The Guardians of Destiny have had a really rough time of late. Barely brought back to life and you’re flung right into the deep end and leading a fight against a Vex Timelord, defending earth against a Prince of darkness, assisted a Queen fight off a rebellion before finally, facing up to the ultimate battle and killing the Prince of Darkness’s father. Anyone would think that a little time off would be deserved. But no, Rise of Iron has arrived, and with it, a new enemy and a new challenge for the Guardians to rise up to.
Rise of Iron has a lot to live up to. Destiny’s previous add-on, The Taken King, was a stellar expansion. It had more content that easily rivalled the content that shipped with the vanilla game. A brand new area to explore and patrol, a new enemy to face off against, a new subclass for all 3 classes, lots of quality of life changes, hidden quests and challenges that took weeks to surface and complete, new strikes and a difficult Raid that was incredibly satisfying to master. It fixed a lot of the small annoyances people had long complained about and also introducing a few more too. So expectations were always going to be extremely high for RoI. Could it ever possibly hope to meet or beat them?
Assuming you are at the correct prerequisite level to start the RoI campaign, you are greeted with a cut scene that introduces us to the new story, narrated by our very own Iron Banner champion, Lord Saladin. He tells us of a story of the Iron Lords, Legendary warriors within the Destiny cannon, and their final stand against an ancient, dangerous technological virus known as Siva. It’s revealed that the weeks in between the monthly Iron Banner events, Lord Saladin has been holding vigil over the final resting place of his fellow Iron Lords and making sure Siva stays dormant so as not to be a threat again. But the Fallen, the scavengers of the Destiny universe, have found this sanctum and now threaten to unleash Siva and use it for their own dark desires.
The opening mission starts off on a great high note. We are dropped off at the foot of a great snow coated mountain and tasked with reaching the top before the fallen break through the seal of the temple found on top. This is when you are first introduced to the first new snow covered environment and it looks stunning. The sound of the cold wind blows through your speakers with convincing effects, particles of snow fall convincingly through the air, footprints are left behind you in the snow and distant locales are eerily obscured by the snow storm raging around you. The higher you get, and you start to see the wind grab the snow and wrap it around the mountain scape like a great snow blanket. Destiny was already a stunning game to look at and these new snow environments really match up to the quality of the environments we are already used to.
The battle to the top is a relatively easy journey until you reach the entrance to the temple. This is when we first start to see evidence of the game being untethered to the last gen consoles as enemy npc density seems to be much greater in RoI than the previous expansions. And you’ll find, even out in the new patrol and in one particular special mission I won’t spoil, the increase in enemy density leads to some pretty hectic battles. I always felt that some of the encounters felt abit empty in some of the previous strikes/missions and you can see where the mission designers have tried to use the extra grunt afforded by our, now current gen consoles, to provide much more intense and populated encounters.
Completing the first mission unlocks a new public space for you to explore as the temple becomes a new home to pick up bounties, decode engrams and pick up other players to play with. It will also be the new home of the Iron Banner once that starts again, with a new NPC hosting the event. Oh, and if you have the patience, try and climb the mountain that towers of the temple.
However, you’ll soon find that the new story campaign comes to a very quick conclusion. It took me close to two and a half hours to complete RoI’s 5 mission campaign. And it was an enjoyable journey while it lasted, with a few notable missions, but it was definitely too short. You are rushed through the story so quickly that you never really appreciate the danger and threat that the Siva virus has on the Destiny world or the impact the Fallen make. Lord Saladin, throughout the short campaign, goes to great length to emphasise the danger posed by Siva without really explaining much of the why or the how. I suspect that Bungie has relegated a lot of the back story and lore of the Siva threat to the Grimoire section of the bungie.net website, like a lot of Destiny’s story. Which means it will be long forgotten and missed by all but the most die-hard fans of the series.
The new Siva infused Fallen enemies are what Bungie did in the Taken king to the Hive. Simply reskinned them and gave the AI that controls their actions a tweak to make them a bit more aggressive. I may simply be doing Bungie a disservice here, but other than the aforementioned reskins and AI changes, there really feels like no other differences to fighting spliced Fallen to normal Fallen. There is a cool looking aesthetic to the spliced fallen, and you can clearly see the differences between the two versions
Most players of Destiny know that it isn’t the story you really come for. It’s for the game that surrounds the campaigns, the search for loot, the grinding of your light level, running the strike playlists and, of course, the Raids.
