Our recently announced sci-fi issue of the magazine includes an extensive look at Destiny: The Dark Below. We traveled to Bungie several weeks ahead of launch and played through the expansion. We have a wealth of additional quotes from the developer and details in our issue, based on the snapshot of the game taken during our visit. However, we’ve pulled together some of the most relevant and game-changing details right here.

What’s Old Is New Again – Upgrading Exotics

The recent Destiny patch brought some notable changes to exotic weapons, but next week’s expansion offers some additional big adjustments. Specifically, exotic items will become available for an upgrade to keep them in line with the new top-tier gear. 

Here’s how it works. Upgrading exotic weapons and armor is completed by interacting with the weekend vendor, Xur. When he arrives every Friday morning, he will now have a new option to upgrade one of your equipped exotic items. Each week, he’ll offer some (but not all) exotic items as being available to upgrade. 

You’ll need three things. First, you need to own the original version of that exotic item, and turn it in to exchange for the upgraded version. It doesn’t matter if this old version of the item is brand new or fully upgraded. To complete the upgrade, you’ll also need to turn in an exotic shard. This recently introduced new material is available for purchase for seven strange coins from Xur, or by breaking down another existing exotic item in your inventory. Finally, each exotic upgrade costs a hefty dose of cash – around 7000 glimmer as of my playthrough of the expansion in mid-November. After turning all three of these things into Xur, he’ll hand you a brand new version of your item with a higher defense or attack value cap. 

It’s important to note that this process resets the upgrades on your exotic item, but you’ll now have a new higher damage or defense cap to work towards – so you’ll need to decide if you’d rather keep your fully upgraded old version of a weapon or armor piece, or start over. With that said, the process of upgrading exotic items is now faster, and does not require ascendant materials. Instead, the last slot requires one additional exotic shard, as revealed in Monday’s patch.

With these changes in mind, players eager to start upgrading their exotics should be looking to save up glimmer this week, and also have enough strange coins on hand to purchase the requisite exotic shards. 

Given this new feature, exotic items are ultimately far more valuable and important than standard legendary items. Where your older purple legendary items are left behind with the expansion, this change ensures that exotic items carry forward into the new content, and remain as powerful (and hopefully moreso) than new expansion-tier legendary items. It’s also important to note that these upgradeable exotics are available to all Destiny players once the expansion launches, not just the players who purchase The Dark Below. However, only owners of The Dark Below can get new exotics that launch with the DLC.

Eris Morn, Quest Lines, and Integrated Story

The Dark Below aims to respond to some of the narrative criticism received by the initial launch of the game, and offer a more interconnected approach to storytelling than before. I experienced the nature of this story firsthand, and the resulting structure feels like a single, discrete narrative with close ties between disparate content pieces.

The uniting factor of the narrative is the new vendor and quest giver, Eris Morn. As discussed in last week’s introduction video, Eris serves multiple roles in the story. Quest lines are the main way she propels the story forward, which are used to unite story missions, strikes, and the raid. 

Quest lines are strongly inspired by exotic weapon bounties. Each quest line includes multiple steps, and the end of a quest line often provides a designated reward. For instance, the initial story mission quest line ends with the acquisition of Murmur, the new fusion rifle that can alternately fire both arc and solar damage. 

Upon completing the story mission quest line, Eris offers two additional quest lines that carry the story past those missions with smaller, bite-sized events that you’ll track down in the game world. One of these quest lines provides a narrative path into the expansion’s strike, The Will of Crota. The other quest line provides a story lead-up to the expansion’s raid, Crota’s End.

These quest line bounties offer a number of different tasks. In one bounty, I needed to head down to Earth and kill enough Hive soldiers to draw out a particularly powerful Hive Knight, and kill him. In another bounty, I needed to take on the tricky task of melee killing cursed Hive Thralls, which explode upon death. 

While these quest lines are just a first step for Bungie into a broader plan of expanding narrative context, they do indeed succeed at providing a more concrete grounding to the story. While Bungie offered no further details about future plans for quest lines, I am excited by the potential of the structure. I’d love to see these sorts of narrative frameworks provided by other characters in the Tower. For instance, I’d be excited about a quest line from the shipwright, Amanda Holliday, which leads to the acquisition of a specific new ship, or a quest line from the Speaker to procure a unique Hunter cloak. Both examples are complete conjecture, but the new quest line concept makes them conceivable. 

[Next Page: New details on cooperative play, nightfalls, and changes to raid loot]