Where The Dark Below seemed to stumble around in the, er, dark, Destiny's second so-called expansion, House of Wolves, clearly aims to right the wrongs of its predecessor. Alongside the shooter's most recent patches, the newest slice of downloadable content does its best to make meaningful, positive changes to the shooter's formula, and, to an extent, it succeeds. Bungie hasn't magically fixed all of the game's problems, but it's arguably tweaked just about as much as it can without overhauling the game as a whole.
The problem is that mere 'tweaks' may still not be enough to drag many disenfranchised players back into the fray. As with The Dark Below, House of Wolves' asking price seems steep for what you're actually getting in terms of content. The add-on features several new story missions, a new strike, a few new competitive multiplayer maps, and two new game modes. In all fairness, it's a decently sized package if you happen to play Destiny day in, day out, but for more casual users, it's still asking for a considerable chunk of change – especially if you haven't splashed out on the expansion pass.
Diving straight into the story content, it's clear that Bungie still hasn't quite fulfilled its promise of a rich and epic sci-fi narrative – but we doubt that anyone expected a vastly improved plot at this point. House of Wolves takes some inspiration from The Dark Below, in that a lot of its story is explained through new characters as you jog to your next objective. It's competent storytelling, if completely unexciting, although the overarching tale – which is all about a rebellious Fallen clan – does feature a few interesting bright spots here and there. Fortunately, the mission design is largely engaging, and there are numerous enjoyable shootouts to get stuck into.
Of course, those that play Destiny religiously will likely blitz through the fresh story missions in under a couple of hours, because at the end of the day, it's the co-op and competitive components that really matter. There's a ton of cool loot to find via House of Wolves, and with the maximum light level boosted to 34, there's once again plenty of reason to get grinding. Thanks to the title's latest update, upgrading your equipment so that you reach the new cap has never been simpler, as any piece of legendary or exotic gear can be improved with a new item: etheric light. This change potentially means that even those who don't own Destiny's expansions can hit that max light level, but dig a little deeper, and it's obvious that users who don't own the DLC are still being held back.
Etheric light is hard to come by, especially if you don't own House of Wolves. The said upgrade material drops from weekly nightfall strikes, Prison of Elders, and Trials of Osiris, and those in the know will quickly realise that the latter two activities are integral, exclusive parts of this new expansion. It's safe to say that players who have yet to nab the DLC remain at a disadvantage, but even then, we're sure that many would argue that etheric light is overly rare to begin with, even with the expansion installed.
Because it can take some time to gather enough etheric light to fully upgrade your favourite bits of equipment, we've no doubt that many Guardians will simply swap out their prized possessions for gear that drops from missions set within House of Wolves, which may naturally boast a higher default light level. And while there's nothing necessarily wrong with this – it's always exciting to grab new gear, after all – it's an example of how the game's progression system still hinges on some infuriatingly random elements. There's simply no end to the grind in sight.
However, if nothing else, the grind is what keeps people coming back to Destiny, and, for what it's worth, it has been made more enjoyable thanks to the aforementioned Prison of Elders. House of Wolves doesn't feature a raid, so there'll be no need to gather five other Guardians and head into an all-new abyss, perhaps to the relief of those who could never truly find the time to commit to the game's biggest challenges. Instead, Prison of Elders represents a more dynamic, streamlined experience that's far better suited to the overall grind.
The new mode requires a team of only three players, and the goal is to fight your way through waves of enemies while also fulfilling randomised objectives. At its core, it's a little reminiscent of Mass Effect 3's co-op component, and in truth, it's hard to believe that such an activity wasn't included in Destiny in the first place, as it appears to be perfectly suited to the title's general mission design. In a game where the silky smooth, satisfying gunplay is king, Prison of Elders scratches a particular itch that should have been scratched a long time ago, as you and a couple of friends mow down hordes of alien aggressors with your favourite instruments of destruction.
You'd best keep those friends around, too, because you'll likely need them for Trials of Osiris. A whole new competitive multiplayer mode, Trials of Osiris sees two teams of three battle it out in what has been billed as the title's most hardcore player-versus-player experience. While that accolade is still up for debate, there's no denying that the new mode can prove to be incredibly intense. Teammates can revive each other, but not themselves, and there are no respawns, which makes for matches where the balance constantly swings between certain defeat and utter victory. If you're looking for the thrill of battle, and know a couple of players who can communicate well, then Trials of Osiris could easily become an adrenaline junkies' new addiction.
As expected, House of Wolves sticks with the pack when it comes to story missions, strikes, and new multiplayer maps, but it still represents a point in Destiny's life where Bungie has tried to push things forward, attempting to leave behind the mistakes of the past in the process. Both Prison of Elders and Trials of Osiris are welcome additions to the formula, and are the real reasons to invest in the DLC – even if the asking price remains a little too steep and the title's core problems persist.