With Destiny: Rise of Iron, Bungie and fans of their game head into Year 3 for the shooter. While Year 2 saw significant improvements to the game, it was a year that was marked by a single expansion. Last year saw Bungie throwing in live updates for the game, content that would have to hold people over for the long year wait for a true expansion. Rise of Iron follows the same pattern that we saw with The Taken King, the developers doubling down on the core character building mechanics of the game. The bet is that players won’t tire of grinding for gear that will get them battle-ready for the game’s toughest challenges in its big new Raid. Bungie also expands on a small part of the Destiny universe in its story of the Iron Lords, how Lord Saladin and the Iron Banner Tournament fit into the scheme of Destiny’s narrative.
Rise of Iron is though, largely the same in terms of content in this expansion. There are five story missions, a couple of new strikes, new weapons and armor to bolster your character’s light level into the high 300’s, new Exotic quest lines, a new social area, a new area called the Plaguelands, new game modes and maps in The Crucible, a battle arena called Archon’s Forge, and of course the new Wrath of the Machine Raid. There’s quite a lot to sink your teeth into in this new expansionary content, even if Bungie unabashedly plays to Destiny’s current crowd of players. They do very little to welcome new players or those who put the game down and never came back. Tokens that will increase the level of your character instantly does help some in that respect, however. Though for those new players or those thinking about jumping in, Destiny has changed quite a bit over the last year or so.
Destiny’s story was described as particularly vague at launch. In fact, many of the design decisions by Bungie were questioned by early adopters of the game. Destiny’s patchwork story felt put together in a very generic manner. Year 2, however, saw the developers take steps to flesh out a little more of the world and its characters through a new questing system — a system that had multiple benefits to go along with the release of The Taken King. This gave the game a new structure, one that wasn’t quite as hard to follow as it had been in the past. In Year 3 Destiny’s questing system and Rise of Iron Record Book, gives you many quests and objectives to tackle, which includes rewards at different tiers of completion. This allows you to earn decent armor and weapons for your character without having to do a bunch of strikes or replaying the same missions over and over. Rise of Iron also sees Bungie telling a competent story that makes sense for what we know about the Destiny universe. A tale of Lord Saladin and the Iron Lords is front and center. Some decent cutscenes move the narrative along, and the five story missions in the game, are, while familiar, something new… in a brand new area called The Plaguelands. The story itself also revolves around a SIVA infused sect of The Fallen that are half-machine half-organic. This fight with the SIVA infused enemies does take from The Taken King in that Bungie reuses its character models, while giving them alternate attacking patterns and some aesthetic changes.
For better or worse though, Rise of Iron IS more Destiny. At this point, you either love the character building loot grind, or you don’t. There’s no real middle ground. Every activity in the shooter funnels back to the game’s RNG loot system that has you slowly building your character to the new level cap, giving you the opportunity to tackle the game’s hardest challenges. Destiny’s biggest problem, especially in the Rise of Iron expansion, is that once you’ve seen and played through this new content, there’s a lot of repetition required to hit said level cap. And even those most challenging aspects of the game are retreads on content that you’ve likely played a number of times. The saving grace to this design decision is the best-in-class first person shooting action of the game and the variety that it offers in terms of character builds. A first person shooter with MMO character building mechanics is what Destiny is in 2016, love it or hate it.
Rise of Iron doesn’t really offer any groundbreaking new ideas like The Taken King did. Nor is the story of the Iron Lords something that is as interesting as The Taken storyline. Much of what’s been added to the game through Rise of Iron, while solid additions, do very little to change the structure of Destiny. Activities like Archon’s Forge is an interesting new spin on public events, and one of the ways that Bungie funnels players into the new land mass called The Plaguelands. To activate the Forge, players must find SIVA offerings to start a wave based survival mode that culminates with a mini-boss battle. These SIVA offerings come in different variations some stronger than others. Archon’s Forge is a good way to get some good loot when starting the new expansion, but higher light level players will see themselves avoiding the area once they’ve reached a certain light threshold.
