Bungie’s latest expansion is superior to The Dark Below but still faces a number of issues.
Whether you’ve played Bungie’s online shooter/MMO hybrid Destiny or not, there’s no denying that it’s much better off then when it first launched. Over the past eight months, Destiny has been in the spotlight for its errors, expansion controversies, lack of content, fixes, high player numbers, future plans and much, much more. Some players feel that House of Wolves, the latest expansion for the game, is a make-or-break opportunity for Bungie, especially considering the various issues with The Dark Below. Thankfully, House of Wolves improves on the design choices of The Dark Below and introduces some new, fun activities to keep players busy. There’s still a content problem, reinforced by the core approach of the expansion’s end-game, but we’ll get to that.
I feel it’s important to make a distinction between what’s actually in House of Wolves and what’s been introduced to players for free. All of the new Tower vendor gear, the new upgrade options for old and Legendaries/Exotics, material exchange at the Speaker, new patrol events for Ether Chests and Gunsmith re-rolls are free to all players. They can even access the Reef, though House of Wolves activities are pretty much locked off. Bungie also saw fit to delink the Weekly Heroic and Nightfall Strikes, so you can travel to Winter’s Run for your usual Strange Coins while your friends currently attempt the new Shadow Thief Strike.
"You'll revisit the Templar's Well and attempt to clear out Fallen; skip across Vex platforms in the Terminus; and even take on a Fallen Walker tank in close quarters as the new Strike boss attacks you at every turn."
While all of these changes have been introduced with House of Wolves and serve to improve the game’s quality of life, they don’t require purchasing the DLC. So what do you get with the expansion?
For starters, you’ll be hunting the House of Wolves, a Fallen house which has turned on its leader – the Queen of the Reef – and rallied under Skolas, a Fallen Kell who claims to be the sole unifier of all the houses. After staging a bloody mutiny, the Queen opens the Reef to the Guardians and offers rewards for capturing Skolas. Along the way, old characters explored in greater detail like Petra Venj are introduced while new characters like Variks the Loyal of the House of Judgment make their debut. Both are a vast improvement over Eris Morn of The Dark Below and though they lack any really amazing lines, you’ll still appreciate Variks saying, “They will try to kill you. Kill them back” every now and then.
Another positive of the story missions this time around is giving you newer things to do. Bungie has yet to get over its approach of re-using old areas for its missions, including the classic “Complete this strike backwards” approach. You’ll eventually re-enact the very first mission at one point but in reverse. There are more new areas to access here than in TDB including The King’s Watch and Terminus but there’s not much you haven’t seen before. As a social space, the Reef may look cool but there isn’t really anything to outside of interacting with the new vendors.
Bungie has taken a better approach to structuring the story missions and adding more variety outside of the rampant killing. You’ll revisit the Templar’s Well and attempt to clear out Fallen; skip across Vex platforms in the Terminus; and even take on a Fallen Walker tank in close quarters as the new Strike boss attacks you at every turn. Some may criticize the new Strike for its length, especially as Nightfall’s Arc Burn allows you cut through enemies, but I appreciated it’s pacing and battles far more than The Will of Crota’s tedium. In terms of mechanics, not much of this is new – it’s just the same content from the base game but re-arranged and remixed to deliver a new experience. At least there are more new enemies in the story missions, so long as you don’t mind new varieties of Shanks.
"More than anything, Destiny encourages you to farm and grind for better gear, then improving that gear to get other gear (and maybe even better stat rolls on your current gear). Sounds like the basic model for every MMORPG, right? However, the RNG in Destiny makes this a slog, especially with the new Treasure Keys."
Sadly, there wasn’t much added to the core story with House of Wolves. If anything, the story missions feel like a series of side-quests and can be completed in an hour or so if you’re moderately skilled. What about the Darkness and the Traveler? What about the Exo Stranger? What’s the Speaker hiding? For that matter, if the Prison of Elders is meant to be a prison then why do all of the inmates have guns? Why are we allowed to battle them for the chance at riches? If we effectively stomped out the House of Wolves in the story, shouldn’t the Queen just give us what we ask for rather than watching us mercilessly kill the universe’s scum? Where’s the Queen’s douche bag brother? These are all questions that might be answered if you dig around the Grimoire Cards enough but they aren’t clarified while playing the game.
After you finish the story, Prison of Elders is unlocked. This sees you and two other Guardians facing waves of enemies with different modifiers attached. The modifiers add an interesting new twist on things – Catapult lends decreased grenade cooldown while Small Arms will increase primary weapon damage. Arc Burn, Solar Burn, Lightswitch, Angry and other Nightfall modifiers also appear to make life difficult. Room layouts aren’t randomized, oddly enough, so you’ll be heading to the same corners and choke-points more often than not. The bonus objectives between waves offer slight changes to strategy including dismantling/destroying mines and hunting targets before they reach a checkpoint. After Mass Effect 3’s amazing co-op mode, it’s a shame that Bungie couldn’t implement more bonus objectives. Perhaps somewhere down the road? The bosses in Prison of Elders are nothing to get excited about either – save for some new mechanics like Urrok’s Rage and Valus Trau’ug reconfiguring his shields for different elements, they’re essentially larger versions of previous enemy models (except for Skolas).
