After watching the reveal of House of Wolves and streaming it on my twitch with a little commentary and a short final response afterward I wanted some time to gather my thoughts (You can watch the whole reveal here). The reveal took about 50 minutes and we got to see the new social space in The Reef, new characters we will interact with, and then a good portion of the stream was dedicated to additions and improvements to the tower, the economies, factions, and gear. What was surprising was the amount of time the stream spent on updates and improvements compared to how much time they talked about the House of Wolves content. I’ll be honest, during the front half of the reveal I was really worried and pretty disappointed, but as things moved back to the tower the announcements got better and better.
The Brief Reef
I understand and want to acknowledge the effort and intentions behind creating a new social space. People have been asking for more content, and a social space is an easy way to add some variety to the locations players will spend so much time in. But I honestly don’t get why they would spend so much time on what amounts to a big room with NPC’s and nothing new to do other than accept new missions and bounties. Yes, the story is that we are traveling to The Reef, but couldn’t the NPC’s have come to the tower to simplify interaction and cut down load times? I also couldn’t help but laugh and crack some jokes on my stream as they did their best to dress up and talk about how amazing the new social space was. It was especially funny when non-interactive NPC’s were described as adding to the “living social space” in Destiny. This is where I think Bungie is still insisting on thematic and interactive choices that aren’t in line with what people want or even care about. Instead of a new social space, how about locations in the tower for teaming up for specific activities? With respect to social spaces that has been a common request, not a new room with a few NPC’s. The good news, however, is that the silliness and inconsequential feeling of the reveal was only limited to the aesthetic and environmental emptiness of The Reef. Content decisions about The Prison of Elders and all the updates in The Tower had me and the other Destiny fans in my stream singing a new tune.
Your Prison Awaits
I have already shared my thoughts about how the lack of a raid and the inclusion of a new game mode is a good decision. Since such a small percentage of the community has completed enough raids to have just one max level character it makes perfect sense to reexamine how the raids work. The community has consistently asked for some type of “horde” mode, and with a glimpse into how The Prison of Elders will work, the theme of the reveal quickly became “Bungie has listened”. Two facts stood out to me about this game mode, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out. First, the NPC who tracks your progress has an inventory that will cycle each week, giving you incentive to play regularly, trying to rank up to buy the newly revealed weapons and gear. Second, the engagements in The Prison of Elders were described as being “different every time” instead of being the exact same like strikes or a raid. This means players will have incentive to keep playing in relation to their interest in the new gear, instead of feeling forced to keep playing like with a raid as the only means of leveling up. It also means that as you keep playing it will have a longer shelf life of excitement as each engagement is a little different than the last, instead of becoming a mechanical exercise like the strikes.
Bungie listened, and they had to
Once the reveal got to The Tower I had trouble keeping up with all the various improvements that had me saying, “Yes, this is what we asked for.” From factions getting unique gear that aren’t re-skins of the same guns and armor, to the ability to upgrade any gun to the new damage ratings, to the ability to re-roll any guns stats, to the dramatic differences between all the new armor, to the ability to exchange any material for another that you need, I couldn’t stop applauding the decisions made with this DLC. I can’t wait to upgrade my Vision of Confluence to the new damage rating, and guess what? My upgrade paths won’t reset. This is going to enable players to jump right into the action and enjoy the new content without feeling like they are starting over with their gear hampered, handicapped, or irrelevant. I said before that they needed to add better weapons to incentivize new usage rather than invalidate old gear, and they have done exactly that. If you want to upgrade all your old guns to the new damage ratings, you can. And if new guns with cooler and fresh faction aesthetics and new perks lure you in, you can choose, by your own volition, to buy and upgrade new stuff rather than feeling forced to. The other thing this decision does is it re-validates both of the raids as Bungie is reinvesting in the whole game, not just the new DLC. You now have a reason to farm for a Fatebringer on Vault of Glass, because it can be upgraded to the new damage rankings.
Now, the only problem I foresee with this is that you need a new material, “Etheric Light”, to take any weapon up to the new level. We are told that this new material can be found from end game activities like The Prison of Elders or Nightfalls. (Sidenote: You don’t need the DLC to do get this material and upgrade your guns.) However, locking these upgrades behind the RNG system may prove to be frustrating as Bungie has proven to be very skilled at artificially extending playtime by slowing progression and leveling. Hopefully the Etheric Light isn’t super rare and illusive and that they instead use new gear and rewards that change weekly as the primary motivator for continuing to engage with the content. I do have concerns about this as it could be another sinister hidden hurtle, keeping players coming back and playing game after game only because they need that one Etheric Light to level up their favorite gun.
The reason I said that Bungie “had to” listen is because of something I realized when thinking about the very small numbers of people who have completed enough raids to have a max level character. Had Bungie launched another DLC with leveling hurtles, invalidation of gear, and another raid that only a very small portion of the community could adequately engage with, they would have almost ensured the next big content drop, “Comet”, to be a terrible failure. Enough people bought the Season Pass to ensure decent engagement levels for House of Wolves, but this is more than a DLC, it’s a step forward for the game as a whole. Almost every addition that gets outlined in The Tower is something the community has been asking for. This is because the only way Destiny will succeed is by ditching ideas and mechanics that the community was rejecting and start adding what the players want. Sure, you can say, “No, that isn’t in line with what we see as the identity of our game,” but then you will almost assuredly not have a ten year platform of success. And rather than feeling like these changes are too little to late, it should reinvigorate and incentivize long engagement with the new DLC as players can improve their old gear, re-roll all guns to their liking, start to look more distinct with new faction armor, and plunge into old and new content with a fresh feeling of empowerment as a player. Some may fear this is just well crafted hype, but I really think the small focus on the new House of Wolves content and the heavy focus on improvements and added features that the community was asking for is a sign of health for the game and the relationship between Bungie and the Destiny community. Let’s just hope the new experiences deliver and that the new needed materials aren’t so rare that people get fed up and walk away from a much different and heavily improved game.
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