Destiny Rise of Iron Review
I initially wrote Destiny off as an experiment that fell flat. An experiment that cost half a billion dollars and had some excellent gunplay but wasn’t the grand marriage of intense action and epic scale needed to sustain an MMOFPS. It had incompetent storytelling, banal mission structure, an incongruous design philosophy that encourages skill but only rewarded luck. However, a lot of goodwill was earned back with the release of The Taken King last year. Basically a soft reboot of Destiny with a lot of systems streamlined and a new campaign that lived up to the promise of the original game.
The latest expansion, Rise of Iron, builds on this new foundation. By the developer’s own admission, it is not nearly as in-depth or as the last add-on, which explains why it’s $10 cheaper, but what it delivers the textbook definition of more of the same. On the one hand, it’s a good thing Bungie has finally discovered a formula that works and has chosen to build upon it, but on the other, it highlights Destiny’s more internal flaws.
The new campaign revolves around Lord Saladin, the last of the first generation of Guardians referred to as Iron Lords. When he isn’t leading the game’s Iron Banner PvP event, he protects secrets hidden by his fallen comrades, preserved within the Iron Temple located in uncharted Russia. Things seem alright until a subgroup of the Fallen enemy faction, the techpriests known as Splicers, uncover the source of the greatest threat that led to the extinction of the Iron Lords: a deadly nanovirus known as SIVA. In order to prevent the Splicers from weaponizing SIVA and waging war against Earth, your player helps Lord Saladin locate the source of SIVA, destroy it and deal with the Splicers’ newly minted armies, war machines and experimental abominations.
It’s not a bad concept for an expansion, but there are some things holding it back. With that said, the campaign is more tightly structured, complete with cutscenes of actual coherent storytelling and world-building (the very fact I had to write that out shows how far things have come). A particular shout-out must be made of Lord Saladin, who manages to be both sympathetic as well as a strong mentor of sorts to your Guardian, teaching him or her the history and might of the Iron Lords in their prime while also remembering how they fell to vanity as well as nanite-infused nightmares. However, in terms of scale, it can’t exactly compete with The Taken King’s plot involving taking out a god from the darkest reaches of space who has arrived in the solar system with an armada, a doomsday weapon and an ever expanding pan-dimensional army. Also, for all of Bungie’s insistence that Rise of Iron would feature completely brand new content the new patrol area, The Plaguelands, is made up of roughly half of the Cosmodrome patrol area with a different coat of paint, to say nothing of the Splicers themselves being old enemies wearing new hats. Even the actual campaign’s content is lacking with the basic story wrapped up in a little under four hours, which is an issue no matter how many well-made set pieces and encounters are presented.
Thankfully, when it comes to long-term content things are more stable. Rise of Iron gives you a progress book similar to the Moments of Triumph in the beginning. Instead of major undertakings like finishing the latest raid on hard, the progress book is full of smaller manageable obstacles like hitting a certain K/D ratio in PvP or obtaining a certain amount of collectibles. Finishing these tasks yields rewards like special pieces of armor, ornaments which reskin special weapons you may have, new colored shells for your Ghost and more.
On the topic of PvP, the new maps are decent. A solid mix of close-quarters corridor shootouts and wide open venues with an emphasis on verticality. The new Supremacy mode is also welcome even if it plays similar to Call of Duty’s Kill Confirmed or Halo’s Headhunter modes. Kill an enemy Guardian and he’ll drop a crest, pick it up and you get points, the first team to a fixed amount of crests wins. Personally, I enjoy the mode since it encourages a lot of short to medium distance play, lots of intense gunfights in claustrophobic locations as opposed to getting hit by a sniper across the map.
As for PvE content, it’s more of a mixed bag. The biggest addition is the surprisingly addictive Archon’s Forge. You activate the Forge by using a new collectible called a SIVA offering, which will summon a wave of enemies with a boss fight breaking out once enough waves are defeated. Other players can even jump in at any time to help. Finish off the boss and everyone involved gets rewarded. Even when this novelty wears off, this public event is a lot of good fun, since it helps get everyone in the area involved and helps emphasize the strength of being an always-online shared experience. The same cannot be said for the new Strikes, which instead of introducing two or three merely brings in one brand new encounter and adds a hard mode variation to two Strikes from year one. The revised Strikes have a bit more going on than just higher numbers being thrown around but savvy reused assets are still reused assets.
Surprising no one, the highlight of Rise of Iron is its new raid. The aptly titled Wrath of the Machine is a great testament to what Destiny is capable of when taking full advantage of the current console generation. This latest addition is the first one not to also be designed for Xbox 360 and PS3 versions. The highlight of the entire encounter is the battle against the Siege Engine or what the community has dubbed the “Death Zamboni” sequence. A harrowing boss battle where a large mechanical monstrosity slowly pursues your team. It’s a fantastic challenge since the key to victory doesn’t just come from pumping enough bullets at a weak spot, but also maneuverability, speed and coordination. It’s one of the greatest bouts of teamwork I have experienced in online play and the only legitimate instance I have witnessed of Destiny’s framerate dropping to keep up with all the action.
But for all of the improvements Rise of Iron brings, almost none of Destiny’s lingering problems are addressed. There is still no in-game looking for group feature, creating a clan still involves logging into a separate website, and there’s still no player-driven economy or trading system. That last feature isn’t as glaring anymore since the game has moved towards earning certain legendary and exotic items being tied to quests that can be completed with friends rather than be completely dictated by RNG. If weapons and armor are more status symbols that have to be earned, not being allowed to trade them is understandable, but it still says something when I can be completely maxed on in-game money and have nothing to spend it on, even if it’s something as simple as something cosmetic for a friend.
Overall, Destiny Rise of Iron is a good enough extension of the original game at its core. It’s the equivalent to interactive comfort food. A reliably entertaining experience that occasionally tries to reach something resembling its full potential. If you hopped off the bandwagon after year one, there won’t be much to bring you back, but if you are craving another reason to dust off your Guardian and get back into the swing of things, this expansion will hold your attention for a while.