‘Destiny: House of Wolves’ some bite, some bark

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Destiny: House of Wolves
Developed by Bungie
Published by Activision
Available on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

Back in December, Bungie took players to the moon and back with Destiny‘s first expansion, The Dark Below.  Now, in the game’s second expansion, House of Wolves, its time to head to The Reef, the home of an alien species (the Awoken) built into an asteroid belt beyond the rest of civilization.  Building off of the story of the base game, the Awoken queen is betrayed by another alien species, the Fallen, whom she previously sheltered, and calls upon the guardians (players) to help her exact justice.  Thus begins the House of Wolves brief tour through space.

Anchoring the DLC’s story to Destiny‘s original narrative has its pros and cons.  In many ways the expansion feels like an extension of the original plot, which works to its benefit.  No, the way the narrative is delivered hasn’t changed at all.  The only cinematic sequences are a brief introductory video and then another that is exclusively of a map.  The rest of the story is given through Petra of the Queen’s Guard in exposition bits heading into and out of levels.  So, if you were still hoping for something a bit more dramatic and enticing in terms of narrative, you should probably give up now.  The story told by Petra and enacted by players, however, is a little more straight forward and enjoyable than that in The Dark Below.  Leading the player through five story missions and a strike, the DLC tells the story of particular Fallen leaders and their efforts to rise to the top of their kind.  Many of the locales in the expansion will be familiar to players for better or worse.  Some of this recycling seems lazy and uninspired, while other familiar settings build tension and excitement by their significance (back to the Vault of Glass!).  Where the DLC shines is in the new settings which strike the balance between fitting perfectly into the Destiny universe while leading guardians down thrilling paths to the unknown.

Amongst these new trails is the strike mission, “The Shadow Thief,” which sees players battle the boss all the way through the map. Unlike the notoriously unpopular Omnigul strike of the first DLC, the boss retains damage as you chase him down to the ends of the map, in what is a challenging but enjoyable, strike-long showdown.  While Bungie was clear that this strike would be heavily emphasized in the Weekly and Nightfall strikes (harder versions of the strikes with greater rewards) over the weeks to come, an update has ensured that the Weekly and Nightfall will no longer be the same mission, meaning this strike is far less likely to get stale quickly.

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Destiny: House of Wolves, like its predecessor, includes three new Crucible, player versus player maps.  As if there were any doubt about these, Bungie again delivers brilliant map designs, adding some variety to the oft-criticized Crucible.  Well balanced and fun to play, what’s perhaps most striking about these maps is there multi-mode functionality, meaning you can enjoy each map in almost every mode of Crucible.  I had a really great time playing on the symmetrical map “Thieves’ Den,” perfect for up close and personal confrontations.  Perhaps better yet is the map “Widow’s Court.”  Staged in a European dead zone, this asymmetrical map not only gives player’s a gorgeous view of Earth outside of Old Russia, leaving players yearning for more, but also finds the perfect middle ground between long range viewpoints (ideal for snipers) and tight, closed in interiors (perfect for shotguns).  Allowing for a multitude of play styles, this map reminded me of something you might see in a quality Call of Duty game (ie. Modern Warfare), and certainly has me hopeful for the future of Crucible.

Patrolling maps has gotten a jolt of life in HoW as well.  Within each area of each world a caption will randomly appear informing players that the “Wolves are prowling.”  As seen the weekend before the dlc dropped, a Fallen drop ship will appear unleashing high level enemies upon the player.  Defeating them gives players the opportunity to find a hidden “Ether Chest” which contains copious amounts of planet specific materials, engrams (both rare and sometimes legendary), ammo consumables, and new items called Treasure Keys, to be used in the newly added Prison of Elders.  With the added incentive of completable bounties for specific targets, the long dead Patrol mode has found new life.

Revitalization seems to be the theme for Destiny‘s second expansion.  While House of Wolves controversially lacks a new Raid for players to participate in, it adds considerably to the game in terms of post game weekly rotation.  Before the expansion, each guardians weekly line-up consisted of up to two strikes per character and the Weekly and Nightfall strikes.  Now, two new endgame activities are being offered to players as well.  The first is the aforementioned Prison of Elders.

