Reviewed on: Playstation 4. Copy supplied by publisher.
Bungie’s divisive online shooter, Destiny, has its fair share of critics, with even hardcore players solidly invested in the sci-fi epic often bemoaning the game’s shortcomings. This was no more apparent than the game’s very shaky first year, in which many of the mechanics were shoddy, and the general content was bland and unfulfilling. Even two expansions, The Dark Below and The House of Wolves did little to satisfy the negativity.
Then, The Taken King arrived. The game’s first major, full-blown DLC brought with it a host of new missions, strikes and a new raid, but more importantly, it fixed a lot of the issues people had with the core gameplay. Levelling was improved dramatically, a quest system gave players more to do, improvements were made in both PvE and PvP play, and it was universally agreed that the whole experience was as it should have been from day one. Yes, The Taken King was quite the expansion.
Now, after a very dry year two, with little meaningful content other than the April update arriving after The Taken King we have the next big update, an update that players have been waiting far too long for – Rise of Iron.
Coming off the back of the mighty Taken King, Rise of Iron was always going to face a bit of a mammoth task. The Taken King had fixed so many issues, but with so long between then and now, the lack of extra content and any meaningful enhancements only lead to fans ditching the shooter in favour of other games. Simply put, Destiny had run dry.
Rise of Iron is Bungie’s answer to this, and kicks off the third year of Destiny, the first year in which current gen players are no longer affected by the shackles of previous gen limitations. Now Bungie is free to unleash the full potential of the game for current platforms, and Rise of Iron is the first step.
As ever, the story of the game is largely held in those godforsaken grimoire cards on the Internet (sorry, Bungie, but this just has to change. Put the damn grimoire in the game!), but various cut scenes do deliver the basics, if somewhat poorly and full of holes.
Before the Guardians we know and love were formed, the Earth’s defenders were the Iron Lords. Their most dangerous battle was against a mysterious force called Siva, a self-replicating computer construct that could be used for miraculous things, but in the wrong hands… Well, you know the drill.
The Iron Lords were wiped out by this, with one of the last sacrificing herself to save the planet. The last remaining Lord – Salladin of the Iron Banner is all that’s left of the old order, until Siva resurfaces, and he tasks players to become Iron Lords and finish what he and his long-gone brothers in arms could not.
This means a new set of story missions, a new strike, a new raid, and a sprinkling of new weapons, armour, and other items. Light level has initially been raised to 385, with 400 coming when the hard mode raid drops, and some more hidden quests to find along the way.
From the start the expansion hits a good stride, and the actual story missions are mostly good, with some being among the best so far. There’s a bit more variety in there, although we do see the return of year one’s overused trope of hacking doors and defending areas. It’s handled well enough though, and isn’t as abused as it previously was.
The story culminates in a fairly satisfying fight, and alongside this there are the added multi-step quests, such as forging your own Gjallarhorn and finding other new gear, including another new exotic, The Khvostov. This is a powerful version of the very first rifle you pick up in the vanilla game, and it comes with a little bit of reminiscing between your silent protagonist and Ghost. It’s actually a nice touch.
The new game area is an expansion to the Cosmodrome, and mostly incorporates the Plaguelands, as well as the new social space, Fellwinter Peak, which you actually have to take back from the Fallen. It’s all good stuff, and I have to say, the visual presentation and more detailed environments do show that moving on from last-gen has helped the game.
This is probably no more apparent than in the new raid. The Wrath of the Machine is its name, and it’s by far a more action-oriented raid than the previous Oryx affair. This raid is all about very fast, intense combat from the outset, and aside from a couple of fairly light platforming sections (nothing like the Hive ship-jumping sequence in Oryx), it’s all about quick and methodical boss fights that require the mastery of simple, but challenging mechanics.
In particular, and arguably the highlight of the whole raid, is the siege machine section. This sees guardians fight a giant moving death machine that slowly moves towards them atop the Cosmodrome wall. Once this is defeated, teams have to jump on it as it smashes through a wall, and they then have to fix it with components, all the while fighting off Fallen and enemy ships, and passing parts to one another as you can only hold each part for a few seconds. Eventually, the machine starts again, opening the way ahead and plummeting to its doom. It’s tricky, but brilliant fun, and the spectacle of it shows that Bungie is now free to really let Destiny grow.
Sadly, as much fun as the raid is, one thing you can’t ignore is the overall shallowness of the expansion. Aside from the raid, almost all of it is pretty much a total re-skin of existing content. The Siva Fallen are just a new paint job for the normal Fallen, with moves lifted from other foes like the Taken (which were re-skins already), there’s a re-skinned strike in the form of Sepiks Perfected which, admittedly, has a kick ass theme, and new weapons are once again slightly tweaked versions of older ones. In fact, a lot of the new legendaries are simply updated older green and blue items. Lazy, Bungie. Just lazy.
Speaking of the Sepik theme music, I should certainty mention the overall musical quality. Rise of Iron has the best music in the game thus far, and it swings from superbly atmospheric pieces and orchestral movements, all the way to very blood-pumping guitar tracks. It often sounds very Halo, which is a good thing. It’s great, and definitely one of the best aspects of the expansion. You can even listen to it in full here.
The actual new Wretched Eye strike is decent, though, although short, with a boss that’s pretty challenging, especially on the Nightfall. When this rolls with a void burn it’ll be a total nightmare, that’s for sure.
One area where Rise of Iron succeeds, however, is the much higher light level. While this means a ton of grinding, it does give you more reason to keep ploughing along to reach the max light level, and the addition of the Rise of Iron book filled with different challenges that reward you with new gear is also welcome, instantly giving you more to do, and more reason to thoroughly explore the world.
The new public event is an odd one. The Archon’s Forge mirrors the Court of Oryx in how it functions, with players using Siva offerings to kick things off. The battle is then a simple horde mode affair with a boss to defeat, and is open to anyone nearby. You can win some unique gear here, as well as other items, and it’s interesting. It’s in the middle ground between the aforementioned Court of Oryx and the larger-scale Prison of Elders, and it’s fun – for a short time. After a while it soon becomes dull, however, and already people have found ways to blast through it very easily.
Taken for what it is, and that’s a simple offering of more content, Rise of Iron is a good bit of DLC that should provide a couple more weeks of action. I couldn’t ignore the drastic lack of any major change, though, especially after The Taken King brought so many new elements to the table. Rise of Iron’s story can be blasted through in just over an hour if you’re an experienced player, and the raid is far shorter than previous offerings. If not for the higher light level, the content here just wouldn’t last long. As this is also a premium DLC, costing $45, this fact is harder to overlook, and Bungie really should have delivered more in major changes and meaningful content. The devs have said year three will not be as barren as the last, but we’ll have to wait and see how this pans out. Regardless, for now Rise of Iron is a decent bit of content with a good raid, but it’s not a patch on The Taken King.