If you read the comments written below any Destiny article, you’re bound to find someone write, with enmity, “People still play this game?” Two years after the somewhat tumultuous launch of Destiny, it’s a fair question, especially as other video games have launched with the hope of replicating Destiny’s success, and have all but fizzled out since. But yes — people still play Destiny, and with the Rise of Iron expansion kicking off a third year for the shared-world shooter, there has never been a better time to experience the ever-growing world of the Guardians.
The Bungie team has said many times that their primary focus with Rise of Iron has been to provide more content, and to a degree, Rise of Iron fulfills that goal. All-told, Rise of Iron includes three strikes, private PvP matches, three/four multiplayer maps (depending on your console), half a dozen story missions, a raid, a ton of new pieces of armor, weapons, and ornaments, and an unknown amount of new quests. This doesn’t include the additional “live events” that will take place over the course of the next year, which will be available to players at no additional cost. For a $30 price tag, Rise of Iron represents a tremendous value for players who may have already invested hundreds of hours in Destiny, and could lose themselves for hundreds more with Rise of Iron.
Rise of Iron introduces an all-new threat called SIVA, a Golden Age technology that was sealed away to keep it out of the wrong hands…but the Fallen have many, many hands, and they’ve uncovered its power. By working with an NPC who has been around since the beta, Lord Saladin, players will explore the mysterious Plaguelands, fight off the Fallen, and reclaim a new social area that was once a stronghold for the forces of good.
Unfortunately, the story missions are the weakest point of Rise of Iron, not insomuch as quality is concerned, but because they’re few in number, and can be completed in under two hours, cutscenes included. While the story of the iron lords and the threat of the SIVA virus are interesting, the conflict seemingly ends as quickly as it began, which undercuts some of the excitement and stakes that were built up. Also, most of the drama surrounding Rise of Iron’s plot concerns a battle fought long ago by the iron lords, which removes the player’s personal stake in the story by a degree of separation or two. That said, the actual content of the story missions is excellent, especially the finale. You’ll swing giant battleaxes, encounter various new foes, shoot enemies while riding a gondola, and narrowly escape massive explosions — it’s awesome.
The gameplay is Destiny is the same as it’s ever been, with some quality-of-life improvements and changes. Artifacts have been given an expanded role, and now grant powers like a more detailed radar, and resistance to damage-over-time effects. The light level cap has been increased to 400, the most powerful of which can only be acquired via the raid on hard mode. In terms of the UI, the inventory has been expanded to include an area for cosmetic items, which effectively expands the player’s inventory space. A new space for books has also been added to the UI with objectives that players can complete to unlock unique rewards. When characters level up in a faction, they are also now able to choose the type of reward they’d like, instead of leaving it entirely to the RNG gods. These small changes are not game-changers individually, but add up to an experience that’s greatly improved over some of The Taken King’s faults.
Players can also customize their weapons and armor more than ever before, not just with color chromas on certain armor pieces, but with ornaments, which dramatically augment the appearance of that piece of equipment (a la World of Warcraft transmogrification). With ornaments, a metal sword can now look like a hellish abomination, infused with fire, and a rustic rocket launcher can be plated with gaudy gold.
The new multiplayer mode is called Supremacy, and is reminiscent of game modes like Call of Duty’s “Kill Confirmed” mode. In Supremacy, players not only have to kill the other team, but also collect a “crest” from the fallen enemy’s corpse. If they don’t get the crest, they don’t get credit for the kill. To complicate matters, the enemy team can pick up their allies’ crests before you do, denying your team the point.
I found Supremacy to be a breath of fresh air for Destiny PvP, even if it isn’t exactly original. Since simply killing the enemy can very likely not earn points, teamwork is absolutely necessary. It also completely invalidates the idea of “trading” kills with the enemy, since nobody remains to collect the crests if people are going playing like lone wolves. The new multiplayer maps are some of the best we’ve seen in Destiny, with a nice mix of large open areas, tight indoor choke points, and more verticality than most maps we’ve seen so far.
Rise of Iron also features a new social space, and a new area to patrol. Felwinter Peak is an icy mountaintop that served as the Iron Lords’ base of operations long ago, and it serves as the most relevant social space in this expansion. There are new characters to meet, new Easter eggs to find, and many more places to dance for no reason. The Plaguelands serve as Rise of Iron’s central patrol area, which is a gloomy, abandoned area of Earth, not far from the cosmodrome.
Of utmost importance to Destiny players is the endgame environment, where hardcore players will spend 99% of their playtime over the course of the next year. In the case of Rise of Iron, the success of the third year’s endgame is a bit of a mixed bag. Whereas Bungie took steps with the Taken King to make grinding less of an issue, Rise of Iron feels like a step in the wrong direction, and getting to a high enough light to participate in endgame events, such as the raid and the nightfall strikes requires replaying the same events ver-and-over again. In order to reach an acceptable light level, I resorted to exploiting a certain loot drop on a particular mission for 4-5 hours. It was effective, but not in the least bit fun, and after the main story and quests are completed, Rise of Iron sadly has few instances where increasing your light level, and having fun intersect.
Archon’s Forge is Rise of Iron’s answer to The Court of Oryx, wherein players can partake in public events against all sorts of difficult enemies. Unfortunately, Archon’s Forge also feels like a step backwards for Destiny’s endgame. The biggest issue is that the player is scarcely rewarded for participating in Archon’s forge, which makes the whole endeavor feel like a waste of time. However, it’s also apparent how little effort went into the Archon’s forge experience in general. Whereas with Court of Oryx, players took on mini-boss fights, each with unique mechanics, Archon’s Forge has you fighting the same tired enemies, but in greater numbers, and with greater health than they normally have. There is trick to these fights, and no special strategy that need-be employed — just shoot, until everything is dead, then do it again.
The good news is that the most important piece to Destiny’s endgame, the new raid, is possibly the best one we’ve gotten yet. In the past, some of the raids have been all about doing massive DPS. Yes, you have always had to solve puzzles, but in some cases, solving the puzzles was the easy part, and doing enough damage to beat the boss was the real challenge. Unfortunately, maximizing all of your stats to ensure you’re able to do enough damage simply isn’t fun, and that’s what makes the new raid, Wrath of the Machines, so great.
In Wrath of the Machines, solving puzzles and working together to overcome a challenge is the star of the show, and a high doing DPS, while still important, is no longer the central focus of the raid. Each encounter is unique, challenging, and entertaining, but there are few points where the player feels like they’re being held back by their damage output, as failure is usually the result of poor teamwork or communication. Wrath of the Machines also has the best environments, and level design of any raid to-date. Whereas past raid locations were dark caves, and creepy hallways, Wrath of the Machine takes place in sprawling, open landscapes, and high-tech laboratories. It’s a really great change of pace that makes this particular endgame activity standout among the crowd.
Destiny looks better than it ever has with Rise of Iron, presumably enabled by the fact that the legacy consoles don’t support this expansion. Particularly noticeable are the improved particle effects — snow blows into your face, fog floats through environments, and embers leap from fires, as you go by. The Rise of Iron soundtrack is a whole new sound for Destiny, but, as always, is excellent. This time around, Bungie went with a nordic-sounding, more hopeful tone, which is somewhat reminiscent of Skyrim, and is noticeably different from The Taken King’s decidedly darker sound.