Taking a sort of “kitchen sink” approach to DLC, Bungie's latest expansion for Destiny, House of Wolves, offers a little bit more of pretty much everything the first-person shooter already has to offer. But even with a bunch of new gear, new missions and new modes, is that enough to warrant a return trip to this solar system torn by war?
Destiny has led an interesting life through its first eight months on the market. Coming from the folks behind the Halo series and marking their return to multi-platform development, everyone expected something huge out of this latest first-person shooter. Spurring those expectations on were plenty of grandiose statements from the development team, promising players a multiplayer shooting experience unlike anything they've ever experienced.
Whether or not Destiny lived up to those promises became the topic of much debate. Some were quite vocal about how much they disliked the game while an equal number were outspoken about how fantastic it was. Even the critics seemed split, panning the game for less-than-stellar voice acting, a barely there story and a loot system that required a huge amount of grinding while simultaneously praising its scope, design and finely-tuned shooting.
Several months back, Destiny's first major piece of DLC dropped, The Dark Below, offering a handful of new missions, a new six-player Raid, a couple of new three-player Strikes, some multiplayer maps and, of course, lots and lots of new gear. Like with the core game, whether or not this content was worth your time and money became a topic of debate. The story missions were extremely brief and still suffered from a lack of interesting content. Everyone seemed to like the Raid, Strikes and Multiplayer maps, but it still felt like something was missing from the equation.
Which brings us to House of Wolves, which I feel is proof that Bungie is finally figuring out what those missing ingredients are. It's still not a home run in the DLC department, but everything here shows that the team is trying to flesh out the game more, as well as respond to player feedback.
The first thing you're going to want to check out once you boot up this latest content is the new Reef social space. It's nowhere near as large as the Tower from the core game, which I think is a huge plus. Destiny's social spaces are anything but “social,” and I never understood why the Tower was spread so thin to begin with. I feel like they could have simply re-purposed the special event courtyard at the Tower to take care of everything the new Reef space has to offer, but that's not a big issue. House of Wolves offers a bunch of new gameplay options that require their own vendors to handle, so it makes sense (both organizationally and for the plot) that they get their own hub.
After touring the Reef a bit, you'll be thrust into your first of several new story missions that have you on the hunt for Draksis and his Fallen cohorts. If you've been following all of the pre-DLC media, those are the alien scum that betrayed the Queen of the Awoken after she offered them a safe haven. They killed a bunch of her people, so now she wants you to return the favor.
Similar to the missions from The Dark Below, these new campaign bits will have you revisiting areas you're already familiar with, typically in a reverse run from your first time through the campaign. A handful of new locations pop up, including a really spiffy final encounter, but you're basically doing the same stuff you've grown used to over the past year: Shooting a bunch of baddies. There are a couple of new enemy types to get to know, and you even get to zip around on a lovely new Heavy Pike, but don't expect to be blown away by the narrative or kept busy for more than a couple of hours, tops.
Thankfully, your motivations seem a bit more focused this time around and, rather than have one near-crazy zealot barking orders in your ear, this time you're accompanied by a super excited emissary of the Queen and a member of the Fallen who wants to see his former comrades brought to justice for their heinous crimes. They work well as a sort of odd couple and make your missions feel more like a team effort. So, yes, the new story content is super short once again, but at least they're starting to figure out how to tell a better tale within Destiny's unique structure.
There's no new Raid this time around, but the Thieve's Den Strike offers another chance for you and a couple of friends to team up and go after another bullet sponge of a boss. The chain of gameplay in this new Strike is at least more varied than some of the previous romps and the final battle is decent enough but, like with the new campaign missions, it's a step in the right direction that's still a good ways off from perfecting the formula.
There are also a handful of new multiplayer maps for fans of PvP, including one of my new favorites in the entire game, Widow's Court. Set in a crumbling English city, this location is far removed from anything we've seen in Destiny's admittedly wide range of locations so far, while still boasting the trademark Bungie attention to detail when creating thoughtful killing grounds for multiplayer shootouts. Like with the DLC overall, there's a little something for everyone here, including a couple of smaller maps perfect for claustrophobic shootouts and a pair of larger locations that will have you constantly on the lookout for sneaky snipers.
