Destiny: House of Wolves - A Short Pause Review
*Note: The House of Wolves is an expansion to a game we’ve already reviewed, and as such, will not be scored with a number at the conclusion of the review. You can watch our Destiny video review to see what we thought of the main game here!*
Here in the Short Pause offices, we’ve been playing Destiny’s House of Wolves expansion for weeks now, and we’re finally ready to deliver our verdict! We’ve played through the story missions, took down Taniks the Scarred in the new Strike, and survived the Prison of Elders to talk about it. We stood toe to toe in the Trials of Osiris and…well…the Trials of Osiris kicked our collective ass. But I digress! We’ve hit the level cap, found some cool new gear, and even come across a few pieces of rare Etheric Light! But is the House of Wolves any good, you say? Is this an expansion that only seasoned Destiny veterans will enjoy, or is there something for the new guys too? The answers to these questions and more await in the words below, so what are you waiting for? Let’s get to it!
After extensively playing Destiny proper and the game's first expansion, The Dark Below, I wasn't expecting much from the story missions in the House of Wolves. I mean, let's face it; Destiny is as well known for its confusing story and shallow narrative, as it is for its impeccable gameplay and cooperative design. Basically, I went into the House of Wolves story missions knowing what I was getting myself into; there would be an NPC talking to me throughout every mission, filling in the "story" and "lore" along the way, and I'd make my way from room to room, engaging in intense firefights with wave after wave of enemies. I wasn't far from the truth. Sure, I was expecting to have a great time with the House of Wolves — especially in the company of a Fireteam of friends — but it wouldn't be because the narrative suddenly rivaled Naughty Dog's next opus. The House of Wolves is full of entertaining missions that allow Destiny's trademark rock solid gameplay to shine.
The actual story idea behind the House of Wolves is really cool. Skolas, a rogue Fallen leader at the head of the eponymous House of Wolves, is making a power play to try and unite the disparate Fallen houses under his rule. As you may have guessed, this is bad news. It's up to you, therefore, as Guardian and protector of the realm, to make sure this doesn't happen. You track Skolas through five story missions (and a random Patrol session for good measure) across both Earth and Venus in your quest to help capture him for the Awoken Queen.
As anticipated, the narrative and its structure are essentially the same as they've always been. You're still a nameless Guardian. There are still no cutscenes or character scenes to flesh out the story. The narrative is still told through NPCs talking off screen that you never personally see or interact with during the missions. It's still Destiny. That said, gameplay is king as always with Bungie's sci-fi shooter, and there are some incredibly fun missions to experience with the House of Wolves expansion. Players experience the story missions in much the same way they did with The Dark Below. Petra Venj, the Queen's Emissary who you may have seen in The Tower on several occasions, assumes the same role Eris Morn filled during the previous expansion, spearheading the hunt for Skolas and dolling out missions in the form of a series of quests you obtain from her in the new Reef social space, the Vestian Outpost.
"A Kell Rising," the first House of Wolves story mission, finds noble Guardians trailing Skolas across the surface of Venus, mounting the new Fallen Heavy Pike — complete with deployable mines — and doing battle with a Fallen Wolf Walker. If you make it past the Walker with your Ghost intact, you'll encounter a new enemy type (the sniper-esque Tracer Shank) on your way to the mission's epic final encounter with three massive waves of Fallen, full of Scorch Captains and other assorted majors whose only objective is to gun you down. It's a great way to kick off the House of Wolves, while the mission's final battle, as Brent so astutely pointed out during our play session, simultaneously provides you with a tantazlizing preview of the kind of war that eventually awaits you in the Prison of Elders. From here, the stakes only continue to raise, culminating in a final battle with Skolas that is pretty neat. There are some nice twists along the way, which I won't spoil here, that longtime fans will appreciate.
As far as locations go, many have lamented the expansion's reuse of areas we've visited previously. I understand the complaints here, as several of the missions involve backtracking through familiar areas from another direction, but it wasn't much of an issue for me. We've been in the same areas since the game launched last September, so I wasn't suddenly expecting to be charting new ground here. There are a couple of new areas for players to explore along the way, as well as the return of a few familiar locations that will make hardcore fans smile.
Overall, the story missions in the House of Wolves fare much better than those found in The Dark Below. The story is more cohesive as a whole, and the missions are more substantial than those found in the previous expansion. While the House of Wolves doesn't reinvent Destiny's narrative wheel — I'm hoping this is one of the pillars Bungie tackles in Destiny 2 — it provides a fun experience that, when coupled with all of the other changes surrounding the House of Wolves, fans both new and old should enjoy.
