Destiny's first raid, The Vault of Glass, was the best thing about the game back when it first came out. It was a mysterious, challenging adventure for six players, and gradually became an obsession for those of us who played it. The second raid, Crota's End, came out last month alongside Destiny's first expansion, The Dark Below. After many hours toiling beneath the surface of the Moon, I've got a pretty good sense of how that raid works, too.
If The Vault of Glass set the bar, how does Crota's End stack up? It's time to put the two side-by-side. To the comparison-mobile!
Vault of Glass: The Vault of Glass begins in the actual game world on Venus, where you'll find a huge circular door set in a cliff-face. The game makes you and your team occupy and hold three pressure plates while being attacked by high-level Vex mobs. Hold them all long enough and a tower builds, leading to a dramatic moment when a laser beam fires from the tower and into the vault door, causing it to open. Because this area can be found by any patrolling player, you'll occasionally wind up in a cool situation where random players chip in and help your team get the door open.
Crota's End: Crota's End begins in a standalone area above the Hellmouth on the Moon. Your group has to stand on a platform to raise a bridge out to the middle, then jump through a hole. You fall and fall and fall and fall, until you land in a darkened cave. From there, you have to run a twisting path through a disorienting, pitch-black labyrinth, all while being mobbed by deadly Hive thralls. You're weighted down with a special debuff called "Weight of Darkness" that keeps you from running and makes you slower, but you can wash it off by standing in the light of a lamp. Be careful, though, because lamps explode not too long after you get near them. Lead your whole team through the darkness to a choke-point at the end; defend that for long enough and you'll make it across the bridge to the next area.
Winner: Crota's End. This isn't exactly a fair comparison, since the Vault of Glass intro is one of a larger number of smaller sections, while the abyss/lanterns section makes up the entire first third of Crota's End. But intros are intros, and as cool a challenge as the checkpoint battle at the start of the Vault of Glass is, the Abyss in Crota's End has it beat. It's a change of pace from every other battle in Destiny -- if anything, it feels like Left 4 Dead -- and it requires a great mix of teamwork and communication. "Don't activate the lamp, I'm down! I'm coming but I need cover!" Calling out which direction to go next, adjusting plans on the fly… this is the stuff great Destiny raiding is made of.
The Middle Part
Vault of Glass: The mid-section of the Vault centres around an extended showdown with The Templar, a towering Vex Hydra boss with an impenetrable shield. Through several different stages, players must defend confluxes, learn how to cleanse after being "marked" for instant death, fight off the Templar's legions, and, finally, deal with a newly-introduced enemy called oracles, which must be snuffed out before your whole team is marked and wiped out. In the final phase, one member of the team must pick up a relic shield that can be charged up and used to finally drop the Templar's shield, all while dealing with even more oracles. It's a hairy battle that requires constant communication and teamwork.
Crota's End: The mid-section of Crota's End centres around a large bridge, which players must build and carefully cross. A player may only cross the bridge while carrying a sword taken from a powerful sword-bearer that comes out on the starting side, and once across, must deal with a deadly gatekeeper, who is immune to all weapons except the sword-bearer's sword. With careful strategy, teamwork, and some helpful sniping, a team can get their whole group across one by one before taking on a mob of enemies on the far side and completing the challenge.
Winner: Vault of Glass. The bridge section of Crota's End is cool in theory, but it has so many design-holes, bugs, and instances of weird AI behaviour that it gets knocked down a few pegs. Moreover, it just doesn't quite measure up to the Templar battle in the Vault, which combines so many different ideas into one long encounter and remains one of the highlights from both raids. Plus, the Templar battle gives you a chance to get Fatebringer.
The Thing Before The Boss
Vault of Glass: When you enter the Vault itself, you don't actually fight the boss straightaway. First, you have to activate the two timegates, send some of your party through, bring out a relic from each one, then defend a conflux in the middle from an onslaught of towering robot minotaurs. It ain't easy, and requires a lot of people in a lot of different roles.