Prison of Elders also highlights the basic problem with Destiny’s gameplay model. More than anything, Destiny encourages you to farm and grind for better gear, then improving that gear to get other gear (and maybe even better stat rolls on your current gear). Sounds like the basic model for every MMORPG, right? However, the RNG in Destiny makes this a slog, especially with the new Treasure Keys. To reap the best rewards from the Prison of Elders, you’ll need a Treasure Key to open the large loot chest at the end which can contain Reef weapons and Exotics. These keys can drop from the new public Wolves bounties courtesy of Ether Chests but their drop rate is currently pathetic. To top it off, completing a run on Prison of Elders doesn’t always reward a Treasure Key.
"We haven't had a chance to try the new PvP event Trials of Osiris but hopefully the new connection recovery system it implements is put into place for Prison of Elders sooner than later."
New items like Weapon Cores and Armor Cores have thus been introduced, which can be exchanged with Variks for max Light gear and weapons. Etheric Light is also a guaranteed reward on the higher difficulties. However, these are weekly drops. Complete one tier of Prison of Elders and you’ll have to wait another week before getting more Cores or Etheric Light (Variks does cycle out his gear, so that’s a plus but we’ll have to see just how perceptive he can be to Guardians needs). If you want more loot from replaying Prison of Elders, you’ll have to farm for keys. It’s tedious and downright boring to keep killing the same targets and racing for the same chests in Skywatch.
The Prison of Elders also has a few other issues with regards to no checkpoints. You restart each round from the beginning if you fail a wave in-between but leave the activity and you’ll have to begin again. If you disconnect at the boss or face a network error – which is still fairly common in Destiny – you won’t be able to join back in. It’s a fairly big slap in the face of players who commit hours to the new activities. We haven’t had a chance to try the new PvP event Trials of Osiris but hopefully the new connection recovery system it implements is put into place for Prison of Elders sooner than later.
When you’re not hunting keys for new gear and weapons, you’ll be looking for Etheric Light which is necessary to “ascend” Legendary gear to the new Light and Damage Cap. I personally found this to be a step in the right direction as far as outfitting one’s Guardian is concerned. Once you reach the maximum light level of 34, you’re free to play the game, hunt down more Etheric Light and upgrade your favourite weapons and gear as you see fit. You’ll no longer be constrained to a specific set of raid gear. It also helps that Etheric Light is unnecessary for Exotics, thus giving players a fighting chance in the Prison even with older Legendary weapons.
"The biggest worry is the content and while there's more to do here than in The Dark Below, I can't help but feel that many of the same complaints surrounding the game will aggressively resurface a month or two down the line. "
The new Crucible maps are good, save for Widow’s Court. This seems to have a number of lanes and sight lines that can be easily camped, leading to frustrating matches with snipers. They each offer their own unique strategies and lay-outs, and their overall look makes me wish the new maps were actual campaign missions to explore or even new areas for the Prison of Elders to break up the monotony. Crucible is still fairly annoying when it comes to rewards but at least you get double the marks for completing matches than before. The chances of Legendaries dropping is also significantly better, compared to previously pitiful conditions. Network problems and lag are still fairly common, and that makes us a bit worried for Trials of Osiris.
Overall, is Destiny’s House of Wolves expansion worth your money? If you left Destiny because of the grind, then the new expansion won’t offer much you haven’t seen before. Prison of Elders is a fun diversion and the new story is genuinely fun for a play-through or two. If you’re just entering Destiny for the first time, love the core shooting mechanics and could grind out gear and weapons for hours, then this expansion is for you.
The biggest worry is the content and while there’s more to do here than in The Dark Below, I can’t help but feel that many of the same complaints surrounding the game will aggressively resurface a month or two down the line. The Destiny fan in me liked everything that was offered and I’m genuinely excited for Trials of Osiris. There’s a lot of positive reception surrounding the public targets and Prison of Elders, since both allow for some form of replay value (with the former offering better farming success compared to the loot care of yore and the latter lacking many of the bugs that crippled the raids for months). However, the gamer in me believes that even if House of Wolves warrants revisiting Bungie’s universe, you still need friends to get the most enjoyment out of it.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
Better characters and improved structure for campaign missions. Prison of Elders is an interesting and fresh new mode, especially with modifiers. Two of the three new Crucible maps are fun. New weapons and gear are better than The Dark Below's. Etheric Light offers more freedom in customizing one's appearance and allows upgrading of old Legendaries.
No escaping the grind. Story missions are essentially the same areas explored hundreds of times already. No follow-up to events in base game. Connection errors and lack of checkpoints hurt Prison of Elders. Treasure Keys required for greatest PoE rewards but require lots of farming. Still doesn't feel like enough content to sustain players in long run.
Though It still has its issues, especially with regards to the excessive grinding, RNG and shortage of content, Destiny's House of Wolves is a worthwhile experience for fans with interesting things to do and plenty of improvements over The Dark Below.