Destiny 2's mysterious Black Armory expansion doubles down on putting 'hobby' players first

Until today, the details of Destiny 2's next expansion have been cloaked in mystery. Beyond a basic Battle.net listing that mentions a new activity called 'The Lost Forges', the usual shopping list of new quests and exotics, and a picture of a robot vendor, there's been little info about what the DLC will actually contain. Which is pretty weird when you consider it comes out on 4 December—ie next Tuesday—and it's even weirder when you consider that Activision recently expressed disappointment at the "underperformance against our expectations" of Forsaken, the big expansion that was released in September. 

A good reason for the silence is that Black Armory is not going to be structured like Destiny 2's other small expansions—the lacklustre Curse of Osiris and the much better Warmind, both of which added a suite of campaign missions with cutscenes. Back in June, Bungie announced that for the second year of Destiny 2's life, in addition to the free seasonal updates that all players get, such as revamped pinnacle weapons, new content would be delivered via an annual pass that costs $34.99 (£29.99), and includes three expansions that otherwise can't be bought separately.

These three expansions—Black Armory, Joker's Wild and Penumbra—do not feature a traditional story campaign, and the content will be parcelled out over a couple of months each, rather than all being released on day one. All of which will understandably give players who've been burned by the game in the past (so: most players) plenty of reasons to pause before throwing down money on the annual pass. Today, Bungie belatedly lifted the veil on Black Armory, giving us a glimpse of what's in store via one of its developer vidocs, which you can watch embedded above. 

We now know that the robot vendor is an exo called ADA-1, and she'll be our gun dealer in Black Armory. Over the course of the Season of the Forge, which actually begins today, annual pass owners will be charged with tracking down the lost Golden Age weapons created by three different families of weaponsmiths with Norse, Japanese and French lineage (you can see a couple of examples of their work among the new exotic weapons in the gallery below). The search will lead you to four Lost Forges, each of which is a new activity that will be reminiscent of Destiny 2's other takes on horde modes, Escalation Protocol and the Blind Well, with the significant difference being that Lost Forges will have three-player matchmaking—so no hanging around like a spare dick at a wedding.

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Black Armory will include 5 exotic weapons

Izanagi's Burden is a kinetic sniper that lets you trade a magazine of ammo for a single overpowered shot. Click here for full screen 

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Black Armory will include 5 exotic weapons

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Black Armory will include 5 exotic weapons

Anarchy is a Fallen-themed sticky grenade launcher which can create lightning traps. Click here for full screen

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Black Armory will include 5 exotic weapons

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Black Armory will include 5 exotic weapons

Le Monarque is a void bow that rewards precision shots with damage over time and AoE poison effects. Click here for full screen

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Black Armory will include 5 exotic weapons

Bungie has also published a new roadmap, laying out all the coming content over the next year, including free updates for all players. You can find that below.

Is that a hand cannon in your pocket, or...

The Lost Forges take place in new areas of existing destinations, and will also be time-gated, meaning they'll unlock over the course of the season (see roadmap). Which might sound like a fun throttler, but given the speed with which Destiny's most committed players chew through content, it's an approach aimed at avoiding the droughts between major releases that have blighted Destiny from the beginning. 

The Black Armory also raises the power cap to 650 and brings a new exotic quest line  for a returning weapon, in a similar vein to the recent hunt for Thunderlord, but hopefully a little more involved. The quest begins on 29 January and the reward will be The Last Word, a beloved fan-fire hand cannon that veteran PvP players have been clamoring to see return. Bungie has definitely got better at fan service over the last couple of expansions, but hopefully there'll be some less expected surprises in the Black Armory too. 

"Hello, yes, I found this in a chocolate bar and claim entry to the magic gun factory."

For the truly dedicated PvE crowd, Black Armory brings a new raid on 7 December. Bungie has dropped the 'Lair' moniker when describing the next raid because it's billed as bigger than Spire of Stars but smaller than Last Wish. Beyond that, all we know is that it'll be set in the ruins of the Last City on Earth, and that it'll feature vehicle sections using your sparrow jet bikes. As for exact specifics on how much gear Black Armory will contain, that remains to be seen. I do know that it won't feature any new strikes, which is a bit of a bummer given that one of the new pinnacle weapons requires grinding that playlist.

New ways to play

David "Deej" Dague

Yesterday, I spoke with Bungie's longstanding communications director David "Deej" Dague in a bid to pin down how else Black Armory differs from previous expansions. I started by asking about the inherent tension between creating an expansion full of secret stuff, and trying to persuade people to part with money for the annual pass. I began by asking whether he can even write exactly what's in the expansion on a piece of paper and give it to me.

