Destiny April Update Thoughts

Destiny The Dark BelowAfter a couple weeks of slow gaming, all of sudden this week has exploded. Destiny‘s spring update went live yesterday, along with the first major update for The Division (with a nasty bug that deletes Xbox One characters) as well as Dark Souls III and open betas for Battleborn and Doom. That’s a hell of a lot of games to look at in one week – never mind that there’s been a couple headlines that really caught my eye. So there’s a lot to talk about as we close out the week, but we’ll start with Destiny.

Let’s start with the top level impression right off the bat. Is this update as great as Bungie says – sort of. I think ultimately, this update is exactly what Destiny needs now. It’s not on the same level as The Taken King, or even House of Wolves/Dark Below. It’s somewhere in between the timed events and those first two expansions from Year One. But it’s free – no cost as long as you have Taken King. I think it’s a great update for both re-energizing the dedicated players who have been sticking with the game since September; as well as pulling back players who may have stepped away. As someone who straddles that line, I see both sides of it – hardcore players have a new suite of gear to chase as well the higher light cap; while returning players have new paths to get that power that maybe eluded them at launch. As long as you go into it with the right frame of mind, this is exactly what the game needs.

Prison of Elders

Now, Bungie would have you believe that the main selling point of the update is the new Prison of Elders and story content. Let’s pump the brakes on that a little though. The story content is literally one mission, a collection quest and then you’re on to the new strike. It’s totally beatable in half an hour max. The story stuff really just helps flesh out a little more of the current state of the universe in Destiny. It’s been one of the biggest shortcomings of the game since launch – telling the story and framing the world in game. The Taken King was the start of trying to get that on track – more story is told in game now, and that’s what this is. Showing that Oryx wasn’t the end of the Taken threat does a couple things – explains why there’s Taken still out there in the wild, as well as give them an out for if they decide to keep Taken as an enemy moving forward. As for the Prison of Elders, I know a lot of people were less than thrilled that it was returning. Look, it’s a repeatable, simple horde mode style event that already existed in game – it was always going to be the answer. It’s the easy move, letting Bungie put the update out faster, and still concentrate on the big fall update/next year’s sequel. Yes, the initial Prison was somewhat lackluster, but I think a big part of that was due to how Year One worked. Difficulty levels were a little more punishing with the original Light system than it is now. This new Prison though is pretty damn fun. I went through six matches on the level 41/Light 260 version last night – each match was fun, from start to finish. The four waves leading to the boss are similar to how they used to be – I would say, strike level difficulty. That last boss wave though, when it’s against Taken foes, is legit fun and crazy. There are just tons and tons of enemies – add waves spawn pretty quickly, regardless of boss damage. Taken enemies are some of the most fun to fight against, mainly because of their unique attacks, so the fact those boss rounds have pretty varied mixes of enemies makes them even more fun. I managed to get each of the four new Taken bosses last night too – some are easier to do (the Taken Vex Hydra and Hive Knight) while the other two are definitely crazy. In particular the Taken Captain boss is just chaos from start to finish – you spawn in with Taken Captains and Knights and Vandals and Thrall all heading right at you. Getting out of the doorway is the first order of business, then setting up and fighting like you know you have to in Destiny.

Destiny Taken Guardians

So Prison of Elders is back, and is actually fun. But the best part of the update is actually the quality of life upgrades. Extra vault space is lovely with the new items added. The new Vendor rolls are a lot more balanced, and offer new options to play with. The upgraded reputation gains make leveling factions less of a nightmare, and the reward packages have updated loot pools. The Warlock subclasses all got a little love to be more evenly balanced. The Crucible will, hopefully, be a little less stagnant for a bit with the weapon balances. There are a lot more paths to the top tiers of Light power. The new armor in particular looks incredible. Chroma adds in new ways to make your Guardian truly your own – I’m already trying to figure out how I want my three characters to look. How to pair Chroma with shaders and such. The things that the players do feel like they all have purpose again – Patrol mode isn’t just for material gathering, you can actually earn some reputation and have fun out there again. Strikes drop their unique loot up to the new 335 cap. It’s all little changes that add up to a big breath of fresh air for a game that really needed it.

One last little thing to think about with the update. I saw some comments as the reveal streams were happening saying that this wasn’t enough to keep players engaged until September. I totally agree with that – there isn’t enough in this update to keep everyone on board until September. Now that we have the update on our consoles, I think I have a better idea about what this is really about. This update isn’t about keeping us around until September – it’s to keep us here until E3. It’s designed to get the hardcore audience re-energized and through that, bring back a good amount of the wider community. Then with the players back, you give us one timed thing in May (like maybe the return of Sparrow Racing League?) and along the way, drop hints for E3. Whatever Bungie shares at E3 is really what will help keep us invested until the fall. I would fully expect there to be something timed this summer – SRL, a “Festival of the Lost” style event – but I doubt we’ll get any real content again until the fall. You just have to bank on a bunch of hype and excitement from the fans through the summer – and that’s something that Bungie is really good at.

