Destiny continues to embrace a more MMO-esque tone as the months go by. The game initially started as a Diablo-esque experience with guns, set in a science fantasy, post-apocalyptic setting. The missions took full advantage of Bungie’s pedigree with shooting design and mechanics that played great, but were limited in scope, with a powerful sense of repetition setting in during the endgame. Now, The Dark Below, Destiny’s first expansion, is available, and that sense of repetition is about to get even stronger.
The Grind Grows
Eris is apparently a former guardian who has been hiding from the evil alien horde known as The Hive on the moon. She’s now returned to the Last City on Earth with a set of missions for players to undertake that involve putting a halt to the reawakening of a Hive god known as Crota. That’s Bungie’s narrative rationale for bringing in some new story missions, multiplayer maps, new strikes and a new raid, as well as the expected raising of the level cap with new gear to accompany it. This is all still very much the Destiny that players know and love (or left), just even more of it. With most of these missions and strikes recommended at level 20 and above, it’s clear that all this new content is endgame stuff aimed at the people who are still playing. New players are unlikely to be able to tackle these missions until they’ve finished the campaign at least.
And that is the biggest problem with The Dark Below. Bungie had a real opportunity to address changes that need to be made to Destiny, and they didn’t. The Dark Below is more of the same with some changes made to the design to create even larger time sinks. For $20—if you didn’t buy the expansion pass—The Dark Below offers a handful of new missions and maps which endgame players are likely to breeze through in a matter of days, excepting the new raid, which obviously takes a bit of coordination since it requires six people, and there are no detailed walkthroughs to follow at this time. Like Destiny itself, The Dark Below suffers the identical problem of having finely crafted shooting moments courtesy of Bungie’s expertise, that are punctuations in long, repetitive grinds courtesy of Bungie’s inexperience with keeping players engaged for long periods of time. Bungie has overhauled the base game itself in anticipation of this new DLC, and the result is new systems that allow players upgrade exotic gear (the highest tier of equipment) to keep it competitive with the new gear that has better maximum stats. Of course, either getting new gear or upgrading existing exotics means the stats are set at zero, meaning—you guessed it—time to grind to get those stats up. The grinding itself hasn’t changed, players either replay Strike missions over and over again, or go hunting through the various planets on “patrol mode” hunting up resources or participating in public events.
This problem of great shooting married to too much mission/resource grinding is the Achilles heel of the PvE and co-op component of Destiny. People that are focused only on PvP death matches and are probably entirely unaware of these issues. Outside of competitive multiplayer, there are problems with the design of the game and the philosophy of player retention. Bungie failed to capitalize on changing the direction of the game with this expansion, opting instead to tweak some cosmetic criticisms, like a more direct story, rather than address the grind that often made players decide to quit playing once the story missions were complete.
In some ways, Bungie could take some notes from Square Enix of all. Naoki Yoshida, the head Final Fantasy XIV’s miraculous turn-around, has seriously addressed many of the harsh criticisms leveled at the original release of FFXIV, and done so with many substantial updates, which, until now, have been free. Bungie, on the other hand, has been subjected to fans that praise the shooting of Destiny but complain about the demanding and unimaginative grinding requirements, and put out an expansion with even more grinding for $20. The missions themselves, especially with friends, play brilliantly, and once again show off Bungie at its best, crafting engaging shooting experiences, but then ask players to do those missions over and over again until the repetition kills any affection players might have had.
In the end, The Dark Below is just More Of The Same, which will be good for hardcore fans of Destiny that have accepted the game for what it is, but will be a disappointing for those that had hoped the game would change its direction. For $20, you get a handful of missions that play brilliantly, but end quickly, leaving you with new gear and several new hamster wheels to run until the next expansion comes out. If Destiny was merely your “poker night” excuse to get together with friends, virtually hang out, socialize and shoot things, The Dark Below will add a new but small wrinkle to your sessions. If you were hoping this would fix the repetitiveness that set in after the endgame, it actually makes it worse.