Destiny: House of Wolves Review (PlayStation 4)
I was one of those players that was absolutely hyped up for Destiny, and was among the many who were disappointed when it turned out to be more of a standard shooter than a grand sci-fi epic. Its first expansion, "The Dark Below," was unfortunately underwhelming with a flimsy story and a lack of matchmaking for its endgame. Thankfully, Destiny’s latest expansion, "House of Wolves," is a decent attempt to improve upon the game’s thin narrative and repetitious gameplay. However, while it has some great ideas and brings in some welcome changes, "Wolves" still falls short in fixing some of Destiny’s more glaring problems.
"House of Wolves" centers around helping the Awoken, the enigmatic faction of glowy eyed humanoids that reside in a bright purple mass of space debris, take revenge upon a rebellious group of Fallen that had previously served as servants to the Awoken Queen. She’s none too happy about Skolas, the rebel leader, reneging on the alliance and is offering a significant reward to any Guardian who can take him down.
Much like "The Dark Below," "Wolves’" story missions run into the same problems of being both too short and taking players to all too familiar locales on Earth and Venus. Where Wolves’ breaks away from its predecessor is that it at least tries to do a few interesting things with the same old locations. Yes, you’ll visit Venus again, but at least you’ll get to battle in the Vault of Glass, board a Fallen starship and fight the climactic battle high in the skies above the Ishtar Sink.
There’s still much of the same “defeat X waves” or “kill everything between A and B” style of gameplay seen in nearly all of Destiny’s missions, although a few new enemies and hazards like sniper Shanks and Fallen landmines provide a small twist to the action. Plus, the new characters that provide exposition help make "Wolves’" story more entertaining than other quests. The knife-twirling Petra and the simpering Variks the Loyal (whose voice actor must be channeling the The Dark Crystal’s Skeksis) are leagues more personable than "Below’s" gloomy Eris, and I hope that Bungie brings them back in later updates.
One of the most surprising aspects of House of Wolves is that it doesn’t feature a new Raid; a worrying proposition given how the Vault of Glass and Crota’s End have been by far its best parts. Instead, there’s a cooperative mode called The Prison of Elders, set an expansive Awoken prison said to house all manner of horrible creatures. This mode has you and two other players fight through five rounds of increasingly more difficult enemies. Each round randomizes which of Destiny’s factions you’ll fight in their aesthetically themed arena, and you’ll have to defeat any and all enemies that spawn to proceed.
Enemies are shockingly much more active and mobile than in other parts of the game, and will often flank and overrun your team if you stay in one spot too long. Some of the rounds add in ability or weapon modifiers that can help or hinder players on top of adding special objectives, such as dismantling Guardian-killing super-mines within a time limit. While these extra addons help slightly break up the Prison’s usual “survive and kill everything” modus operandi, there’s not much variety.
The higher difficulty Prison missions (which lack matchmaking, sadly) feature bosses with their own gimmick, such as a Cabal centurion whose shield randomly changes type or a Hive knight that sets the ground on fire (leading to some hilariously panicked bunny hopping in order to stay alive). They don’t exactly provide as complicated a challenge as the existing Raid bosses, but with the swarming behavior of regular enemies, it’s more than enough to keep you engaged. Provided Bungie follows through on its goal of rotating the existing bosses and also introduce new ones to fight (along with more objectives and modifiers), the Prison of Elders has potential to be a solid mainstay for those who enjoy Destiny’s cooperative aspects.
Also in place of a new Raid comes a new weekly competitive event, titled The Trials of Osiris. Running from Friday to Monday each week, the Trials pit two fireteams of 3 players against each other in short, brutal rounds. To get in, you’ll need to buy a “Trials Passage” from the Trials vendor, and then play until you either win nine matches or lose three - though there is no matchmaking, so you’ll need to find some other players to team up with first. Unfortunately, unless you’re a dedicated PvP player and have a good collection of fully upgraded exotics, weapons and armor, it’s unlikely you’re going to enjoy your time in the Trials. Your character’s level, class, and gear carry a great deal of weight in this mode as level advantages are in full effect (similar to the Iron Banner event). That means anyone who hasn’t spent time grinding the game to ensure everything they own is at the best possible level is going to be at a potentially huge disadvantage.
In theory, patience and teamwork will be the key to victory in the Trials. But since several weapons already make regular PvP unbalanced (the damage-over-time dealing Thorn springs to mind), the deciding factor for many matches will often be which team is armed with the most snazziest toys. If you live and breathe the Crucible and are usually a player with the highest K/D ratio after a game, then the Trials are an extremely challenging mode that’s designed with you in mind. As for everyone else, it can be a joyless slaughter.
A variety of minor changes and adjustments round out the new content in "House of Wolves." All of the Crucible vendors now have a wider selection of gear for purchase, and the Speaker features several options to exchange endgame materials for glimmer or other types of endgame materials. The Vanguard/Crucible commendation system from "The Dark Below" that introduced an unnecessary, grind-heavy step in purchasing vendor gear has thankfully been removed. The Tower Gunsmith offers experience-boosting weapon consumables, and also allows you to “reforge” certain weapons for a random new set of attributes and damage types.
The biggest change is how it’s a simpler process overall to upgrade "Wolves’" new weapons and armor. There’s no attack or defense upgrades to grind piece by piece, which lets you max out an item’s perks much faster without spending time harvesting materials. In order to fully max out the new gear (or bring any older gear up to speed), you just need one material, Etheric Light (or Exotic Shards in the case of exotics), which flat out brings any weapon to gear to the current highest level in Destiny.
There is a catch, however, as Etheric Light is only available as a random drop from certain endgame missions like the weekly Nightfall, and it’s a guaranteed reward only from the high-level Prison of Elders missions. While the reduced need to repeatedly grind for materials from daily quests and patrols is a welcome adjustment, the limit to how often one can earn Etheric Light feels like it’s going to be a major setback for less active players, or for those who have trouble teaming up with other players.
"House of Wolves" feels like it takes Destiny a step forward and a step back at the same time. The new modes feel designed to give cooperative and competitive-minded players new challenges to tackle, which is great if you’re a dedicated player who has already logged dozens of hours playing the core game. On the other hand, casual players will feel left out with the continued lack of matchmaking, and those hoping for a more robust chapter in Destiny’s story aren’t going to feel fully satisfied fighting through Skolas’ rebellion. If you’ve already committed yourself to all things Destiny, for better or for worse, then the "House of Wolves" expansion is much more worth its cost when compared to its predecessor. But if you haven’t yet made that choice, this expansion probably won’t be enough to change your mind.
This review is based on a purchased download of Destiny: House of Wolves for the PlayStation 4.