The Dark Below (TDB) was without a doubt an expansion of Destiny’s PvE offerings. Walking a different path, House of Wolves aims to support both PvE and PvP. The expansion includes a campaign mode, the Prison of Elders for PvE, additional PvP maps, and the Trials of Osiris for PvP players. It is a more robust offering than TDB and doesn’t just add more content. It makes some welcome changes to important features. Ultimately House of Wolves is the better expansion and shows Bungie is learning from past mistakes, incorporating player feedback, and understanding how to handle the blend of genres that is Destiny.
If anything House of Wolves shows a clear improvement over TDB’s campaign. However, among the rest of what HoW offers… the campaign it’s still Destiny’s weak point. It’s not the soundtrack (which is still suburb), the voice-acting, art design, graphics, or the lore. It’s the presentation. How the story is presented to the players for them to digest. There’s a lack of information given to players regarding the underlying mechanics driving the story forward. After watching the opening cutscene/cinematic to HoW, players may ask themselves several questions. So the House of Wolves betrayed the Queen… why? What was the nature of their relationship? How, or why were they working together, or why was she controlling them? You get some details regarding this, and some references to the Reef Wars that proceeded the game. After the ball gets rolling, the plot boils down to: stop evil alien bad guy from doing bad evil alien things. Alas… a lot of the more interesting lore and info is behind tucked away in grimmoire cards. A problem Bungie still needs to address.
Fixing the presentation involves the two factors I referred to above; the level of information given to players and how to portray that information. Most of the ‘why’ behind your actions is given to you in loading screens, or when you first land on the planet. At this point players are more focused on editing their loadouts, deleting weapons, using materials etc. When players land they are more focused and jumping onto their sparrows, or shooting stuff. While a bit cliché and traditional, using cutscenes (need to be skippable, come one Bungie is 2015) is probably the best way for players to sit, watch, and listen to what is occurring. This would also enable Bungie to present more information to the player; what happened, why, and what consequences will occur if the guardians fail. They can also build on the presentation, incorporate cinematic set piece events to ratchet up the scale and scope. Additionally, doing this enables some world building, breathing life into NPC’s, making them more memorable, and fleshing out their personalities.
The missions themselves are entertaining from a gameplay standpoint. Mission for mission HoW is better than TDB. HoW introduces some new enemy variations and a new pike right off the bat. The constant involvement of the antagonist Skolas is a nice touch. The campaign is longer than TDB, but also follows the same backwards approach for the missions. However, it does bring you to some new areas within the worlds. While I won’t go into details, for spoiler reasons, it’s nice that off-limits areas on Earth and Venus predicted to be in later expansions… are actually used. The story told in HoW is also more cohesive compared to TDB. Lastly, although the four alien races are fighting against us, at times it was tough to remember they are highly intelligent beings. Variks (a fallen still loyal to the Awoken Queen) translating what Skolas says helps give him a persona that no villain/antagonist has had in Destiny yet. It’s not fantastic, but it’s a start.
For many, the lack of a raid in the new expansion is a bit of a letdown. After playing the expansion, I can say with all honesty the Prison of Elders (PoE) was strategically a better choice. I will always welcome a new raid, but the PoE is a worthy replacement. Bungie was smart about what they included with the expansion. Both raids required a fireteam of six. While I am in a small clan, having 6 people available at the same time can be a chore. PoE is a robust offering that fleshes out Destiny’s PvE offerings. Three guardian fireteams are needed for this end-game content, making it more accessible.
PoE is an arena game mode consisting of several rounds where players can fight against one of the many alien races. That’s not to say that only one race will be featured for the entirety of PoE. You might have to defeat Cabal in round 1 and the Vex in round 2. PoE is offered to players at level 28, 32, 34, and 35. Each with its own rewards and reasons for playing. The level 32 and 34 are themed around a specific boss and offer pre-determined rounds. They are rotated in every week like the Nightfall and Weekly Heroic Strikes. They can also become available at either the 32 or 34. The level 35 is always set, and like a raid, is consistent every week. The only thing that changes are the modifiers. The level 28 PoE features matchmaking, there are no special 28 PoE instances but the instance is random. In addition to regular rewards, completion of PoE gives access to the treasure room that features two small chests and a large chest. The large chest needs a Treasure Key to open and has a chance (albeit miniscule) for an exotic, as well as various Queen’s wrath weapons and class items that drop much more frequently.
PoE also comes with the inclusion of new modifiers, which have also made their way into other game modes such as the Nightfall and Weekly Heroic Strikes. Each round features some objectives giving players something else to handle besides clearing the arena of all enemies. This fix of objective completion and enemy combat makes PoE truly stand apart from other game modes and goes beyond the simple arena mode. However, the objectives are small in number and are fairly simple.
