Review in Progress: Destiny: House of Wolves

Den of puppies

Destiny was one of the weirdest releases in recent memory. It was so unbelievably ambitious, but when it dropped, it was basically a fraction of what Activision advertised. As time went on many tweaks were made to the gameplay, which was rock solid in terms of its shooting mechanics, but actual content was scant. In fact, it even became clear over time that the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions were responsible in some part for holding the game back altogether.

A few months after launch Bungie tried to augment Destiny with The Dark Below, the first expansion pack in the Season Pass, but it failed to address most of the complaints levied against the core experience.

Now here we are five months later with House of Wolves.

Destiny: House of Wolves (PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Activision 
Released: May 19, 2015
MSRP: $19.99 (Season Pass $34.99)

So all of you are probably wondering about the story. Is it a scant few hours like Dark Below was, and completely tangential to the overall design of the universe? Well, there’s good and bad news on that front. The good news is that the theme of the DLC, that is, the confrontation between the Queen and the Fallen race, permeates throughout the add-on. This is best displayed through the new Reef social space, which allows House of Wolves to spread its wings a bit and feel like a proper expansion — not the addition of an NPC in the corner of a hub world.

So what’s the bad news? Content is extremely light — perhaps even more so than The Dark Below with the lack of a raid. I like how the DLC story deals with the Queen, an existing character that we really needed to see more of in the main narrative. I’m also a huge fan of the Fallen in general, and I’m pleased to see them represented here. But once again, the story portion only lasts an hour or so until you’re ready to take on the big new endgame draws — the three-person Trials of Osiris and the Prison of Elders. That’s far too short for a DLC that’s priced at $20, piggybacking on another $20 DLC and a $60 game.

In terms of other story content, there’s also a new Strike called The Shadow Thief. While the Strike itself is par for the course, disappointingly, Taniks, the final boss, is basically a re-skinned encounter with The Archon Priest. Time will tell if the Nightfall and Heroic Strike playlists will allow him to shine, but for now, he’s just a Priest who can teleport more often. In other Strike-related changes, Nightfall and Heroic are now different dungeons, which is a nice little tweak for people who enjoy running both on a weekly basis.

Another big core addition is the Reef social hub. Functionally, it’s very small and isn’t as interesting as The Tower, but on an aesthetic level, it delivers. I love the new purple hues and the vendor designs delight. This concept should be the model going forward to help make each add-on feel more expansive, like it’s adding on tangible bits of the world and not just missions. The Reef will likely be the new hangout spot for months to come, since you can basically do everything here (or with the app) except exchange Motes of Light and occasionally visit Xur. Still, it’s nothing to write home about as it’s just a small square, and could have been much bigger.

365 is the new damage limit, and Light Level 34 is the new level cap — the two new grinds. Now, you are encouraged to grind out for upgrade materials to get any item, even pieces of gear from vanilla Destiny, up to the max level. Casual fans will likely enjoy the changes, but I find it difficult to be motivated to grind to upgrade the same guns and gear I’ve used for the past six months. At least, so far, it feels odd to not implement a glamour system and instead force a grind for a rare element to upgrade each piece. Two nice changes however (that took way too long to fix) are the ability to always get guns or armor from legendary engrams (no more useless shards), and the power to exchange Strange Coins (or nearly any other substance) for Motes of Light.

All the same, the lack of a clear crescendoing loot path is encapsulated in the Prison of Elders, the core PVE endgame addition to House of Wolves. It’s not a raid per se, mostly a set of challenge rooms masquerading as a miniature raid. Set up with multiple tiers from levels 28 (the only tier with matchmaking) to 35, you’ll battle waves of enemies for rewards. Each top-tier (32, 34, and 35) has a loot lockout mechanic just like the raids of old and changes things up weekly. The goal is to ultimately make your way to, and best, level 35, which is a static encounter with weekly shifting statistical modifications.

Confused yet? Well don’t be. The Prison is a muddled mix of existing raid content essentially neutered to save on development time. Remember those rooms in story missions or Strikes where you have to kill things until Ghost opens a door? It’s like a series of those events, but now with better loot involved. Whereas a raid felt like something wholly different, even after subsequent runs, the Prison of Elders feels like it was cobbled together from existing assets and splashed with purple paint. My biggest problem is that Bungie took an already small game (with six-person raids) and made it even smaller with a set of two three-person events.

I’ll definitely have to play some more to get a real picture, and I still haven’t tried the level 35 version yet, but so far I’m not super impressed. In fact, I ran the Prison of Elders six times today, and by the fourth run I was already feeling more winded than I did after running the Vault of Glass sixty times. One great change though is how “endgame” loot is actually delivered. Now you can exchange Armor or Weapon Cores for the piece of loot you want when a specific vendor is selling it that week — or just use Etheric Light to upgrade anything — so there’s no more waiting for weeks on end to get your “boot drop” and players with three characters now have even more incentive to play all of them. If the event involved in this process was more fun, it would be far more rewarding, but I haven’t been jazzed up for any Prison of Elder runs so far.

The new Trials of Osiris event is coming soon on May 22, which is when we will provide our full review, but general PVP has been enhanced. You’ll now get more rewards, double marks, and the daily event will actually give you something other than experience for playing. Four new maps have been added — Black Shield, Thieves’ Den, Widow’s Court, and Timekeeper (the last of which is a PlayStation exclusive).

Black Shield is on Mars, and it’s far too similar to the two most popular existing maps set on the same planet. Widow’s Court is a good balance between close combat and sniping opportunities, and I found it to be a welcome addition. Thieves’ Den is inside a volcano on Venus, and it’s an aesthetic that’s sorely missing from the regular set of maps, which I dig. Timekeeper is also on Mars, and almost feels like a copy and paste job of Shores of Time — it’s not going to be an exclusive that you’ll covet.

Check back later this week for the full verdict when all of the content is available to us. If you already bought the Season Pass, you may as well log in and poke around for a bit.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

Chris Carter
EIC, Reviews Director - Chris has been enjoying Destructoid avidly since 2008. He finally decided to take the next step in January of 2009 blogging on the site. Now, he's staff!