What really sets House of Wolves Apart from the pack, though, is the new late game content and the new leveling system for gear. One of my greatest complaints for the game in general is that, while full of content, it's still pretty lacking in variety. House of Wolves offers two new modes to change up the pace a bit, both of which are a welcome surprise.
The Prison of Elders is a three-player horde mode that has players moving from room to room, mowing down countless enemies. What sets this apart from the other shooting galleries in the game are the randomized enemy types, boons and play modifiers. One room may have you tackling the Fallen with a modifier that makes you deal more damage while airborne. Another room will have you taking out the Vex while subsequently needing to disarm or destroy mines. The next room could have you facing off against the Hive with an occasional primary target running about. Fail to kill that particular enemy and it's game over. Don't worry, though, because this room also grants super fast recharge for your grenades and, wouldn't you know it, they also dropped in a heavy ammo crate to help you along.
After you make it through the four standard rooms, you'll be dropped into a boss fight against a random baddie the Awoken managed to capture. You'll recognize many major enemies from the game proper, and they're always accompanied by a horde of followers. Make it through that, and you'll be dropped into a new loot room that's well worth the effort. Two small treasure chests grant engrams, strange coins and resources galore and, if you have a rare key on hand, you can open a final massive chest that offers up even better goodies, including exotic weapons.
Only the Level 28 version of the Prison of Elders offers matchmaking, with more difficult levels above that requiring a pre-made fireteam. That kind of limitation is still frustrating as hell for me, but at least those of us who have trouble finding folks to play with aren't totally locked out of the experience.
Also available for late game players are the Trials of Osiris, available through the competitive Crucible menu. This mode is for three-player fireteams only and it gives folks a new way to test their skills against the best players in the game. Your mission is simple: Kill the other team. Do that and you move on through the ladder, fail and you've got some ground to make up. Lose three matches total and you're out of the running. Win nine matches total and you've got even better rewards to look forward to. You can come in packing some specialty items that either forgive a loss or start you out with a win, for instance, and earning nine wins straight will even open up yet another special social space where you can find even more rewards.
If you haven't caught on yet, House of Wolves is all about pouring out the goods on a regular basis. Not only has Bungie made it a bit easier to get the gear and firearms you've been grinding eight months to track down, but they've also retooled the upgrade system, meaning you won't have to scrounge for as many scarce materials to get your new gauntlets or sniper rifle up to max level. This, more than anything, makes me feel like I'll be sticking with Destiny for quite a while longer. After The Dark Below launched, I played Destiny for a couple of weeks, shrugged, and moved onto something else. Following the House of Wolves update, I feel like my effort is being more fairly rewarded, which is a great way to keep me coming back for more. There's still plenty of grinding, but at least I feel like progress is being made at a decent clip.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not at least mention one of my favorite new things House of Wolves has to offer: The Sidearm weapon type. Taking up your secondary weapon slot, this bad boy looks and feels like a 45mm pistol and, more than anything, it's a heck of a lot of fun to shoot. The animations are great, the sound is great and the version every player is handed early on in the new story missions fires as fast as you can pull the trigger. On top of all of that, it does a fantastic job of removing enemy shields, and it kicks out a lot of damage. Here's hoping we get even more fun guns in the expansions to come.
So, there you have it: Lots of content, a couple of new game modes that spice up the variety nicely and a loot system improvement that was long overdo. And then there are those great new maps for PvP, a fun new gun and all of the other small additions I didn't have time to mention. Destiny's House of Wolves expansion is a positive move for the shooter, and seeing these types of improvements builds confidence that we've got even more great stuff coming our way in the months to ahead. In the meantime, I'm left with a more varied, far more rewarding game to help me pass the time.
Platforms: PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One