Des­tiny: House Of Wolves

EDGE - - PLAY - Pub­lisher Ac­tivi­sion Devel­oper Bungie For­mat 360, PS3, PS4 (ver­sion tested), Xbox One Out now

Ever since Des­tiny’s re­lease, Bungie has as­sured its play­ers that they are be­ing lis­tened to, that the stu­dio’s 500-strong team is work­ing around the clock to shape this am­bi­tious, yet flawed, online shooter into the game its fans want and de­serve. It has rarely felt like the truth, the stu­dio’s por­ten­tous, in-uni­verse com­mu­ni­ca­tions dis­miss­ing long-stand­ing griev­ances while it works to its own agenda. Fi­nally, eight months and change on, Bungie is start­ing to de­liver: House Of Wolves is the work of a stu­dio serv­ing its play­ers, rather than cater­ing to the whims of those within its walls.

Had you told us a few months ago that one of the so­lu­tions to Des­tiny’s many knotty prob­lems was yet another ad­di­tion to its con­vo­luted morass of cur­ren­cies, we’d have laughed you out of the room. Etheric Light is ex­actly that, a sin­gle-use item used to as­cend leg­endary weapons or ar­mour pieces to the new max­i­mum level. It saves the launch game’s loot pool from ob­so­les­cence, let­ting you raise 300-dam­age weapons to 365, and ar­mour to the new cap of 42. It af­fords the player a long-over­due say in their endgame load­outs, let­ting them choose the guns, gear, perks and look they want, rather than in­sist­ing they pick from a tiny pool of raid drops and ex­otics. And cru­cially, there are well-de­fined ways to ac­quire a few guar­an­teed Etheric Lights each week, elim­i­nat­ing the need to run raids over and over in the hope of the drops to push you to the level cap.

Which is just as well, re­ally, since there’s no new raid, although what ar­rives in its stead turns out to be a good deal less repet­i­tive and caters equally to both PVP and PVE play­ers. For the lat­ter camp, there’s Prison Of El­ders, a Horde-a-like mode spread across mul­ti­ple stages and four dif­fi­culty lev­els, the low­est of which is ran­domly gen­er­ated ev­ery time you load in. The oth­ers are picked by Bungie’s de­sign teams each week, a sign of a devel­oper fi­nally recog­nis­ing that its play­ers are not as en­am­oured of gen­er­a­tive al­go­rithms as it is.

While the ac­tion it­self lacks the craft of a raid, putting you in a se­ries of en­closed are­nas and hav­ing en­e­mies spawn from all around, this is more than an ex­tended shootout. Cap­ture zones, mines on timers and VIP tar­gets to kill lure you out of cover, while boss fights in­tro­duce raid-like me­chan­ics such as buffs and de­tain­ment bub­bles. A dif­fer­ent game­play mod­i­fier is ap­plied to each stage to fur­ther mix things up; many will be fa­mil­iar from Weekly Night­fall Strikes, but there are plenty of ad­di­tions too. The most telling is Brawler, which in­creases the dam­age out­put of your melee blows. It seems an ob­vi­ous apol­ogy for Lightswitch, a widely loathed mod­i­fier af­fect­ing only en­emy melee dam­age and the cause of many a sud­den, un­seen death.

Each Prison Of El­ders dif­fi­culty level yields a guar­an­teed re­ward – Etheric Light to max out ex­ist­ing guns and ar­mour, Weapon and Ar­mor Cores to buy new max-level gear – as well as the stan­dard RNG drops. Des­tiny has never cel­e­brated its loot with much fi­nesse, just a sound ef­fect as the weapon name and its icon ap­pear on the right-hand side of the screen. Here, you claim your new toys from chests in a glim­mer­ing un­der­ground trea­sure room straight from the Scrooge McDuck school of de­sign. Sadly, the weapons you’ll find there aren’t up to much, and as the weeks roll by we’re find­ing there’s pro­gres­sively less in­cen­tive to re­visit. Hap­pily, some­thing far su­pe­rior awaits in the Cru­cible. While PVE play­ers have had a weekly route to endgame gear through­out Des­tiny’s life – al­beit one at the mercy of Bungie’s stingy RNG – those seek­ing to reach the level cap while only play­ing its ad­ver­sar­ial mul­ti­player com­po­nent have had to wait for Iron Ban­ner, a seven-day event run­ning ev­ery four weeks. That re­turns, and is the same in­fu­ri­at­ing monthly fes­ti­val of lag and bull­shit as be­fore, but it is no longer PVP’s head­line act. That hon­our now rests with Tri­als Of Osiris, a week­end event that puts two teams of three play­ers on a sin­gle map, awards a point when a full team is wiped out, and a win to the first team to five points. Lose three matches, and you’re out, but the re­wards start com­ing af­ter just a few wins, and if you win nine games with­out re­ply, you head to an area on Mer­cury that houses an enor­mous trea­sure chest con­tain­ing some of the best new weapons in the game.

Whether you make it to Mer­cury or not, Tri­als is re­mark­able, a thrillingly tense and deeply tac­ti­cal mul­ti­player mode that ranks along­side the Vault Of Glass raid as the best Des­tiny has to of­fer. Both make sim­i­lar de­mands of the player: con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion, a will­ing­ness to climb a learn­ing curve that is not so much steep as sheer, a mix of care­ful plan­ning and quick, re­ac­tive think­ing. That five-round struc­ture is unique to Tri­als, how­ever, and rep­re­sents its great­est trick, al­low­ing just enough room for adap­ta­tion to op­po­nents’ strate­gies and some dra­matic swings in mo­men­tum. The stan­dard is fright­en­ingly high, and puts into even starker re­lief the PVP game’s bal­ance prob­lems (if there’s a God in Heaven, the poi­son­in­flict­ing Thorn will have been nerfed by the time you read this), but it is, de­spite lit­tle nig­gles, es­sen­tial.

As a pack­age, House Of Wolves puts Des­tiny’s first ex­pan­sion to shame; as part of a whole, it means that Des­tiny is fi­nally so full of things to do that we’re strug­gling to keep on top of it all. In­stead we just pick what we feel like: Des­tiny is, at last, about what you want to play, how you want to play it, and what you want to look like while you do it. Yes, it should have been that way from the start, but it proves that Bungie has been pay­ing at­ten­tion, and now recog­nises that an online game should not be de­fined by its de­vel­op­ers or their al­go­rithms, but its play­ers. The stu­dio’s im­age, and Des­tiny it­self, are all the bet­ter for it.

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