The main flaw with Skolas’s revenge (level 35 PoE) is the level disadvantage it gives to players (max level is 34). While difficult now, it will run into the same problem Crota’s hard mode does. When players finally reach and exceed that level, it becomes much too easy. Doing Crota’s End on 33 or higher doesn’t pose much of a challenge. Whereas Vault of Glass on level 30 does. This comes down to the game mechanics. It will ultimately be interesting to see how this end-game content holds up after the next expansion arrives this fall.
Etheric Light, armor, and weapon cores are big rewards for the level 32, 34, and 35 strikes. The rewards for the weapons and armor cores have been ok at best. Most of the perks on the guns give shank burn (i.e. awful perk), and the armor all sports strength (arguably the most useless armor stat). While they are still useful, due to other perks, I found the best use for the cores is the Judgments chance that requires one weapon and one armor core. The chance gives you one piece of random PoE gear (weapon or armor) and also comes with a random roll. This means you can get weapons that have other perks besides shank burn, and other stats besides strength.
On the PvP side of things is Trials of Osiris. Trials is without a doubt aimed to please top level PvP players. It’s effectively end-game PvP content. Exhilarating, rewarding, frustrating, and disappointing are all descriptions I would give to Trials. Set up as a first to five wins, it’s a 3v3 elimination style game mode. Players can revive teammates, but once all three members of your fireteam are dead, you lose the round. Rewards are available for the amount of wins you rack up, and boons can be purchased with Passage Coins to help you reach higher reward tiers. However, these Trial’s passages go up to 9 wins and 3 losses. Once one of those conditions is met, you have to turn in the passage for a new one. If you want that armor piece at 5 wins, but only had reached 4 before your 3rd loss… tough luck. You have to start over. If you lucky, or skilled enough to get 9 wins and 0 losses (i.e. flawless) a trip to the Lighthouse on Mercury awaits you. Here you can receive some of the best gear in the game. It’s incredibly difficult to get here, but there are great PvP players among Destiny’s community willing to help those out if you can find them.
While teams spawn on both sides of the map, because nothing is changed from previous map setups including special and heavy ammo drops, one side can gain advantage over the other simple by what side they spawn on. However, the advantage is minimal, and good PvP players can overcome the disadvantage. For the duration of the match players are always spawned on the same side. Over the five rounds, players can learn how the opposition plays and then adjust their strategy accordingly.
Tactics, patience, and good communication come into play. In close matches Trials can be absolutely exhilarating and rewarding, especially if you next win gets you a good reward. However, since this is top level PvP content… you’re going to run into extremely talented, and coordinated players. This is where the frustration and disappointment comes into play. If you do not have a good team, or are not a great individual PvP player, you can get destroyed without winning a single round. Zero wins Trials Passages are not uncommon. As good a game mode as Trials is, it’s flawed in the way it’s designed. With top-tier PvP players running trials all weekend, going flawless five or six times (not joking), it can discourage average players from competing. Why spend three hours losing in Trials when you can do something else? We’re already seeing this. The first weekend, I ran into both skilled and unskilled teams. While I still managed to get to rewards during the second and third weekends, the level spike of competition was noticeable. I’m unsure of how this will play out in the long run. Will average players still throw their hat in the ring, or abandon the game mode entirely? A short fix, might be to match teams up against other teams of similar standing (2 win team vs 2 win team). Although, that won’t fix the problem one of the two win teams was made up of top-tier players that just started their passage.
Lastly, there are a few weapons that are used exclusively in PvP. Thorn has the worst reputation and is arguable the best PvP gun in the game. It’s not uncommon for all six players in Trials to all have Throrns equipped. I’d go so far as to say that’s’ relatively normal. This has led to monikers such as Trails of Thornsirs and Thorns of Osiris (personal favorite). While other guns are used such as the Vex Mythoclast, Red Death, and Mida-Multi Tool some weapon balancing is needed. Auto-rifles, once proud kings of PvP, and PvE for that matter, are now the worst gun class in the game. It’s a constant ebb and flow that Bungie has to work with, something I don’t think can ever be perfected given the amount of expansions and sheer number of guns available. Nerf one gun and another will takes its place.
The patrol mode saw some improvement with increase instances from the House of Wolves. Completing a House of Wolf instance, similar to a public event, will spawns a chest containing rewards; rare and legendary engrams, treasure keys, glimmer etc. This is addition to additional target bounties from the Reef in certain patrol locations. It’s a good step in always having something going on in the patrol areas. However, lower level players may find that these instances do not work in their favor. Running through Dock-13 on Earth to scan a location, resulted in my death at the hands of a level 28 fallen captain. My innocent level 14 hunter never stood a chance. This does illustrate the fact Bungie might want to implement a high level patrol mode in the future. New players picking up the game will frequently get discouraged if future expansions keep adding more and more higher level enemies to the patrol game mode.