Crota's End: When you enter Crota's arena, you don't actually fight the boss straightaway either. First, you have to take on The Deathsinger, a wizard-type boss who… wait for it… sings a song that kills you. (Disappointingly, you can't actually hear the song she sings.) So, you're on a timer, and you have to coax out a couple of lower-level wizards, kill 'em, run in and kill two shriekers to bring down the force fields around the central chamber, then rush in and kill the Deathsinger herself, all while avoiding a ridiculous mob of high-level knights and acolytes, more than you could possibly kill in the time limit. Weirdly, after you kill the Deathsinger, you're not done -- you have to spend five or ten minutes mopping up all the lingering enemies before you get the loot drop and the sequence transitions to the Crota fight.
Winner: Vault of Glass. The Deathsinger fight has been improved with the addition of a drop at the end (the fact that the raid launched with no reward for beating the Deathsinger is just… I don't even know), but it's still a weird, disjointed battle, and the mop-up at the end is a real slog. Meanwhile, the timegates in the Vault fit organically with the boss encounter that follows, prepping your team for activating and travelling through the gates, and familiarising you with the arena and its various parts.
Vault of Glass: You'll fight Atheon, Time's Conflux, a massive robot who periodically warps half of your team through one of the timegates, leaving them to grab a relic and clear out oracles while the other half of the team activates the gate and brings them home. Once reunited, the whole team will need to coordinate a leap to a central platform, throw up a shield, and let Atheon have it before getting warped once more.
Crota's End: You'll fight Crota, Son of Oryx, a massive skeleton knight who shoots white lasers at you and will kill your arse up-close with a giant sword. You'll have to bring down a smaller sword-bearer from amid the many smaller enemies milling about below Crota before pegging Crota with a bunch of bullets and bringing him to his knees, so that your teammate who grabbed the sword can do a perfectly timed jump and attack, fleeing before the big guy stands up and can one-shot them. If anyone dies during the fight, Crota summons his Oversoul, a huge sun-like thing that you all have to drop everything and shoot before it wipes out your team.
Winner: Vault of Glass. This one's closer, but the Atheon fight is more varied and requires more interesting teamwork than the Crota battle. Also, both boss battles are buggy, but Crota is buggier. (More on the bugs in a bit.)
The Extra Stuff
Vault of Glass: The Vault has several other areas tucked in between its various combat challenges. Most memorably, there's the Gorgon's Labyrinth, a stealth-based challenge that forces your team to carefully navigate a maze of monsters that kill your whole team if they get a look at one of you. There's also an elaborate platforming puzzle that forces you to make a ridiculous leap across a chasm to a tiny ledge, which you'll have to accomplish in any of a few different ways, depending on your character. And there's some generally cool traversal in between the other sections, like a cool bit where you make your way down a twisting hidden chimney.
Crota's End: Very little extra stuff in Crota's End. The main thing is a timed hallway with a couple of shriekers that you'll have to take out, then quickly enter the final room and leap through a rapidly closing door, Indiana Jones-style. Screw up the jump, and your whole team misses out on the chest inside. A fun risk/reward setup, but also kind of a bummer that someone on your team can wind up being the dope who blew the chest for everyone.
Winner: Vault of Glass, easy. The extras in Vault of Glass go a long way toward making that raid feel longer and more interesting. The Gorgon's Labyrinth, in particular, is a total change of pace from the rest of Destiny, and the Labyrinth's hidden chests reward exploration in a dangerous setting. It all comes together to make each run through the Vault feel like a gradually unfolding journey, where a run through Crota's End feels like a straightforward trip through Point A, Point B, and Point C.
Vault of Glass: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Crota's End: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Vault of Glass: While Bungie has had time to patch a lot of the bugs in the Vault, several remain. The relic can be a little squirrely, sometimes vanishing from sight or becoming impossible to pick up. Sometimes the Atheon battle will bug out, particularly on hard mode, sending you through a time-gate with an active force field. The time-gates themselves have some issues, and it's not uncommon to run through one, only to find yourself back where you started.
