Editor's Note: This post contains possible spoilers for Destiny: House of Wolves.
I recently did something I haven't done in a long time -- I stayed up all night playing Destiny. After growing bored of Bungie's mega-popular shooter late last fall, I'd come back to orbit every now and then, only to be reminded of the sometimes numbingly repetitive gameplay that made me quit in the first place. But with the release of the game's new $20 House of Wolves expansion, Destiny is finally starting to exhibit the kind of variety, personality and flat-out fun factor that it had only hinted at before.
It might have taken nine months and two add-on packs, but Destiny finally feels like a great game.
Now, before I gush about House of Wolves, I must admit that I'm not your typical Destiny burnout. I've never reached the level cap. I don't play every possible weekly and daily challenge with three different characters just to do it all over again, as many dedicated Guardians do. I don't have a dedicated crew to play with, as the bulk of my Destiny-loving buds play on PS4 while I shoot in solitude on Xbox One. Heck, I've never done either of the Raids: Destiny's beloved marathon missions that require a skilled crew of six high-level players and lots of time -- two things I'm in short supply of.
For these reasons, I've always felt like the best parts of Destiny were stuck behind a set of seemingly insurmountable roadblocks. Unless I was willing to pour in long hours of tedious solo play, or -- heaven forbid -- group up with strangers from the Internet, I was stuck with a cold and lifeless game.
However, as soon as I booted up House of Wolves, Destiny made me smile again. All it took was a quick trip to the Vestian Outpost, the fresh social space where you'll meet House of Wolves' new characters and learn about your new quests. As I walked around the space station, taking in its triumphant background music and admiring the beautiful purple nebulas in the distance, I felt fascinated with Bungie's shooter in a way I hadn't since I first played the game's beta. It sounds silly, but simply having somewhere new to hang out was exciting.
Then there are the new story missions, which seem to meet the many criticisms of Destiny's bland narrative and level structure head-on. The expansion tells a compact, enjoyable story across five meaty missions, which introduce some of the game's best characters yet.
On the orders of the game's Queen, you're up against Skolas, a menacing Captain of the Fallen (Destiny's four-armed humanoid species) who is trying to unite various political houses into one unstoppable army. You're aided by Petra Venj, the Queen's charismatic emissary who takes much pleasure in slain enemies, as well as Variks, and a gruff, good-guy Fallen, whose creaky dialogue is both creepy and charming. Both highly likable partners are a far cry from Ghost, the original game's mini-robot assistant, who, even with the voice of Peter Dinklage, failed to be anything but dry and monotonous.
Aside from packing lots of personality, House of Wolves' missions are far more mechanically interesting than the rote shootfests that defined Destiny's original story. As someone who never got to enter the infamously unpredictable Vault of Glass in Destiny's first Raid, I was delighted to get to taste the area as part of the new campaign. Many of Vault of Glass' defining set pieces -- including mysterious orbs that decimate your whole team if you don't kill them fast enough, as well as disappearing platforms that force you to carefully time your jumps -- make a return in House of Wolves, and you won't need to set aside a few hours to experience them.
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This refreshing sense of surprise is retained in the expansion's new Strike, dubbed The Shadow Thief, which has you hunt down a Fallen mercenary named Taniks. The majority of Destiny's Strikes have you mow through enemies before shooting away at a bullet-sponge boss until you win, die or give up out of sheer boredom. In The Shadow Thief, however, Taniks teleports in and out of battle throughout the entire mission, taunting you until the very moment you get to bring him down at the end.
Beating House of Wolves' story unlocks a brand-new co-operative mode called Prison of Elders, which is my absolute favorite thing about Destiny right now. The mode is simple in execution: you and two buddies must survive five rounds, each of which consist of fighting massive hordes of a random enemy type. You're occasionally tasked with objectives -- such as capturing checkpoints or taking out specific foes -- and the rounds culminate in a massive boss fight.
Prison of Elders' focus on constant, challenging action reminded me of the one thing Destiny has always gotten right: impeccable first-person shooting mechanics. While it seems like something that should have shipped on day one, I'm more than happy to have it now.
Completing a Prison of Elders run gives you access to a delightful trip down into a glowing treasure trove, where you'll find new loot for your next battle. It's the type of joyful, triumphant moment that I thought I'd never experience without toppling one of the game's more elaborate Raids.
There's also the new ultra-competitive Trials of Osiris mode, which features 3-on-3 last-man-standing battles that dole out serious rewards for those skilled enough to rack up multiple wins in a row. Destiny's ultra-tight shooting seems tailor-made for high-stakes play, and I'm thrilled to see Bungie finally embrace that. I'd normally be terrified of rolling with the big dogs, but I'm loving Destiny so much right now that I just might overcome my fear of Internet strangers and find a Fireteam to compete with.
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For the first time in months, I can't wait to come home to Destiny at night. I've just barely skimmed the surface of what House of Wolves has to offer, and playing the expansion's excellent new content has made my white-robed Warlock strong enough to experience the challenges I couldn't handle just a few weeks ago.
From the first moment I stared into the beautifully cloudy vistas of Destiny's Tower area, watching ships come and go as fellow players ran about, I always had the feeling that Bungie's game would be a living, breathing experience that would develop over time. I'm happy to say that I was right, and that the Destiny of today is a much better game than the one we received in 2014. If the game's future expansions and eventual sequels offer the kind of world-building and gameplay variety House of Wolves does, then Guardians everywhere are in for one heck of a ride.