Destiny: State of the Game part three – House of Wolves and beyond

By Brenna Hillier, Wednesday, 13 May 2015 08:18 GMT

Destiny has the potential for a very bright future. We take a look at what’s next for Bungie’s shared-worlds shooter.

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Destiny first entered public consciousness way back in 2007, as a then purely speculative non-Halo project born from Bungie’s split with Microsoft. From this humble beginning as a twinkle in analysts’ eyes, it has grown into one of the biggest new brands in modern gaming. In this third and final episode of a series published as part of our Week of Destiny, we look towards the future.

That future kicks off early next week with the release of House of Wolves, Destiny’s second expansion. A seemingly much weightier effort than The Dark Below, House of Wolves piles on content, makes some important changes to the game’s systems, and provides a perpetual end-game for players who have hit a wall.

House of Wolves feels like the culmination of lessons learned. Criticisms of vanilla Destiny’s storytelling led to a new approach in The Dark Below, which has been further evolved in its follow-up. Complaints about equipment redundancy and Xur’s painful Exotic upgrade system helped forge the excellent new Ascension mechanic. The Prison of Elders provides an entirely new and endlessly replayable end-game activity for PvE players weary of the Raid routine, and uncoupling the Weekly Heroic and Nightfall Strikes will add more variety to gameplay.

All of these are great things, but it’s especially heartening to see PvP get some love. The Crucible has historically taken something of a backseat to PvE gameplay, which is disappointing for the many Halo fans who followed Bungie hoping for an equally robust competitive multiplayer scene. The Iron Banner and new modes Doubles and Inferno have been some help, but House of Wolves is a lot more than a token effort at polishing up PvP.

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Making good on an old promise, House of Wolves dramatically increases the rewards for engaging in PvP activities, even granting a reward package for checking in with the daily Crucible playlist. There are four new maps and a new game mode. The Trials of Osiris provides a genuinely exciting new activity for the absolute best of the best.

What House of Wolves doesn’t add is a new Raid. While Bungie has confirmed that there are new Raids in the works, and that they will remain an important focus for the developer moving forward, this expansion is about giving Destiny staying power. End-game players have come to think of their weekly Raid runs and the accompanying equipment and material lottery as the point of playing; as if Destiny were all about obtaining and maxing out All The Things rather than the pleasure of gunplay. Once you have All The Things, there’s little incentive to keep playing.

The new House of Wolves additions change that. They also eliminate the need for Raid grinding, providing alternate routes to the level cap; this is excellent news for those uninterested or unable to participate in Raiding.

House of Wolves feels like the maturation of a game concept that had to be tested in the wilds in order to find its feet. It fills in holes, shores up ailing systems, and makes a bid for longevity. After the expansion drops, and Bungie enacts the patches and tuning that will inevitably follow, Destiny will be a very different game to the one which shipped in September 2014: a tighter, cleaner, more polished one. A finished one, perhaps?

Bungie has described the new damage and level cap as the final increase for “Year One of Destiny”, which naturally implies a “Year Two”. Activision confirmed as early as February that we’ll see a “major” content drop for Destiny in northern autumn 2015, likely in September, making the one year anniversary. This content drop will kick off “Year Two”, perhaps starting the whole evolution process again.

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We’ve always known more was coming; the September drop is the fabled Comet 1, the first of biennial releases on a much grander scale than the expansion packs that release at intervals between major releases. Leaks suggest we’ll initially see two expansion packs every year between Destiny sequels and Comet releases.

Let’s start by talking about Comet. As well as providing a major content expansion, I am almost certain this will be a Game of the Year-style re-release of Destiny, bundling The Dark Below and House of Wolves into the core experience as Destiny: Year One (perhaps the two smaller expansions will be made free for everyone at this time).

It’s exciting to speculate on what else will come with the new release. Leaks suggest the project’s working title, at least, was Plague of Darkness, although a recently unearthed trademark has raised the possibility of The Taken King, instead. It’s hard to call it, at this stage; Activision and Bungie probably make trademarks well in advance, and titles can change multiple times during development.

Who is The Taken King?

The Taken King trademark featured a Hive-looking logo, which is interesting. One popular theory is that the Taken King is Oryx, father of Crota, who has been referred to as the Hive’s god and king.

There is dissent; some hope the King in question is the emperor of the Cabal. The hulking alien race seems to be in the middle of a low-key civil war.

Another theory is that the King is an Awoken; Bungie is clearly very keen on the Queen, the Reef and her strange relationship with the Fallen.

If Comet is called The Taken King, my fervent wish is that the title is a reference to the New Monarchy faction, and that the game’s systems and lore will expand to give factions a greater role in both. But that one’s definitely on the “things happening exclusively in my head” pile at this stage.

I suspect whatever Comet is called, it will pick up on threads from The Dark Below and House of Wolves, focusing mostly on the Hive and the Fallen, and wrapping the two modules into the larger, ongoing story, which will also be advanced. Comet will probably feature the Vex and Cabal as well, at least in passing, in order to provide more story hooks to be picked up in the two 2016 expansions, which look to cover the remaining two enemy factions.

Alternately, perhaps Comet will focus on the Cabal, with the first of the 2016 expansions covering the Vex, and the the final content drop of Destiny Year Two combining all the storylines to date into one great big climactic ending before Destiny 2.

Outside of lore, at some stage Destiny will have to dump support for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and this will happen in conjunction with one of the annual releases. At present the old-gen, new-gen split probably isn’t robust enough for Comet to make this leap in September 2015, but by the time we get to Destiny 2 in September 2016, it might be. Good riddance; the limitations of older hardware have had a profound effect on Destiny, limiting environment sizes and even things like Vault space. Bungie fully supports bringing your character with you when you move between generations within a console family, so it shouldn’t be too shocking for those making the transition.

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In the absolutely wild realms of speculation, perhaps Comet or Destiny 2 will bring the shared-worlds shooter to PC. Perhaps Sony will allow cross-play between PC and PS4 (Microsoft seems unlikely ever to get in on this action). Isn’t that a beautiful dream…? It’s not especially likely, unfortunately; as well as the difficulties of balancing action for an audience that may be using keyboards and mice alongside those wielding controllers, policing online play on PC is an absolute nightmare. I’m not sure we’ll ever see Destiny on the PC.

The interesting about Destiny is that Bungie is making all this up as it goes along. Nobody’s done anything like this, on this scale, before, and the developer has shown it is more than happy to take risks and experiment as it nails down just what it is Guardians love about Destiny, and how to make it even better in the future. Some of these experiments have hit, and others have missed, but the release of House of Wolves shows Bungie is more than capable of – and willing to – refine, retract and replace, even as it works on expanding the universe and providing more experiences for players.

There are so many routes the journey of Destiny could take from here on. We’re excited to see what lies around the next bend.

This concludes our three part look at the journey of Destiny, but our Week of Destiny coverage continue tomorrow with a mega-guide to pre-House of Wolves Destiny.

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