First off, heading out into the new Plaguelands patrol space and we see a whole new area to the Cosmodrome, covered in a thick layer of snow and the presence of Shiva festering all over the map. From pulsing red cabling growing from the ground and wrapping around natural elements of the terrain, to Siva clusters seemingly growing from the wires and infusing into the world around it. Doubling back, you can go back into the Cosmodrome and see the old patrol space we previously spent dozens of hours exploring and grinding in also coated in the same blanket of snow and infested with a mixture of Fallen and Siva infused Fallen. I’m also convinced that you can see the increase in enemy density here too, especially when public events fall in the middle of the usual enemy spawning points. New patrol missions are available amongst the usual kill, collect and observe missions and if you’re lucky, you might even get the new Iron Axe to wield against a few waves of enemies during the latter part of these missions.
The Plaguelands is also home to the new Archons Forge public event space, RoI’s equivalent to the Taken King’s Court of Oryx. For those that are unfamiliar, the Court of Oryx acted like a mini boss attack mode. Assuming you had the correct level of offering to use, it would spawn a boss appropriate for the level of offering. You could tackle it solo, or as many players who were in the server instance could join in and it could be lots of fun and everyone had a chance to get some good loot. Archon’s Forge is similar to this but with some weird design decisions. The person, who uses an offering, if not quick off the block, can be locked out of their own public event, unless they use another consumable to let them in. If they don’t have a special splicer key to let them in, then they have effectively wasted their offering. Also, where Court of Oryx always guaranteed a pile of loot drops for the host, Archon’s Forge seems much more random and you can easily be victim of RNG giving you nothing, but rewarding a passer-by with a good legendary drop. The last odd decision is that players can no longer horde offerings. In the Taken King, you could hold handfuls of offerings, but each use would come with a cool down to prevent one player from dominating the use of the court. Archon’s Forge offerings cannot stack and players are limited to only holding one offering at a time. All of the above has a real impact on the longevity of this public space and my concerns is, if Bungie don’t address them quickly, then it may be difficult to tackle the more difficult encounters due to no one wanting to play there. However, despite all the issues explained above, it can be a really fun experience. If you are lucky enough to enter the forge while there are already a group of 4/5+ players working through them, this can be a real blast to play.
We also have a new Strike called The Wretched Eye, which see’s the Fallen’s results with experimenting with the Hive. It’s a fun and action filled strike with a real tough boss encounter – especially on the higher difficulty levels. Bungie have done a good job this time of making sure there are very few, if any, ‘cheese spots’ to hide in or abuse. Well, there is one that I know, but it’s not consistent enough for one player to always rely upon, meaning we have to man up and tackle the encounter the way Bungie wanted us to. You’re kept always on the move and you never feel safe. Danger comes from all sides, and above and with very little cover, death can come very swift and wipes will be very common. I can see alot of players potentially skipping the weekly Nightfall events when it’s on this mission. We then have a reimagined Devil’s Lair Strike called ‘Sepiks Perfected’, with an astounding rock infused version of the original Strikes soundtrack. And it’s just as fun to play through as the original was.
One new mechanic RoI has introduced to the Strikes is Skeleton Keys. When the Taken King came out, Bungie started hiding Strike specific loot behind the bosses at the end of these strikes. Not all Strike’s had specific loot and the drop rate on the Strikes that did was very rare. You would regularly find groups on LFG sites looking for players to help them run through specific strikes on repeat in the hope of finding these rare drops. Well, RoI has now placed these rare pieces of loot in chests at the end of each strike. To open them, you need a Skeleton Key, a random drop you can get from running through the Strikes and hope they drop from the bosses at the end. Opening up a chest will guarantee you a Strike specific loot drop meaning once you get a skeleton key, you no longer have to grind long and hard to hopefully get the drop you want.
Two classic weapons from vanilla Destiny make a triumphant return in RoI. The original starting weapon, the humble Khostov auto-rifle, which was instrumental in helping you escape the hunting parties of the Fallen during your first minutes of the game; has been upgraded from its lowly pea-shooter status to an exotic weapon able to go toe-to-toe with many of the end game weapons available today. Then we have the other weapon, which needs no introduction – the indomitable Gjallarhorn. However, they aren’t just handed to you. In true Destiny style, they are attached to quest lines which must first be completed to earn them. And, arguably, they bring with them some of the best missions the RoI expansion has. I won’t spoil anything, but let’s just say Gjallerhorn mission has an amazing conclusion.
