Conquering Destiny’s Prison Of Elders

by Matt Miller on May 06, 2015 at 08:00 AM

Last week, I shared my thoughts on the PvP components of Destiny’s upcoming expansion, but that’s only part of the story. While visiting Bungie, I also enjoyed extensive hands-on with House of Wolves' new PvE content, and the biggest new addition is the Prison of Elders.

As guessed by numerous fans, Prison of Elders is a variation on the Horde mode first popularized years ago by Gears of War. However, Destiny’s twist offers plenty of new features that keep it fresh and highly replayable. 

As introduced in the Destiny base game, the Prison of Elders acts as incarceration for some of the galaxy’s most dangerous villains. In the storyline of House of Wolves, most of the Fallen soldiers that previously served the Queen of the Awoken have betrayed her, but one of the Fallen remained behind in the Reef and is still loyal. This Fallen character, named Variks, acts as a warden for the prison, and he engineers an opportunity for guardians to test their mettle within the dreaded detention facility. Variks acts both as the central narrator for the Prison, but also as the vendor for rewards. 

Looking beyond the story setup, Prison of Elders is built as an end-game activity for three players. While the gameplay is very different from a raid, the Prison will provide a challenge and commensurate rewards that are in line with what you’d expect from a raid. Each run at the Prison of Elders requires three players. A base level 28 version includes randomized rounds, bosses, and conditional effects, and this version allows for matchmaking, so you can play even without any of your friends online. 

In any given week, the Prison of Elders also has three challenge versions available, and matchmaking is not provided. These more defined challenges pit you against particular enemies within the Prison, and have more preset conditions and rewards. Each week, you can tackle a level 32, 34, and 35 challenge mode. There are six total challenge arenas to tackle in House of Wolves, but only three of them will be available each week, and then a new one will rotate into circulation, kicking the bottom level 32 challenge off with its arrival. In the preview build I played, I could see Broken Legion (level 32), Urrox’s Grduge (level 34), and Skolas’ Revenge (level 35). 

During my playtime with the Prison of Elders, I joined up with two fellow journalists and confronted the level 32 challenge mode, which focuses in its final wave on bringing down a powerful Cabal warrior. Our team of three begins in an airlock with multiple doors. The first door opened, and we strode out into a battle arena, and almost immediately enemies began charging our location. 

Enemies arrive in waves, and special conditional effects are often applied, very much like the extra effects found in nightfalls. These extra effects can be both positive and negative; I encountered one in which my grenades recharged faster. Some of the waves that come through demand a critical objective. Fail to meet the objective, and your team must restart that arena door from the first wave. One critical objective involved us needing to shoot mines scattered about the arena, while another demanded that we go and hold several zones in order around the battlefield.  

Upon completing all the waves in that arena, my team headed back to the airlock and continued on to another door and its respective arena. Each door leads to a different type of enemy and set of objectives. Had we been playing in the matchmade version, the enemy race encountered would be random. As it was, even in this challenge mode, each door led to different enemy alien groups. 

The level 32 challenge mode was a suitable test for our level 32 guardians, and we faced more than a couple of party wipes on this, our first try at the Prison of Elders. The final boss turned out to be a relentless Cabal leader. As his many troops repeatedly assaulted our position, the boss would rotate which shield type he used between arc, void, and solar, demanding our team coordinate which weapons we used. We cheered when he finally dropped. 

With five arena confrontations complete, our run at the Prison of Elders was finally complete. We were called back to the airlock, and there found a new exit in the floor that led to an impressive treasure room, filled with gleaming goodies. In addition to random legendary and exotic items, completion of the Prison of Elders can also provide an armor core (at level 32) and a weapon core (at level 34) that can be returned to Variks and turned in for a weapon or armor piece of your preference. 

So how does the Prison of Elders feel? Is it an appropriate replacement for a raid as an endgame PvE activity? Are the fights fun? Are the rewards worthwhile? Fans of Destiny will have to make up their own mind how much they like this new game mode, but I think it’s a mistake to think of it as a replacement for a new raid. Bungie has clearly stated that it is enthusiastic about continuing the raid experience in subsequent expansions, but the Prison adds a new and fun layer to the Destiny experience. The random matchmade version and rotating challenge modes make the Prison highly replayable, and I can envision players spending a lot of time each week trying to confront each. The rewards are great, and offer an ideal way to hit level cap. The battles within the Prison kept me on my toes and were challenging. These fights don’t have the strategic complexity of a raid fight, but they were easy to confront with a pick-up group, and the critical objectives still required teamwork and coordination. This new arena mode is a strong addition to the growing roster of activities in Destiny, even if it’s not a dramatic departure from expectation, and I already foresee spending a lot of time taking all three of my guardians through the gauntlet each week.