Destiny’s “House of Wolves” expansion arrived this week, finally turning this deeply flawed opus into the game it always should have been.
As the latest blockbuster from Halo creator Bungie, Destiny attracted tons of players when it launched last fall. And within hours of starting, many of those players were alienated by the game’s poor writing and story, punishing randomness and endless, repetitive gameplay “grind.”
There was no mass exodus; Destiny has been, technically, a success. Plenty of players—myself included—pried past the shallow surface and dug deeper and deeper into Destiny’s depths until we found the spoils within. Some of us even became hopelessly addicted to locating those spoils. But others stopped playing long before they got to what good parts there were, waiting for the day when Destiny delivered on all of Bungie’s promises.
Tuesday, May 19 may have been that day. “House of Wolves” is more than just a handful of new missions, weapons and trinkets to collect; it’s also a bevy of new, fun weekly activities to complete, and a total overhaul of many of the game’s most annoying mechanics. And that’s why it’s such a massive win.
The story, of a traitorous band of rebels who “Must Be Stopped At All Costs,” is still just an excuse to shoot stuff. But the writing in the new missions is funny, something that was never true of Destiny before. The dialogue is well-acted, and for the first time your actions have context within the game’s universe; you know exactly why you’re shooting the things you’re shooting. Imagine that.
And that’s just the beginning. After the last Destiny expansion, “The Dark Below,” launched in December, players who earned new weapons and armor were forced to grind out the same repetitive routines week after week just to get that gear up to speed with their previous stuff. Now, new equipment arrives at the maximum level (or close to it) when you receive it, eliminating that grind almost entirely.
Before, players were limited to just a few pieces of armor if they wanted to attain the highest level in the game, and everyone’s characters looked more or less the same as a result; now, you can “ascend” almost any gear you want to the highest level, using items that are easy (well, easy enough) to earn. Rewards aren’t as dependent on chance now, and there’s a clear path to the highest levels that involves more than mindlessly repeating the same single activity week after week.
That path involves the Prison of Elders, a new high-level arena-style mode where you fight wave after wave of enemies, and Trials of Osiris, a cutthroat player-versus-player multiplayer event that takes place every weekend. Tackle one or both of these challenges every week, and you’ll have the best possible gear before you know it—even if you’re the least lucky player in the world.
And the best news of all is that these things are fun. Prison of Elders comes in multiple flavors, with different configurations and difficulty levels that get shuffled every week. The enemies, objectives and bosses inside are more varied and demanding than 90% of the rest of the game, and the rewards are valuable and—more importantly—consistent.
Trials of Osiris will take place for the first time this weekend, and it should prove to be as unique a take on multiplayer battles as the Prison is on the rest of the game. Three-player teams will battle other trios for supremacy, with greater and greater rewards the longer your team can go without losing. Everyone will be using their best weapons and tricks, and the greatest players with the smartest strategies will prevail.
In other words, Trials of Osiris could fix much of what’s bad about the game’s everyday player-on-player matches, including the inherently unbalanced nature of getting automatically matched with a random assortment of online teammates.
It’s hard for me to imagine what present-day Destiny must look like to new players who never experienced the original, vanilla game. There’s just so much to do now: two social spaces to visit in between missions; two hours-long “raid” missions to tackle with six-player teams; an ever-changing arena mode; multiple regularly scheduled player-versus-player events; hours and hours’ worth of story missions and bounties to complete; and, best of all, an absolutely ridiculous amount of gear, guns, ships, shaders, and more to collect as you fight your way to the end-game.
Destiny is still far from perfect. But with the arrival of “House of Wolves,” it’s finally a game I can unequivocally recommend.
Mike Rougeau is Playboy.com’s Games Editor, in charge of all things gaming but mostly concerned with maxing his Destiny characters. He lives in Los Angeles with his girlfriend and two dogs. Follow him on Twitter @RogueCheddar.