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Destiny's Dark Below expansion punishes the game's most important players

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Destiny could be defended in the past.

When others deemed its loot systems broken, I came up with justifications for them. When others declared the game mediocre, I explained why it was one of my favorite games of the year. I committed to this game, and mastered its arcane and counterintuitive systems.

Bungie has punished everyone who trusted them or invested time into progressing a Guardian with Destiny: The Dark Below, and vindicated everyone who agreed with the original 6-out-of-10 review scores.

The offense that generated the most discussion was Bungie's decision to include the expansion strike in the weekly heroic and nightfall rotation, thereby excluding non-expansion players from participating in the only relevant high-level activities available to them.

The Dark Below's sins run much deeper, however. The complaints on Reddit and Bungie's forum far exceed the run-of-the-mill gamer rage, because many facets of this expansion seem to have been designed with active hostility toward Destiny's most dedicated players.

The new upgrade currency model is horrible

In base Destiny, the last three upgrade sockets for legendary and exotic armo and weapons required legendary-quality upgrade materials called Ascendant Shards and Ascendant Energy, respectively. You could get these from dismantling other legendary or exotic gear, completing the daily heroic-mode story mission, doing public events and raiding. When you beat a raid boss and didn't get loot, you got ascendant materials instead.

As a result, upgrade materials became synonymous with disappointment for raiders; nobody is ever hoping not to get loot.

Bungie came up with a solution for this problem in The Dark Below: It decided to make players really happy to get upgrade materials instead of loot by making upgrade materials really, really scarce.

The new raid armor and the new legendary raid guns require new upgrade currencies called Radiant Shards and Radiant Energy, respectively, to upgrade. These only drop from the raid, which has has three bosses and two chests. If you get nothing but radiant materials from all the drops in a raid, you get a total of 10 to 12.

Each gun and piece of armor requires 21 radiant materials to upgrade. All the non-raid sources of legendary upgrade materials still drop Ascendant Energy, which is useless for upgrading raid gear.

Each character has four armor slots and the raid contains one of every type of gun, for a total of nine. To upgrade them all, you'll need 84 shards and 189 Radiant Energy. You'll never get that much, so you'll have to choose which guns to upgrade. And since the raid guns have the same damage output as the vendor guns, they're of limited use if they're not fully upgraded.

The shortage of materials the new currency creates will also cause other problems. The raid armor in Destiny has randomized stats. A chest piece can enhance your strength, your discipline, your intellect or some combination of two of those stats, and it can have a stat-point allocation as low as 120, or as high as 160.

In the Vault of Glass, since you had plenty of upgrade materials, you could upgrade the first raid chest piece you got to improve your Light level, and then replace it later on if you got one with more optimal stats. With the radiant upgrades now so scarce, if you spend your shards upgrading a pair of all-strength boots on your Warlock, you're going to be stuck with them.

Worse, because the game is so stingy with upgrades, the only way to reach level 32 by the launch of the new raid's hard mode in January is to do the raid on multiple characters of the same class, so you can collect extra upgrade materials without needing to upgrade multiple sets of armor.

In the Vault of Glass, people complained about the RNG causing them to never get certain loot drops. In Crota's End, people will be complaining that they can't upgrade their gear because they don't have enough upgrade materials.

The new gear progression disrespects past achievements

I expected the legendary raid gear from the Vault of Glass to be replaced with new legendaries from the new raid. I did not expect the legendaries from the Vault of Glass to be replaced with legendaries from the Vanguard and Crucible vendors.

But that's what has happened.

The new Vanguard and Crucible armor has 33 Light on each piece, allowing you to reach a Light level of 31, while the raid set earned from the Vault of Glass only got you to level 30. Since the normal-mode raid scales to 32, and a two-level deficit on all players makes it essentially impossible to beat the final raid encounter, it's necessary for at least some people in each raid team to purchase and upgrade a set of vendor gear to reach level 31 in order to complete the raid.

This loot model doesn't benefit anyone

In fact, the group that achieved the world's first Crota kill accomplished that feat by designating a seventh player to buy vendor gear and grind out upgrades while the rest of the group was working on the raid. When he was fully upgraded to level 31, he switched in to help kill the final boss.

Similarly, coveted Vault of Glass raid weapons like Vision of Confluence and Fatebringer cap at 300 damage while new weapons added to vendors with the expansion go to 331, which means using them in Crota's End is like using blue-quality weapons in Vault of Glass. So they need to be replaced by vendor gear as well.

This loot model doesn't benefit anyone. Since the raid is the only major content addition to the expansion, there's nothing for casual players who didn't run the Vault to do except grind the same rep over and over again to try to get better versions of the vendor guns they already bought once.

Raiders have to set aside their once-prestigious Vault of Glass gear and undertake the meaningless, repetitive and unnecessary grind required to upgrade another set of vendor gear in order to progress in the raid.

