Destiny: House of Wolves’ Prison of Elders is more than just a Horde mode

By Brenna Hillier, Wednesday, 6 May 2015 19:00 GMT

Destiny has a new PvE end-game. Forget Raids; the future is all about the Prison of Elders.

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House of Wolves

The second expansion for Destiny, House of Wolves launches May 19.

In addition to content detailed today, it adds plenty else. See:

New level cap of 34 with a Raid-free, Xur-less upgrade system. (video)

Four new Crucible maps. (screenshots and descriptions, video)

Better rewards for PvP.

Trials of Osiris end-game PvP event. (video, full match)

New, useful Tower vendor abilities.

House of Wolves presents its new content in a similar way to the Dark Below. You meet up with an NPC who gives you quests, and these guide you to check out new story missions and other content – a Strike, the Trials of Osiris PvP event, and the Prison of Elders.

Where The Dark Below was definitely skewed toward adding new PvE content, most notably with the Crota’s End raid, House of Wolves is a more balanced offering, refining the Crucible formula and offering a true end game for PvP experts.

That doesn’t mean PvE players have been left out this time, though; to my mind, the inclusion of the Prison of Elders more than makes up for the lack of a raid, because it provides an entirely new kind of end-game activity.

At its heart, the Prison of Elders is what’s become known as a Horde mode: you and your co-op buddies face off against waves of enemies. Destiny’s version is set in the Reef, where the Awoken Queen has assembled a collection of cannon fodder for you.

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“What’s the lore behind the Prison of Elders?” I asked Bungie. “Why is there this big old ship prison thing full of baddies out in the Reef?”

It’s a prison where the criminals of the solar system are locked up, Bungie said. You know: the Archon Priest escaped from there.

“And then we go in and slaughter them…?” Someone else asked.

No, Bungie said. The baddies challenge Guardians to battle, and can win loot for themselves if they win. It’s not an execution, or using prisoners as training aids.

What it is, in fact, is a tissue-thin parcel of justifications for why Destiny now has a Horde mode. And you know what? I don’t care if it’s stupid; it’s a bloody good time.

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“We have teams working on Raids, but for House of Wolves we wanted to have something that was more replayable, something that has more variety,” Bungie told me.

“We wanted to add to the kinds of activities that were end-game. Hopefully just as challenging as the Raid.”

The Prison of Elders comes in several difficulty tiers. You can jump right in at level 28, hooking up with two other players via Matchmaking, or you can take pre-made fireteams into level 32, level 34 and even level 35 (gulp) Challenge modes.

The matchmade version is randomly generated, while the Challenge modes are crafted and will rotate each week. In either case, you face four rounds of combat – one against each race of the Darkness.

“With the Prison, we wanted to serve both the casual player and the more hardcore player,” Bungie said.

Each combat round consists of three waves, with a checkpoint between rounds rather than waves. The battles take place in all-new arenas, one for each race, and each is affected by a modifier. Some of these are familiar (Juggler, Lightswitch) while others are new. There’s one called Brawler makes your melee attack extra strong (yesss), while another reduces the recharge rate of your grenade. Another one buffs your shield, but annuls shield regeneration.

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Complicating matters, some rounds include mandatory goals called Critical Objectives. You might have to take down mines, or capture mine zones, or prevent a VIP from reaching a checkpoint. However, you also get little surprise gifts from Variks, the Fallen leader who runs the Prison of Elders – the Scorch Cannon pops up and can be grabbed like a Hive’s sword, granting the lucky holder a limited number of powerful rockets. Bungie hinted there’s another surprise like this we didn’t see.

Once you’ve passed the four rounds you’ll face a final boss. There are six of these and Bungie isn’t talking about them yet. If you take on the level 35 Challenge, you’ll face off against Skolas, the big baddie of House of Wolves, in a bonus sixth round.

If you’re successful at any level, you’ll score some random loot and access a treasure room where, if you have a Key consumable found in the Prison or elsewhere, you have a chance for more, better loot.

The level 28 matchmade version of Prison of Elders rewards players with Queen’s Wrath-themed gear. Beyond this, completing the level 32 Challenge guarantees a piece of Fallen-themed armour. Completing level 34 earns you a Fallen-themed weapon. These Fallen weapons and armour pieces are exclusive to Prison of Elders, and cannot be earned elsewhere.

Additionally, completing level 34 and above grants you the chance to earn Etheric Light, the rare material required to ascend lower-level Legendary and Exotic equipment to level 34.

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My attempt on the Prison of Elders wasn’t successful. For one thing, we’d jumped into the level 32 version by accident, and for another we hadn’t yet upgraded our gear to level 34. Also, one of my teammates didn’t speak English, which made co-ordinating a little difficult. When we had to break for lunch, so we could move onto the Trials of Osiris later, I walked away with great reluctance. I was sure that if we could just have one more go, we’d crack it. My head was full of the game as I absent-mindedly raided Bungie’s fridge.

This strategising, and then the execution of it, is quite similar to that which you need to apply to the Raids. What makes Prison of Elders more exciting is that each week will throw up new encounters; you’ll need to work out new tactics every time the Challenge Modes reset.

I had noticed that except for the endless spawns in waves when we’d need to complete objectives, the types and numbers of enemies, as well as where they appeared from, was fixed in each round. What if we bunched up behind the pillars on that side, maybe. What if we arranged ourselves. in the classic fireteam triangle, two on one side and one on the other. What if, when the mines appeared, a Hunter went invisible. What if we all fired swarm rockets (Hunger of Crota, maybe) at the knot of enemies that spawned over there. What if, what if, what if.

This strategising, and then the execution of it, is quite similar to that which you need to apply to the Raids, and I find it deeply satisfying. What makes Prison of Elders more exciting to me than a new Raid, though, is that each week will throw up new encounters; you’ll need to work out new tactics every time the Challenge Modes reset.

The level 28 matchmade version provides instant pick up and play fun for reasonably high-level characters; anybody can jump in and have a go, providing they are at all good at the basic shooting gameplay. At the other end of the spectrum, the most difficult challenges will be difficult even for close-knit, experienced fireteams. And both of these will change from week to week, offering a near inexhaustible supply of experiences.

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I was pre-disposed to like Prison of Elders. I absolutely adore Horde mode-style multiplayer, and spent months playing Mass Effect 3, for example.

But even as an example of a type, Prison of Elders is a lot of fun. It’s endlessly replayable. It offers lots of variation. It drops terrific rewards. It presents a heck of a challenge even for tight-knit crews.

Destiny has a new end-game, and for once it’s not “collecting all the things” or “hitting the level cap”: it’s playing the game itself. Both the Prison of Elders and Trials of Osiris offer fresh new ways to play, and challenges which speak to and celebrate your skill and investment in your character. House of Wolves changes Destiny from a game you play to tick boxes to one you play because you want to keep playing.

Below, you will find a video from Arekkz Gaming in which Alex enlightens you on the rules and mechanics of Prison of Elders, as well as how to earn lovely gear and loot should you emerge victorious.

Brenna Hillier recently visited Bungie’s studio in Seattle to preview House of Wolves. Activision provided flights, accommodation and hospitality.

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