It’s been a long wait since Bungie last gave Destiny players new content in the form of The Dark Below, but last week finally saw the launch of the latest expansion to the shooter – the House of Wolves. Its arrival has brought with it a whole heap of new content and gear, a level increase (from 32 to 34) and what many believe is a much needed overhaul to the upgrade and levelling system.
As with the former expansion, my first port of call was to work through the new story missions, in which you are tasked with hunting down rebel Fallen under the command of a captain named Skolas. It is clear almost instantly that more thought has gone into this than the story missions packaged with The Dark Below, and whilst its arguably more of the same repetitive Destiny content, its somehow more captivating, with a new spark of life ignited in the game.
With the story missions finished, guardians are then given a final quest to take on the hefty new strike, entitled The Shadow Thief. This takes place on the moon, where you will face off against a mercenary named Taniks. The strike, again, follows typical Destiny formula and sets guardians off on a chase through a sprawling sequence of rooms and corridors before obstructing the final boss fight with a formidable Walker tank. Bungie have done a great job at improving the pace and keeping momentum going by reducing the gruelling length of the final boss fight.
After working through the initial story content, I was desperate to jump into the all new arena mode – the Prison of Elders. This was perhaps the most exciting feature discussed for me in the pre-release reveals as it’s a mode that suits Destiny perfectly. In a game where players spend their time endlessly culling hordes of enemies of increasing difficulty, an arena mode feels perfectly at home. Players must survive waves of enemies, each with their own individual challenges across four rooms (one for each race featured in the game), before being pitted against an extremely powerful end boss. The mode itself is fantastically fun and has a great increasing intensity throughout. When played at higher levels, the lack of respawns forces you to work together and look after your teammates, all the while ensuring you don’t miss the carefully timed critical challenges.
Alongside the Prison of Elders, an all-new competitive PvP experience is opened up to players in the Trials of Osiris, which opens for several days at the end of each week. For Crucible lovers, this mode provides a more rewarding way of taking on other players in a format similar to Elimination mode. Many have criticised the Crucible for not offering as much to players in the way of much needed gear and materials, despite it being a large part of the game. The Trials feels like Bungie’s obvious way of addressing these naggings for those intent on focussing on PvP.
The Trials of Osiris attempts to build on the much loved/hated Iron Banner mode, where level advantages come into play, and the top PvP players really get a chance to shine and be rewarded for their skill. Upon purchase of an entry token, teams of three take each other on in a brutal survival mode, where stacking up victories grants you immense prizes, whilst a quick succession of losses will see you crashing out of the contest for good.
As someone who is a long-time fan of PvE, and is pretty terrible at the Crucible, it’s difficult to truly form an opinion on this mode, however, it’s safe to say that if you love the Crucible then you will love the Trials of Osiris. The ferocious knock-out format brings a whole new level of tension that the Crucible can lack, and a quick way of earning great armour and weaponry if your team can prove their worth as the cream of the crop. For those who are slightly lower level, however, it’s a disappointingly quick way of getting torn apart by those who are higher, given that team matchmaking seems to focus less on level and more on connection quality. If you haven’t quite kitted yourself out with an arsenal of the best guns and are less than experienced in the Crucible, the Trials of Osiris is a challenge that will quickly leave you deflated and humbled.
If sticking with the regular Crucible is more to your liking, the House of Wolves expansion does also feature a great set of three new maps (or four, if you’re a PlayStation 4 user). Two of these maps take you to new locations in the universe – the Black Shield & Widow’s Court.
The Black Shield introduces a Mars moon known as Phobos, and features tight-knit combat as players spawn either end of a symmetrical firebase where the brunt of the action takes place in open central locations. It’s a well-designed multiplayer habitat, but lacking in visual stimulus as it’s remarkably similar to most other Mars locations and, in particular, the previous Crucible map Firebase Delphi. In contrast, Widow’s Court gives players a great insight into the world of Earth beyond Old Russia and the Tower, as you are taken to the European Dead Zone. Featuring a stunning ruined church and its surrounding devastated landscape, the environment is distinctive and enthralling as you are offered a much needed break from the usual Destiny surroundings.
Also new to the Crucible is the Thieves’ Den, returning back to Venus in a frustrating environment featuring branching corridors and confined spaces. Whilst traversing the area is claustrophobic and annoying, the design is generally well thought out and challenges traditionally long-range, patient players to switch their tactics up. Finally, exclusive to PlayStation 4 users is the Timekeeper map. This map is a tiny environment on Mars. Once again this forces players into close combat, but this time there is little positive to say about the environment. It’s a rehashed, tedious map that is simply too small for 12 player modes such as Control or Clash, and games are mostly dominated by a back-and-forth grenade throwing contest, particularly in Control.
Stepping away from the new modes and maps, it would be remiss of me not to discuss Destiny’s newest social area, the Vestian Outpost, set in the Reef, an area only briefly visited during a cut scene in the vanilla game. The hub is fantastic to look at, with a great backdrop of luminescent clouds across space behind it. The layout is much more confined than the Tower, allowing you to quickly drop in and out of each vendor without having to trawl across the pointless expanse of corridors featured in the Tower.
Overlooking the finer details of the expansion, the real question, however, is still in whether the general overhaul of the game’s upgrade system has brought about gratifying improvements or simply new ways to relentlessly grind. The level cap has been pushed up another two levels and is now achievable through a number of methods, a decision clearly made following negative criticism of The Dark Below, where players were required to replay the Crota’s End raid over and over in order to achieve raid gear, as well as radiant materials.
With the House of Wolves, players can achieve maximum light gear from the Prison of Elders & the Trials of Osiris, but perhaps more importantly, they can “ascend” their existing gear to the new highest levels through the use of an all-new material called Etheric Light. The new system is structured fairly well in that most people can get to level 33, whilst hitting that desirable top level is still reserved for those willing to put the time in to achieve the hardest challenges on offer. It is, however, extremely challenging to reliably gain the sought after Etheric Light, particularly if you struggle to get together a high level group to take on the Prison of Elders with, and whilst top level gear can be gained through winning big at the Trials of Osiris, this is an uninviting prospect for many, once again creating a fairly singular route to the highest level.
Overall, the House of Wolves does indeed bring about a generally favourable overhaul to the previous levelling system and many great new modes, achieving enough to draw many players back in who may have lost the impetus to carry on playing these last few months, whilst not alienating those who are loyal to the game. It is evident, however, that the grind towards the top level is once again a gruelling and uninviting experience for the more casual gamers, and perhaps the initial frenzy of excitement from new gear will be short-lived once the rewards reaped from new manageable challenges run dry and players are once again stuck just slightly away from the ultimate prize.