Sunday, June 28

Destiny: House of Wolves Review (PS4): House Rules


Author's note: This review is very jargon heavy, so I'd recommend reading my review of the base Destiny game first if you haven't done so already. 

Destiny and its first expansion, The Dark Below (TDB), made for an interesting beast. The single player campaign across both releases can be mowed through without much concern for strategy, and experiencing it again with subsequently-created characters creates a strong sense of tedium. It was only when modifiers were introduced -- that increase the damage dealt and received by elements and specific attacks, or require you to swap between weapons -- that Destiny shone, and shone brightly. The endgame, for the most part, was characterised by introducing difficulty and a hint of unpredictability to the same levels that I and countless others had played over and over again for months at a time.

Also grinding. 

Over time Bungie made some effort to ease the brutally stingy nature of the random number generator (RNGeezus) that doled out rewards at the close of single and multiplayer activities. It also opened up the Weekly Heroic strikes to matchmaking, which made it easier to earn currency to more quickly progress through the mid twenties (i.e. level 25-28). The Crucible (for those not in the know, multiplayer) still offered few worthwhile rewards unless the Iron Banner (ie. level advantage-enabled tournaments) was running.

I made and attained the personal goal of hitting the level cap before House of Wolves (HoW) was released, and also made the decision to hang up my Iron Regalia Boots until the expansion materialised. All up it meant there was roughly 3 weeks where I wasn't combing the familiar depths of our solar system for sweet, sweet treasure. It was a break I needed though, as the life of a lone wolf (ie. one who does not have Destiny-playing friends and doesn't consult LFG sites) Destiny player can feel unrewarding at times. 


HoW is literally and philosophically a game changer. Literally, in that there's a wealth of new content available for high level players. Philosophically, in that by transparently advertising rewards for completing certain feats and activities, I made more of an effort to find companions to tackle big game challenges. 

Heroic additions
First things first, the new single player missions are fun, quickly consumed, and great additions to the Daily Heroic rotation. You wouldn't go as far to say that the new missions add coherence to Destiny's narrative as a whole, but you get a mildly interesting standalone tale with some likeable, though utterly disposable, new characters. 

Experienced players will be mildly disappointed by the lack of new locations, but the inescapable feeling that HoW is like a set of mirror tracks isn't exactly an unpleasant one. Quick glimpses of locations that were previously barred to raid parties are reason enough to play through the new story missions, but there are some worthwhile rewards for players before modifiers are reintroduced. 

First and foremost is the new special weapon variety, the sidearm, which will make Call of Duty players feel right at home. TDB's quest weapon was powerful, but required a lot of grinding to make it into something worthwhile; Vestian Dynasty, however, is strong out of the box and useful in many situations. Additionally, Motes of Light are offered up far more often, meaning you'll have additional means to afford exotic gear from Xur on weekends. 

The new strike is a step above all those that came before it, and is a lot gentler in terms of level design. Not to say that it's a pushover in Nightfall or Weekly Heroic varieties, but it's designed to be enjoyed as opposed to endured. Frequent encounters with big enemies are a welcome change to the wave-based nature of previous strikes, and I've been more than happy to play through it repeatedly with both of my characters. 

In addition to scripted missions, every week you can pick up fresh Fallen bounties from the Reef social space. On completion, you'll not only gain a significant experience boost for new weapons and armour, you'll also get a chance to find Fallen treasure chests that contain ammo syntheses, engrams, and treasure keys for the Prison of Elders. 

Captivated by the Elders
Minor spoiler alert: finishing all of the new scripted PvE activities opens up the Prison of Elders (PoE) for Fireteams of 3. PoE, for those who enjoyed Gears of War or Halo, are your Horde and Firefight modes that pit a team of Guardians against 5 rounds of wave-based encounters and boss fights. Unfortunately, only the lowest tier of this activity is open to matchmaking; meaning that players wanting the high level gear offered as rewards for completing the harder difficulties are going to have to make friends (or acquaintances at the very least).


For my part, I finally downloaded a 'looking for group' (LFG) app to find teammates. It turns out there are a shitload of people wanting to play Destiny's many different activities at any point in time. The random teammates you acquire through LFG apps and sites aren't, from experience, the most dependable of companions, but they will try their damnedest to get the job done (as they're after the same loot you're yearning for). Over the last few weeks I've seen my friend list swell from just over 20, to more than 50, and I'm regularly invited to raid the Vault of Glass (never mind my success rate), and partake in other activities I've already completed many times over.    

