This past Tuesday the much anticipated second expansion to Activision’s Destiny finally launched, bringing with it a large assortment of additions and changes to the original title and even its DLC predecessor, the Dark Below. This includes dozens (potentially countless)new items, crafting systems, a new social/bartering space, and extra PvE and PvP modes called the The Prison of Elders and Trials of Osiris.
So even at a glance the House of Wolves sure seems like a lot of bang for your buck, making the literal volume of its content a non-issue. Inversely, this makes the next typical question even more important; is that content any good? This is especially important for long standing fans, since for many of them the House of Wolves is something they pre-purchased along with the Dark Below in combo deals or as part of the Special Edition benefits included with the core game itself.
Thankfully, after spending just over a week with the content, (the time required for the Trials of Osiris to unlock this weekend and the vendors to resupply yesterday) firing a number of the game’s new weapons, getting my ass handed to me on the new crucible maps, and hanging out in a portion of the Queen’s off-planet digs, I’m happy to report that I’ve been left with only the best of impressions and a renewed optimism for the title’s decade-long vision.
The release of the House of Wolves didn’t only mark the next chapter in the Destiny saga, it was also the earmark for the game’s next update, which contained not only plenty of fixes to documented issues, but changes that both owners of the DLC content and otherwise could enjoy. Since I didn’t (and in some senses couldn’t) experience one without the other, this review will be discussing both.
What you get for showing up.
The first thing I noticed stepping into a world of Destiny post House of Wolves was the complete retooling of the gear and brand new crafting systems. The style of the new weapons really stood out in particular. The light and lithe frames I’d become familiar with have been replaced by heavier, more industrial looking designs. That’s not to say they don’t still look gorgeous – they do- but these changes will definitely catch your eye, especially since they are not entirely restricted to enemy drops or the new Reef vendors.
Similar things could be said about a lot of the new Tower armors, where Bungie is really showing (perhaps celebrating) it Halo roots. All of these new outfits seem to have a much more tactical tailoring to them, with aggressively sculpted visors and utility pockets.
Moving from the esthetic and to the technical, the next big difference a veteran player will notice is the fact that gear is no longer underlined by bubble after bubble of upgrade nodes. These points of item improvement have been reduced down to just the most important, their unique special abilities. From now on that Explosive Rounds capability you desire on a Scout rifle will not be portioned by a half dozen damage upgrades, most of which require numerous fetch quests and item drops to satisfy. The base damage of weapons now appears to be set by its rarity and your respective level, while its overall lethality is determined by its own statistics and how they mesh with your play style. This makes gear leveling the work of hours instead of potential weeks, which is a happy improvement for many players, myself included.
Older items grandfathered into your arsenal will still require the same old grind to reach their maximum potential though. This might seem frustrating at first, but the Destiny devs have compensated for this with another gratifying change.
Many of the Tower’s vendors, including the much ignored Speaker, now have the ability to trade, swap, and sell unique or rare items previously only available through lucky drops or weekly events. These dealings are often inexpensive (depending on your back log of loot) and extremely beneficial for those times when you have plenty of everything but what you need. This is part of Bungie’s intention to phase out the Ascendant Material system and replace it with the Etheric Light system, which immediately takes any piece of gear and maxes it out to the Year-One cap.
These changes resolve a lot of player gripes by allowing them more flexibility with how they play the game, and giving them methods to respond to the RNG system’s more capricious periods. Especially Banshee-44 (the weapon vendor) and his new Reforge ability, which lets a player reroll the unique abilities of qualifying weapons for a modest fee.
These changes to Destiny’s world at large serve to make it a better experience regardless of where you are in the game, and lends hope to the idea the that game is still evolving and that it’s in the right direction.
In Service to the Queen
The story of The House of Wolves centers around the Reef, a makeshift space colony constructed out the hulls of long shattered ships which exists at the very edge of Traveler protected space. The mysteries of this place and its population are many, one of most the curious being the peaceful co-existence of the Awoken and the Fallen who both live there. Or at least, had lived there peacefully.
After years of loyal servitude the House of Wolves (one of the Fallen Clans) has embarked on a bloody campaign of betrayal and conquest, seeking to not only destroy the Awoken Matriarchy whom had offered them refuge, but the Last City of humanity that they share an uneasy alliance with.
At the head of this rebel force is a Fallen Kell, Skolas, whom seeks to seize victory by uniting all the Fallen houses under one banner and using their combined might to crush all opposition.
