Also On: Xbox One
[No longer a work in progress review. Final review score below!]
I've played Destiny since day one, and even before day one if you count the alpha and the beta. At my peak I was probably logging in every day of the week and gaming for an hour or more. This has greatly tapered down over the past nine months with me usually logging in once a week and playing for three or four hours with two other Fireteam members. This past spring I actually stopped playing for about six weeks when The Division came out and I spent most of my free time enjoying that multiplayer online experience. I'm not a huge player versus player (PvP) gamer, but I do enjoy me some fun co-op games. Still, it is a testament to Bungie's developers that I keep coming back to Destiny to essentially play levels over and over again, not so much in the hopes of garnering new loot (although that doesn't hurt), but more for the sheer fun of the gunplay and the awesome moment-to-moment experiences with friends. It's been a long time since an expansion has been released (over a year ago), so imagine my excitement when I was invited out to Bungie to play the new Rise of Iron campaign a few weeks ago.
Fans of Destiny and followers of the game since its inception will know that not all expansions are created equal. Some have more content or more interesting stories to tell than others. The Dark Below and House of Wolves were mixed affairs, but each brought some new lore to the table and broadened the game. The Taken King was the most massive update, and also the most expensive at $39.99. Rise of Iron retails for $29.99 and content-wise it falls in-between House of Wolves and The Taken King. The latter had four Strikes, two new PvP modes, eight new competitive maps, a new Patrol area (including the Court of Oryx public event), a new Raid and more. By comparison, Rise of Iron has one brand new Strike and two revamped ones, one new PvP mode, four new competitive maps (one is exclusive to PlayStation), a new Patrol area (including Archon's Forge public event), a new Raid, and more post-game content. Going strictly by the numbers, fans may be disappointed that Rise of Iron appears to have less content than the previous expansion. In some ways this is true, but numbers don't always tell the full story, and indeed it's the story that makes Rise of Iron so appealing.
Destiny is steeped heavily in lore with backstories on top of backstories. Much of it has been told through Grimoire Cards, which requires the player to read about characters, places, and items on Bungie's website or the Destiny mobile app. For those that have gone down that deep rabbit hole, the story is fraught with twists and turns and many mysteries that have yet to be solved. Rise of Iron attempts to fill in some of the gaps surrounding the Iron Lords. Those players that have participated in the Iron Banner, a PvP mode hosted by Lord Saladin that comes every month or so to Destiny, will no doubt be familiar with some of the myths surrounding the Iron Lords. The expansion kicks off with an epic cinema telling the story of what happened to these warriors who protected humanity long before Guardians even existed. As it turns out, they discovered a mysterious energy substance called SIVA. This powerful Golden Age technology can be utilized to create just about anything in the universe. However, the Iron Lords soon discover that the power can lead to corruption and they soon turn on one another. One brave soul seals herself inside a bunker with the remaining Iron Lords and the SIVA and blows it to pieces, leaving only Lord Saladin as the sole surviving member.
Many years pass and history has been forgotten to all except Saladin. The game begins with him summoning the Guardians to the Plaguelands on the Cosmodrome. The Fallen have begun to amass an army in this previously inaccessible region and Saladin is concerned they may be up to no good. He wants you to investigate an abandoned observatory to discover what the enemy is up to. Your first mission ends with the awful revelation that they have begun using SIVA to augment themselves and are becoming more powerful with every passing moment. It's now a mad rush to stop them from figuring out how to harness the mysterious power before it's too late for humanity.
After completing the first story mission, Rise of Iron adds something that The Taken King did not – a brand new social space called Felwinter Peak. It lies high atop the snow-covered mountains and features both familiar and new locales. Like The Tower and The Reef, it has the usual vendors that allow players to decrypt engrams, grab new bounties, and purchase new emotes. Of course, there are a slew of new characters to chat up and progress the story as well as the post-game. Central to Felwinter Peak is its mausoleum where giant statues have been erected in honor of the fallen Iron Lords. Inside this vast structure are large bells that can be rung by the players. It's one of many secrets that lie in wait for gamers to solve. The outdoor open air environment makes this new space my favorite to visit and I look forward to unlocking all of its hidden treasures over the weeks and months to come.
