It’s important to remember that Black Armory isn’t a traditional Destiny expansion, in that it does not contain early game stuff, there is no campaign, and it focuses entirely on the endgame. It’s also one of 3 pieces of content bundled into an Annual Pass that retails at USD 34.99, which means that the Black Armory is basically a $11-ish piece of content. That’s the perspective I’ll be judging it with.
For that money, it’s more than worth the price
In terms of things do, there’s a series of missions to unlock Forges, a Raid, one of nearly every archetype of weapon, and a couple of suits of armor – one from the Raid and one Black Armory set. Iron Banner also features one new armor set, a handful of returning weapons from Destiny 2 Year 1, but with random rolls to make them useful in the current state of the game. The max Power has also been bumped up to 650 from 600, but this applies to everyone who own Forsaken, not just owners of the Annual Pass.
The new exotics that were added with Black Armory – specifically Le Monarque, Jotunn, and Izanagi’s Burden also seem like fun. The latter two especially, but since I don’t have them I can only comment on the fact that they look fun to use.
The replayability of the Forges, in particular, is one of Destiny’s better additions to the game, because it is now actively possible to chase a weapon that you want. Previously, with random rolls, it was down to chance which weapon you got and whether or not you would get a decent collection of perks on it. There have been horror stories from as far back as vanilla Destiny 1, of players who simply could not get weapons to drop or who were missing a single piece of armor and simply could not get it despite months and months of playing.
Black Armory tackles that problem pretty cleverly by allowing players to specifically forge a machine gun, auto rifle, hand cannon, bow, sniper rifle, or pulse rifle from the Forges in the game. The shotgun and rocket launcher (also fusion rifle? I don’t actually know if Black Armory has one) are locked behind the Raid but also behind two layers of RNG – meaning people have gotten shotguns with lousy rolls, or no shotguns at all. Bungie really needs to return to the system they introduced in Destiny 1 raids, in which specific weapons and pieces of armor would drop from specific encounters – or find a way to introduce the Forge system of item chasing to the encounters in the raid itself.
The replayability that the item grind brings to Black Armory and the ability to chase specific items until you get the roll you want is what makes the Black Armory so much fun.
Plus, the weapons look gorgeous. I’m a big fan of everything in the energy slot – the hand cannon, the sniper, and the auto. If only I had the option to move items between slots – make the Orchid and the Nail kinetic, for example, so I could use them at the same time as Tatara Gaze – I would be a very, very happy man. All three, including the heavy machine gun, also sound incredible, which is icing on an already beautiful red and black cake. The first time I fired the auto rifle, it sent a delicious shiver down my spine – and there aren’t any games not named Destiny which can make me use a weapon just because it sounds terrifyingly sexy.
But for a piece of content – even though it isn’t an expansion proper – focused on an Armory, it’s still pretty light on loot.
There’s no seasonal vendor refresh and I don’t understand why
Vanguard armor is the same as it was when Forsaken dropped. As is Crucible and Gambit. Planetary vendors are the same, also. The only real chase outside of the Black Armory comes from the new Pinnacle weapons – Breakneck, an auto rifle from Gambit; a forgettable fusion rifle from Strikes/Nightfall; and the Mountaintop, a grenade launcher from the Crucible. Iron Banner armor is extremely easy to get and the returning weapons aren’t spectacular nor as reliable to get as Black Armory ones, so it doesn’t feel like the seasonal change did very much if you don’t own Black Armory.
Basically, if you’re a Forsaken player who doesn’t own the annual pass and doesn’t like Iron Banner, there isn’t really much for you to do in the game.
I think, at the very least, seasons need to come with a vendor refresh. For example, after I got my three Gambit reset in the Season of the Outlaw – i.e., in the three months after Forsaken released – there has been no reason at all for me to play Gambit. Sure, it’s fun, and I could be chasing super kills (the last thing I need for the Dredgen title) but Gambit feels an awful lot like a chore now, especially when the Forges are shorter, more intense, and more rewarding. The Forges let me either win fast or fail fast, while Gambit requires a three round investment in which I have to feel my soul slowly siphoned out of my body as people die over and over with fifteen motes because reasons.
Strikes feel pointless as well; the modifiers haven’t changed in far too long and I’m thoroughly bored of the ones that are available. There’s no loot to chase, Zavala’s strike rank rewards from Warmind – which I loved; I wanted that ship and was terribly proud when I got it – is utterly gone, and only Nightfall ranks are available to chase. Even Nightfalls aren’t especially interesting. My only interest was in Strange Terrain for the Osprey and Wayfarer, once I got both I haven’t bothered to play a Nightfall since.
The only thing I try to do religiously is the Dreaming City stuff, simply because I love the Ascendant Challenges, enjoy the bounties, and just generally love running around the Dreaming City because the aesthetic is gorgeous.
