Release Date: September 20, 2016Platforms: XBO (reviewed), PS4Developer: BungiePublisher: ActivisionGenre: MMOFPS
In August, Bungie told Game Informer their latest expansion was about nostalgia. It might seem a bit strange to encourage nostalgia for a game just entering into its third year. Rise of Iron remixes the Cosmodrome and digs deep into Destiny’s history to tell the story of the player becoming an Iron Lord, finishing what Lord Saladin of Iron Banner fame started. The “machine-plague” SIVA killed Saladin’s companions centuries ago, and has now corrupted the Fallen, and it’s your job to cleanse the disease.
Destiny’s story is sweeping and potentially complex, but always feels a bit incomplete, cryptic lore trickling down in Grimoire cards instead of directly affecting the player. With Rise of Iron, Bungie goes full-force on empowering the player with new weapons and a new social space, but there’s still a lot missing from the story.
The level design, the music, and the new wolves and fire-themed weapons and armor are good, but the expansion feels inconsequential, its mountainous, secret-filled social space small once people start looking down on it from the top. Rise of Iron has some priceless moments – a character shaking her head to clear it after she revives, Saladin’s silent and spoken grief – but overall, I hesitate to say it’s worth $30 for the relatively short missions. Even the plot feels like it doesn’t move the story forward as much as 2015’s comparably brief House of Wolves, which opened up a new social space in the asteroid belt.
In total, Rise of Iron will give you five story missions, one new Strike, side quests including new exotic weapons, the Archon’s Forge PvE area, and access to the new map and social space. I didn’t have quite the light level required to finish the Wrath of the Machine Raid, which went live on Friday. (370 is recommended, which means I’m farming Omnigul like, well, like it’s my job.) However, I did play to the final area in the Raid, and will have some impressions below.
Although Rise of Iron wrings most of its story out of dully expository dialogue, the necessities for an excellent story are there. The opening cinematic and final mission can be ranked among Destiny’s best story work. Along with the expansion’s main character Lord Saladin, we also become familiar with Lady Joldur and get the chance to “attune” to the other Iron Lords using artifacts that change gameplay in new and interesting ways.
That final story mission does something Destiny should have done a long time ago in terms of tying its characters to its plot, and it’s one of the most emotional moments in the game. It’s followed by the enjoyably remixed Wretched Eye strike, which introduces SIVA turrets and Hive cages to slow down Sparrow-happy players.
As for the characters, Shiro-4 and Saladin both could do with more personality in their booming space-hero voices. A new Exo vendor, Shiro is canonically Cayde-6’s apprentice, but feels like a badly printed copy instead of a character in his own right. Cayde had humor and motivation. He wanted to help the Tower but not look too much like he’s helping, and to maybe soothe some of his own wanderlust and guilt along the way. On the other hand, Shiro is just a mouthpiece for plot, relaying to Saladin the toothless messages of the absent Vanguard. Saladin calling the Guardian “Young Wolf” makes for a lot of attachment on its own, and is a nice addition to the accolades already heaped upon the player.
Like in the other expansions, the player character still doesn’t talk, and the Ghost, who serves as the player’s mouthpiece to ask plot-relevant questions, seems more distant from them than ever before. After the heartfelt musings of the Ghost in The Taken King, its snarkiness in Rise of Iron feels generic, edging on unintentionally antagonistic.
You can get some story about the machine-plague in the Owl Sector mini-event, released the week before the expansion. Players acquired infectious ‘nano-mites’ and unlocked new lore. The ARG was fun and stirred up a lot of conversation, but also didn’t effect the game world in a meaningful way.
The core of the Guardian order seems unaffected by the mess in the Cosmodrome. You finally get a mention of the Fallen attacking the city in Sepiks Perfected, but why not have this at the beginning of the game? It wouldn’t have made the dialogue any less streamlined, and would have made the fight more personal, not only for Saladin, but for the player.
Along with the quick story comes four new maps (one is PlayStation exclusive) and Private Matches, a long-awaited feature that allows customization similar to Halo’s private matchmaking. As a lore buff, exploring the Crucible maps to hunt dead Ghosts and just to look around outside the chaos of a map was enjoyable, and I imagine that being able to set up matches for friends will have a long tail.
For those who are looking for competition more than plot, the new Crucible mode and game type do add some interesting wrinkles. Supremacy shifts focus off of kills and onto several ways to score points. You can score kills, pick up enemy’s crests, or retrieve your team’s own crests. The trophy system made for a lot of strategizing – do I put myself in the line of fire to score three crests and probably die in the process? This was particularly enjoyable in the smaller maps, where crests were likely to be left behind quickly as players moved from room to room.
Rise of Iron also adds Archon’s Forge, a new PvE space that mixes Prison of Elders’ enemy hordes with Court of Oryx’s public key system and a dash of Mad Max styling. The enemy types aren’t as distinct as the various bosses in Court of Oryx, and Archon’s Forge tended to be either under- or over-populated, a lot of Guardians standing around waiting for someone to bring a key or a crowd so large even the big area felt small. However, it’s the most empowering use of the flaming axe outside the campaign, and that same crowd of Guardians rushing toward victory with axes in hand was probably what Rise of Iron was meant to evoke all along. The “thunderdome” traps are a fun bit of styling, but getting locked out of a run in progress if you resurrect isn’t particularly novel, just inconvenient.
Side missions, Exotic quests, and Iron Lord artifacts also give the player a little bit more to do after the quick campaign is completed. The later parts of the Iron Gjallarhorn quest gives you a smorgasbord of enemies to tear through, evoking the sort of untouchable badassery the Gjallarhorn was supposed to symbolize in the first place. The first part, though, is tedious, with fetch quests for hard-to-find doodads and a patrol mission that can toss you into several unnecessarily gated setbacks, such as spawning outside a locked door.
The Wrath of the Machine is the thing that ties it all together. It’ll take you on a tour of the SIVA aesthetic, from the giant fire-spewing “zamboni” to the minimalist SIVA bunker. The early sections are very enjoyable, especially with an experienced group: Fallen waves are nicely intersperced with mechanics that are a bit more straightforward than most of those in King’s Fall. In between the two realms is a murky jumping puzzle and the server room. No one had figured out the secret to the server room light puzzle by Monday night.
The boss combines bomb-chucking with waves of enemies that soak up bullets. While it requires good communication and timing, the key here seemed to be an ability to stand up to fire from the beefed-up Splicers. I’m not quite there yet, but am looking forward to being able to go back into the Raid when my light level is a bit higher – especially to puzzle out those rooms that don’t contain any enemies at all.
In the end, I wanted to like this expansion more than I did. At worst, the emphasis on nostalgia reminds players they’re touring a Destiny that never really began – one whose story backs up the gameplay consistently and where the solar system feels both endless and familiar. When I came back to the Tower after the Wretched Eye strike, I was struck by the autumn leaves on the ground and how nothing had changed – no angry citizens of the City banging on doors, no announcements about SIVA nanomites on the loudspeaker. Rise of Iron made me appreciate Destiny for what it is, as I always have, but it also didn’t move forward, instead inviting me to consider an entirely imagined past. I’m not sure that’s the kind of nostalgia Bungie wanted to evoke. As Year Three begins, Destiny still feels like a Young Wolf.
Megan Crouse is a staff writer.