The Reef is open.
That’s the high concept behind House of Wolves, Destiny’s second downloadable content package. The strange floating junkyard that players glimpsed all too briefly during the game’s story missions will provide the core of the expansion, and the focus of its new competitive (PvP) and co-operative (PvE) content.
Here lurk the Awoken, a human race that once fled to the outer reaches of the galaxy when the period of glorious galactic expansion was brought to a cataclysmic end by The Darkness. Now the tribe lives among the abandoned remains of a thousand derelict starships, ruled over by a Game of Thrones-like royal family. The Fallen, one of the alien races seeking to invade Earth, has rebelled against the Awoken, and now their queen has enlisted the help of the Guardian to seek revenge: her key target, the Fallen sect known as the House of Wolves.
It’s a typical Destiny narrative – obtuse and shrouded in backstory – but, as Bungie revealed in a recent Twitch stream, it provides an intriguing new social space (The Reef’s Vestian Outpost), new bounties, new quests and a new activity named the Prison of Elders. The developer isn’t revealing any more about the new co-op content right now; instead, it has been showing of its four new multiplayer maps and – the most interesting addition – the Trials of Osiris weekly event, a gruelling 3v3 elimination contest that will run every weekend.
It works a little like Counter Strike, or Search and Destroy in Call of Duty. Teams compete in a series of matches, and the first to five wins claims the victory. There are no automatic respawns, but players are able to revive downed teammates after a thirty-second wait. The more teams you defeat, the better your haul of rewards at the end of the trials – and according to Bungie, the competition will have its own unique weapons and armour.
The idea behind Trials is to create a PvP equivalent of raids – in other words, a challenge aimed at experienced players with a lot of high-end equipment. And as with raids, there’s no matchmaking – you need to come in with two equally skilled friends. For a lot of players this will be a prohibitive rule, and may well cause a whole new wave of anger and frustration from the community, many of whom are now using third-party group finding websites to create raid parties. But for Bungie, it’s all about rewarding experienced teams.
“We wanted to increase the level of investment in PvP,” explains design lead, Lars Bakken. “The trials experience is a way of creating a PvP endgame, so power matters: you have come in with your best gear. But you can also earn the best gear in the game by playing in Trials. So if PvE is less interesting to you, but you care about winning and you like getting the best stuff, this is another way to get to the endgame. We wanted multiple ways for you to get there.”
To enter the event you need to purchase a ticket called the Trials Passage – then if you lose three Trials, you’re bumped out of the competition and have to pay 100 glimmer to come back. During play, you may also be randomly given Passage Coins that can be used to buy buffs. One lets you start with a game in hand, one scrubs your first loss off the records and another makes one win count as two.
We played on the small Burning Shrine map with its mass of interconnected walkways and central battle zone. Immediately, with the loss of auto-respawns, the feel of the game changes. It’s much more guarded and cautious, and using scenic advantages like higher platforms for better sight lines, becomes a much more pressing consideration. In our matches, super abilities also came to the fore, providing the decisive attack in a number of rounds. Basically, this is no place to come with teammates who don’t know the maps and don’t work closely together to spot enemies.
Once you’re done, you visit new character Brother Vance at the Vestian Outpost, basically the Trials overlord, who hands out the tiers of rewards. It looks like there are six tiers at the moment, from Stone up to Gold, each offering an array of exclusive goodies.
“Trials came about pretty organically,” says PvP design lead Derek Carroll on the origins of the event. “We were trying to create more of a hardcore mode, just something different from what we’ve done before, but something that was still very Destiny. If Control and Rumble are at one end of the spectrum in terms of intensity and personal responsibility, Elimination is on the extreme other end: every second-to-second decision you make matters to you and your team – they know that you died, not just somebody!”
