Rise of Iron
Destiny started its third year this week with the release of its fourth expansion, Rise of Iron.
Destiny started out really roughly, but at its core was a Bungie first-person shooter, and no one else can seem to make a console shooter that feels as good as Bungie’s do. (It should be no surprise that long-time Mac owners tend to share a similar adoration for this game.) The expansions really fixed most of the issues people complained about. The Year One expansions (The Dark Below and House of Wolves) were focused on single story arcs which were much easier to follow than the grand vagueness vanilla Destiny had to offer. I mean, I’ve played every single story mission in vanilla Destiny multiple times and I still couldn’t be able to tell you any of its story, but could probably do a much better job of summarizing the expansions. Year Two’s The Taken King brought in more cinematic storytelling with the use of cutscenes and numerous improvements to the systems in the game that felt the most clunky. The Taken King really felt like the game that was living up to the launch expectations vanilla Destiny didn’t live up to, and had a ridiculous amount of content to play through relative to any other expansion so far.
Year Three’s Rise of Iron is a really strange release, because by all indications, it was unplanned in the original roadmap. Year One had vanilla Destiny and two expansions, but Bungie found that to be an unsustainable pace for its developers to maintain for the rest of the series’ planned lifespan, so Year Two needed to be pared back to one massive expansion (called “comets”). Year Three was originally meant to kick off with the launch of “Destiny 2”, but the game has been delayed until next year, and so the live team in charge of limited time events was put in charge of a new expansion to fill the content gap. This became Rise of Iron.
Rise of Iron is really short. Its five story missions can be completed in about 90 minutes if you watch all the cutscenes, and even less if you don’t. Its writing is the weakest of all the expansions by far, which is surprising, given the quality of the writing for the Owl Sector mini-ARG leading up to the expansion’s launch. The Taken King introduced weapon foundries which made different kinds of guns and it was possible to become a fan of a particular foundry’s branding, scopes, or perk trees, but the uniqueness of those weapons is nowhere to be seen in Rise of Iron. Most weapons in this expansion just put a new coat of paint on existing weapon models, and in that respect, it feels like a step back. Almost half of the newly explorable areas in the expansion are snow-covered variants of previous areas, with snow filling bottomless pits or holes cut out of walls to allow you to navigate to new areas, so it feels a little lazy at times. All of this is understandable given where the expansion came from and the timespan they had to make it, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
The Taken King was the first step in involving players’ actions in the narrative of the story, because the entire arc of that expansion would never have happened if players hadn’t killed Crota in the first expansion. Rise of Iron takes that further by not relying on scripted story events, but rather the weapon metagame of Year One. Thorn and Gjallarhorn are exotic weapons that were notorious for dominating the PVP and PVE metagame respectively during Year One, and could even be considered game-breaking in some scenarios. Both of the weapons return in Rise of Iron with quests you need to complete which do a great job of catering to players’ power fantasies about those weapons or the memories of the struggle players had to obtain these guns the first time around. They also realized a sizable portion of the players held onto the very first weapon they got in the game, a crappy broken auto rifle, and it’s now possible to sacrifice it in order to get an exotic version of that weapon at modern attack values and with tons of new customization options. (There’s also a way to get it even if you didn’t hold onto it, no worries.) Bungie is very aware of their community’s actions, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see more references and callbacks to things that grew organically from the player base in future expansions.
The raids are generally the best content of the expansion, and Wrath of the Machine is no exception. I don’t know if it’s just because it’s New Content, but I’m pretty sure this is my favorite raid in Destiny so far, assuming the final boss encounter isn’t a complete catastrophe. I want to say so many things about it, but I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t had the chance to go play it blind yet. A good raid can make up for the shortcomings of an otherwise disappointing expansion, and this one is excellent.
If you’ve never played Destiny before and want to experience some of the most satisfying co-op first person shooting action out there, you should really go pick up Destiny: The Collection. You’ll get a Spark of Light consumable item which allows you to instantly level up one character to level 40 and gear up to a good starting level for the new expansion’s content. With that gear, you can immediately go back and play through the first two raids: Vault of Glass and Crota’s End. They will drop gear that is obsolete by modern standards, but the experience is still worth having. By the time you complete the story missions for Rise of Iron, you’ll likely be high enough to give King’s Fall, the third raid, a shot on Normal. If you’re still interested in Destiny raids by then, you can go through the grind (it’s a little rough this time around) and get geared up for Wrath of the Machine. There’s no way to escape the grind for current content, but if you want to experience what we’ve been raving about for the past two years, you can now do so grind-free.