"No, we can’t—and I think we are fine with the annual pass being a thing that delivers on its promise over time," said Deej. "Season of the Forge is an opportunity for players to come back to the Tower and it has things for every player to enjoy. As players start to show up with these new weapons and this new gear, leading to the quintessential Destiny question, 'Hey, that’s awesome, where did you get it?', then new players will be able to encounter ADA-1 in the Black Armory and embark on those quests to discover those Lost Forges."  

We are fine with the annual pass being a thing that delivers on its promise over time.

—Deej

I asked Deej about Activision's stated disappointment with Forsaken's performance in that recent earnings call, and how an expansion like Black Armory would be able to bring in new players, given it seems designed to appeal to existing ones: "I’m not a business analyst and I’m not quite sure what those other statements were about," he said. "We’re always looking to make Destiny a fun game that keeps people invigorated and keeps people activated with their imaginations and earning new rewards and enjoying themselves and if their love of that game bleeds over into other people’s lives and they invite their friends to play with them, that’s all a welcome evolution."

We also talked about the change in structure, and whether it will represent as much raw value in terms of new gear and things to play. Here Deej was adamant that Black Armory offers a better deal, largely because of the replayability of its activities. "I think it’s going to serve far better in terms of sustaining the Destiny endgame than another cinematic campaign that lasts for a number of hours and is embraced, mastered and cast aside by a community that wants a hobby more than something that comes and goes over the space of one week."

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I agree with the notion that what Destiny 2 does not need now is another slim slice of story missions, though I do worry that the Lost Forges will grow stale unless their mechanics are substantially more interesting than the Blind Well. At least each Forge will have its own loot pool, the lack of which was one of the biggest problems with the Well. 

Generally I'm bullish about Black Armory's prospects. Forsaken, as per our review, righted the majority of vanilla Destiny 2's sins. It's now a more hardcore experience, providing plenty of reasons to log in over the months it took for the Dreaming City to reveal its mysteries. Also, by ditching campaign missions, Bungie can now focus on creating more of those compelling, repeatable activities like the Whisper of the Worm mission and the Shattered Throne dungeon. In short, my hope is that Black Armory doubles down on pleasing those players who stuck around through the bad times.

Towards the end of my chat with Deej, I nailed some more specifics with a series of rapid-fire questions. Here's how he handled them:

PCG: Are machine guns going to get Ammo Reserve and Scavenger perks?

Deej: Yes.

PCG: Will you be bringing back more Year One Legendary gear and armour to bulk out the loot pool?

Deej: Don’t need to.

PCG: Are we going to get some Hunter cloaks that look as good as the ones the Speaker used to sell?

Deej: That’s subjective! 

PCG: Based on the screenshots, are Titans no longer going to have shoulder pads the size of hatchback cars?

Deej: I don’t know.

The new Lost Forge activities will seemingly involved throwing whatever these balls are around.

PCG: Who is [notorious Destiny leaker on Reddit] 'anonthenine', and how much trouble did he cause you personally?

Deej: Me personally?

PCG: Yeah, you’re the comms guy.

Deej: I have a German Shepard who loves me a great deal and when I go home at the end of the day, that’s really all I see—so he was no trouble to me personally. I was a Bungie fan before I joined Bungie, so I understand the allure of that... But I’m always telling people in the community: “Let us tell you what we’re really going to achieve when the time comes, you’re welcome to your conversations between now and then.”

I have, on rare occasions, reached out to friends of mine in the community and told them that they need not waste their time with the ambient beeping in the Farm, it’s not Morse code that leads to an ARG—but in terms of Reddit theories and wild speculation, that’s all part of the culture of the internet, and people who live and breathe their hobby playing a videogame, so I don’t mind it as much as you might think.

PCG: Why would I use an Izanagi’s Burden sniper rifle over Whisper of the Worm?

Deej: Because you dig it. Maybe you’re an impractical player, like me. Maybe you like the way it sounds! I have a Dead Orbit shotgun, it’s not the best, but the crack of the firing pin against the back of the plate of the shell... It awakens something inside of me.

The Armory opens

I tell him I feel the same way about the Gambit sniper rifle. As an inveterate addict with over 1,500 hours in Destiny 2, I am of course excited to jump into Black Armory. It's somewhat hard to square what appears to be Bungie's more hardcore focus and all the secrecy around Black Armory so far with Activision's desire to "re-engage the core" (bleurgh). But honestly, that's the accountants' problem. For me the biggest problem with Destiny has been the impossibility of Bungie creating enough stuff to keep players sated during the in-between months. Black Armory and its sibling expansions seem entirely aimed at tackling that question. We'll see exactly what the answer looks like next week. 

The new armor looks sweet—check out the new exotic fusion rifle the middle Guardian has.