House of Wolves – Where it falls short

Destiny House of WolvesThe new expansion for Destiny, House of Wolves, has been out for two weeks now, and I already wrote a post and a video with my first impressions. Since I was out of town I only got to base my initial response on the very short experience I had with the first few missions. After playing a good amount of The Prison of Elders and, surprisingly, even The Trials of Osiris, I have some concerns about the future of the title and the engagement levels with the game. Keep in mind this is after my first impressions were almost entirely positive and my claims after the reveal that this DLC was a huge step forward for the game. This post is going to be more big picture, and I will have future posts about the specific pieces of the content.

Split Reward Pools

The first problem I discovered was that a lot of the new and cool rewards are only available in the PVP portion of the expansion. Now this isn’t an entirely new thing in Destiny with regular appearances of the Iron Banner. But this is something entirely different as this is a paid expansion with an impressive amount of content in it, and a significant amount of it is not available to players who don’t enjoy PVP. And this is doubly frustrating in light of something I’ve already written about, as Bungie knows and admitted that PVP is the least engaged portion of the game, second only to the raids. To a point, I understand what they are doing, but I think it’s the wrong approach. If you want people to play PVP, then Trials was the way to do it: introduce a highly competitive, limited availability, and very high risk mechanic. I actually said previously, as someone who doesn’t play PVP in Destiny, that I was interested in giving Trials of Osiris a whirl because it sounded interesting and fresh. The problem with Bungie’s approach in the House of Wolves loot pools is that many players feel forced to play a game mode they’ve expressed almost no interest in up to this point. And again, it has to be stated that PVP is not what this game was originally sold on, which is why the numbers of low PVP engagement made sense. To be clear, I have no problem with Bungie trying to reinvigorate PVP, but this is not the way to do it.

The other reason the split reward pools is a poor decision is because of how lopsided the content is. The PVE portion of The House of Wolves is massive when compared to the PVP side. It also can take a long time to do things in the Prison of Elders beyond level 32. So to have the side of the expansion with the least amount of content and limited availability have most of the best rewards seems backwards. Bungie basically looked at the landscape of their community, and decided to flip it on its head. Instead of making the most popular side of Destiny the more rewarding part of the new expansion they have tried pull all of us non-PVP players over into the arena by taking some of the new gear, and arguably some of the best gear in the expansion, and holding it hostage. I have had a few people on my stream say that the new elemental primaries aren’t any better than Raid elemental primaries, but my response is this: Leave that up to the players. I will have future posts about why I don’t think engagement levels will stay in place for The Prison of Elders, another post about why The Trials of Osiris isn’t competitive, and then a post about why this expansion furthers the identity problem for Destiny, but for now, let’s continue. So why does it feel like a lot of the new gear is held hostage?

Trials of Osiris isn’t accessible

Obviously, related to my above point about the best loot being placed in a portion of the game so few engage with is the fact that they have setup the Trials of Osiris in an incredibly inaccessible way. Yes, I think needing a full team is a good thing because it helps prioritize the connection which is by far the most important aspect when having competitive matchmaking. If this were the only hurtle of accessibility then it could be easily overlooked as a necessary mechanic for less lag. But there is also the limited time hurtle, which at first doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it just continues to narrow the entry point. Then you have the weapon hurtle. The reason you constantly hear PVP players complain about weapon balancing in Destiny is because there are certain weapons that are undeniably far and away better than the rest. If you go up against any experienced PVP player using a Thorn or a Last Word your chances are only good if you are the same type of player with the same weapon. So to sum up, you can’t play without two other people due to no matchmaking, can only play from Friday to Monday, need the right weapons and a good amount of PVP experience, and then you have to win 9 games without losing to get access to the best chances at good gear. In a way, this is incredibly similar to the problem with the raids as you have another section of the game with an incredibly narrow entry point, keeping most of the new and coveted gear from the majority of the community. And no, I’m not griping about this because I haven’t been able to snag any good gear. I had very kind top shelf PVP players help get me an 8-1 record on my first run, which easily could have been a 9-0 had there been more time to start over. My problem with this is that it is going to discourage many from continuing to play the game, making the sales pitch at E3 all the more difficult and the future of the franchise in jeopardy. Now because I continued, I’m not saying good gear should be handed out like candy and everyone deserves a trophy. I’m simply pointing out the narrow accessibility to the best gear being a cause for many players to walk away. It’s one thing to make something challenging, like the hard waves or bosses in The Prison of Elders, but it’s another thing to make things less accessible by design.

Why should we continue to play?

That’s the real question that many Destiny players are going to have to answer. I’m incredibly lucky to have a supportive community on my Twitch stream that has jumped in to help with Trials of Osiris, and has been massively helpful in figuring out and beating the tough bosses in the Level 34 and 35 Prison of Elders. If I wasn’t streaming, and didn’t have the support of other kind Destiny players, then I would have already walked away from this expansion as a complete waste of my time. Why do I want to play a game mode I’ve almost avoided entirely up to this point? And even if I do want to play PVP, since I haven’t been playing it I don’t have any of the gear for builds that are best suited for it and I don’t have most of the reflexes and rhythms that make for a strong PVP player. I actually did very well, but that’s beside the point, many non-PVP Destiny players won’t fair as well I did because they won’t have such strong players supporting them. Many might say, “This is how it’s supposed to be. Find friends and get good to get the best gear.” I can see where that line of thinking comes from and agree with it to a point. But the problem for Destiny is that the majority of the game is marketed to and built for players with moderate skill. Aside from the Raids and when Nightfalls don’t have burns, there isn’t anything that is super challenging in Destiny. To continually inject the game with unhelpful hurtles many in the franchise will simply walk away and play something else. Especially when, just like the Raids, beating the grueling hard bosses or PVP battles can be incredibly unrewarding due to the RNG loot system.

Bungie needs to realize that they aren’t the only game on the block anymore, and E3 is right around the corner. Up until now they have benefited from a very empty landscape of next-gen games, but that is changing at a rapid rate. They stand to have a massive slope of de-engagement if they don’t merge the loot pools and make their new content more accessible. At the very least The Prison should have savable checkpoints like the Raids since the harder levels can actually take as long as a Raid run and unlike a Raid, if one person has to leave it’s pretty much over. And they should also make all the loot obtainable in any piece of the DLC that is considered challenging enough. They already made changes to the drop rates of keys and nerfed a boss that was so hard many were avoiding him or nuking him with gjallarhorns. So they are proving that they are listening, let’s just hope they make enough changes, or at the very least promise changes, in time to keep people from abandoning ship. The Elder Scrolls Online may prove to be a fatal blow to Destiny’s engagement numbers, which could spell trouble for the sales of the next big DLC and ultimately Destiny 2. Time will tell, but we will all benefit from Bungie listening and adapting.

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