House of Wolves might be the last shot for Destiny

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Months after its release, Destiny is as tough as ever to figure out.

Not the gameplay — that’s about as easy as it comes for a first-person shooter — but as an entity. Bungie’s hot release of 2014 was widely seen as a disappointment because it was, as one reviewer put it, “OK.” And it was only OK, in part, because of the identity crisis going on within Destiny. The game, and its developers, can’t seem to figure out what kind of experience the player should have.

Courtesy of Bungie and Activision. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

Courtesy of Bungie and Activision. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

Is this a first person shooter-first game with some nice online multiplayer extras, or is it an online game that puts community and replayability above the action experience? Is it tailored toward the players’ suggestions or the developers’ original vision of what Destiny should be? And how does that vision change — or not change — the 10-year plan Bungie laid out for this franchise?

So far, results are mixed. I put 214 hours, or about nine days worth of play, into Destiny from late November (I got on the boat late) to February. I know many, many others have invested a ton of time as well. And Destiny continues to be one of the best-populated online games on consoles.

But that “OK” label, and Bungie’s initial lack of responsiveness to players’ complaints, led many would-be Guardians to pack up before the first (and extremely skimpy) expansion even came out. The storyline, which excitingly featured a strong mysterious female character as one of the leads, came up bland and makes it difficult to feel invested in the game. The expansion also featured a female character who could carry some serious depth in Eris, the main character in The Dark Below, but again the story element falls way short.

Bungie is doing a better job of communicating and adjusting its expectations (matchmaking for Weekly Strikes, for example, and updates to its mobile app). But the game hasn’t improved in any substantive way, and the May 19 release of the House of Wolves downloadable content might be Bungie’s last chance to establish the game’s identity. Bungie’s pre-launch vision made us believe a game of such size and scope could play out in a non-open world setting. That was silly in retrospect, and turned Destiny from a fun-but-underwhelming game into one of the biggest letdowns of the year. The game was up for multiple Game of the Year awards despite its shortcomings and earned the honor from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Games Awards — to the shock of many in the room, according to reports at the time.

But the title still has so much going for it, and Bungie has a huge opportunity with this DLC, which will include a new game mode but no raid. The lack of a raid might upset hardcore players such as myself (the first runs through a raid are among the few things in Destiny that seem dynamic and exciting), but the developer seems to be aiming for casual players as well as a more fleshed-out storyline rather than another bit of endgame content.

Bungie said in a statement that the May 19 release will “impact the experience of every player of Destiny, regardless of if they download the House of Wolves expansion pack.”

We’ll find out soon whether that’s another false promise or not.

This game still has stunning visuals, excellent combat, things that bring the grinders back again and again — and it has potential, as more downloadable content comes out, to somewhat realize its grand vision. House of Wolves might be Destiny‘s last chance to show players that expansions will be more than more of the same.

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