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Destiny's first expansion looks to bring major changes to loot drops, gear, raids and more

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Destiny's first expansion, The Dark Below, sounds like it may end up being more notable for the major changes it makes to the game's systems rather than the new content it contains, according to a preview from Game Informer.

With Destiny's most recent patch, which was released this week, developer Bungie overhauled the way that exotic weapons and armor are upgraded. Game Informer reports that The Dark Below will introduce better versions of all exotic items in order to "keep them in line with the new top-tier gear."

Players will be able to turn in an existing exotic armor piece or weapon, along with an Exotic Shard, to the merchant Xur. He'll reward them with an upgraded version of that item, which has a higher attack or defense cap than the original one. Xur only appears in the Tower for 48 hours every weekend, and his array of exotic upgrades will change from week to week. The upgraded items will be available to all Destiny players, regardless of whether they buy The Dark Below, although there will be new exotics (and other gear) offered exclusively within the expansion.

Game Informer also says that The Dark Below will bring some challenging, interesting new gameplay elements into standard story missions — the kinds of mechanics that are currently found only in Destiny's sole raid, the Vault of Glass. The Dark Below will also offer tougher versions of missions in general, with the ability to try heroic and nightfall strikes at level 30 instead of 28.

Speaking of the raid, The Dark Below will introduce a second one to Destiny, Crota's End (screenshot above). And according to Game Informer, the developers at Bungie are well aware of players' frustrations with the Vault of Glass — in particular, with how stingy the raid can be when it comes to loot drops, even for those who have run through it numerous times. So post-expansion Destiny will "pay closer attention" to the loot players have previously received in a raid, although there's "still a significant component of randomness," says Game Informer.

The Dark Below will also put raid gear in a class of its own. After the launch of the expansion, players will only be able to upgrade raid weapons and armor with new Radiant Energy and Radiant Shards, respectively. Radiant materials will be limited to raid drops, but players will also be able to dismantle unwanted raid gear to get them. Bungie is changing the costs associated with legendary items, too: In addition to Vanguard or Crucible marks, buying expansion-tier legendary gear requires new ranks called commendations, which are earned for reaching every successive Vanguard and Crucible reputation level.

When Bungie announced the content in The Dark Below, many Destiny players complained that the package seemed pretty thin for the price. That may still be true, but at the very least, the studio isn't shying away from the existing game's problems — or from attempting to fix them. For much more on the expansion, check out Game Informer's full write-up.

The Dark Below launches Dec. 9 on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, with a sizable chunk of timed-exclusive content for PlayStation platforms.