Destiny: The Dark Below - What You Need to Know

Space shooter Destiny can be a pretty fun game, but killing the same hulking aliens over and over in an attempt to level up your Guardian can prove tiring. Fortunately, Bungie has you covered with The Dark Below, the game's first official expansion pack, which features new missions, maps, gear and yes, even more hulking aliens waiting to be disposed of.

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Available on Dec. 9 for $20 (or as part of a $35 expansion pass) on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, The Dark Below has the potential to give Destiny a much-needed shot in the arm of fresh content. If you're thinking about heading back into orbit to face the Hive, here's what you need to know about the new add-on.

What does The Dark Below contain?

The Dark Below packs new gear, maps and missions that largely center around Destiny's Hive, an undead species that reside on Earth's Moon. An ancient Hive god named Crota was previously hinted at in Destiny's story, but now the Hive have seemingly found a way to revive the deity in order to destroy Earth. No big deal.

Your quest to shut down Crota and his followers will span three new story missions, which will be given to you by a mysterious new character named Eris found in the game's Tower. You'll be able to tackle new Strike mission The Will of Crota to take on Hive boss Omnigul, and, if you're up for a long, multi-layered challenge, take out Crota himself with five other friends in new level 30 Raid mission Crota's End.

Competitive types can check out The Dark Below's three new Crucible maps: Pantheon, Skyshock and The Cauldron. Pantheon is a symmetrical arena ideal for team play, Skyshock is a sprawling battlefield designed for vehicle combat, and The Cauldron is a close-quarters map that promises constant action.

Destiny Expansion 1: The Dark Below

The Dark Below raises Destiny's level cap from 30 to 32, and to help you get there, the expansion introduces a wealth of new gear and weapons. Some highlights include the spider-eyed Arachnid helmet, as well as Dragon's Breath, a menacing new rocket launcher that looks like a shark.

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The expansion's new missions, new Strike and new Raid seem to tell a more cohesive story than what we experienced in the core Destiny game. More importantly, you'll once again get to slay enemies with Crota's sword in some capacity, which is a callback to one of the game's very best story missions.

Is there any platform-exclusive content?

Just as the core Destiny game before it, The Dark Below will be launched with PlayStation-exclusive content. Those who buy The Dark Below for PS3 or PS4 will get an exclusive Strike mission titled The Undying Mind, as well as an exclusive four-barrel shotgun called The 4th Horseman. These items won't be hitting Xbox systems until at least Fall 2015, which is a bummer considering all parties are paying the same amount for it.

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Is there anything new for players who don't buy The Dark Below?

Even if you don't buy The Dark Below, the expansion's arrival heralds some pretty big changes to Bungie's sprawling shooter. A recent pre-expansion patch made the game's rare Exotic weapons more powerful, and added more direct ways to upgrade those weapons that don't involve mindlessly roaming around for resources.

While The Dark Below's exciting Exotic gear (like the aforementioned Dragon's Breath) will be exclusive to expansion owners, the update will introduce new Legendary items that all players can purchase in the game's Tower.

Destiny's daily Heroic and weekly Nightfall challenges will be raised by two levels, meaning they'll be more challenging for players who get their hands on the wealth of more powerful items headed to the game. 

For more nitty-gritty details on how Bungie is changing Destiny, you can check out the developer's exhaustive patch notes. If The Dark Below seems like a sweet deal to you, get ready to level up those Exotics and charge into Crota's cave. We'll see you in orbit.

Mike Andronico is an Associate Editor at Tom's Guide. The Dark Below may reignite his Destiny addiction. Follow Mike @MikeAndronico. Follow us @TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+.

Michael Andronico

Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.