House of Wolves, the new downloadable content for Bungie’s Destiny, dropped last week. Like the main title, it is both great and sometimes disappointing.
Destiny is polarising. People seem to love it or hate it. Destiny is paradoxical. In some ways it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played; in others it’s undeniably, well, shit.
Let’s talk about what goes right for the game: Bungie is the developer that brought you the original Halo trilogy, Halo: Reach and Halo: ODST. Halo games are, for the most part, mechanically flawless. So is Destiny. Running, driving, jumping, jetpacking, sliding, racking up headshots, and meleeing close enemies all feel superb here. The title is also pretty as hell. Some environments look sterile and uninspired, but it’s hard to argue that the plains of old Russia and your caped space marine don’t look baller as fuck.
Now I’m given the daunting task of summarising what Destiny does wrong. Got a minute, or ten? Much of Destiny’s world feels lifeless, un-lived-in and bland. Many of the game’s non-playable characters are voiced by big name actors (Peter Dinklage and Bill Nighy, for example) who without exception perform as if they’re really bored. And who wouldn’t be? Destiny aims at being a generation-spanning space opera, but the whole story revolves around fetch quests with little elaborative dialogue (and when there is speech I don’t usually understand what the space nerds mean). Destiny’s gameplay hook is that you repeat very little content over and over in a long grind to become stronger. I am partial to doing meaningless tasks for meaningless progression. Most people are not, and (quite rightly) feel let down as a result.
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Bungie had an excellent opportunity to remedy Destiny’s bevy of issues through downloadable content. The first piece of DLC was called The Dark Below. On this attempt Bungie completely missed the mark. The expansion included three or four new story missions, two new strikes, and a raid. In MMORPG (FPS) speak, that means loads of new opportunities to kill stuff. The issue was that the stuff you were killing was the same as in the main title, and where you were killing it was, with a few exceptions, also the same. The expansion also required players to fully re-level already maxed-out gear to reach the new level cap. At the end of the day The Dark Below got everything that Destiny excels at right, and everything that it fails at wrong.
So finally we’ve come to last week’s House of Wolves. Last week The Witcher 3 was also released, plus I have essays. The balancing act has been exhausting, but worthwhile. House of Wolves is far superior to the The Dark Below. As expected, new story missions and strikes were made available. A shiny raid was left out in favour of wave-based arena combat, reminiscent of Gears of War’s horde mode. This fresh idea is just enough to mix up what has previously made Destiny’s repetitive combat stale. Fighting oncoming swarms with friends is a tried and true formula, which seems almost original after hundreds of hours of fetch quests. A new one-life-per-round multiplayer mode was dropped too. The tactics and skills employed in this more careful game are in stark contrast to the run and gun combat seen in normal team deathmatch. Bungie also used House of Wolves to fix equipment progression (so you don’t have to do everything over). The uninspired narrative and characters have still not been addressed, but hey, let’s be fair, at this point they’re not what you keep coming back for.
Destiny is a mechanically sound grind-fest with innumerable problems. It’s a flawed gem. If you did not like the game to begin with, you probably never will. Having said that, the second expansion House of Wolves is the first step in the right direction that Bungie has made thus far.