On the multiplayer side of things, Bungie has introduced a new mode called Supremacy. Which if you’re anyway familiar with Call of Duty’s ‘Kill Confirmed’ mode, then you will already know what to expect. But for everyone else, Supremacy awards points to the team who can pick up the ‘crest’ that drops from any enemies who are killed, but also allows you to deny points to the other team by retrieving the crests that are dropped by any downed allies. It’s a genuinely fun mode which seems to promote team work by virtue of encouraging teams to stick together. Sticking together allows a team to retrieve any friendly crests quickly while simultaneously giving your team more bodies to pick up the fallen crests of the other team. Battles can get quite bloody and very hectic. One game I had felt as if we were playing a variant of the Mayhem game type (where players Super power meters’ charge at an incredibly faster rate than normal), as both teams were playing so close together, as each player activated their Special, the volume of dropped orbs was enough to keep feeding the rest of their team, allowing everyone else’s Super meters to be kept constantly charged. It was hectic and, above all, very exhilarating.
Along with the new mode, we also have 2 new maps to perfect our art of war in, or 3 if you are a Playstation 4 owner. Having only played the Xbox One version, I’ve only experienced 2 of the 3. But they are fine additions to an already diverse line-up of maps the game already had. The map *insert map name* has the feel of the map Asylum. Set in the shell of an old transit hub, tight tunnels, allowing mid/long-range weapons to dominate those fire lanes, but with multiple ways to manoeuvre around to assist in the flanking of players not aware of their surroundings. Paths also lead out to wider waiting areas and the areas outside allowing larger battles to take place, before flowing back into the tighter confines of the tunnels. Whereas, the other map, *insert map name* has the feel of a wider and expansive version of the map ‘Pantheon’ which I can see quickly becoming a favourite in Trials.
But the big addition RoI brings to the crucible is the long, sought after addition of private matches. Yes, Destiny finally allows groups of players to setup custom matches and let them play against each other. It’s an option that really should have been available from the launch of Destiny and has been the one feature Destiny players have been crying out for ever since the game was released, but ‘better late than never’ as they say, and it’s certainly a welcome feature to be implemented. We have every game type available, as well as every map – and given the weird decisions the playlist designers at Bungie has made, I guarantee you will find a map you haven’t played on in a long while, if at all, hidden amongst the collection. Unfortunately, the customisation options aren’t as extensive as we may have expected, especially given the calibre of the multiplayer modes from Bungie’s previous work with the Halo series. But the options that are available are enough to satiate the appetites of those who have longed for this feature to be implemented and will no doubt be enough to keep the Crucible community engaged long enough until Destiny 2 drops.
Possibly, more importantly, custom matches open the door for a healthy eSports community to flourish within the Destiny fraternity. For a game which has some strong competitive modes and to be so heavily covered and streamed via YouTube and Twitch, Destiny’s lack of any official eSport presence has been felt. eSports is fast becoming ever more prevalent in today’s multiplayer scene and is a strong factor in keeping player engagement high and extending the life of a title beyond the usual ‘shelf life’ expected of most titles. Destiny has never been short of extensive coverage on YouTube and Twitch, with quite a few people cutting their streaming teeth with the game. It will be interesting to see if, over the next few months, the addition of Custom games is enough to stimulate a big eSports interest in the game.
I’ve deliberately left the new Raid till last as I haven’t had a chance to join up with my normal raid group and play through it yet. I’ve had a taste, and what little I tried was a lot of fun with the usual requirement for communication and coordination within your fireteam. But I’ve not had anywhere nearly enough exposure to it to be able to talk at any real length about. Anecdotally, I can say that the members of my fireteam, who have played it, described it as alot of fun. Up there alongside Vault of Glass for fun and with less harsh mechanics the King’s Fall was known for. I’ll update this review once I’ve had a chance to have a full play through of the raid myself.
Rise of Iron is definitely a worthy expansion to Destiny. It doesn’t rival the Taken Kings sizeable content and it won’t convince those who aren’t a fan of the current Destiny experience to come back. But there is definitely enough here to keep existing fans of the series happy for months to come. The Campaign is disappointingly short and the story rushed, but once you get through that, the expansion opens up to show you the real meat on its bone. If you are hungry for more Destiny content, this will more than happily fill the void till Bungie can serve up another Destiny flavoured dish.