PoE is a solid addition to the weekly schedule, and the 4 difficulty settings make for genuinely different experiences:
  • Level 28: a calm jog through manageable boss encounters and waves of standard enemies, with modifiers offering a gentle challenge. A PoE run at this difficulty takes slightly longer than a strike on a higher level playlist, but if you're packing a treasure key, the rewards can be significantly greater. For example, my first PoE chest contained a second Gjallahorn. 
  • Level 32: entirely doable, but some combinations of enemies and modifiers will require multiple attempts if your Fireteam is careless. The fifth wave is comprised of a boss fight that has some raid-like qualities. For example: Qodron, the Forever Eater, detains Guardians in a fashion similar to the Templar in the Vault of Glass.  
  • Level 34: as above, but extremely difficult if your fireteam is below the recommended level. Some modifier and enemy combinations can have you stumped for as long as an hour. Some boss fights are brutally difficult at this level. 
  • Level 35: thanks to some extremely talented players I met through a Kotaku Australia readers' Vault of Glass run (and a recent hot fix which nerfed the final boss), I was able to conquer one of the greatest challenges available in Destiny. Six waves await, and you'd be wasting your time if you were to attempt this without having first hit the level cap. The sixth wave pits you against the Kell of Kells, and features all the hallmarks of Bungie level design. It's thrilling, frustrating, and extremely satisfying. 
It's possible to hit the new level cap of 34 just by completing the Level 32 variety each week,  but if you want high level gear that buffs anything other than your strength stat, you'll need to save up some cores and have a gamble with Variks, the Fallen judge who oversees PoE. 

Knowing (for the most part) what weapons and armour are available for completing PoE runs at higher levels was the key reason for my becoming a more active Destiny player. It's also a welcome change to the seemingly arbitrary way that most players had to progress through the endgame. No more hoping for those raid boots to drop after beating bosses for the upteenth time. 

Just like your favourite band
What becomes apparent after you claim your first weapon from Variks, is that the new, high level weapons aren't as good as the gear you'll find in the raids from the base game and TDB. If you take a primary from the Vault of Glass, like Vision of Confluence as an example: a scout rifle that deals solar damage, and fires in full auto mode; "ascend" it to the highest attack level and you'll find it infinitely more useful than any of the legendary primaries you can earn from PoE or the Crucible. 

Ascending old weapons to the new attack stat cap is possible through use of Etheric Light for legendary weapons, or an additional Exotic Shard for older exotics. While older armour can also be ascended, there's more promise in the older items of weaponry I had locked up in my vault for months now. 

Destiny is a game that is battling with its brief history. New legendary weapons can be reforged at the Tower's Gunsmith, allowing you to try and "roll" for some better perks. None of the combinations I've seen so far come close to compensating for a lack of elemental damage, and some of the new perks seem almost useless to me. For example, why would I be interested in a rocket launcher that allows me to sprint faster after a kill, or a fusion rifle that that deals more damage when I'm airborne? This ability to have a mulligan with legendaries also makes these weapons seem 'legendary' by name only. The only exception to the above comes in the form of the sidearm, the new type of special weapon that I mentioned earlier. 

If you're interested in reading into this further, Kotaku's Kirk Hamilton gives a great overview of how the shiny new guns won't cut it against an old Felwinter's Lie or Two To The Morgue.  

The new exotic weapons are also interesting in that some appear to fuse weapon types, much like the Vex Mythoclast (a hybrid auto and fusion rifle). Queenbreaker's Bow is a cross between a sniper and a fusion rile, whereas the Lord of Wolves is a shotgun that fires like a pulse rifle. I've only managed to earn Lord of Wolves so far, but it truly earns the exotic slot (for those not in the know, you can only equip one exotic weapon at a time). It looks otherworldly in comparison to other shotguns, and its high impact and large magazine make it highly effective against packs of enemies. 

That being said, I'm still finding it hard to get away from my Gjallahorn and Ice Breaker, so while they have allure, the new exotic weapons face a similar struggle to their legendary counterparts.  

