Bungie’s newest expansion isn’t awful but doesn’t do much to stand out.
Ascending the winter-worn steps from a bygone era, my Guardian stood beneath the statues of the Iron Lords. These ancient warriors of the Golden Age – I had finally learned of their fates. Wielding a giant flaming axe in battle to conquer a techno-organic virus eventually led to traversing the innards of the opposing Wall. The ascent to the top was followed by a descent into one of the many hearts of Darkness conquered till now. A looming, cable-infested, red-tinged neon lair of horrors and Splicers. I was an Iron Lord by this point, bestowed with relics like a flaming sword and a revitalized Gjallarhorn.
And yet despite how it sounds over a few minutes, Destiny‘s Rise of Iron still manages to elicit a somewhat bored “Is that all?” from its offerings.
Bungie’s Destiny has always had problems with content. That is, until The Taken King released last year and brought sweeping changes to its characters, progression systems, loot and quest structure. By comparison, Rise of Iron is a smaller offering in terms of content and it’s priced $10 less. Surely we should be used to this by now?
"Rise of Iron is actually fairly bereft of interesting characters."
Here’s the problem though – more than anything else before, Rise of Iron illustrates just how far Destiny has to go. It showcases so much potential for ideas and stories but settles on an adequate, middle of the road balance. If you wanted to learn more about the Iron Lords, invest in their stories, undertake a perilous journey to become one and maybe learn more about the Darkness itself, then Rise of Iron will do its bare minimum to sate you.
Lord Saladin of the Iron Banner has a problem. There are these Fallen invading an old observatory on Felwinter Peak. Naturally, the Vanguard decides to send you – their favourite mass murderer – to investigate and the result is a run-in with Sepiks Perfected, a rampant replicating virus known as SIVA and attacks on the great Wall. Despite the urgency of the initial mission, there’s no sense of overwhelming danger, especially when you consider that the friggin’ Wall has been breached. A new zone opens up with The Plaguelands and through dialogue snippets, you’ll hear of a crazed Archon Prime attempting to augment himself with SIVA.
Unfortunately, while Saladin has a fair bit of characterization and great voice acting, he doesn’t have the insane charisma of Cayde-6 or as much well written dialogue. Rise of Iron is actually fairly bereft of interesting characters. While The Taken King expanded everyone’s character significantly, introducing the concept of banter (novel idea, we know) between the Vanguard and Eris Morn, Rise of Iron is content with simply throwing out names. Yes, it was sad when Jolder died in the opening cutscene but who is Jolder as a person? She and Saladin probably had a thing but is my sole emotional connection meant to be her weapon and her death making him sad?
Why can’t I learn more about Efrideet, Timur, Felwinter and the other Iron Lords from quests in the game? The Taken King even gave some life to the relationship between Variks and Petra Venj following the Queen’s disappearance in the Reef. It’s amazing to think the story-telling has taken a step backward since then though it’s still better than vanilla Destiny. And no, adding new Grimoire that I can read on an app or website isn’t the same thing. At least Nolan North can be endearing at times as the Ghost, especially when he quips about falling from great distances being your strong suit or reminiscing about finding you after a certain Exotic quest is complete.
"As for the quests, they’re pretty average all around. The Gjallarhorn quest is great, don’t get me wrong, but why aren’t there more like it?"
The opening mission is handled great. It throws some unique but easy to understand mechanics while presenting a breath-taking spectacle. Your Guardian ascends the snowy peak and must drive the Fallen from the Iron Temple. Once the base is established, however, it’s off to a wintery Cosmodrome (limited to a few portions and not the entire Cosmodrome, by the way) to investigate the Splicers. In between you’ll learn of Clovis Bray, stop some anti-air guns of Splicers and before you know it, travel to Site 6 to shut down the SIVA Replication Facility. The end mission is especially epic since it sees you battling three Iron Lords infested with SIVA and using a flaming axe no less. The other three of five story missions feel like filler and not particularly engaging filler. Revisiting the opening mission and seeing how it’s changed from the inside, all lit up and filled with snow is nice but why am I just running through it instead of engaging with some neat new mechanic? Even when The Taken King revisited old areas, it offered new mechanics to make them interesting like ascending the Cosmodrome in Cayde’s Stash or sneaking by the Hive in Last Rites. Remember when that Taken Ogre chased you through the Temple of Crota? That was pretty cool right?
By comparison, Rise of Iron tries to let its new enemies act as the basis for new gameplay. The Taken were a fairly strong threat and Bungie did an excellent job of establishing that. When the Awoken were annihilated by Oryx, it presented him as a big deal. When the Taken gained frightening new abilities and crazed, animated spasms for movement, it was generally threatening. The Devil Splicers are little more than Fallen with Solar weapons. Sure they look different but Bungie’s big innovation for their enemies this time is to protect their heads, thus prompting critical hits in the neck. Is it a new interesting idea for fights? Sure. Is it fun? That’s debatable. Is it annoying when every Vandal or Dreg spawns a stupid SIVA Seeker grenade to hunt you down? Yeah, no. At least the Taken had an obvious weakness – their obvious critical spots – while the Devil Splicers have circumvented the same to frustrating effect.
