Destiny – House of Wolves Review – The Trials of Bungie (PS4)
The Reef has been opened to the Guardians. The Queen is offering bounties on the Fallen House of Wolves, and there are rewards aplenty for those willing to find a fireteam and take on the challenges. I’ll admit that I was hesitant. After the relative mediocrity of The Dark Below long term, I wanted to wait for a full week before putting out a review for House of Wolves in order to get a full scope of the experience. Some elements — specifically the Trials of Osiris — were not even available until the weekend and I wanted to make sure I saw everything this new expansion had to offer and find how it fit within the full Destiny experience.
The most noticeable addition with House of Wolves is the new social space in the Reef. All of the new content is accessed here, from Petra Venj giving bounties on behalf of the Queen, to Variks, the Fallen who oversees the Prison of Elders, to the master of the Trials of Osiris, Brother Vance. In fact, just about everything that you need is here except for the Speaker, who now has the responsibility of managing Destiny’s economy system. That’s right, all of the shards and energies that have been accumulating uselessly can now be exchanged for Motes of Light or glimmer. Because of this new space with all the necessities, the Tower is a ghost town, as most guardians seem to be flocking to the Reef to manage their inventories, collect their bounties, and generally ready themselves for the battle against the darkness.
The story for House of Wolves is moderately interesting, seeing the Guardians hunting down Skolas, Kell of Kells and leader of the rogue Fallen house, the House of Wolves. While it still doesn’t largely advance the overall story of Destiny, it does introduce players to more of the politics and players in this fight for the remnants of humanity. New characters like Petra and Variks hold unique and memorable personalities. It doesn’t have many new areas, instead relying on running players through familiar areas in reverse and places that I personally had glitched into before The Dark Below was even released. The five or so story missions aren’t the real focus here however, as you likely won’t be going back to them after you’ve run through them to unlock the rest of House of Wolves, so the lack of inherently new content can be forgiven as we move on to looking at the real meat of House of Wolves: The Prison of Elders and Trials of Osiris.
The Prison of Elders is taking the place of the raid this go around. It’s a three-man horde mode with four levels of difficulty and varying rewards for each level. I was nervous of a horde mode taking the place of the raid, but in practice, it looks like the Prison of Elders will outlast the longevity of Vault of Glass and Crota’s End. Where raids became formulaic and a process once they were figured out, the Prison of Elders offers four levels of randomized rounds with various modifiers. Every week, the order of the rounds, enemies fought, and modifiers will all change, keeping Guardians on their toes instead of settling into the rhythm that most players have fallen into with the static raids.
Limiting the Prison of Elders to three-player fireteams ensures that everyone does their part. Taking on level 34 or 35 will require everyone to be on point, working together as a team and communicating. The moment one Guardian deviates from the plan is usually the moment when the entire round falls apart. It’s not all just a random horde mode either. Some rounds and bosses require specific tactics to defeat that are further complicated by modifiers. Figuring out the best way to handle a boss gives the Prison of Elders more of a raid-like feel than a simple wave-based horde mode. It’s surprisingly well designed to break the conventional cadence that Destiny players are used to without breaking the overall experience. Guaranteed rewards for completing specific levels also do away with having to fully rely on RNG, though the chance for some awesome random gear is still present in needing treasure keys to open the treasure chest after you complete the Prison.
Being Put on Trial
Trials of Osiris is the other addition, and focuses on 3 vs. 3 PvP competition that is only open from Friday until the reset on Tuesday. You need a Trials Passage to enter, which acts as a sort of punch card as you play. Depending on the amount of wins on your “punch card” you are eligible to get a certain tier prize package. However, three losses will end your run in the Trials, and you will need to purchase a new Trials Passage and start fresh. Level advantages are enabled in Trials, and there is no matchmaking, meaning you have to have a good fireteam that you work well with, and keep in mind that you will be going up against three people who will also all be working together.
It’s great in theory, and the guaranteed rewards for performing well do a ton to fight off the RNG demons that have plagued most people, but being matched against players with poor internet connections essentially favors the lowest common denominator, seeing opposing players glitching all over the map, not taking any damage when shot, and giving them power to easily win, level or skill be damned.
It’s unfortunate, because the Trials of Osiris are such a great concept and I want to like them. On the fair matches that I have played, I had a ton of fun. It’s a blast to match up your own skills against other players, and I concede defeat to players that beat my team legitimately. But when three level 33 players unload rockets into a level 31 and it doesn’t even phase him, or we suddenly are killed by someone who appears to be around a corner or behind a wall, that loss on the Trials Passage tastes bitter. The Trials of Osiris is a brilliant test of skills and level, but also an unbearable test of network connections. If Bungie can resolve this matchmaking to limit high latency players from making it in, I will fully embrace the Trials of Osiris as a great addition to Destiny and a regular weekend gaming habit.
The series of Crucible maps that came with House of Wolves are a mixed bag, with some offering great new arenas of combat and some lacking the flow that makes a great competitive arena. There’s nothing incredibly special here, but it does add a sense of newness to Crucible, which is great to ensure that the standard PvP mode is kept fresh and interesting. The Dark Below maps have now been added for free to standard rotation even if you don’t own the expansions, so Bungie is making sure that they aren’t overly segmenting the player base.
One Small Step for Man…
Outside of the content that comes with the the paid expansion, Bungie listened to player feedback and made a variety of changes to the economy of Destiny. Useless old materials like shards and energies are now able to be traded for the much more valuable glimmer or Motes of Light. Upgrading gear does not require you to take steps back in order to move forward. Playing House of Wolves feels much more rewarding and less limiting than The Dark Below did, also embracing player customization by allowing Guardians to upgrade any exotic or legendary piece of gear to current max level, provided you have the materials to do so. The weapons and armor that I worked so hard to obtain since the release of the game is not made obsolete by House of Wolves. If I want my Vault of Glass raid boots to be part of my level 34 setup, I can ascend them instead of being locked into only using House of Wolves gear.
Bungie has been on trial by fans of Destiny since the release of The Dark Below, but House of Wolves has shown great strides in the evolution and support of a game that has personally held my attention for hundreds of hours, even if I have had my share of criticisms about the way certain things have been handled. It’s not quite perfect, but if the improvements made in House of Wolves are any indication of the future, then I’m eager to see what kind of stuff Bungie comes up with to support and evolve Destiny next.
Destiny: House of Wolves review code provided by publisher (as an expansion pass when we got The Dark Below). For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.