The New Strike and Upgrade System
One of my favorite additions to the game is definitely the new strike mission, The Shadow Thief. In The Shadow Thief, you are tasked with boarding a huge Ketch ship and eliminating a ruthless Fallen mercenary named Taniks the Scarred. As expected, Taniks is a tough customer, much like the Archon Priest. However, this fight plays out differently than any other boss encounter in the game. In other strikes, you fight your way through enemies from one area to the next until you reach the boss. When fighting Taniks, you actually chase him through the interior of the ship and fight him in four different areas. This method makes the entire strike feel like one epic boss fight, and I found it to be a very interesting, refreshing change of pace. In one moment you'll be fighting a spider-tank while dodging snipers and Exploding Shanks. In the next, you'll be following the boss through a winding hallway, doling out damage while avoiding his rockets. This all builds to an intense final showdown, wherein the damage you've done on the boss up to that point actually makes a difference. I'm very pleased with the design of The Shadow Thief, and I hope we see more strikes like it in the future.
Another noticeable change to Destiny is the new upgrade system for weapons and armor. Previously, the only way to level up a piece of Legendary gear was to grind for the XP necessary to reach the max level, with the final three progression nodes requiring ascendant materials. This method has been done away with, as any new Legendary gear you obtain will already be at a certain level (Light level 36 for armor, 331 attack for weapons), and can be ascended to the new maximum levels by means of Etheric Light or Exotic Shards. On the surface, this new leveling system seems to eliminate much of the level grinding for which Destiny is known. That is, until you realize that Etheric Light is exceedingly difficult to obtain. There are only a few ways to get it, and not all of them are guaranteed. As of this writing, no one on the Short Pause staff has been able to acquire this precious resource. But, this is Destiny we're talking about; grinding is part of the game. That's why we keep playing it. There's always something to do, and always something to work towards.
The Prison of Elders
Like several of my fellow Short Pause Guardians, the Prison of Elders seemed to be the most appealing addition to our beloved shooter. Taking the place of a Raid in this expansion pack, the Prison of Elders introduces us to a wave-based survival mode with a plethora of options that provide a high level of re-playability. Just as you would for a Raid, gear up and be prepared to fight as you and your Fireteam descend beneath the Reef to do battle with the notorious baddies housed below.
One of the features that will keep this mode fresh week after week is the addition of modifiers to each run. A full playthrough of the Prison of Elders consists of five rounds, each with their own enemy alien race and modifier that you’ll need to contend with. While the modifiers for the higher level arenas (that’s levels 32, 34, and 35 for those keeping track) are preset and can be previewed via the game’s companion app, you never quite know what to expect when diving into a level 28 Prison run. That said, even knowing that the next room you enter will contain Hive enemies who do increased melee damage only guarantees that going into the next fight you’ve got the deck stacked against you, despite any level advantages you may have. It’s in these moments that the Prison is a truly rewarding experience. Conquering a room with a modifier that screams defeat yields the same kind of thrill you feel when making progress into the next area of a Raid.
Playing through the Prison on each of the different difficulty levels is actually a significant change of pace. While sticking to the outer wall to cover yourself may be a sound way to tackle most waves in the level 28 arena, you may find you and your teammates are fish in a barrel when trying to execute this strategy in a level 32 version of the Prison. While I haven’t necessarily noticed more enemies on-screen per se, they are definitely stronger, far more shielded, and just flat out angrier (like someone locked them away or something!) in the upper tier arenas. It pays to learn the nooks and crannies of each arena so that you and your Fireteam can get a lay of the land. Knowing where to regroup, or where to spread out to give the team a fighting chance for victory when the heavies roll in and try to pin you down, is key to your success here. The higher difficulty Prisons also bring with them unique boss fights. These big baddies each have an ability or quirk that makes fighting them a more strategic and calculated affair. While one boss may require your team to bring him down while avoiding the ground at certain points as he ignites it with fire (more than likely solar burn will be your modifier for this one!), another one may require you to bring down an ever changing shield before you can do any kind of damage. Success, even on the lower difficulty levels, brings a high comparable to the first time you brought down Atheon or Crota in one of the game’s signature Raids.
In a lot of ways, the Prison of Elders is the ultimate test of not only skill, but of everything players have learned throughout their battles against the forces of the Darkness up to this point. Until I started playing with the team here at Short Pause, I only ever used to keep a single weapon for each slot, despite having 12 available slots for each weapon type. I quickly learned the benefits of keeping a variety of weapons in my loadout — thanks to our own “Dictionary of Destiny,” Bender — as you never know when you’re going to need to pull out the Truth rocket launcher (because the Short Pause Guardians are on Gjallahorn’s “Do Not Reward” list apparently) for some void damage, or when you’ll require Red Death’s healing factor. Furthermore, it pays to understand your enemies; knowing when to roll into an arena with Swordbreaker, or that fancy new Vestian Dynasty sidearm, loaded and ready to go is critical.
While I still have a long way to go before I’ve conquered everything there is to see and do in Destiny’s newest mode (as of this writing, the highest Prison I’ve completed has been a level 32 arena), I can say without hesitation that the Prison of Elders has lived up to, and even surpassed, my expectations. It encapsulates the best moments Destiny’s PvE brings to the table in a single event that could take your team anywhere from half an hour to several hours to complete. By the end, the only thing that may bring down the high of your success is a disappointing reward from the treasure room below. Enemies will come in hot and heavy and try to kill you…it’s up to you to “kill them back!”
