Should You Come Back For Destiny’s April Update?
Destiny players have had a long wait for new content. September’s The Taken King expansion was broadly praised, both for its new content and the way it reworked existing mechanics. For several weeks afterward, the community was thrilled with the experiences on offer. In the interim, we’ve had a few small, limited-time events, like the Sparrow Racing League and the Festival of the Lost. However, there’s been little in the way of new core gameplay experiences. This week’s free update changes that, with a content drop that sits somewhere between a large patch and a small expansion. But if you’re a lapsed player, is it enough to bring you back?
That was an easy question to answer with The Taken King – an unqualified yes, thanks to smart changes across the board to gameplay, and an abundance of fundamentally new experiences. Needless to say, the April Update is nowhere near the size of that ambitious offering last September. But even stripping away considerations of the scope of the content, the April Update is a mixed bag of good and bad.
For many players, pursuit of the higher light values is the centerpiece of the experience. Bungie’s biggest success this time around is offering multiple viable paths to the new cap of 335 light. While not all of these events have opened as of this writing, players can engage with Trials of Osiris, Iron Banner, the new Prison of Elders Challenge of the Elders, Court of Oryx, Nightfall strikes, and even a refresh of the most recent raid, King’s Fall – each offers viable rewards to help push you up the ladder. I love this structure, as it encourages engagement with multiple in-game activities, rather than funneling the entire community towards one or two activities to repeat ad nauseum – a problem we’ve seen in previous releases.
I also like the new, simpler approach to infusion. By allowing players to gain a one-for-one light value trade-off between the item they destroy and the one moving up in power, there’s no more second guessing about whether it’s worth it or not. More importantly, it furthers one of the original design goals touted by Bungie when it first launched The Taken King: Let players look the way they want, and use the gear they like.
My only issue with the light value system is its seeming focus on equipped gear to determine subsequent drops, rather than taking into consideration your best gear, whether equipped or not. After numerous experiments in the last couple of days, it seems clear that the game is looking at the weapons and armor I’m currently wearing to determine subsequent drops, rather than examining the broader capability of my guardian to reach a certain level. When I equip gear that sees my light level hovering around 295, I mostly receive new loot around 295-300. But when I put on other gear in my inventory that has me at 310 light, it appears I’m more likely to see drops as high as 315 light. As such, there are times I feel obligated to wear armor and weapons that aren’t ideal for the fight at hand, simply to ensure the best loot. And just like it’s been for some time, the same is true when I decrypt engrams. I’d love to see the Destiny loot system do a better job of analyzing my full character’s potential, rather than the happenstance of my currently equipped build, and thereby provide freedom to wear what I want at all times.
I also find myself wondering about the value of chasing the new 335 light level cap. Few of the new or refreshed activities really demand anything above the previous cap of 320, and even PvP game modes that account for light power, like Iron Banner and Trials of Osiris, shouldn’t see a dramatic power differential between someone at 320 and someone at 335. Without much in the way of fundamentally new activities that demand the higher light value, chasing those extra 15 points feels like it has less value than it has in previous cap increases. Nonetheless, the Pavlovian desire to chase those higher numbers remains, and that has its own odd appeal, even if the reasons for doing so are lacking.
Prison of Elders
The biggest new gameplay drop in the April Update comes through two new styles of play in the Prison of Elders. House of Wolves players will recall that this round-based arena combat mode provides a fun and relatively uncomplicated series of combat encounters, capped by a ridiculous treasure room and some guaranteed cool loot, presuming you have a key to the big chest.
The key system is (thankfully) gone, but the chest remains, and the new level 41 Prison of Elders turns out to be great fun. Matchmade teams tackling a random mix of rounds makes this an easy path to some entertaining fights, even if you’re a solo player. The “Takenating” of the existing arenas looks appropriately menacing, but certainly doesn’t change anything functional about the play spaces. I enjoy the new challenge presented by seeing the Taken enemies show up here. They are relentless and plentiful, and mowing through them is satisfying. Even so, repeated plays reveal that Prison of Elders simply isn’t as engaging when you’re seeing the same enemies repeatedly. The constant appearance of the Taken can begin to feel a little repetitive, especially if you’re playing this level 41 mode multiple times in a row, as seems to be the intent. I’d like to see Destiny’s many other foes play a more prominent role, as they did in the previous PoE iteration.