The team had already started tweaking the rulesets with the Skirmish and Salvage modes, but this time they then started looking outside of PvP altogether. “I remember at one point someone saying, ‘what would it be like if we actually added wipes, like wipes from the Raid or from Strikes, into PVP?’,” says recalls Bakken. “We thought: ‘oh that’s interesting’. So under the hood, Trials is using the technical underpinnings of what happens in a wipe – that’s how the rounds work. The first time we did that we thought, OK, this is pretty cool and we went from there. We’ve had to bring in new UI elements, all the additional stuff that tells you whether you’re winning or losing, the mid-round carnage report, all of those things came out of the mode feeling completely different from anything we’d had before.”
Beyond Trials of Osiris are the four new multiplayer maps: Black Shield, Thieves’ Den, Widow’s Court and the PlayStation 4 exclusive Timekeeper. The Mars-based Black Shield is an old Cabal firebase on the moon of Phobos. It’s a tiny map, a dense clutter of narrow passageways snaking around the building’s exterior, with Mars looming in the background. Thieves’ Den, meanwhile, is a Fallen hideout in the Ishtar Sink on Venus, another claustrophobic rat run, with small rocky chambers interlinked by narrow passageways that open up on to a sheer cliff face (this offers a few hair-raising leap points, allowing quicker access to other areas – if you’re confident in your jumping skills). Here, the Control mod capture points are only a few metres apart so it’s a constant frantic firefight.
The most interesting of the generally available maps though is Widow’s Court, set in one of Earth’s irradiated dead zones. The remains of a beautiful gothic town provide the backdrop to a much larger and more open environment, complete with rusted vehicles and overgrown road networks. One of the control points is in a beautiful cathedral building, while the others are in miniature courtyards, so the longer sight lines are countered by some blind corners and risky cover positions. It’s less frenzied than the others, offering a more tactical experience.
Finally, the PS4-only Timekeeper is another smaller map, this time taking place within an enormous Vex machine in Merdian Bay, Mars. Once again it’s a labyrinth of arched tunnels and overlooked chambers – one of the control points has a sort of gallery above it, allowing for some easy potshots against unwary objective players. When you do get outside, you see the desert dunes rolling out endlessly toward the red horizon.
For Bungie, though, it seems the greatest concern has been to align the Crucible experience alongside the PvE content – to make it as valuable and relevant to longterm players. “One of the things we’re doing with House of Wolves is making sure Crucible no longer feels sub-optimal in terms of your investment in the game,” says Bakken. “Across the board we doubled the marks and reputation gains for every match, everywhere in the Crucible. We doubled the amount of engrams you get, so you’re going to see blues drop. We added in 12 new purples just in the reward stream so you’re going to see legendaries drop just by playing in the Crucible.
“Beyond that, we took the idea of the daily Crucible featured play list, which shows up on the main page of the Director, and changed it all. So now, each day, by completing one game in the daily featured list, you get a reward package that includes motes of light, passage coins which allow you to buy buffs in the Trials of Osiris experience and then engrams as well. Playing one game in that daily featured PvP list is just as good as playing in the daily story or doing patrols and turning in bounties: it’s going to give you a package of goodies.”
The big question, of course, is whether all of this represents enough new stuff for Destiny players to fork out another £20. Bungie is keeping the cooperative content under wraps right now, so that’s a tough one to call. Certainly, there is an attempt to address some of the complaints about the Crucible here – that for many players, it doesn’t feel as rewarding or relevant as PvE. The new Trials, the new rewards systems and a flush of new items will help, and the maps are ... okay.
It’s interesting though that, Bungie is also going to be making the Dark Below maps available to all Destiny players when House of Wolves comes out. It’s an admittance, perhaps, that you can’t get away with a Call of Duty-style map pack economy with such a vast and complex game as Destiny – you can’t feed these fans on multiplayer real estate. People were looking to House of Wolves for a new raid and they’re not going to get that. At the moment, we only have half the story about what they’re getting instead.
- Thanks to Eurogamer for some assistance on this article. Keith Stuart attended a press trip to the Bungie studio in Seattle with other journalists from Europe. Travel and accommodation costs were met by Activision
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