But, essentially, there’s this massive swath of content that has been available since Destiny 2 launched – expanded on with Forsaken – which offers no real incentive to play if you’re at 650. There are no challenges, no surprises, no rewards worth chasing if you’ve been playing regularly since Forsaken. A little over a month after Black Armory launched, I’ve run out of reasons to log into Destiny. I even managed to get my Hunter to 650, my Warlock to 647, and about two weeks ago decided that I’m probably better off playing something else.
(Which has been Red Dead 2, Dark Souls Remastered, and Warframe in case you were wondering.)
It doesn’t help that Forges are easy to learn and easier to master
The only real barrier to playing the Forges is your Power level. I completed the Volundr Forge in the first week of Black Armory at 611 (or something) Power, only because I was matchmade with two other extremely monstrous Titans. Without those two, I would have been stuck on Volundr for at least another week; that first completion gave me the boost I needed to get more powerful gear that week, and sort of chain-reactioned my ability to progress in the forges.
Mechanically, there’s nothing at all to learn here. Kill a glowing thing, it drops a ball, throw the ball at another thing, and repeat. This throw-balls-at-things loop is bloody annoying to me personally, because it seems to be Bungie’s definition of peak mechanics. Balls are everywhere. There were balls in Spire of Stars (throw a ball to blow up ship, like, wtf). There are balls in the Blind Well. There are balls in Ascendant Challenges. Basically, there is a surplus of balls and I heartily advocate for a recall by the space ball factory.
Bungie. think. of. something. new. please.
What annoys me even more is that a more sensible system for powering up forges already exists in Destiny, in the form of Gambit. Instead of ball throwing, the loop could have been kill thing > gather scrap > bank scrap to forge your weapon. The forges could even have been made vulnerable, forcing players to keep them from being blown up, dropping banked scrap at different damage thresholds which players are required to collect and re-bank for shielding on the forge or to restore health, or both. To add to the challenge, scrap banking should only be allowed at thresholds of 10, 15, and 20, forcing players to run around with more scrap to get a better benefit during forging. Even cooler would have been item/powerup spawns on banking scrap. Bank 25 scrap at one time? Get a scorch cannon. Bank 50 scrap at once? Everyone gets unlimited heavy for 30 seconds.
Obviously, add spawns would have to be adjusted to make the experience even crazier and more frantic but my point is that throw-ball-at-thing is overdone and needs to disappear from Destiny for at least a few years. Bring balls back in Destiny 3 Year 2 when they’ll feel fresh again.
The Forges are genuinely fun to play, though
Despite my grumbling, I really do enjoy the Forges; they’re the most bonkers fun I’ve had since the insanity of Escalation Protocol. Wave after wave of enemies, a remarkably short timer, a simple way to extend that timer requiring only that I play with some small degree of common sense, coupled with both legendaries and exotics to chase. Whenever I’ve logged on in the last few weeks, I found myself wanting to do forges not for weapons (I got most of the rolls I wanted) but simply because of how frantic they are and how fun they feel.
Matchmaking is a notably clever addition to the experience, although it does still require some tweaking so that people start Forges with full teams instead of struggling solo for 30 seconds only to have two others load in just as the ignition is about to fail. I can guarantee that if Forge matchmaking was not a thing, I would have been doing the Forges a couple of times a week, instead of a handful of times for a couple of hours every day.
It’s almost as if, when Bungie makes it easier for me to find other people to play with in-game, I’m more likely to actually invest time playing. What a novel idea.
So, to sum this up…
I enjoyed Black Armory. I think it was worth the price, I think it was fairly well done, I have enjoyed the Volundr, Gofannon, and Izanami forges. I did not like Niobe Labs or the final forge, simply because the final forge feels useless. No weapons unique to that Forge – except Jotunn – no real incentive to play it when it’s 650 and the other forges are easier, no new mechanics to differentiate it from the other forges in any way.
If you’re the sort of person who enjoys Destiny, this is simply more Destiny but with a more focused grind than the experience has ever offered. What’s especially enjoyable is that it offers a path to your own personal god roll with as little RNG as possible, which makes building out your endgame loadouts feel more productive than it’s ever felt before.
If you’re not a big fan of the franchise, there honestly isn’t much for you here. The experience is pretty grindy, if you’re below 600 or just starting Forsaken, you won’t be able to see the forges for a while and the Dreaming City offers a ton of stuff to do that’s much more exciting than the endless gun grind in a Forge.
Ultimately, Black Armory is the first instalment of a 3-part experiment. Can Bungie, which is notorious for underestimating a Destiny player’s ability to chew through content, semi-satiate that appetite by providing smaller pieces of content focused on the endgame and repeatable activities instead of story? I’m willing to shell out $11 bucks to participate in this particular experiment. Because I love the franchise, because I’m heavily invested, and because I’m actively interesting in seeing where it goes from here, especially now.
But, remember, this is an experiment. Not everything has worked. Not everything will. So if you enjoy Destiny, the Annual Pass is more of what you love. If you don’t love Destiny and don’t know where else to go, Red Dead 2 is goddamn fun. Go check it out.