The new exotic upgrade path punishes the most dedicated Destiny players

There are 20 exotic weapons (two of which are PlayStation-exclusive) and 18 exotic armor pieces (six for each class) in the base Destiny game. Xur, the weekend vendor, has sold nine of the weapons and most of the armor over the last three months, and another five of the guns come from exotic bounties. Exotics also frequently drop in nightfall strikes and the Vault of Glass, so many of the most committed players have large collections of exotics.

Each exotic gun also originally required about 5,000 glimmer, 80 destination materials like Relic Iron or Spinmetal, 18 Ascendant Energy, and 300,000 experience points to upgrade. Many people have fully upgraded a number of these items. In the last major patch before the expansion, Bungie changed exotic guns to no longer require Ascendant Energy but, instead, to require a new currency called an Exotic Shard to get their last damage upgrade. Exotic Shards can be obtained from dismantling exotics, or purchased from Xur for seven Strange Coins each.

Like the Vault of Glass guns, exotic weapons obtained in vanilla Destiny have a maximum damage of 300, and like the Vault of Glass raid set, exotic armor has 30 Light. After the latest patch, existing weapons still do. However, when the same exotics drop or appear for sale at Xur after the expansion's release, they have upgraded maximum values of 331 damage or 36 Light — the same as the Crota's End raid gear.

If you already owned the item, Xur offers upgrades to six armor pieces and six guns randomly each week. Each upgrade costs approximately 7,000 glimmer and an exotic shard, and completely resets the gun's progress, which means you will need to grind all that experience and collect all the destination materials all over again. The final upgrade for each of them will cost you an additional exotic shard.

The system actually punishes players proportionately to their dedication to the game

That means that the more exotics you collected and upgraded prior to The Dark Below, the more progress you'll lose. The system actually punishes players proportionately to their dedication to the game, and it's the stupidest thing I've ever seen a major game developer do to its community.

If you were unfortunate enough to commit to Destiny to an extent that you play all three classes and collected all the exotics, upgrading them all to the new baseline will cost 266 Strange Coins and 266,000 glimmer.

If you do the hardest weekly heroic strike on three characters, you get 27 strange coins per week, and the cap on the amount of glimmer you can carry at once is 25,000. So you'll have to do 10 weeks of strikes on three characters, and farm glimmer for about 12 hours, just to erase all your progress on your collection of pre-expansion exotics.

Once these items are upgraded, you'll have to complete roughly 1,200 bounties to get all the experience necessary to re-level everything. I assume you will get experience for one equipped armor and one equipped weapon simultaneously. You'll also need to collect about 3,000 destination materials, and another 200,000 glimmer to buy all the upgrades again. And spend another 266 Strange Coins to obtain 38 exotic shards for all the final upgrades.

And I hope you enjoy doing this, because presumably, this entire process will start over when the House of Wolves expansion launches next year. This is your endgame.

The only justification anyone can seem to offer for this is that you aren't supposed to have a collection of upgraded exotics, and you're only supposed to pick and choose a few that are actually worth grinding multiple times. I wish somebody had told me that before I upgraded them the first time.

Bungie can still fix this

If Bungie recognizes that all these design decisions are terrible and acts quickly to mitigate the damage, it can still pull out of this nosedive.

First of all, the studio should ditch the new exotic upgrade plan, and just update all the existing exotics to match the new damage standard. This should be technically feasible, since they changed the damage on a gun called the Vex Mythoclast in a patch a few weeks ago. If for some reason it is very difficult to do this for all exotic guns, they should at least make the upgrades free, to reduce the absurd number of Strange Coins required to keep a large collection of exotics current.

The radiant materials should be eliminated

The Vault of Glass raid armor should be patched up to level 31, and the Vault of Glass guns should match the damage on the vendor guns, so players with fully upgraded raid gear don't have to bother with vendor gear as an intermediate step between the old raid armor and the new raid armor. Maybe the damage on the Crota raid guns should be increased to make them more desirable than the other weapons.

If Vault of Glass gear is upgraded to be better than vendor gear, Bungie can reduce the difficulty for the normal mode Vault of Glass and implement matchmaking for it, creating a new progression path for players who haven't previously been able to participate in Destiny's raid game.

Finally, the radiant materials should be eliminated, and all raid armor should use the existing ascendant currency; this new tier of materials was completely unnecessary. Alternatively, at the very least, the highest-level daily heroic story missions and the daily public event packages should be changed to award radiant upgrade materials.

Players who don't do the raid and want ascendant materials can do the daily mission on a lower difficulty, or one of the vendors in the Tower could exchange radiants for ascendants.

If Bungie can acknowledge its mistakes, maybe the developers can regain some of the trust they've lost with this debacle of an expansion. But if the developers hold course, the community is likely to be much smaller when the House of Wolves DLC launches. Most of us will probably migrate to less grindy, more casual games.

Like World of Warcraft.