Crota's End: Crota's end is lousy with bugs. The various swords you'll use in the raid have a nasty tendency to disappear on you, or you'll find yourself mashing the button to pick one up and finding that it's become impossible. (Is that you, Excalibur?) Enemies warp from place to place during the Deathsinger fight, and the laborious post-Deathsinger mop-up feels like a weird, possibly accidental inclusion. Crota himself has a number of bugs as well -- sometimes he'll pull off lightning-quick instant kills that don't match up with his usual timing, or he'll follow your swordbearer down onto the ground, where he isn't even supposed to fit. The Hive Swordbearer in the Crota fight behaves erratically -- sometimes he'll come right out to where you can see him, other times he'll go hide in unlikely places. Many of the Crota fight's bugs feel more pronounced during a Hard Mode run (more on that in a second), when a single error or bug can cause your team to have to wipe and reset.
Winner: Neither -- bugs suck all around, and there are too many game-ruining bugs in both raids. No game is totally bug-free, but in Destiny, it remains too common to lose out on a flawless victory due to laggy performance, malfunctioning relics, or other stupid bugs. That said, the Vault currently has fewer bugs than Crota's End, and the bugs in Crota's End feel the worse of the two. In particular, the hard mode Crota fight is inexcusably bugged, and at times it feels almost random whether the game is allowing you to win or fail. Couple those bugs with the lingering issue that causes you to lose heavy ammo (which is more crucial for fighting Crota than for fighting Atheon) and you've got a recipe for frustration.
The Hard Mode
Vault of Glass: On hard difficulty, the Vault of Glass cranks all its enemies up to level 30, which was the level cap at the time it was released. That made everything a good deal harder on its own, since enemies took several more hits to go down, particularly for the many of us who were stuck at level 29. Hard Mode made it so that you couldn't revive your teammates, which meant that a single death was often a game-ender, and Warlocks became much more useful than they had been thanks to their ability to revive after dying. Hard mode also introduced several variations to the Gorgon's Labyrinth and trapped players in a bubble after Atheon's time teleport, the former of which was a cool change, the latter of which felt pretty tacked-on.
Crota's End: On hard difficulty, Crota's End cranks all its enemies up to level 33, which is one level above the current level cap. That means everything is a hell of a lot "harder," because even level-capped characters are fighting at a significant disadvantage in terms of how much damage they take and receive from enemies. Other changes: Just like the Vault, it's impossible to revive downed comrades. The Deathsinger's song feels sped up -- though, surprisingly, that section still isn't actually all that hard -- and the timed chest-hallway has been tweaked so that the shriekers respawn. The Crota battle has gotten a bunch of changes -- there's no longer a chalice, so you can't heal unless you have a rare weapon or ability that can heal you. There's now a massive gatekeeper down in the middle area, apparently to keep players from running to the lower central chamber when the ogres come out. And there's a wizard added to the mix, which is pretty annoying.
Winner: Vault of Glass. Some of the additions to Crota's End are interesting in theory, but the decision to simply raise the level of the enemies in Crota's End beyond the level-cap feels like a cheap way to increase difficulty. Crota's End Hard Mode doesn't really introduce more interesting enemies or force new tactics, it simply ups the level on the existing enemies to the point that even level-capped players will need a bunch of bullets to bring them down. That change is particularly annoying during the post-Deathsinger mop-up -- on a recent run, our surviving team members spent around 15 minutes clearing out seemingly endless swarms of enemies before the rest of our team could revive and help out.
The Stupidest Cheese
Vault of Glass: For a time, it was possible to use grenades to knock both the Templar and Atheon off of a cliff, causing them to die prematurely. This was never not hilarious.
Crota's End: For a time, it was possible to physically unplug your LAN cable and leave Crota kneeling, defenseless, while your sword-bearer went to town on him. This was never not hilarious... and a little sad.
Winner: Crota's End. Nothing could top that LAN cheese, and barring some amazing exploits in House of Wolves, nothing will.
The Best Peter Dinklage Line
Vault of Glass: "Guardian Down!"
Crota's End: "Guardian Down!"
Winner: The Guardians who are not down.
