In gaming, the word “expansion” comes with a certain set of expectations. With the proliferation of DLC-based drip models in AAA releases, gamers often have to wait months – or even years – before they feel they’ve gotten their money’s worth. Shifty pre-order schemes leading to half-finished games, and conspiracy theories of cut content repackaged as fresh DLC abound when a big-name studio pumps out its latest iteration of a popular title. Because of this negative undercurrent, skepticism and expectations skyrocket in equal measure at the announce of a new release.
These days, an expansion can no longer settle for simply adhering to its definition; beyond building on top of the world already in existence, an expansion must revitalize and reinvigorate games that have grown stale. There has to be a paradigm shift – but there must also be a respect for the base product. Players want it all.
With the Rise of Iron, Bungie has convinced me that a studio does not have to reinvent the wheel when the bones of the IP are rock-solid. Destiny, for all its tumultuous history, has withstood the test of time and garnered a dedicated fanbase, as likely to admonish it for its successes as excoriate it for its shortcomings.
The Rise of Iron is a confident addition to the Destiny universe, that will please longtime fans while offering newcomers an entertaining sojourn into a world that is increasingly friendly for the casual Guardian.
Disclaimer: this is an early review. I’ve played the expansion for about 6 hours. I may change my opinions given more time to explore the expansion. Thank you!
Breathless, polished, theatrical – a little short. These first four descriptions come to mind when playing through the brisk and lively story missions that become immediately available upon loading into the game. At Level 40, and 315 Light (okay, I didn’t exactly throw myself into the update this Spring), I was able to dive into the new missions and go toe-to-toe with tenacious Fallen and relentless Hive. My Smite of Merain with Firefly was up to the task, dutifully plugging skulls and igniting blooms of fire as I had always remembered it being capable of.
The gunplay remains as solid as before (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it), and Bungie wisely leans on Destiny’s more mobile encounters as inspiration for most of the brief campaign. There is rarely a time when you’re tasked to explore a giant empty room, defend a mundane locale from wave after wave of enemy, or walk for extended periods of time without some degree of platforming.
Indeed, the first mission to reclaim Felwinter Peak places you on a gondola to the summit, where SIVA-augmented Fallen ambushers peek over the snow-capped peaks to take potshots at your vulnerable frame. The tension of this immobility and the obvious threat in the distance make for an energizing beginning. An old foe in Sepiks Prime resurfaces at the summit, besieging your soon-to-be-home with deadly bursts of red void energy. Meanwhile, Fallen dropshops announce a cavalcade of familiar foes: Splicers, Fallen with insidious technological mutations introduced by the once-dormant SIVA plague. Throughout this, Lord Saladin, an Iron Lord with a self-appointed task of keeping vigil over this desolate, snowy landscape, communicates via radio to provide tidbits of exposition, while giving you instruction in the classic Destiny format.
…And it’s a little much, at first. It’s not that the information is overwhelming. On the contrary, Bungie has wisely kept the scope of this expansion limited. Rather than attempting to kill a god à la Oryx, Saladin is worried that the sins of his companions’ past may not be as buried as he thought. Enterprising Fallen have unearthed a sentient technological plague, that immediately goes about doing what plagues do.
In spite of this, the retconning of Lord Saladin is understandably a little jarring. An otherwise mostly silent herald of the Iron Banner events is now imbued with desires, guilt, and an authority that was usually backgrounded to the lore. He’s got his own comrades, one a forgettable if pleasantly and professionally-voiced Exo tech specialist. A “poor man’s Cayde” is not quite fair – but it’s hard to beat the swagger and snark of Nathan Fillion. Come to think of it: where is Cayde? Where is Ikora Rey and Commander Zavala? There’s no real reason they needed to be included, but the one-to-one substitution has the somewhat unfortunate effect of drawing discrete lines between the previous expansion and this one: in the Taken King, you dealt with these three; in the Rise of Iron, you deal with these three. Nevertheless, this is a minor nitpick and did not hamper my enjoyment of the storyline.
Lord Saladin fills you in on everything you’ve missed in a wonderfully atmospheric cutscene. The voice acting here is top-notch, and Destiny’s animation and writing teams have come a long way from Bill Nighy behind a mask delivering inscrutable warnings. There are personal stakes for Saladin, and he sees you as a chance for vicarious redemption; if you can prove your worth, Young Wolf as you are, perhaps SIVA can be defeated, and the Iron Lords who sacrificed themselves to contain it may rest peacefully. The following missions are oriented to this goal, and long-time Destiny players will feel that warm, if somewhat unchallenging familiarity of being a one-man wrecking ball, while Nolan North’s delightful Ghost delivers cheeky dialogue with a happy regularity.