The Challenge of Elders is a new twist on the PoE formula. A series of three set boss fights remains the same throughout the week, and different boss fights will rotate into the equation in subsequent weeks. A score is calculated for your team’s current run as well as a cumulative weekly total, and hitting a particular threshold in both values rewards a weapon and armor piece, respectively. To rack up the points, different actions provide particular score values, so it’s wise to tailor your style of destruction to fit with precision kills, grenade kills, or other bonuses. Take too long in a given boss fight, and your score starts taking a hit, but it’s not an especially hard hit. As such, even a moderately talented team will find it’s pretty doable to nail the required score thresholds. As a strong but not amazing player, I was able to manage a two-person run at Challenge of Elders last night, and the best players will be able to swing a solo excursion. Even if Challenge of Elders isn’t as hard as it might have been implied to be prior to release, it’s a good time through and through.
Next Page: What's new with storytelling in the April Update, and are the changes and addition to armor and weapons worthwhile?
Players should keep their expectations firmly in check when considering the new quests and mission content in the April Update. This isn’t a paid expansion, so that’s to be expected.
Even so, by any measure the single new story mission is lackluster, amounting to a familiar run to a location already visited, followed by the spawn of several enemies, and a boss that runs away before you can kill him. It’s brief and not especially exciting.
The new Blighted Chalice Strike fares better. While it’s disappointing to not see any fundamentally new areas to explore, this return trip to the moon boasts several enjoyable battles. The final fight against Malok is engaging and fierce, with lots of Taken Blights popping up, and the need to shoot down seeking orbs as they chase the party down. On the strike front, the refreshed Winter’s Run strike (now with Taken enemies) is also a cool addition.
The few connected questlines complete quickly, and while they do little to move Destiny’s top-level story forward, they do result in appealing rewards, including a great 320 void-powered sword, and for PlayStation players, an exclusive new sparrow.
With a few exceptions, the April Update is about refreshing and adding old gear and weapons back into the game, rather than seeing a lot of new stuff. That strategy will be welcome news to many returning guardians, as several of the Year One legendaries and exotics are fondly remembered, and it’s fun to see them re-enter the play space. Similarly, new players who hopped in starting with The Taken King can look forward to checking out some of the most intriguing options that were previously left behind before they started playing.
What I don’t like about this strategy is having to re-earn items I’ve already previously acquired. Year One legendary weapons like Shadow Price and Two to the Morgue were early favorites, but they’ve since been forced out of most player’s vault space, if only to make room for newer acquisitions. But even if you held on to these old options, there’s no way to push them up to Year Two levels. With legendaries, that doesn’t come as a surprise, but exotic weapons have always been different. If I had a Suros Regime exotic auto rifle during Year One, I was able to purchase a new Year Two version as soon as The Taken King launched. That’s not true with the three refreshed weapons originally acquired in Year One Prison of Elders; Queenbreaker’s Bow, Lord of Wolves, and Dreg’s Promise all must be re-earned, even if you had worked hard to get them last year. I understand the desire to give players something to work towards, but it feels like a betrayal of the hard work I put in last summer.
While many weapons and armor pieces are being refreshed, we do get a few interesting new items in this update. A PlayStation-exclusive sniper rifle, Zen Meteor, is probably the star of the show, thanks to its explosive functionality. But we also get some new Prison of Elders gear, and several other new armor sets, all of which look quite attractive.
I’m quite troubled by the primary method of acquisition for many of the new and most desirable armor pieces. The new Sterling Treasure system provides three chances for a guaranteed piece each week per account. But if you play one or more alts, it’s essentially impossible to acquire many of these armor pieces without either waiting for several months until you’ve decked out your main character, or spending real money to get them early. The subject deserves a more extensive opinion than is warranted here, and you can check out my thoughts on that subject if you like, but suffice it to say that I feel Destiny has now walked up to the line of where microtransactions hurt the game, and boldly stepped past it. The new system for acquiring some of the most alluring items in the game through real-money purchases actively discourages my love of the game, and makes me less enthusiastic about engaging with this April Update.
So Is It Worth It?
We opened with the question of whether it’s worth coming back to Destiny for this April Update, and despite some reservations I’ve detailed here, my answer is yes, but with some caveats. No one who was being realistic believed that this update would have the scale and scope of a major expansion. Even so, there’s still a good bit of fun to be found here.
Returning players can expect to find several tasks and rewards worth chasing. But there’s no denying that many of the encounters on offer feel like variations on an existing theme, rather than wholly new adventures. Tack on a questionable process for acquiring some of the most desirable new items in the game with real money, and some players may not feel like they want to engage in the same marathon sessions that have become the norm for Destiny players when new content appears. For my part, at the very least, the April Update has enough meat on its bones to see a flood of familiar faces returning to my in-game friends list, and it’s been a blast to catch up. If nothing else, Destiny’s players are loyal to the game, and it’s clear many are willing to take the good with the bad, if it gives them an excuse to return to their favorite futuristic universe.