The Prison is a five-round battle arena that pits a three-man fire team up against hordes of the games enemies and is offered at four different difficulty levels.  Each round’s objective is pretty straight forward, kill or be killed, with secondary objectives that will spawn on certain rounds providing some diversity.  These other objectives come in the form of destroying or dismantling mines or killing a specific target before they reach a certain point, layering the challenge of the arena.  At least one modifier, like those applied to the Nightfall strike, is also applied to each round, ensuring even more diversity.  Each visit to the Prison culminates in a boss fight that, at higher levels, often feels less like a strike boss and almost like a small raid boss, complete with boss specific limitations or challenges to surmount.  After the boss is defeated, the player is granted access to a treasure room complete with two small chests full of relatively rare goodies, and one large chest which requires the Treasure Keys mentioned before.  At first, these Treasure Keys were frustratingly challenging to come by, but with a recent update, that problem is mended and keys appear more frequently in Ether Chests, more often in the small treasure chests following the completion of the Prison of Elders, and are given as a reward by Petra to each character for the first Queen bounty they fulfill each week.

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These keys are definitely worth having as they allow you to open the large chest in the treasure room which contains one exotic item per week, Queen’s Wrath themed weapons and armor, and Fallen-themed armor (the equivalent of Raid armor) at higher levels.  While the large chest at the end of PoE always requires a key, the endgame activity can be completed on each difficulty for different rewards.  For example, completing the thirty-two level Prison grants players an item called an Armor Core, which can be traded with a Vendor for a specific piece of Fallen-themed armor.  The thirty-four level PoE rewards players with a similar Weapon Core as well as a piece of Etheric Light, a new upgrade item that can take any piece of gear at an old level cap to the new, level thirty-four level cap.  Now, all of those old favorites can be just as powerful as the new stuff!

While a lot of what the Prison of Elders offers is great, it isn’t perfect.  Particularly irksome is that Bungie is again holding obstinately to its vision for Destiny and you have to form your own team for all of the PoE difficulties except the twenty-eight.  That’s right, only the twenty-eight level PoE, that you’ll probably only ever do once, has matchmaking, requiring players to once again call on external tools to form teams.  This seems like a disservice to players and an overestimation of how hard these challenges are.  They certainly require coordination between teammates, but if each player has a mic, that coordination can easily be found.

The second new endgame activity is the “Trials of Osiris,” a PVP elimination mode (only offered Friday through Monday) that pits two three-person teams against one another.  Unlike any other Crucible mode, ToO comes complete with a scorecard each time the Trial is entered.  The first team to win five rounds by entirely eliminating the other team gets a point for the game.  A loss will earn you a strike.  After three strikes, your Trial is automatically ended.  Otherwise, your Trial will end once your team has reached nine wins, if they can.  With respawning disabled and allowing teammates to revive one another, each round is quick and strategic and won’t last more than ten minutes.  Similar to the Iron Banner Crucible mode, strength matters, and higher level players, armor, and weapons will do better in the Trials of Osiris.  Intriguingly, the awards for Trials of Osiris are tiered.  A score card with two wins on it will get you a low level prize, a five-win score card will allow you to buy a Trials of Osiris Egyptian-esque piece of armor, seven will get you a ToO exclusive weapon, and eight will give you a random gold level prize (a piece of Trials armor or a weapon).  Players who have a perfect round of nine straight wins will be granted access to a new area where a vendor will sell them even more new weapons.

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Trials of Osiris is simultaneously a fun variation on the Crucible and an antagonizing experience.  The rewards are great and worth striving for, but for those Destiny players who are not Crucible inclined, the Trials will not be a welcome experience.  By making strength matter, slightly lower level players are already at a disadvantage, making Trials far from the ideal place to get new gear to get to the next level, which is certain to scare away a lot of potential players.  Other players who get to the new level thirty-four level cap might ask why they should bother playing Trials if they’ve already reached thirty-four.  Those who don’t have regular fireteams to rely on are also at a disadvantage as matchmaking is again not included under the pretense that coordination and teamwork are necessary.  That’s probably true, but at least allowing everyone to participate, even if they are at a disadvantage, seems like a better choice than leaving Trials as such a polarizing experience.

Bungie learned a lot from The Dark Below, and leveling in House of Wolves couldn’t be quicker or less painful.  Exotic weapons and gear are easy to ascend, and old and new armor are both practical options to get you to the next level.  New story missions and a new strike provide a couple more entertaining hours, and HoW does a lot to revitalize the overall Destiny experience, particularly through Trials of Osiris and Prison of Elders.  One can’t help but wonder if Bungie isn’t getting in their own way by not including matchmaking and making it even easier for its fans to enjoy they new game modes, or if an over emphasis on one of the least popular modes of play (Crucible), might hurt them in the long run.  If you find Destiny tedious and overly repetitive, Bungie has done some work to expand the endgame experience, though that might get overly repetitive for many as well.  However, if you’ve enjoyed Destiny up until this point, you just may howl with delight when you wolf down Destiny: House of Wolves.

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