Then there are the Strikes. While there’s only one new Strike – The Wretched Eye – The Devil’s Lair and The Summoning Pits have been revamped. The Wretched Eye sees you battling an Archon Priest with an Ogre eye laser weapon that annihilates you while said Ogre chases you. Enjoy doing that on Arc Burn by the way since the Shanks that descend from the ceiling wreck many a good fire team. The Devil’s Lair has been made somewhat more interesting with changes to the Sepiks fight but there’s nothing earth-shatteringly different. The Abomination Heist is probably the worst of the lot since it adds nothing more than a few ships that you ride to the entrance of the boss battle. Bungie also worked overtime to prevent any cheesing – between teleporting you to allies and setting up those forsaken traps along with tons of enemies, it’s almost a flashback to Year One when content was more punishing than rewarding. But we’ll get to that.
As for the quests, they’re pretty average all around. The Gjallarhorn quest is great, don’t get me wrong, but why aren’t there more like it? Why aren’t there numerous quests like The Taken King once the main story – which was longer than five missions – is wrapped up? Rise of Iron also has me worried for the future – The Taken King couldn’t sustain players for a year. Will Destiny players continue to login when Rise of Iron has significantly less?
"The new reward system, surprisingly enough, is also great. You receive rewards from each major section once a week per character but can keep playing the raid for key fragments."
The Plaguelands offers interesting new aesthetics and I’m not going to nitpick too much on Bungie’s presentation. Even two years later, Destiny is a beautiful looking game and the twisted SIVA architecture that’s taken over Old Russia and Fallen bases is integrated exceptionally well. There’s just something so appealing about racing your Sparrow through the husk of a giant tanker or cruising on the shore of the Doomed Sea. For the most part, you’ll be exploring quite a bit after the story ends to locate parts for Exotic weapons, Iron Medallions for Quests and for this year’s iteration of Calcified Fragments aka Dormant SIVA Clusters. Public Events are still scattered through the Plaguelands (like killing a SIVA Priest and fending off waves of Fallen with an axe) but there’s a new player-triggered system called Archon’s Forge.
Let’s talk about this terrible system shall we? Imagine Court of Oryx with its different rune tiers that bestow different kinds of rewards based on the Light level. The runes this time are SIVA offerings. Now imagine a stupid door that’s timed and fails the event if you don’t jump in immediately. Want randoms to join? They need Splicer Keys to buy their way in. Died on your own and tried to buy back in? You can’t. Want your SIVA offering back? You won’t get it. Want unique mechanics like the Hive brothers who can only be hurt when they’re close together? Or Balwur with his Ogre? Or Crota Jr.? You get none of this. Instead there are waves of enemies, a SIVA core here and there to destroy which offers axes and nothing else.
To top it off, the loot isn’t even tied to the level of the SIVA offering. It’s entirely possible to use a 320 Light level offering and get two Legendaries but use a 360 Light level offering and get nothing. To top it off further, the drop rate for offerings can be incredibly spotty, thus pushing you out into the Plaguelands to farm for more (and no, there’s no specific spot). To further top it off, you can only hold one offering. Not one of each. Not stacking offerings. One. The numerous steps back from Court of Oryx is astounding at best and outright idiotic at worst.
You would think it gets better but not quite. The Wrath of the Machine raid is fairly good. Again, it’s not as long as King’s Fall but there’s a fair bit of epicness. Ascending the Wall and avoiding the Siege Engine only to ride it minutes later before frantically getting back on board? And then diving off the Wall back down? That’s awesome stuff. The mechanics of each encounter are similarly well-designed, encouraging teamwork and coordination. It’s safe to say that the final encounter is one of the most challenging pieces of content in a co-op FPS simply based on the coordination required. The new reward system, surprisingly enough, is also great. You receive rewards from each major section once a week per character but can keep playing the raid for key fragments. These key fragments can create a SIVA Cache Key for further rewards. This encourages replaying the raid since those keys can be used at later instances. There are also numerous hidden chests that provide Exotics and Legendary Engrams.
"Capping off my annoyance with Rise of Iron is the new Supremacy mode, which is just Kill Confirmed from Call of Duty."
So what’s the problem? It’s the progression system. Unlike The Taken King (again) which had King’s Fall start at 290 Light level for Normal (the final encounter was 300 Light level), Wrath of the Machine is recommended at 370 Light level. The max Light level that can be obtained from Strike rewards – namely Blue gear – is 365 Light. You could try to decrypt Exotics but those won’t always give you higher Light level gear and weapons. You could use Skeleton Keys for the Strike-specific chests but again, you may not always get what you want, plus the drop rate on keys is pathetic. You could level up your factions for packages but once again, you won’t always get something that’s higher Light level (and it takes a lot of time). Getting to 365 Light level without cheesing Omnigul takes a fair bit of time as well.
