Because I’m usually of the opinion that a game should be self-contained at its core. You should be able to feel that you spent 8-12 hours on a story campaign full of meaty gameplay. In my experience most DLC is extra fat on the bone, which can be delicious if you’re into that…But maybe let’s skip the food comparisons and get down to the point: I want to like Destiny so much that I’m willing to buy an expansion that will hopefully flesh out its skeletal story and confusing leveling system.

At a hefty $20, The Dark Below is the first “expansion” of the game. The word expansion isn’t usually used in regards to console games. It’s a word reserved for things like World of Warcraft‘s Warlords of Draenor, which is a good example of an expansion done right. WoD adds new stories, areas, missions, raids, level cap, and garrisons (housing) to an already very complex and dense gaming experience. It’s basically an entirely new game within the same world for $50 — $10 less than most console games. Oh, and the reviews were fantastic.

On the other hand, this “big” Destiny expansion adds just enough to the game to earn the DLC designation. But an expansion? Bungie seems to have adopted the MMO terminology on a whim. After playing through 3/3 story missions, a strike (although there are two on PS4), a raid (which I haven’t completed), the new bounties hiding behind the veil of “Quests,” and three new multiplayer maps, I’d be very comfortable calling The Dark Below “optional DLC.” There is not enough new content or expansion of the core experience to refer to it otherwise.

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For the most part, Destiny is the same game that launched back in September. Besides a couple of big improvements to post-level 20 grinding, it’s still a solid shooter with barely enough plot to scrape by. The art design and graphical ingenuity are still dazzling. And the PvP experience is very satisfying. There’s still enough there for me to stand by my “okay” review of the game

But Bungie had a great opportunity in The Dark Below to fix what was wrong with Destiny, specifically the narrative, but they stuck to their guns and delivered pretty much more of the same. Although Dinkbot is nowhere to be seen in this DLC, Eris Morn, an intriguing new character who has enlisted your aid to stop the Hive from bringing back the evil god Crota, gladly fills the role of cryptic storyteller in this expansion. Gone are the endless scanning sequences, but those wordy briefings before each mission are still at the forefront, new plot threads introduced and guided by Eris. By the end of this short campaign to stop Crota and his minions, I’m still not sure why any of it was important at all or what I’d lose by ignoring the DLC altogether (except the ability to play Weekly Heroic Strikes).

In terms of design, each level is basically a rehash of something you’ve played before. Besides the raid, which unlocks a brand new area on the Moon, you’ll be running through the same hallways and caves, killing the same baddies in the same ways, and collecting off-shoots of the the same bounties. I’m sorry I’m being so repetitive in this review, but that’s just the way it is with The Dark Below. You’ll seldom do anything new.

There are exciting setpieces every once in a while, though. One firefight early on in the story strips you of all of your abilities, such as double jump and glide, which forces you to think fast in order to complete your objective. But that pretty much is the standout moment in terms of surprises.

The Crucible is still the place where the game shines best. I’ve enjoyed countless hours in PvP. And it’s a real treat to get three new maps. I don’t like all three, though. The Cauldron, a vast system of corridors that lead into big, circular chambers for close quarters combat, is my favorite. It reminds me so much of the great Flood missions from Bungie’s Halo days. The Pantheon is a bit more claustrophobic: tight hallways that open up into a no man’s land in the middle of the map where most confrontations take place. It’s fun, but unmistakably a rehash of the Black Garden mission. Same goes for Skywatch, which I didn’t enjoy at all. Skywatch is sniper heaven, and therefore, very slow-paced. You kind of just have to hang back and wait for people to show up on your scope. Otherwise, you die A LOT. But Cauldron and Pantheon are enough to keep the PvP fresh. Perhaps The Dark Below could have been a $10 map pack instead?

The Will of Crota, the expansion’s main Strike, is a bit disappointing. While I usually enjoy the Strikes, The Dark Below offers up a mission that re-uses too much of Old Russia to make it unique in any way. Want to play The Will of Crota without buying the expansion? Go on Patrol in the Cosmodrome. Same effect. 

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Luckily, the raid, Crota’s End, is a bit more captivating, and a nice companion piece to The Vault of Glass. The setup is perhaps what makes it so. You’ve completed all of these seemingly connected objectives, and now you’re ready to face off against a god. Pretty cool. And the design and challenges deliver. I’m looking forward to finishing it. If anything of note happens and I’m suddenly in love with The Dark Below because of the raid, I’ll be sure to let you know. 

Otherwise, spend the $20 on a loved one this Christmas.

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2 out of 5