“Destiny, now with less grinding!”
Destiny is a deeply flawed experience, and yet I've spent nearly 50 hours with the game. It's a fundamentally sound shooter, and one that plays well with others. Everything around that core shooting experience brings the game down though. There's simply too much grinding and not enough content. Bungie attempts to fix those issues with House of Wolves, the latest expansion for the sci-fi FPS. It introduces new missions, new modes, and makes important tweaks to the equipment system. All of the changes improve the overall package, but they're not quite enough to make a significant impact.
I'd argue that lack of content stands out as Destiny's biggest flaw. Grinding for materials and equipment is a real drag, but grinding for materials and equipment while doing the same missions over and over again proves even more tedious. As the old adage goes, “variety is the spice of life.” In House of Wolves, that variety comes in the form of five new story missions and a strike. The story missions in particular showcase growth and improvement. They're far more challenging and blur the line between story mission and strike. But much like the core game, they can be completed in a short amount of time. The strike provides some quality entertainment in the form of a multi-part boss fight, but it also feels oddly familiar…
The familiarity stems from the fact that all missions take place on the same planets from the main game. At this point I know Destiny's Venus like the back of my hand. The overwhelming sense of déjà vu detracts from the missions, even though they're better versions of the typical Destiny content. House of Wolves does include a new hub area to compliment the Tower, but it can be explored in under a minute. It feels much smaller than the Tower, and thus the brief excitement of seeing a new area quickly fades.
Bungie redeems itself with the inclusion of Prison of Elders, a new PvE mode in which teams of three face numerous waves of enemies. On some level all of Destiny's PvE content involves waves of enemies, but the way it's presented in Prison of Elders adds a fun twist to the formula. There are five rounds with three waves each. Along the way players must complete random objectives to prolong the mode. If the team doesn't destroy those three mines floating in the air, it's back to the beginning of the round. Each round also introduces random modifiers, whether it's reduced cooldowns on abilities or a lack of defense while jumping. The modifiers add a dynamic element to Prison of Elders that helps alleviate repetition between rounds. It all culminates in a big boss fight with plenty of additional enemies. There's no hesitation when I say Prison of Elders is the most fun I had with House of Wolves.
The new expansion also includes a new PvP mode in Trials of Osiris, though it's only available on Fridays through Tuesdays. The mode pits two teams of three against each other and eliminates respawns completely. Teammates must revive each other and work together as one to ensure victory. Players purchase tickets beforehand, and the goal is to win 10 times on a single ticket to secure the best rewards. If a team loses three times, they have to turn in their tickets and start over. House of Wolves also includes a few new Crucible maps for PvP fans out there, though I continue to think PvP is the least compelling part of Destiny.
Perhaps the most important aspect of House of Wolves is how it addresses the equipment system in Destiny. Ascending weapons and armor and then upgrading them all over again was infuriating, but that's no longer the case. Players can ascend their equipment without resetting upgrade progress. All new equipment in the expansion requires less materials to upgrade in general, and House of Wolves also introduces etheric light. The new material is used to upgrade legendary items, so even old equipment can be made better in the expansion. Other small changes are included, such as the Speaker's ability to exchange important materials and the gunsmith's ability to reforge weapons and assign random perks. It all helps remove some of the grind of Destiny, which has sorely been needed since its launch.
As much as I appreciate the subtle changes to the equipment system, I also realize they're mostly aimed at players who consistently spend time with Destiny. Folks like myself who moved on from the game won't necessarily have a compelling reason to come back with House of Wolves. It represents a step in the right direction for Bungie, but it's also a $20 expansion that doesn't include a lot of content. The Destiny diehards out there might love it, but House of Wolves won't convert many skeptics.