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Destiny House of Wolves – The Prison of Elders Initial Thoughts

DestinyI mentioned yesterday that I hadn’t run through the Prison of Elders, wanting to do it with my friends first. Well that plan kinda changed, I did play with friends yesterday, but it was more to finish the story content with them on my Hunter. After that was done though, I did run the level 28, matchmade, version of the Prison of Elders. I went with that option for a few reasons, not the least of which is that you have to play that option before the challenge modes are opened up. I also just wanted to get my feet wet before I really dove in, but in the end, I actually think that the level 28 version is pretty damn great.

Technically, you’ll be getting better rewards from doing the higher level challenge modes. The higher level ones are how you’ll get the Fallen themed armor and weapons that are light level 42, getting you to the new level cap. But that’s not to say that the matchmade version is worthless. In my short time I was able to get two legendary engrams, in addition to two legendary Queen’s Wrath weapons, as well as a new Icebreaker. And that’s just the gear – I got another Dark Below ship, as well as 10 Strange Coins and a couple Motes of Light and Glimmer drops. So from a pure loot grinding standpoint, going in with a treasure key is pretty worthwhile, regardless of what you’re looking for.

Prison of Elders

The matchmade version is also a lot easier to manage – you won’t need to try to get a fireteam together to load it up; plus joining in progress is possible, so you might get dropped in right at the end, speeding up your looting. It’s a bit less complicated, with modifiers only showing up in Rounds 2,3, and 4; as do the Critical Objectives. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy though – by the later rounds, you’ll be dealing with a lot of majors and ultras, and depending on the modifier you could be limited a bit. For example, I played one round last night – against Vex enemies – with the dampener modifier (majorly extended cooldowns on abilities.) I threw my lightning grenade in the first wave, and didn’t get it back until the very end of the round – the only way I was able to Fist of Havoc twice was because of some Orbs of Light on the ground. Granted that might change a bit depending on your intellect/strength/discipline levels, but still – it’s definitely going to impact how you play. That final round with the boss enemy is also somewhat complicated – not for any gameplay reason, just because the added enemies can get overwhelming quickly. It may say level 28, but I really think 30 is probably the low-end to complete it, just because of how many majors and ultras the later rounds have.

It’s hard to fully comment on the Prison of Elders, just because there’s still three different leveled activities to go through, but my immediate thoughts are really positive. I really think House of Wolves is the best thing to happen to Destiny since launch; both story and PvE activity-wise. Prison of Elders has plenty of replay value with it, if for no reason other than it’s fun and, at least the lower leveled mode, is faster than raiding. I think with House of Wolves, Bungie may have ensured that Destiny stays in my rotation through the summer.

Destiny: House of Wolves Leadup – Prison of Elders

DestinyAfter a few days off for travel – I was off seeing my sister graduate from college – I’m back to keep the hype flowing for Destiny. I was able to catch up on the Prison of Elders reveal from last week, which is the end-game co-operative experience coming with House of Wolves. The big complaint going in to the new DLC has been the lack of a Raid, but I have to say, after seeing both the competitive and co-operative end-game content, I don’t think it’s really that huge of a deal.

The Prison of Elders itself seems like it’s going to have plenty of life to keep it relevant for a while. Adding in a matchmade variant helps ensure that end-game content will be played, regardless of whether or not you have a group. It’s always been a complaint against the Raids, so seeing it appear in the Prison is a nice touch. I’ve never felt it was necessary, but would be nice. That said, I am a fan of the higher level difficulties being non-matchmade. The higher level challenge mode entries in the Prison definitely look like they require a higher level of teamwork than I have experienced generally in random parties. It’s very similar to raids – just a bit more straightforward experience. The modifiers and the critical objectives in the higher levels look pretty crazy, and definitely seem like it’s going to be intense for fireteams.

Destiny Queen of the Reef

The gear that the Prison rewards you with – being Fallen themed – looks pretty cool. As opposed to the angular designs in the Osiris gear, or the orbs in the Vault of Glass, or the Hive influenced weapons; the Fallen gear looks a lot more fluid, almost scavenged together. The armor looks cool without relying on the kind of stereotype armor tropes. I’m curious to see if there’s going to be anything along the lines of the Eidolan Ally/Necrochasm progression for Fallen weapons. I’m also looking forward to seeing what completing the Prison on Level 35 will net you – in the past doing these end-game activities on max level results in extra special gear. With the level cap being 34 I’m curious to see exactly what doing something over that cap will net you.

Ultimately, now that we’ve seen both end-game level activities, I think I’m more excited going into the House of Wolves than I was for Dark Below. The variation of the activities looks higher, the novelty of the new areas and gear looks better, and I just think that players are going to be returning to Destiny after a break refreshed. Will the story content be groundbreaking? Probably not – but honestly at this point we shouldn’t expect it to be. As I’ve said since day one – if it’s more of the same with Destiny, that’s not a bad thing here. It is still I think the most fun game I played last year, just ahead of Titanfall. It’s got flaws – probably ones that can’t be fixed with the game almost 10 months deep. But there’s still a ton of fun to be had in here – and it really does look like House of Wolves will deliver.