Spreading wealth at the top
The increased level cap has been reason enough for all Tower vendors to stock new armour at the previous high of 36 light. This means that anyone who found themselves #Forever29 or 31 will be able to hit level 32 after spending a few hundred marks.

Thanks to a friend who has recently started playing, however; it's interesting to note this change still hasn't helped the grind for players in the early twenties. The highest level you can hit with rare gear is still level 25, and you still need to hit rank 2 with Vanguard or Crucible before you can purchase legendary armour. This then makes levels 26 through 31 seem redundant, as you'll surpass them as soon as you rank up with the Vanguard, Crucible, or with the clans; provided you have enough marks, which you should because it's not like you can spend them beforehand anyway.

I'm still struggling to see why you'd want to increase your reputation with a clan unless you really like their aesthetic. Increasing your Vanguard or Crucible reputation level still grants engrams that can decode to clan gear, and perk rolls for these seem to be just as useless and/or arbitrary as those for non-clan armour and weapons. Clan armour is also sold at 36 light, so the path to the level cap works in exactly the same way.


The last thing worth noting is that HoW exotics already have the maximum light stat of 42, whereas older exotics acquired through engrams or bought via Xur still need to be upgraded. It's not a huge deal, but again there seems to be a penalty of sorts for working with older gear.

Feuding with friends
Big changes came to the Crucible with the launch of HoW. There's not only new maps and modes to play with; the Crucible is now offering more than a pittance if you enjoy playing against other players. Playing a match of the daily featured game type now grants an experience bonus, a small package of Motes of Light and Passage Coins (for the Trials of Osiris), and even has a high chance of granting a legendary weapon.

It was almost farcical (in the best way possible) how during the first running of the Iron Banner after HoW launched, players seemed to be getting legendary weapons after every second game. I amassed enough Passage Coins to buy each of the 'boons' for the Trials of Osiris several times over. This renewed sense of generosity has actually compelled me to play more PvP than I would outside of the Iron Banner tournament as well.

The new maps range from cramped and uncomfortable, to beautiful and spacious, but if you're only into playing Destiny for PvP, I'm not sure they'd be reason enough to take the plunge. No, that would likely come in the form of Trials of Osiris (ToO), a 3 versus 3 elimination mode that is run on weekends, and offers the chance to win some exclusive, Ancient Egyptian-themed gear.


I've played ToO with LFG randoms and known Destiny enthusiasts, and while more fun with people you know, it can be genuinely exciting either way. My only advice would be 'prepare to be Thorned', as almost every player you'll encounter through this mode is packing that exotic hand cannon thanks to its ability to poison targets.

ToO matches play out on the same map every time for a given week, and this has seen the development of some clever strategies. One of the funniest matches I played was against a group who camped at the starting point on 'Pantheon', a map from TDB. My Fireteam was wiped 4 times in a row when we tried to rush the platform they fortified, but we turned the tide once we pulled out our sniper rifles. 

That sense of panic that sets in when you're tied on match point (first to 5 wins) with your Fireteam downed is something new to the Crucible. It's something that I'd also argue is sorely needed. With almost all of Destiny's modes playing like CoD with double jumps, it's good to have something that feels different, with higher stakes too.

Feast fit for the House of Kings
Despite my complaints, this latest expansion for Destiny is well worth the price of admission. It makes the later stages of the end game far gentler, and provides a slew of challenges for any type of Destiny player.

The emerging challenge for Bungie will be making Destiny less of a grind for new players, whilst also honouring the time invested by long time enthusiasts. In the short term, my suggestion would be to remove the reputation rank requirement for buying legendary armour from Tower vendors, but other than that, Bungie needs to be a little more explicit in how to traverse the game post-campaign.

I know people who've played the game for more than forty hours who are still struggling to come to grips with the light system. You can have spectacular mysteries like the Vault of Glass and have players know how to progress, and I'm sure we'll get there by the time The Taken King comes along.

I don't see me hanging up my Starfire Protocol any time soon. I've still got to finish Crota's End on hard, and somehow find my way to Mercury. I still want to finish Crota's End on hard and somehow find my way to Mercury. For someone who used to jump from game to game on an almost daily basis, I'd argue that is an achievement. 

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