The Dark Below: How Destiny Should Have Learned From WoW, But Didn’t


I doubt you’ll find a game released in 2014 that has been more polarizing than Destiny. One of the most hyped games of the last several years, hopes were sky high for the next big thing from Bungie, the guys who made Halo. When Destiny finally was released and we all got to play it, impressions varied wildly. Some were extremely disappointed at the lack of depth and amount of content. Others were put off by the “grindiness” of the endgame. Many people, on the other hand, adored it. I started skeptical and came to the game fairly late. When I finally dove in, I absolutely loved it. I couldn’t shake the feeling, however, that I liked Destiny despite itself. I knew it was thin in content. I knew it was grindy, but I was enjoying myself so that’s all that mattered.

Coming on Tuesday December 9th is the first of two announced expansions for Destiny, The Dark Below. Bungie released an announcement about how this expansion will change things that I’ll be focusing on greatly. I should be excited for more of a game I’m enjoying, but instead I’m annoyed, put off, and quite frankly done with Destiny. They screwed it up. Let me explain why.

First of all, let’s get into the argument that most people have already heard before, is Destiny an MMO? As an avid WoW player for many years I feel like I’m qualified to weigh in on this. In a strict technical sense, I guess not. Destiny is technically not an MMO. In terms of what it does, what it asks of the player, and what its appeal is, Destiny is ABSOLUTELY an MMO. Whether Bungie wants to classify it themselves as such or not, that’s what they are. There’s a levelling process to get to the max level, after which there’s an “Endgame” consisting of a loot grind, reputation grind, a bunch of different currencies, repeated runs through the same content, and a hefty amount of luck-based gear acquisition.

Do you see a helmet upgrade in this picture? Because I don’t.

Quite frankly, Bungie should be glad we’re classifying it as an MMO, because MMO’s often get away with some pretty darn thin and repetitive game design. In an MMO you accept the grindiness and expect to be running the same dungeons over and over and over. If we don’t want to call Destiny an MMO, then what we’re left with is a game that had promise, but missed the mark badly in several key progression areas and doesn’t even come near having enough variety in content or story. So that brings us to the first expansion: The Dark Below. Available for $20 on its own or $35 as the first of a 2-part expansion pass, The Dark Below represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how to roll out a progression-based game.

It’s worse, because there’s a perfect model for how to do this that’s existed for over a decade. World of Warcraft knows how to do it. Here’s what Blizzard knows that apparently Bungie doesn’t:


Expansions Need to be ‘NEW’, Not Just ‘MORE’

Destiny was already heavily criticized for not having enough zones available at launch. It features four zones: Earth, The Moon, Venus, and Mars. That’s it. Initially the criticism was that Bungie (or more appropriately Activision) were trying to milk more money out of players by hiding more zones away in the expansions and presenting a pitifully small offering up front. The truth is even worse actually. This new expansion doesn’t even come with a new zone. Most of the new content takes place on one of the existing zones, The Moon.

Are there new announced enemy types? Nope. You’ll be fighting the same 5-10 enemy types (already a painfully small variety) you’ve been fighting the whole time. Even the new raid boss, Crota, represents just a very slight alteration of the existing Knight enemy unit. In a WoW expansion you get a whole new continent every time. Almost all the enemies you’re facing are new and fresh, and raid bosses are unique models you don’t see anywhere else in the game. They’re supposed to feel special. Nothing in The Dark Below seems very new. The better word is probably “repurposed”. They’re taking things that already exist, slightly changing them, and arranging them in a different order for us to grind through again.

The ‘Loot Treadmill’ Needs to Pause for a Breather at the Top Before Forcefully Ejecting Us All Back to the Bottom

This is one WoW has down to an art. When you’re playing WoW you’re constantly working for that next level or gear upgrade to make your character more powerful and allow you to experience more challenging content. It’s the basic “Carrot on a Stick” mechanic that is a staple of any MMO. When a new expansion comes out the level cap is typically increased, meaning in an instant you’ve gone from King of the Hill to Mole in the Hole. Destiny is doing the same, raising the level cap from 30 to 32. With that comes new weapons and armor that are going to render your current gear obsolete. People are okay with this when WoW does it, so why not Destiny?

I’ll tell you why, because WoW does it every couple YEARS, not every couple months. In WoW everyone has plenty of time to get to max level and bask in the glow that is endgame dominance. Even people who come to an expansion a year after its release have time to catch up and enjoy some raiding. Getting to level 30 in Destiny is really, really hard. I’ve put probably about 200 hours into the game and I’m not there. I’m stuck at level 29. There’s nothing really I can do about that until a special vendor shows up on Friday at which point I MIGHT be able to buy the upgrade I need to hit level 30. Based on this vendor’s history I have a 16% chance of him selling what I need, or I have to wait for next week or hope I get really lucky and get it as a random drop.