As you are sent from bunker to bunker, you make headway against the Splicer incursion while learning little-by-little just how far the SIVA infection has spread. A glimmer of hope that the Fallen are out of their league provides Saladin with the courage to send – well – you to examine just what happened to unleash this deadly virus upon the Cosmodrome. It is here that the player is treated to what can only be described as the most beautifully realized environment in Destiny to date. Perhaps surpassed only by the Vault of Glass in size, it ingeniously repurposes a familiar Cosmodrome scene as a plague-scarred battleground, variously dusted and blanketed with snowfall.
The effect is to dwarf your Guardian, and demonstrate through showing and not telling that SIVA is something to be reckoned with. Little touches such as drones attempting to make further headway into the Cosmodrome infrastructure go a long way towards immersing you in the story. What the otherwise vanilla structure of the campaign (go here, do this, follow orders) lacks in ability to compel, Bungie’s finally PS4/XBOX ONE-exclusive Plaguelands make up for in spades. The capabilities of the two are flexed with confidence, as vast landscapes and cavernous underground lairs are realized with equal aplomb.
Though you are unable to properly patrol this area immediately, you explore it in stages through the story, while following up on tasks that the Iron Temple assigns to you to blunt the Splicer advance. In one mission, you make your way into the bowels of the Archon’s Forge, a new mission area designed in the style of the Court of Oryx, where powerful Guardians can team up with their friends to tackle more difficult challenges for greater rewards.
As the SIVA threat becomes more real by the second, Saladin decides that you must make a final assault on the heart of the virus, where his fellow Iron Lords met their end. I won’t spoil that memorable mission here, but I’ll just say this: turn your music up, and proceed with caution – SIVA is a foe you can’t underestimate.
Speaking of music, Bungie has once again passed with flying colors. The themes are resonant, memorable, and bring life to each and every encounter and new locale. The shift towards melodic compositions in lieu of dissonant, atmospheric swells fits the new expansion perfectly. Several choral leitmotifs intermittently resurface to great effect, and Sepiks Prime Perfected’s theme (in an updated Devil’s Lair Strike) is a wild ride that might make you grin in spite of yourself. I can’t wait for the Raid, and if Destiny’s music appeals to you, I highly recommend you check out the soundtrack. It is consistency in areas like these that help Rise of Iron to show its quality.
At just 6 hours in, and 343 Light, I’ve got a long way to go to prove I’m worthy of standing alongside the Iron Lords of the past. With that said, even with the conclusion of the initial narrative, the game wastes no time in giving you things to do. The Plaguelands open up as an area that can be fully explored, with Patrols, Public Events, and all the usual goodies available to be taken. Sequenced quests are well-structured to entice you to explore and battle in this new area, and completing stages of these open up further missions in the Cosmodrome, including a new Strike and explorations of familiar locations such as the Bannerfall Crucible map. I’m only halfway through the quest to collect my Iron Gjllarhorn, and can’t for the life of me manage to climb up to the top of the Iron Temple – but the variety in these quests and others go a long way to staving off monotony.
Part of this is thanks to Destiny’s loot system, which has finally struck the right balance between cost and benefit. With 1:1 infusions, and a host of activities that drop Legendary Engrams with surprising regularity, it’s never been easier to jump up to a competitive Light Level. Of course, if you’re wanting to become powerful enough for the raid on Friday, the 350-365 climb will take you a little longer. Then again, who says you have to be ready to raid on Friday?
There’s much more to do in Destiny than grind through a brief story and raid, raid, raid these days. The impossible grind of The Dark Below just seems like a fuzzy memory at this point. You can team up with friends in brand new Private Matches, a long-awaited feature that promises endless innovation on the player’s part. The Challenge of Elders still awards Legendary Weapons and Armor that can be instantly infused to be relevant, and the Nightfall, Heroic Strike, and Strike playlists have been streamlined to reward you more smartly, making them a great choice for players who can only get on for a couple of hours a day at most.
We also don’t know what the live team has in store for us. Bungie has surprised Guardians in the past with time-locked quests and other tricks to keep the playerbase coming back for more, and if these are implemented sensibly, they will be excellent ways to keep things feeling fresh for months to come. Maybe a Guardian will find the 6th VoG chest – only joking.
This review is only a brief look at what Rise of Iron has to offer the returning Destiny player. Your favorite streamer has probably been playing for two days straight and still has more to find and more to grind for. With the nascent release of the Raid, we’ll see if the Rise of Iron can cement itself as an impressive addition to the Destiny collection. So far, for the $30 price tag, I already feel that I’m close to getting my money’s worth. Many of you will feel justified in spending even more to collect and apply Exotic ornaments, rock the newest emote or dance, and kit yourself out to be the most stylish Hunter/Huntress this side of the galaxy.
A few of you will want a bit more before you feel your money was well spent. My advice? Find people to play with. While Destiny doesn’t make it easy, 3rd party tools, the /r/DestinyTheGame subreddit, and our very own forums are excellent ways to keep track of what you want to do, and who you want to do it with.