For Better or Worse
Let’s all agree that our collective relationship with game developer Bungie has become unhealthy over the years. It all started off well enough with the Halo series. Bungie could do no wrong in the world of first-person shooters. Most were happy to see them everyday. They made us smile, they made us laugh, and, for many, they were our first (great console FPS or online multiplayer experience, that is). That’s why fans out there were excited when Bungie said they wanted to take our relationship to the next level with Destiny, a multiplatform MMO shooter that promised the world—actually not just “the world,” but “worlds,” plural. It was what we’d been dying to hear, so much so that some were even willing to overlook the red flags along the way. Two years later, and many have fled into other developer’s arms, while those still faithful to Bungie’s original promises continue to be taken advantage of.
The game’s latest expansion, Rise of Iron, mostly functions as a stopgap attempting to appease players, like a fiancé whose wedding date continues to get pushed back. This year, according to original design documents, was supposed to see the release of a Destiny 2 of sorts, but players have known for quite some time that a full-fledged sequel was unlikely happening in 2016. Still, most were at least hopeful that Rise of Iron would reinvigorate the game similar to how last year’s Taken King made Destiny finally feel like a complete experience. Those people will likely be disappointed with the amount of content in Bungie’s latest attempt to satisfy their vocally passionate fanbase.
Rise of Iron’s campaign focuses mostly on previous foes the Fallen and their attempt to retake a temple used by a group of guardians known as Iron Lords. The problem is that the temple hosts an outbreak of SIVA, a deadly, mind-altering virus. As the Fallen tear down the wall separating the Cosmodrome and the Plaguelands (think The Wall from Game of Thrones) the virus spreads, threatening to consume the healthier areas of the planet, our planet, Earth. If that sounds like a bunch of nonsense that’s because it is, just like most of Destiny’s story and lore. All you really need to know is that this SIVA virus—which manifests as large, red, veiny patches of tethered rope in the Cosmodrome and the new area known as the Plaguelands—is bad news for whatever it infects, in this case the Fallen, and the guardians definitely don’t need any more crap to deal with right now.
Your job, as a guardian, is to help one of the remaining Iron Lords, Saladin, stop these SIVA-infected Fallen from taking over the temple and allowing the virus to spread further throughout the Cosmodrome. What it actually amounts to is a series of about five missions where you shoot a bunch of enemies, scan something with your ghost, and return to the new social space at Felwinter Peak to turn in said quest. You know, Destiny stuff. The good news is that the gameplay is still as fundamentally sound and satisfying as it ever was. The bad news is that this is the same rinse and repeat mission structure players have grown accustom to over the years with little variety to break up the monotonous flow of it all. The SIVA-infected Fallen are basically just re-skinned versions of their healthier brethren, unlike the Taken who at least had different attack patterns in last year’s expansion. So none of this new campaign feels particularly fresh or inspired, sadly, no matter how you approach it.
The new areas in the game are rather disappointing overall as well. There’s not a ton of new assets on display, and story missions repurpose a lot of previous content similar to the Dark Below and House of Wolves expansions. The Plaguelands, which is the new SIVA-infected patrol area attached to the Cosmodrome, never feels as integral or fittingly dangerous as other areas in the game, probably because it was bolted on to an existing one. That and by now most players will be able to hold their own against these lower-tiered enemies as they explore. They’re fodder in a game already with an abundant surplus of fodder.
One nice feature of the Plaguelands, however, is the Archon’s Forge, which feels a lot like The Taken King’s Court of Oryx. Here players must find SIVA offerings around the Plaguelands from enemies or by completing patrol missions to insert into a terminal at the Archon’s Forge, which will cause a brief wave-like horde challenge to begin. Completing a wave successfully by toppling an end boss will typically reward engrams or even some decent legendary loot, giving players their fix before starting the tedious grind of finding the esoteric consumable once again. It’s fun, but not nearly as consistent as the Court of Oryx loop.
There’s also the new social area at Felwinter Peak, which is reminiscent of the snowy peaks and towns of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. While this new space is rather pleasant to look at and explore, it lacks any useful reasons to return to after completing the expansion’s campaign. You’ll likely continue going to the tower for bounties and to turn in engrams more often than not since faction and Vanguard leaders aren’t accessible from the new social space, similar to the Reef. Felwinter does have other vendors with their own specific bounties, though, meaning those willing to subject themselves to the 385 light level grind will have one more stop to make before going out to repeat the same meaningless patrol missions that they’ve been doing over the past two years.
The More the Merrier
In addition to its story content, Rise of Iron also contains the standard multiplayer offerings one would expect. There’ s a new strike in the Plaguelands where players must destroy SIVA nodes on their way to killing a SIVA priest who has an ogre shackled under his possession. It’s one of the game’s better strikes, but it also happens to be the only entirely new one in this expansion. The other strikes are, again, repurposed ones that you’ve played countless times before, including the very first strike you probably ever completed in the base game, featuring the new SIVA-infected Fallen.
Player versus player (PVP), or as most people simply call it, “multiplayer,” features three new maps (four if you’re on Playstation) and a new mode called Supremacy. Though the art design in Bungie’s maps has always been top-notch, the layouts themselves are starting to suffer from their lack of variety too. Ironically enough, only Halo seems to still understand how different sized maps specifically tailored to player counts and different game types are a good thing for longevity in the console space. Multiplayer remains Destiny’s least inspired part of its overall package, although the strong shooting mechanics alone have been able to keep it afloat for this long. So, for those who still enjoy shooting their newest, most elaborate weapons at other players, at least there’s some new scenery to appreciate while doing so, for now.
Of course, none of this really matters. What players are coming to Rise of Iron for, and rightfully so, is the new raid. Titled Wrath of the Machines (WotM), this new raid might actually be Destiny’s best. If you’ve completed a raid in the past, the structure here will feel familiar, but it’s the minor differences that set WotM apart. For instance, the beginning opens much like the very first raid, Vault of Glass, with players required to charge pillars before progressing. Only this time before damaging a large boss in the center of the ensuing chaos, players must collect energy nodes scattered across the area and dunk them into the pillars to take down his shields, like the mechanics of Destiny’s Rift multiplayer mode. It’s a fun change of pace and Bungie seems a lot more committed to expanding Destiny’s mechanics in Rise of Iron’s raid than anywhere else, which is somewhat unfortunate. Considering the grind to get near the appropriate light level of 370, and the crew needed to actually best the raid, many will probably miss out on this truly great cooperative experience.
Later sections of the WotM feature the standard fare platforming to mix things up. These sections are far more straightforward and will likely be less aggravating for those who were terrible at the jumping and gliding sections of the Vault of Glass and King’s Fall raids. WotM also has a unique vehicle section unlike anything else in the game, right in the middle of things. Its scale is quite enormous and despite it being one of the hardest parts to coordinate, this encounter was a nice change of pace from other raids in Destiny.
You Can’t Change Someone
It will likely be the raid itself that will sway players to spend another $30 on a game stretched this thin. Not completing or even attempting WotM means you’ll miss out on Rise of Iron’s most unique and compelling content. From locals, to bosses, to eerily placed atmosphere, the raid should justify the expansions price tag for those who simply can’t quit Destiny. For those without friends or willing to go on LFG sites to find a handful of racist, sexist, and ignorant children to complete the raid with, however, it might be better to save your money for couples therapy. This has been one bumpy ride.
Fresh new raid
Still some of the best first-person gameplay out there
New multiplayer modes/maps/strikes
Archon’s Forge battles
Scant on content for $30
Need friends to see all of it, or random idiots
Destiny remains an interesting value proposition despite its more unique offerings and mechanically sound gameplay.