It's not every day that Gamereactor gets invited over to the U.S.A. just so we can look at some upcoming DLC, but then again, not all games are as big as Destiny. Bungie and Activision's mammoth enterprise is often regarded as the most lavish in the world of gaming, and price tags of up to $500 million have been mentioned when speculating about the game's total cost.
With that kind of investment, and with the MMO-like features introduced alongside Bungie's normal shooter mechanics, it seems logical then that the expansions are not merely ordinary DLC packs consisting of three measly multiplayer maps and a new weapon or two, but are more inline with what we'd usually get from an expansion for an online role-playing game. This is exactly what we're looking at with the House of Wolves, the second expansion for Destiny that adds a new social hub called The Reef, two juicy game modes called Prison of Elders and Trials of Osiris, and some new story missions. The fact that there are also new multiplayer maps and weapons as well is just the cherry on top.
With the expansion looming one of the things that worried Destiny's dedicated community was the lack of a new incoming Raid, and when we met with Bungie, this was one of the first things that they addressed. House of Wolves is instead meant to serve as a bridge to the Raids, and it's mainly Trials of Osiris that fills this role. This is an endgame PvP mode that will run every weekend. To join in you'll need a token called a Trials Passage, which you can get by completing quests (or you can buy them from Brother Vance at the Vestian Outpost).
Given the high-level gear on offer, you're going to want to compete. Players have a scorecard and there's the potential to play up to twelve games, though if/when you lose three it's game over and time to hand in your card and claim your reward. If you win seven of the rounds you can look forward to buying the weekly weapon, while a less impressive five wins gives you the right to purchase the weekly armour. The better you and your team play, the more prizes you get (two wins: Stone Tier prizes, three wins: Bronze Tier prizes, five wins: weekly armour, six wins: Silver Tier prizes, seven wins: weekly weapon, eight wins: Gold Tier prizes, nine wins: who knows). Should you manage to win eight rounds, the team then gets to buy Legendary equipment, or you can choose from the loot that fewer victories would get you, it all depends what you need and how much you can afford. We can't wait to see what teams get when they win all nine rounds.
The concept is classic elimination (the mode is actually called... well, Elimination) and the battles are three against three. Here death means you are permanently out of the game. Players can revive each other, so it's crucial that your team sticks together so you can quickly heal your friends if they're taken out by your opponents. If you go off on your own as a lone wolf, chances are you'll be a sitting duck if and when three sharpshooting enemies turn up at once, and then there'll be no helping hand to pick you up once you're down. There's also no team matchmaking in this mode, you need to go into battle with two friends by your side. Another interesting matchmaking feature: teams won't be paired up based on skill or rank, but rather connection speed and low latency will be prized above all else.
There's five rounds in each match and unless you ace it, you're handed a loss on your score card. When you've lost three games you have to hand in your card, although you can get consumables from Brother Vance to aid you, giving you an extra win or negating your first loss, for example. If you want to play again you've got buy in with another token (although the price of entry is relatively cheap at 100 Glimmer). A twist in the tail is that all the games are played on the same map over the whole weekend, which means that teams will have to become familiar with every contour, every vantage point, every sight line, if they're going to emerge victorious.
Some good news we suspect that many of you will like is that all of the Crucible maps from the previous expansion, The Dark Below, will be added to playlists for everyone once House of Wolves is released. The rewards for playing the Crucible will also be doubled in order to get players to spend more time in this mode, a good move considering that before now there has been scant reward for those who venture into Destiny's vanilla PvP arena. Now players can expect double Marks, Reputation, and more engrams. On top of that, there's going to be a daily Crucible playlist where players will get a reward package that includes Passage Coins and upgrade materials. At long last it's going to start paying to play PvP, outside of the Iron Banner, which is certainly not something that could be said before.
On top of the old DLC maps being thrown into the rotation for one and all, there are also new maps that are coming in House of Wolves for those who buy the DLC or have the Season Pass. There's three new maps on Xbox One and X360, and four if you play on a PlayStation. They're called Thieve's Den, Black Shield and Widows Court - and Time Keeper is the latest Sony-only offering (it's a timed-exclusive until autumn 2015 - at which point this map will be made available to Xbox-owning Guardians alongside the rest of the PlayStation exclusive content, including the The Undying Mind, Dust Palace, and Exodus Blue). Our initial impression of these arenas can be found over here, but generally they felt like decent maps, albeit they're slightly smaller than usual and don't feature vehicles and the like, although given the emphasis on three-player Fireteams in this expansion, that's hardly surprising.
The other big news is the PvE based Prison of Elders, which offers a Horde-like (maybe Firefight is a more fitting analogy for a Bungie game) experience where you and two friends will take on waves of enemies and engage in massive boss battles. Before we got to try this, however, a new Strike called The Shadow Thief was available for us to enjoy. We were put in a three-man team and sent off into a winding cave system in search of loot and fame.
Every now and then our abilities were put to the test against bosses, mostly inspired by Egyptian mythology (although Bungie couldn't/wouldn't give any specific reason why this theme was chosen). The battle against a Wolf Walker got really nasty for our small group, but we prevailed in the end and were able to continue on our journey. We weren't particularly overwhelmed by this Strike, since it felt more like more of what we have become accustomed to rather than something brand new, but at least it's something new that's getting dropped into the rotation.
All of our communication and team-play in the Strike paled in comparison to what was required of us in the new PvE arena mode, Prison of Elders. Wave after wave of increasingly hardy enemies flooded against our little troop of Guardians, but as they came so to the rewards increased. Numerous times the whole group was walking a tightrope, which culminated in moments where a single player with a millimetre of health finally got the final shots on the last remaining enemies; at which point we could gather ourselves and advance to the next level and the new challenges held within.
It's not a very original approach, but the arenas are nicely done and well-designed, with no obvious hiding places. Instead of subtly this mode requires communication, a good overview of the battle, and brutal amounts of ammunition. Overall this was an insanely entertaining addition, and at the end of the day that's what matters more than anything else. It's a good move by Bungie giving players endgame PvE content that doesn't rely on six-player Fireteams - some people have more a modest pool of fellow players to call on, and the new three-player mode will give players who dislike PvP something substantial to get their stuck into.
Next up on the itinerary there was a Q&A session, and Bungie also urged us to visit The Reef for a little look around. We landed there in the asteroid belt, somewhere between Mars and Jupiter, and had some time to explore. All of the features that players use in The Tower will be transplanted over to this new social space, and even those who don't have House of Wolves will be able to access it. There'll be quest givers, you can grab bounties from the tracker bot, cash in your engrams, dance on the spot while your friends spend ages sorting through their inventory; all the usual stuff.
For our part, the hours we spent with House of Wolves showed genuine promise. For some, interest in Destiny has waned in the last few months, but with House of Wolves we're finally getting more content that should appeal to more than just the most diehard players. This could be the expansion that once again convinces many to return to Bungie's lavish sci-fi universe. Even if it doesn't pull players back, those that have remained on Destiny's servers, those that have been Raiding and repeating Strikes since the game launched last year, will get plenty of new content that looks to diversify the overall experience. It looks like Bungie has listened to their community, and if House of Wolves delivers how we expect it to, this new expansion should go down very well indeed.