No one is saying you have to gear up for the raid immediately but this isn’t like King’s Fall which allowed you to play the majority of the raid to gain better gear to stand a better chance against Oryx. This is a raid that will immediately spike in difficulty halfway and while coordination is key, being close to the recommended Light level is a given. Even players at that level can be swarmed if they’re carrying lower Light level partners. Did we mention that the raid rewards have a chance to not be significantly higher than your current Light level? The linear progression is definitely a step up from The Taken King‘s randomness but I was hoping for more significant Light level increases akin to the April Update, not a small increment here and there.
At least the raid gear and weapons this time around are cool, introducing ways to significantly lessen the burden of specific parts. I won’t spoil it but having double Triple Tap proccing on your scout rifle? Imagine the DPS on the bosses in these fights.
Capping off my annoyance with Rise of Iron is the new Supremacy mode, which is just Kill Confirmed from Call of Duty. This mode will either infuriate you or intrigue you but at the end of the day, it’s still just a shotgun fest. That wouldn’t be a problem if the actual maps were worthwhile but Bungie’s map design in Destiny can look beautiful while being functionally awful as all the action is simply concentrated in key segments of the map at all times. Floating Gardens and The Last Exit are great examples as teams can simply camp one area and take out all comers. Skyline is better but not by much – it’s numerous doors are like a nightmare version of Black Shield (despite being more spread out, which should make camping harder but doesn’t). Spawns are still an issue even in older maps like Pantheon. That’s not including the horrible lag that Crucible has become notorious for, especially when you have to pick up Crests (the dog tags of the mode) by waiting for several seconds. Better hope no one snipes you in the meantime! I don’t even play Trials of Osiris and I can’t wait for it to return.
"Rise of Iron is Destiny-rific. There are a whole lot of ideas it could have gone with, stories it could have told and places it could have travelled. Instead, it stays fairly safe for the most part."
There’s plenty to like in Rise of Iron. The Record Book is somewhat grindy but also generous as it bestows three different sets of armour for each class, various boosters and materials, emblems and shaders. It’s further incentive to complete activities like the raid or beat the story missions on Hard but it also feels punishing to have to go into Supremacy or Archon’s Forge to complete those goals.
Each Days of Iron set looks great but it’s a shame that the alternate look is an ornament, that too one that requires Silver Dust and said ornament to activate. I can see why Bungie did this – essentially to push its Radiant Treasure micro-transactions. I’m just extremely “meh” about it. The “new” Vanguard gear and weapons look awful with their colour schemes but the weapons themselves like the Palindrome and Angel’s Advocate can be pretty nice. Ditto for Dead Orbit’s Last Ditch shotgun and Keystone scout rifle. Again, I would have appreciated more varied looks from each of the vendors or at least Rare gear that was more than Seraph Reform at higher Light levels.
If you’re a hardcore Destiny player, then you’ve already purchased Rise of Iron and beaten the raid numerous times. You’re probably halfway through your record book and close to 380 Light by now. However, there are also those who play the game because it’s fun. Make no mistake, the shooting in Destiny still feels incredibly good after all this time. It’s a huge shame when that’s mitigated by lag spikes in Crucible (imagine disconnecting and reconnecting to the same match four times) and PvE or my new favourite – frame stutters during key areas of the game. I can deal with Shanks teleporting during the raid but not with the “You’ve left your current fire team and are returning to orbit” bug that’s plagued me continuously over the week. Special note to Bungie as well – crashes that occur when Firefly procs are still a thing on Xbox One and it ruins raid encounters.
Rise of Iron is Destiny-rific. There are a whole lot of ideas it could have gone with, stories it could have told and places it could have travelled. Instead, it stays fairly safe for the most part. As a Destiny player who’s loathe to call himself a “fan”, Rise of Iron wasn’t something I hated to play but still continued to for whatever reason, be it a slight Light level increase or to help friends. It’s simply there, full of potential and likely to receive new hidden quests, missions and events down the line but hardly competing with some of the best games released this year. Not quite this year’s House of Wolves but surely something that should have been better given the time, marketing and lack of content in the many months before it.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
Great aesthetics in the Plaguelands and new raid. Wrath of the Machine mechanics are splendid and require strong teamwork. New key fragment system offers additional rewards and prompts raid replays. Record Book provides more purpose to grinding. Two story missions are suitably epic and some of the post-story quests can be good. Shooting is as amazing as ever and there are some great guns and gear to obtain.
After significant in-roads over the past year, Destiny feels like its regressed with Rise of Iron. This would have been a great time for exceptional story missions and replayable content that wasn't completely frustrating. For its price, Rise of Iron should have offered a lot more and taken more risks.