Thursday, May 28, 2015

Back to the Grind: House of Wolves

Destiny's latest expansion has given way to new missions, new items, and a restructuring of the game overall; enough to encourage me to return to help the Traveler. I dove into the House of Wolves to see what new features Bungie has included and if it has helped or hurt the game after the criticism surrounding the last expansion.

New Focus, New Hub

The Reef is the focus of the DLC and as such, a new Hub world is where you will find all of your missions and objectives. You are dropped into a small square of vendors and bounty providers, all teasing new reputation for factions as well as new shaders and ships. The new bounties featured are weekly, instead of the daily ones found within the Tower, and offer different targets to track down and eliminate. Though another loading screen stands between you and the Tower, the previous hub world, the area does provide a focus on HoW content and keeps you chasing after what the new expansion could provide. The inconvenience of flying to the Tower to grab a Nightfall bounty is a little irksome, but the new group area is a breath of fresh air on the grind to a higher light level.

The Story Missions

The first few missions were pretty standard, but brought you back to locales that were all but ignored. Tracing your footsteps back to the hallway you were first running for your life in at the very beginning of the game was a humbling experience. The latter half is where the game stepped up, as you found yourself fighting against the House of Wolves in the Vault of Glass. It was a welcome surprise and even incorporated the Templar's Oracle mechanic featured in the actual raid, perhaps as a method of nudging casual players toward more serious raids.

It was an interesting experience, but culminated in an all too simplistic boss fight that provided little challenge, but setup a tease for finishing the fight in the Prison of Elders.

My, what big teeth you have!

The Shadow Thief

The new strike is a highlight of the DLC, and by far, one of the standout in terms of pacing and overall fun. Unlike the previous Strikes, The Shadow Thief has you consistently engaged with the boss throughout the course of the strike, knocking his health down a certain percentage to send him on the retreat while working your way through a multitude of Fallen adversaries. The Strike itself was challenging; with a close quarters tank fight, swarms of Fallen melee Captains, and an onslaught of varying Shanks. It is surprising, fast paced, and one of the more challenging Nightfalls.

Prison of Elders

The true DLC experience is found here, in the Prison of Elders. Upon completion of the main campaign you unlock this new challenge at four varying levels of difficulty.

You move into a random area and must battle hordes of enemies until nothing is left standing but your guardians. The catch comes in the form of objectives and modifiers. One wave may require you to dismantle mines scattered around the playing field, another may have you destroying an enemy before he reaches a checkpoint. Modifiers are also randomly in play, such as improving melee damage or increasing damage taken while in mid-air. the anus giving us instructions?

The objectives keep the mode from becoming a "back against the wall" scenario, requiring coordination to clear each wave. Challenge bosses such as the Hive Flame Prince who will immolate the floor for a time period or the Cabal leader that shuffles the elements of his shield are just a couple of snags at the higher end modes that provide something more than bullet sponge encounters. Overall it is a mode that requires adaptive play, and my team often found themselves trying to different strategies until something would click.

The end result is a treasure room featuring a few standard chests for strange coins and motes of light, but also a larger chest promising one exotic per character per week if you have a treasure key. These keys can appear in the small chests, be found in the chests that spawn during Queen Wrath bounties, etc. The higher the level of challenge you tackle, the better rewards, including etheric light to level existing gear or exotic weapons exclusive to the expansion.

Trials of Osiris

PvP is far from forgotten, and the Trials of Osiris is a new mode reserved for the best of the best. Teams of three compete for glory in 3v3 deathmatch. After a set amount of time, a control point spawns in the middle where those who are able to capture the point win the round. It is a juggle of revives and communication as you must eliminate all three players to take each round without allowing one of them to gain the upper hand. Your light level and gear, much like Iron Banner, all count; so do not expect to go in with a few greens and come out victorious.

Each player has to have a "scorecard" to play, and must achieve a set number of wins to get any of the rewards. Get three losses, and your scorecard is stuck and you must start from scratch if you want a higher number of wins. The more wins, the more loot. Nine straight wins and no losses? You win a trip to a special area of Destiny few will ever get to experience.

The downside? It is a nightmare to those who are not incredibly skilled at PvP and provides little incentive for those to take time to invest in improving. Getting nine wins and no losses provides incentive to do everything possible to take a victory...everything. There are random drops and a few boosts to also assist in taking one loss without it counting against your record, but the high risk gameplay is off-putting to someone who prefers raids. Not only that, but unlike Iron Banner, this event only lasts the weekend, limiting players who would be away from their consoles.

A lot of Grind, Too Little Reward

My biggest issue with the House of Wolves is that when the initial fun fades and the grind begins, it is a lot of work for very little payoff. You can grind out rep for the Queen's Wrath or play a dozen Prison of Elders matches, but everything takes a long time.

The prime reason? The drop rate for Etheric Light and Treasure Keys is horrendous. Bungie promised Etheric Light to be a pretty standard consumable and I fully expected to combine Vault of Light armor with my end-game gear for different combinations, but they are such a rare drop in a Nightfalls. For the multitude of guns and armor that I was looking forward to upgrading, I now feel like it will be a long time before any of that will occur. Treasure Keys? Everyone spent the dozens they got grinding away at the chests the week before the games release, and now they are such a slim drop that hardly anyone can open the Prison of Elders chest. If you have only one character, this expansion is basically giving you finger when it comes to loot.

As for the Trials of Osiris, I would love to delve into this mode, but why just a weekend? And unlike the Iron Banner, where I could win/lose without fault and still manage to get the rep needed through the week, the armor and exclusive zone feel unattainable. Bungie asks you partner up with two friends, but the majority of the players you will find online will give you a small job interview before even allowing you to join their team. "Got a Thorn? Stats Balanced Perfectly? Sorry, we need high-end fully upgraded gear for our team."

Bungie has done a great job reworking a lot of Crota's mistakes, and if that has shown us anything it is that they are listening to their fans. I hope they will address a lot of the community complaints with the game moving forward. House of Wolves has a lot of fun to offer, but one week in and the grind is already starting to wear on me.

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