Destiny: House of Wolves Review

Success, Guardian! Success.

With Destiny’s latest expansion, House of Wolves, Bungie has crafted a bridge between now and this Fall, when the big “Comet” expansion is expected to arrive. They could have easily added another raid, with another tier of exclusionary high-level gear. Instead, they chose to do something much smarter, giving regular players and lapsed fans alike good reason to come back.

Destiny is a more generous game than ever before

Destiny House of Wolves

The big step forward is Etheric Light, a new material that instantly ascends a piece of gear or weapon, bringing it in line with the new gear. Bungie soured a lot of players who raided the Vault of Glass week after week when that gear became obsolete, and now there’s a system in place to bring it all back, better than ever.

Bungie was even stingier when they asked players to ascend and re-level all of their favorite exotic gear using Exotic Shards. Now, fully-leveled exotics can be ascended to the highest level with an Exotic Shard and a handful of general upgrade materials, with no extra legwork required. In fact, within a few minutes of starting House of Wolves, I was running around with a max-level Gjallarhorn and exotic Warlock helmet, a quarter of the way from level 32 to level 34, the new cap.

The bottom line is this: with some effort, Destiny fans can finally make their Guardian look how they want, using the weapons they love, without locking themselves out of the endgame. Perhaps more importantly, those that fell off the boat have a streamlined system to return to, with an easier path to the level cap than ever before.

What’s exciting about all this streamlining is that it doesn’t step on the efforts of all the players who have dedicated hundreds of hours to the game. It may be easier to get to level 34 now, but those players with three level 32 Guardians and a stockpile of gear and materials will have an easier time acquiring Etheric Light and ascending a larger stash of gear. It’s a better system for everyone.

But what’s a better system when so many of Destiny’s missions are kind of a drag? Well, I’m glad you asked.

House of Wolves’ story content is legitimately fun and interesting

Destiny House of Wolves

It’s obvious from the first story mission that Bungie is starting to hit their stride. You begin with a new vehicle, a Heavy Pike, five feet away. You take it into battle against a Fallen Walker and, as you’d expect, tear it to shreds with explosive shots and bouncing mines. That, plus some light-hearted banter between your handlers Petra Venj and Variks, set the tone for the rest of the story here.

It’s about going to cool places and doing fun things. Sure, it may re-use areas here and there, but they’re mostly underused areas of the game, repurposed for interesting encounters. Without ruining the surprise, there was one mission revisiting an iconic Destiny location where my friends and I lost it. “Oh man, are we seriously doing this?” I asked. “This is SO cool!” my buddy responded. At last, Destiny has moments beyond the raids where it’s about more than the shooting and looting — the context for it all is actually exciting.

Speaking of Raids…

Destiny House of Wolves

There isn’t one, and it’s been a point of contention leading up to the release of House of Wolves. What we get instead is Prison of Elders, a new wave-based mode that sits somewhere between Strike missions and raids in terms of challenge. Is it a worthy replacement for a proper raid? Yes, but with a caveat or two.  

Prison of Elders is a welcome break from the strict, punishing nature of Destiny’s raids. The precision required to execute successful raid runs made for an initially harrowing experience, securing my first Vault of Glass and Crota’s End victories as all-time gaming highlights. That said, coming back week after week became a chore, especially when glitches would cause failure in what had become a routine. Prison of Elders shakes that up, with loose objectives, four difficulty levels, and fresh content each week.

Starting at level 28, Prison of Elders divides the session into 5 rounds consisting of 3 waves or a boss round. Each round can have modifiers on it like a Nightfall, and each wave can feature an objective, like defusing mines or killing a VIP. At this level, Prison of Elders is an infinitely replayable activity, complete with matchmaking and consistent rewards. It’s a fun way to kill some time.