Frankie pretty much nailed it in regards to how intense, exciting, and jubilant one game (hell, one round!)of the Prison of Elders can be. I was one of the many skeptics who were concerned about a new PvE mode being added to the House of Wolves expansion in lieu of a brand new Raid. Would it live up to the hype? Would it complement the totally awesome Raids? Well, speaking on behalf of Short Pause, I’d say the answer to both of these questions is a resounding YES!
One aspect of the Prison of Elders that I really enjoy — and I feel keeps this from being a simple “band together and hunker down” Horde mode — are the random objectives that will pop up on occasion. As much as I love trying to eliminate an entire group of Fallen to make it to the next round, there’s just not much thought required as a team to accomplish that feat. Thankfully, Bungie threw in a few curveballs that will require quick-thinking strategic decisions by you and your team.
There are several different objective types that have the potential to spring up over the course of a Prison of Elders run. First up, there will be rounds where you will be required to eliminate a high-value target before they make their way to a designated escape point. This will require you and your squad to make your way around the map, dodging all of the regular enemies in an effort to take down the VIP before they can escape. It puts you out in the open and raises the stakes considerably as you’ll have to step out from behind that cove you’ve been holding down. Protip: If you have the Celestial Nighthawk helmet and are able to hit the VIP with the Golden Gun super as a Hunter (6X damage!), you will knock off about half of the target’s energy immediately.
The other objectives involve three mines that will randomly spawn across the map, and you’ll be tasked with either dismantling them (think control points) or destroying them (the much easier task; you just shoot them). It’s during these objectives where the Hunters and Titans are particularly useful, especially when you have to dismantle the mines. The Titans can drop their bubble shields under each mine, making capturing them relatively easy. Just mind the charging Thralls and aggressive Knights. The Hunter subclass can go invisible to avoid enemy attention, which works great if you need someone to grab the mine that’s furthest away without anyone noticing.
All in all, the Prison of Elders has definitely surpassed my expectations greatly, and I’m relieved knowing that my initial concerns have been squashed. The sheer level of excitement and sense of accomplishment that can be had from the Prison of Elders is what I’ve come to expect from most of the modes offered in Destiny (with the exception of the campaign, of course!). See you in the Prison, Guardians!
Trials of Osiris
The Short Pause Guardians are a prideful bunch that very rarely back away from a challenge. When the Trials of Osiris PVP mode was officially revealed, I specifically remember saying to myself, “This is it, this is the mode we’ve been waiting for. A mode that requires constant communication and teamwork.” The concept is pretty simple, really; pick up a Trials Passage card — which acts as your ticket to enter the tournament — and try to win as many matches as you can before you lose three times. Each match is round based, and the first team to win five rounds wins that match. The game itself is easy enough; the winner is the first squad to rack up a total of five enemy kills or eliminate the entire opposing team so that no one can be revived. I’ve had fun in the Crucible since Destiny launched last year, but this was going to be the mode that kept me engaged in the Crucible for many months, if not years, going forward.
Now, as confident as I was in our abilities as a team in terms of communication and working together, I expected there to be many squads comprised of some of the best players Destiny has to offer. Unfortunately, no matter who we played, we never had a chance. To say we played poorly would be extremely generous; we got absolutely annihilated. I don’t mean that we only won a few matches either; I mean we never won a single round in NINE straight matches. Yup, you did the math right; that’s 45 straight losing rounds. It was bad enough that every team we played was ultra-aggressive and had us in their sights before we even knew what was going on, but when you add in the fact that seemingly everyone would Hawkmoon us to sleep within seconds, our struggles quickly turned to frustration. Needless to say, with the exception of the Iron Banner, we’ve turned our focus to the Prison of Elders and all of the other PvE activities Destiny has to offer. I’m not sure when, or if, we will ever participate in the Trials of Osiris again, but I’m sure the reward tiers will more than likely tempt us back in at some point. It’s an intense mode for sure, but it’s also one where only the best of the best will succeed.
In the end, I think we can all agree that the House of Wolves expansion is the add-on that Destiny players both wanted and needed. The new upgrade system is a total game changer, and Destiny is a better experience because of it. You no longer need to worry about trying out that new gun or that new piece of armor and suffering a downgrade in your character because of it. The new Strike is a blast, and the Prison of Elders is completely and totally awesome. While the narrative hasn’t improved much with this new expansion, the story missions are a step in the right direction and a marked improvement from those featured in The Dark Below. If you’re new to the world of Destiny, there’s never been a better time to jump into the game. There is a ton of content available with both the main game and its expansions, and the fundamental changes that the House of Wolves has brought to Destiny are absolutely for the better. And for those of you who’ve been playing this game since Day 1? Who am I kidding, you were online collecting Queen’s bounties the minute the update went live. Kudos to Bungie for listening to their fans and improving on the great foundation they laid when they released the game last September; House of Wolves is great addition to the Destiny experience.
With that said, there’s only one question left to ask: What awaits us after the inevitable arrival of “The Taken King?”