One of the big issues players had with TDB dealt with how new gear and guns were implemented. Out with the old and in with the new was the previous underlying philosophy, but that’s changed with the introduction of Etheric Light. Players can upgrade old 300 and 331 attack weapons to the new 365 cap. This includes old legendary armor from the game’s launch or TDB expansion. While not immediately noticeable, Etheric Light also serves another function; diversification. With the raid gear as the only way to reach 32 in TDB and level 30 during the games initial launch, meant it was effectively the best armor available. So that meant everyone was wearing it. Now that any piece of armor can be maxed to the highest level, guardians will be wearing all different kinds of armor instead of just the raid gear. The inclusion of Etheric Light is a great way of keeping old gear relevant, but also means more players will hold onto more things. Bungie is probably prepared for the flood of “more vault space!” demands from the internet. With the last-generation consoles demanding consistency between the games… that might not be possible. And to answer your question… yes, I am in dire need of vault space.
Only new gear is able to be reforged (with the exception of Iron Banner weapons). With the gun-smith now relevant, players can cry in agony together as that perfect roll eludes them and their once vast stock of weapons parts vanishes before their eyes. Reforging guns for new perks is great for players who do not get good rolls and want a shot at something that better, or fits their playstyles. The cost is deceptively low, but like a gambler at a slot machine it doesn’t take long for you to spend a lot.
There is a dark side to reforging however. As I mentioned earlier many guardians were aesthetically similar due to the raid armor. Weapons are experiencing a similar problem. With guides’ online and recommended rolls for weapons many players will be using extremely weapons and perks. Scout rifles with full auto and firefly, shotguns with shot package, sniper rifles with hidden hand are practically indistinguishable from other weapons in the same class (disregarding a weapons base stat differences). I rarely see sniper rifles without the top aim-assist scopes or the hidden hand perk. Shotgun rolls for PvP are specked to max out range, and thus all have very similar rolls. Matador 64, Party Crasher+1, Her Courtesy, and Felwinter’s Lie are all perfect examples of extremely similar shotguns. It’s an unavoidable tradeoff. With the power of the internet, it doesn’t take long for someone to figure out the best builds and put it online. However, getting perfect rolls is not easy. I should know, my Ash Factory rocket launch has been rerolled countless times to no avail. I’m broke and my weapons parts are non-existent. Like an addict, I’ll keep forging (pun intended) on ahead. Someday I’ll get that perfect roll, maybe someday.
To round this review off, I present to you the odds and ends. Errors between the consoles and Bungie’s servers are still a problem. Players can get booted from Trials, or while in the PoE. This is incredibly inconvenient and infuriating. This is especially true since PoE does not feature checkpoints. Connection for Crucible has been spotty, and has taken a noticeable decline in quality since the expansion. Crazy lag and more red-barring from players has been more common. To illustrate a video was posted a few days ago showing someone getting killed in the Crucible… and the game glitches resulting in 87 straight deaths for the player. However, this increase likely due to the increase in player involvement in PvP due to Trials (i.e. people wanting to improve in PvP). This expansion has included even more materials and items, meaning you’ll have even less space. The amount of emblems I have received has been nothing short of aggravating… because I have nowhere to put them. However, they did up the maximum stack amounts on weapon synths from 20 to 100, which is a welcome change. The Speaker is now relevant, offering players the ability to exchange a plethora of materials; motes of light, glimmer, radiant and ascendant materials etc. A great move by Bungie and something I have definitely been using to my advantage. The expansion also adds more reputation with the Queen and with House Judgement. It will be interesting to see how cumbersome this system gets overtime, as there are increasingly more places to allocate your reputation towards. Destiny’s next expansion, The Taken King is expected this fall (title leaked, technically unconfirmed) will probably add vendors and reputation.
The gameplay mechanics are as tight as ever, there is more to do every week, more rewards, and a nice sense of progression. Being able to finally play new missions and game modes was refreshing. The campaign was a clear improvement in both quality and scope over TDB. While it’s nice to see a better campaign, with the amount of lore and story possibilities available to Destiny, the campaign does come with a touch of disappointment. Its presentation and scope of the campaign need to improve. I don’t think they’ve quite nailed down how to present a deep and rewarding tale in a FPS-MMO hybrid such as this.
The Prison of Elders, at various levels, now gives players more to do on a weekly basis in addition to the Trials of Osiris on weekends. It will be interesting to see how Trials evolves over the next few months. Will the remaining participants be only elite PvP players, or will average PvP players still keep try for reward packages. The changes introduced to weapons, gear, and materials were long overdue. It seems Bungie has figured out the best way of keeping old gear relevant for players. They’re learning from their community and incorporating feedback. However, they recently nerfed the Qodron PoE boss fight in a way that it’s laughable. Sometimes they do need to stick with their gut, and not listen to the community. As much as I praise them for doing so, it is a delicate balancing act. All in all I highly enjoyed what I’ve played of HoW. If you passed on the first Destiny expansion and were deciding to dive back in, I would definitely recommend House of Wolves.