Vault of Glass: The Vault of Glass has four major loot drops and three chests, one of which has a chance for an exotic weapon. Highlights from the Vault of Glass' unique loot include:
- A warlock bond that glimmers like a disco ball
- A hand cannon called Fatebringer that remains one of the best guns in Destiny
- An exotic fusion rifle called the Vex Mythoclast, also a player favourite
- Several other high-quality primary and secondary guns
- A dang decent Hunter cloak
Crota's End: Crota's end has three major loot drops, two chests, and one chest-like drop with a chance for an exotic. Highlights from Crota's End's unique loot include:
- A titan helmet that looks like a deadly bug-monster
- A hunter cloak that looks like gross bug wings
- A void hand cannon called "Word of Crota" that is basically Fatebringer but not quite as good
- A sniper rifle called Black Hammer that has an incredibly specific application but is unstoppable in that application
- A rare (apparently really rare!) item that turns one of your auto-rifles into a (high fire-rate, low-impact, ew) exotic auto-rifle called Necrochasm
Winner: Vault of Glass, and not just because it has one more major drop. I haven't gotten all of the guns from either raid, but so far I get the sense that people will still be using the Vault guns well into the second expansion. Black Hammer and Hunger of Crota are both cool guns, but they don't match Vision of Confluence and Fatebringer for sheer utility and flexibility, and the hive perks that go with the Crota primary weapons make them feel more specific in their application. On top of that, while most of the Crota armour looks cool, a lot of the weaponry's Hive-theming is just plain dumb-looking.
The ship you can win in the Vault of Glass looks like this:
The ship you can win in Crota's End looks like this:
Winner: Vault of Glass, I guess, by default. The Crota's End ship is literally the same ship with a bunch of Hive crap glued onto it. It's a small thing, but it actually says a lot.
The Most Triumphant Moment
The Vault of Glass: The first time we ever beat Atheon was a real moment of bonding for my entire raiding team. We had spent several nights beating our heads up against the fight, until we finally figured out the full strategy and took him down. Man, the feeling of seeing that stupid giant robot dissolve into flames. We were even excited to get Chatterwhite. Ah, it was a different time.
Crota's End: I'll never forget the first time my team cleared the bridges section. Our final party member made it across but died while fighting the gatekeeper, so I rushed over, grabbed the sword, and finished him off with seconds to spare. With the Gatekeeper out of the way, we regrouped and took down the ogres, and I got the raid chestpiece in the resulting drop. Maybe my best five minutes of Destiny ever.
Winner: Draw. Both raids have their share of triumphant moments, those unlikely victories when you're shouting into your headset in celebration. For all that we grumble about their various failings, both the Vault of Glass and Crota's End have given us a good deal of memorable victories.
If you've been keeping track, you'll see that the Vault of Glass has handily beaten Crota's End in almost all categories. While it's true that both raids have their strong points, there really is no question that the Vault is the stronger overall experience.
If there's one thing that clearly delineates the differences between the two raids, it's their respective hard modes. The Vault of Glass' hard mode felt difficult but ultimately doable. The lack of revives for your teammates was sufficiently "hard" -- it meant you had to play with precision and skill, but if you did that, you could still win. Meanwhile, Crota's End's hard mode is artificially difficult to the point that it's hard to say what the intended strategies are meant to be, particularly for the final battle. Crota's End hard mode feels more like Bungie threw a bunch of things at the wall and said, "Alright, let's see if they can figure out how to beat this." That the Destiny community has come up with a number of workable strategies for the final battle is more a testament to the resourcefulness of the game's players than to the ingenuity of the game's designers.
All of this isn't to say that Crota's End is bad, necessarily -- the raid has given me and my team our fair share of amazing moments, and the first two sections are well-designed and enjoyable when played legit. But if the Vault of Glass is the bar Destiny set for its most elite, high-level challenges, Crota's End falls short.
We're already getting indications that Bungie won't repeat the broader mistakes of The Dark Below when they launch the upcoming House of Wolves expansion. Here's hoping that holds true for the next raid, as well.