Where things get really interesting though is at the higher tiers — level 32, 34, and at the hardest, level 35, one beyond the level cap. In these tiers the Prison of Elders becomes a weekly activity, with set rounds and one big reward at the end. The final bosses start to introduce raid mechanics as well, with the level 35 Skolas fight requiring some truly insane coordination from all three players (unless they all have Gjallarhorns).

With weekly resets shaking things up, introducing new bosses, and twisting old ones with new modifiers, Prison of Elders will remain fresh long after a raid would have become routine. I’ve had some of my most harrowing House of Wolves moments trying to survive in the prison, and it’s come without the oppressive time commitment of the Vault of Glass or Crota’s End raids. That said, I do find myself missing some good six-player PvE content, and the mystery and awe of those first-time raids is utterly lacking here. Prison of Elders is Destiny at its most game-y, with no context for why you’re killing enemies that are already in jail, or why Variks is announcing things like “Round one” and shuffling you into enemy-themed arenas.

But what about Crucible?

Destiny House of Wolves

If Crucible PvP is your jam then I’m happy to report Bungie has done right by you here as well. Crucible rewards have never had parity with the PvE side of Destiny, often requiring far more work for the same gains. Thankfully, Bungie has made great strides here, doubling the amount of Crucible marks you gain and providing a generous care package for a player’s first match of the day.

House of Wolves also includes three new maps (four on Playstation), though it’s hard to get too excited about these thanks to how rarely you’ll see them. As with most shooters, pay-to-play maps rarely find their way into the most popular playlists. There’s a silver lining, though, as the maps from The Dark Below are now free for everyone and more likely to show up. This is a good precedent for multiplayer content (one Bungie played around with for Halo 2), which ensures we’ll eventually get to see these maps on a regular basis.

Regardless, the new maps are a bonus when compared to Destiny’s new mode, Trials of Osiris. This new endgame PvP mode runs Friday through Monday each week and features the most fiercely competitive, exciting battles this game has ever hosted. Trials of Osiris offers 3v3 elimination battles where players must kill the other team while reviving their teammates. The first team to win five rounds wins the match and adds a win to their scorecard, which can be traded in for unique Osiris gear.

The magic of this mode is how it enhances Destiny’s unique qualities rather than watering it down. The Halo series always struggled with this, as the e-Sports subset of the audience often demanded the removal of certain weapons and abilities for a more “pure” experience. Destiny escapes this fate with powers so outlandish that it feels more at home alongside games like League of Legends and Dota 2 than Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, and Halo. The resulting action is jam-packed with epic battles and exciting comebacks.  

So, House of Wolves = Best-iny?

Destiny House of Wolves

Pretty much. It’s not perfect, as there was so much to fix and one expansion can only address so much. Some weapons, like Gjallarhorn, still trivialize difficult content in an unfortunate way. What’s worse, the “cheese culture” Destiny’s miserly loot system fostered is hard at work hunting for exploits and clever hiding spots instead of playing the game as intended. In a few cases, like when hunting for “Treasure Keys” necessary to open the big chest at the end of Prison of Elders missions, these exploits seem justified, and Bungie will have to come up with fair ways to deal with them.

That said, this is the most hopeful I’ve been about Destiny’s future in a long time. By the end of my time with The Dark Below, I was absolutely gag-reflex-sick of Destiny. Now, I’ve had a week with House of Wolves and I can’t wait to get back to it. I’ll surely get bored again between now and September, but that’s okay. Thanks to the new systems in place, I won’t have that same anxiety about “keeping up with my friends” that I had in the past. At last, in so many ways, Destiny is a game we can all play for fun.

Bungie stumbled through the gate with Destiny’s launch and course-corrected too harshly with The Dark Below, so it’s quite a surprise to see House of Wolves arrive with such confidence. Whether in the quality of the gear or the quality of the content itself, House of Wolves represents Destiny at its most giving — its most rewarding. Rather than giving us a carrot on a stick they’ve tossed us into a room full of carrots and dared us to eat our way out.