The basis of the House of Wolves story is genuinely engaging. But much like the flame of a match lit in the wind, or the plot of its predecessor the Dark Below, the story’s presence fades quickly after revealing itself. You won’t find cinematics or cutscenes beyond the trailer and opening, nor will there be any specific interactions between your character and the supporting cast to make you feel a larger connection to the events you’re taking part in. And, again, (as I complained about in the Dark Below) there will not be a single word or comment from your symbiotic partner, your Ghost. Not even the Queen, a character whom you managed impromptu meetings with on the eve of several suicidal missions, can be found when she’s requesting direct assistance regarding the safety of her people.
All tactical direction, narrative, and quest assignments regarding the campaign are hosted by two new characters. Petra, the Queen’s aid, and Variks, one of the Fallen from House Judgement, whom remain loyal to the Queen and the Reef. While both characters are physically present on the Reef’s Vestian outpost, where you’ll be doing all your House of Wolves dealings, just like the Dark Below’s enigmatic Eris, they will operate as bounty/item/banter vending machines and little else.
Petra’s enthusiastic audio presence while on a mission is charming throughout the five quick quests that make up the House of Wolves’ campaign. Although it’s missing the regality expressed by the Queen or her brother when you first encounter the Reef Awoken in the central campaign, we’ve never had enough contact with this culture to consider it an inconsistency and get to enjoy it for what it is. Variks on the other hand is the only time we’ve heard the Fallen speak in a language we can understand subtitled or otherwise, a position he almost entirely uses to act as comedy relief. It’s the good kind of comedy relief, but again, without the severity of Queen Mara Sov or her excitable brother Uldred Sov, whom we’ve come to associate Reef Awoken culture with, it doesn’t have anything to play against other than your own imaginings. While they both offer some insight into Destiny’s mostly unexplained lore, these moments always redirect you to the out-of-game grimore cards for more detail.
To its benefit, however, with perhaps the exception of the Black Garden related missions, the House of Wolves is the most coherent series of missions you will play in Destiny yet. From start to finish and despite how little the game tells you, the series of events make sense and the characters involved tell you why they do. Some of the locations used and details about why they were used were perfect examples of just how much better Destiny can be once it starts prioritizing its storytelling, but for now this is a great, fresh, breath of immersive air. The music is always firing on all cylinders, making getting pumped up for each of your battles an easily accessed surge of primal inspiration. But this is something that Destiny has always gotten right ever since the start.
Completing the campaign unlocks the House of Wolves two additional game modes, The Prison of Elders and The Trials of Osiris, where frequent players of both the Strike and Crucible playlists will finally get a place to put their skills to a new test.
The Prison of Elders is an enemy wave mode where a single fire team faces off against five sorties of enemy combatants and environmental challenges. Hosted by Variks (who’s just having a hoot running the whole thing) you and your team of three must work together to overcome increasingly slanted odds.
The Trials of Osiris are 3v3 death matches where the first to take out all of their opponents score a winning round. The first to win 5 rounds takes the match, each of the members scoring a point toward their weekly total. However, if you lose three matches at any point during that week, you are blocked from competing further unless you buy your way back in, and even then you will be ineligible from purchasing the best rewards.
None of these new modes are as linear as they seem, however. Each Destiny week (Tuesday to Tuesday) will reset and reshuffle the various prizes and awards the vendors have at their disposal, and while I’ve already seen plenty of level 34s running around the maps, it by no means makes me think the climb to the new level cap is an easy one.
Speaking of gear, the Reef equipment has a decidedly more Fallen or Egyptian influence depending on where you acquire it from. While the Fallen element to this design choice is obvious, we will have to wait and see if the Egyptian aspect will ever mean more than just a cool idea.
It is really cool, however, and the Hood of the Exile has immediately become a new obsession of mine. (And getting murdered repeatedly in the Trails of Osiris is the price of the obsession.)
After taking a bit of time to stop and look back on it all, House of Wolves is easily the best thing to happen to Destiny since it’s launch. The new free features make the game a ton of fun to play without feeling trapped by the virtual roll of the loot dice, while the content you get by actually purchasing the House Of Wolves legitimately make it extremely diverse and rewarding for the amount of time you’ll find yourself spending with it.
The story missions, including the new strike, do go past a bit too quickly for a solo player to be satisfied, since they can be easy cleared in a single afternoon. To that end the Dark Below exists as the opposite side of the coin to the House of Wolves, since the majority of the first could be run by a solitary Guardian, while the bulk of the later requires a skilled partner or a full fireteam to fully enjoy. However if you have friends to play it with, the House of Wolves is easily, and perhaps the first, must buy addition to the Destiny project.