Honestly though, what’s the point? So what if Xur, Agent of the Nine is selling the exotic Warlock helmet I’ve been waiting for? I’ll get it on Friday, I’ll have to grind all weekend to get it fully upgraded so I hit level 30, and then on Tuesday the expansion comes out and it will all be for naught. Give us a second to relax and enjoy the spoils of our efforts, Bungie. Jeez!

Now there are plenty of Destiny players who hit level 30 over two months ago and have had plenty of time to enjoy themselves. But for every one of them, there’s another player who has been playing since Day 1 and running the weekly raids and strikes and checking the vendors every week only to come up short. Such is the randomness of Destiny’s loot system. WoW has random loot as well to be fair, but that loot doesn’t affect your level, and there’s such a wealth of gear options in WoW that you can get the upgrades you’re seeking if you’re determined enough, certainly if you try every week between the release of one expansion and another. Speaking of loot…..

Never, Ever EVER Take Away Something the Player has Earned, EVER!!

Destiny follows the same basic loot tiers that most games do. Common(White) < Uncommon(Green) < Rare(Blue) < Legendary(Purple) < Exotic(Yellow). WoW’s system is almost identical, as is Borderlands. Exotics are supposed to be the pinnacle of gear. Wielding an exotic is supposed to feel special compared to other weapons. That comes from the perks. For example, I have an exotic gun called Thorn. Thorn shoots darts instead of bullets and those darts poison the enemy and deal damage over time. It’s the only gun I know of that does this. Now let’s explore how Bungie completely screwed this up, shall we?

Exotics wouldn’t be very special if they became obsolete with each new expansion, so Bungie devised a way to let players upgrade their exotics to match the new content. That’s good! So how do we do it? Simple, go to a vendor and pay them with a very expensive item that can only be obtained by dismantling another precious exotic, or by buying it from Xur, the weekends only vendor. Once you pay that very high price you’re “rewarded” by having your exotic reset. Yep, you pay a super high price just for the privilege of having your fully upgraded weapon wiped clean, only to have to start upgrading it again to the new highest level.

Blizzard knows never to do this. Never EVER to do this. You do not under any circumstances take hard earned upgrades away from a player. Make the bad guys harder? Sure, but don’t do this. I worked for countless hours (because Destiny is so grindy) getting the damage over time perk for Thorn, or the invisibility perk for my sniper. Do you know how awful it’s going to feel when I have to actually pay to have those taken away from me? I actually don’t know how bad it will feel, because I’m not going to do it.

Forever 29….

It’s so frustrating because the solution was so simple. It was right there in front of their faces. Just add two more upgrade tiers to the weapons that get them up to the level of the new gear. Done! You can even make those upgrades really expensive. I don’t care, but never take away, only add. This is made worse by the fact that Bungie released a patch a few days ago that changed the upgrade system for current exotics. This resulted in a bunch of players dismantling and fully upgrading their current gear before this new announcement came through. All the upgrading they did in the last few days is now a total waste. Oh and also, you can’t even upgrade your new exotics unless the weekend only vendor decides it’s your lucky week. Anyone who’s played Destiny at all knows how often that happens. Any warlocks want another set of Voidfang Vestments?

Just before sitting down to write this article I contacted Sony and cancelled my pre-order of their expansion pass. I pre-ordered a couple weeks ago and was so excited for the new content to come. I knew Destiny had its flaws and was way too shallow, but I was having fun with it. After reading the changes coming with the expansion, I immediately was overcome with an intense feeling of fatigue. I just don’t want to do it again, especially when I got so close to hitting the top level this time only to fall short. No thanks.

Many will say that DLC is optional and if I don’t like it I don’t have to buy it, and that’s true. However, this is where Destiny is the most comparable to an MMO. Whether I want to buy The Dark Below expansion or not, other people are buying it and the level cap is moving up. That means that in PVP and when running strikes with other players, they’ll all be moving above and beyond level 30. They’ll all be using new gear and exotics that have been upgraded and destroyed and then upgraded again. The fact is with a game like this, you don’t have to buy the next expansion when it comes out, but you instantly become a 2nd class citizen when you don’t. If Destiny had embraced their place as basically an MMO, it might have known to learn a thing or two from the big man on campus in Blizzard, and maybe I’d still want to play.

But they didn’t, and I don’t.