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Destiny: House of Wolves - Everything You Need to Know

Editor's Note: For detailed hands-on impressions on House of Wolves, check out our op-ed on why we love the new expansion.

If you've put down your pulse rifle and decided to take a break from mowing down hordes of aliens in Destiny, now's a pretty good time to come back. The game's second expansion, House of Wolves, on May 19 will bring fresh game modes, new maps and, most importantly, sweet new gear to Bungie's massively popular online shooter. If you're considering hopping back into orbit to help the Queen take down her Fallen foes, here's everything you need to know about the expansion before it arrives on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3 and PS4.

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Story Content and Strikes

House of Wolves ($20 standalone, $35 as part of an expansion pass) promises to give Destiny its biggest infusion of new story content yet, with new missions and, for the first time since the game's launch, a brand new social space. House of Wolves' new story missions center around the Queen of the Awoken, whom you'll aid in her fight against the humanoid Fallen race that betrayed her.

Guardians will now be able to hang out, buy gear and receive new challenges at the Vestian Outpost in the Reef, a mysteriously nebulous area that players just barely got to skim in Destiny's original story mode. Even without buying House of Wolves, you can currently accept new bounties (challenges) from the Queen's emissary, Petra Venj, back in the game's central Tower area. These bounties let you take down boss enemies for special rewards, including engrams that you'll be able to exchange for special gear once the expansion arrives.

House of Wolves' new story missions are complemented by a new Strike challenge called The Shadow Thief, which will have you and up to two friends head to the moon to battle Fallen mercenary Taniks the Scarred.

MORE: Destiny Review

Prison of Elders

High-level Destiny players seeking fresh co-operative challenges should find lots to love about Prison of Elders, House of Wolves' brand-new game mode. Guardians at level 28 or higher can enter the Prison of Elders, which tasks teams of three with surviving large waves of enemies over the course of five rounds. The level 28 version of Prison of Elders supports matchmaking, while you'll have to have your own team ready before entering the more challenging level 32, 34 and 35 variations.

Think of Prison of Elders as Destiny's version of Gears of War's Horde mode: tons of enemies, lots of challenge and the potential to earn some really great rewards.

Trials of Osiris and Multiplayer Maps

If you're more the competitive type, House of Wolves has plenty of new activities centered around Guardian-on-Guardian action. The new Trials of Osiris mode is an intense new take on Destiny's multiplayer, consisting of last-man-standing battles with no respawns in which all of your weapon and gear advantages are in effect. You'll have to form a team of three before entering the Trials, and the more consecutive wins you rack up, the better the gear you'll unlock.

Whether or not you deem yourself worthy of the Trials, House of Wolves' new multiplayer maps will give all types of players fresh arenas to mow one another down in. The expansion includes Thieves Den, a cliffside battleground on Venus, Widow's Court, a beautifully ravished European village, and Black Shield, a symmetrical battleground on Mars with plenty of chokepoints for constant action.

Unfortunately for Xbox fans, PlayStation gamers continue to get the better deal when it comes to Destiny's add-ons. A fourth House of Wolves map, Timekeeper, is exclusive to PS3 and PS4.

MORE: 'Destiny' and Console Exclusivity: Why It's Gone Too Far

Get New Gear, Upgrade Your Old Stuff

New maps and game modes are great, but for many hardcore Destiny fans, it's all about the gear you bring to battle. Fortunately, House of Wolves serves up plenty of new toys to play with, including five new exotic weapons and nine new pieces of exotic armor. These include some pretty menacing Fallen rifles, as well as an awesome ram's head helmet that will certainly make you stand out in firefights. 

Fortunately, if you'd rather stick with your existing guns, armor and gear, House of Wolves will allow you to upgrade each piece to its highest levels.

Outlook

Overall, House of Wolves is shaping up to be a much meatier expansion than The Dark Below was. The DLC's new social space and story content could give the game some much-welcomed extra scope, and the new gear seems well worth grinding away for. While there's no new Raid (long, challenging missions for big teams of high-level players), modes such as Prison of Elders and Trials of Osiris provide significantly fresh ways to experience a game that was starting to grow a bit stale. 

Mike Andronico is an Associate Editor at Tom's Guide and on-again, off-again Destiny addict. Follow Mike @MikeAndronico. Follow us @TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+.