Rise of Iron introduces a new social area called the Iron Temple, high above the new Plaguelands area. Much like the Tower or Reef social spaces, Guardians can congregate here to tackle the new single player missions, take quests and bounties, and decrypt engrams. It’s one of Destiny’s most beautiful areas, a stark contrast to others sitting high atop Felwinter Peak. Here you will find some of Destiny’s most interesting quest chains. Including one for an exotic weapon that has players tracking down the Gjallarhorn rocket launcher. These multi-step quests and the streamlining of these activities hasn’t changed since Year 2, I just wish there were more of them. Outside of the single player missions, this is some of Destiny’s best content for the player who plays Destiny by themselves. The Iron Book also has you completing many missions in the Plaguelands area, usually starting from Felwinter Peak. Some of these quests are fun to play, while others feel like repetitive grinds in doing mundane tasks. Some of which you’ll need to group up with others to complete… like the new Strikes.
Strikes aren’t a new concept for Destiny. Rise of Iron adds a couple of new ones, as well as a couple of remakes of old familiar ones. Strikes have also been altered to offer a bonus chest at the end of every one that has exclusive gear in them. This new mechanic has players scavenging for Skeleton Keys to these chests throughout the Strike, and the rewards can be quite good. Unfortunately, the loot in these chests won’t necessarily work with the character that you are using, so you have to be careful which chests you open as it might not contain anything for your specific character if you run a single main. Heroic Strikes and Nightfall Strikes are the upper level activities for players to tackle. Heroic being the more manageable and Nightfall offering weekly rewards for grinding through one of Destiny’s toughest activities.
Once you reach a certain level you can take on the Wrath of the Machine raid. Destiny’s Raids have been the best content the game has to offer since day one, and Wrath of the Machine is no different. Requiring incredible teamwork and communication, Wrath of the Machine is one of Destiny’s most mechanical Raids to date. There’s something really great about Destiny’s Raids and when a team comes together to get the job done. The rewards for completing each piece of Wrath of the Machine are powerful items that cannot be gotten by doing anything else in the game. Unfortunately, Destiny’s Raids have both a high barrier to entry and the need to have five other people to do them with. Insistent on not adding matchmaking for this activity, players that don’t have five friends to tackle the content are forced to things like DestinyLFG or other websites designed to match people to do Raids together. It’s not a horrible solution, but three years in, Bungie should have some sort of solution in mind to give players the ability to find other players wanting to play the Raid in the game itself, rather than having to use a third party solution.
It’s pretty easy in Destiny: Rise of Iron to cover all the single player and cooperative content in just a few days. What’s left after that is either playing this content again, doing the weekly and daily missions, or heading into The Crucible for competitive multiplayer. This is one aspect of Destiny that has been constantly evolving, but still doesn’t hit the same high notes that they did with the Halo franchise. The Crucible is fun to play, and live events give players plenty of reasons to play multiplayer, it just doesn’t have the draw that keeps you coming back to the mode day in and day out like other shooters do. Rise of Iron has brought meaningful changes to The Crucible. Aside from new maps to play on, which brings the grand total to around 30 maps, a new mode called Supremacy is a welcome addition to the roster of game modes. Akin to something like Halo’s Headhunter mode or Call of Duty’s Kill Confirmed, this new mode has players looking to not only kill the other players but pick up their crests to score points. The Crucible, like Destiny’s single player and cooperative modes feels more robust than ever as the expansion just continues to build on what’s already there.
Rise of Iron isn’t quite the game changer that the Taken King was last year, but there’s still plenty for Destiny players to dig into here. This expansion is most certainly one for the Destiny devout as it does very little to bring new players into the fold. That said, while the story of the Iron Lords feels like a microscopic look at one tiny aspect of Destiny lore, the decision to focus on this small piece of the world is one that fans will enjoy. Looking at it peice by piece it’s very easy to discount certain aspects of Destiny, but as a whole there isn’t a better or more robust game that ties together single player, cooperative, and competitive multiplayer gameplay the way that Bungie has.