When all is said and done, the campaign consists of five missions. Most players will see the ending within a few hours. On the surface this may seem disappointing, but remember there is a lot of other content to explore. In addition to post-game missions, there will be weekly quests that will harbor the new artifacts. These unique items give the Guardians special attributes and perks when worn, such as persistent radar or the ability to sacrifice your Super Ability for an extra grenade and melee charge. A brand new Strike, The Wretched Eye, takes place in an all-new location within the Plaguelands and although it doesn't feature anything revolutionary, it's a fun and challenging experience. The expansion also revamps the first two Strikes in the game: The Devil's Lair and The Summoning Pits. Both have new paths to discover, different enemies and formations, and brand new boss encounters that require new strategies. Patrolling the Plaguelands will yield more mysterious items to find and use, similar to the Dreadnaught in the last expansion. Archon's Forge is a new public event space that will challenge gamers to unravel its secrets and hopefully score some awesome new loot. Of course, there's also a brand new Raid to experience. Wrath of the Machine will go live this Friday and you will want your Guardian to be at level 360 or higher (the game initially caps at 385, but will increase to 400 once hard mode is released sometime in the future). On top of all this, Bungie will host a variety of events over the coming months. Festival of the Lost should appear sometime in October and will no doubt feature different challenges and objectives. Also, Sparrow Racing is set to make a return in December with other activities to go along with it.
This is the first Destiny expansion to drop the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 machines. Bungie insists this is due to only ten percent of active players using those systems to play Destiny. By dropping the legacy platforms, it has allowed the developers to increase the number of players in Felwinter Peak. The graphics in the expansion have seen a slight bump up in quality as well. Little graphical flourishes and special effects help to make the game look more detailed than ever before. Some of the levels feature blowing snow and blizzard-like conditions that really adds to the atmosphere and the challenge of the missions. Of course, the epic soundtrack is as great as it's always been. A bunch of new music is included in the expansion and it's sure to keep you motivated to do your best.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Destiny: Rise of Iron and am looking forward to playing through it again with my traditional Fireteam. I'm looking forward to discovering more post-game content and playing all of the future events as well. I'd be lying if I weren't a little let down with the campaign levels. Ever since the original expansion, one thing that has bothered me with new levels is that many times they take place in areas we've already explored previously. Sure, there might be a blown out wall here or a little nuance there, but by and large these are levels that have been slightly revamped for a new mission. This is disappointing to see as I feel there are limitless new zones the developers could create. I understand that the resources required to realize brand new locations is much higher than repurposing existing levels, but I can't help but feel that I've “been there, done that” despite the new mission objectives. Even when going on Patrol in the Plaguelands, a completely new map, it doesn't feel that new because I'm still exploring Old Russia. At least with The Taken King, the Dreadnaught was a completely new environment that we hadn't seen before and therefore felt much more exciting and fresh.
When all is said and done, I can't help but still love Destiny: Rise of Iron. The story is much better than the previous expansions, with the exception of The Taken King. It's an epic tale that really does reveal some history that's entertaining and the missions are still fun to play. The nostalgia does kick in a bit by revisiting the first two Strikes and I think longtime players will really appreciate that aspect. This expansion won't change anybody's mind on Destiny. It's more of the same great gameplay, complete with new weapons, armor, and items to discover and collect. If you enjoyed prior installments, this one should please you as well. There's enough new content stuffed into this expansion to warrant a purchase, especially if you play both PvE and PvP. Even for a player like myself, who tends to only play the co-op stuff, the adventure is well worth experiencing. With a new Record Book detailing new quests and how to obtain specific items, I anticipate playing Destiny for a very long time to come.