As I put my controller down at the end of my first three-four hours with Rise of Iron I felt a distinct sense of disappointment. I’d had fun, I’d enjoyed myself, and yet I wasn’t quite satisfied. A number of disappointing flaws, coupled with a ‘lack’* of content, overshadowed moments of exhilarating gameplay and exceptional level design. As such, Rise of Iron feels more like a muted goodbye, than the triumphant farewell Destiny deserves.
It shouldn’t need saying – although I will anyway for clarification – that after between three to four hours of time invested into Rise of Iron, I have hardly begun to delve into an expansion that will surely keep me entertained for scores more hours. As such my fears as they stand right now, specifically concerning the lack of content that Rise of Iron offers, may be subverted. I also want to clarify that I don’t think Rise of Iron has a lack of content for the price being asked, but more that I fail to see how the content provided will last the month, yet alone the assumed year until Destiny 2 releases. In the few hours I have spent with the game, I have completed the main campaign, an epilogue mission, and the game’s only strike, completed a number of quests, and am already to the point where the most productive use of my time moving forward will be to grind out strikes in an effort to maximise my light level. Compare the above to The Taken King, and at the four hour mark I had yet to complete the main storyline.
Outside of speculations concerning the how content-full Rise of Iron is, I also have a number of complaints about the content that is included. The most glaringly obvious problem with Rise of Iron is the almost complete lack of a narrative. After completing the five mission campaign, I came nowhere close to learning more about the Iron Lords, save the fact that Jolder has sacrificed herself in an attempt to destroy SIVA – a story which had been told as part of trailers and other Rise of Iron marketing material. Other than that the narrative includes a nonsensical explanation of how the Fallen have found SIVA, yet alone any meaningful explanation of what on Earth SIVA is. Once again Bungie has taken to using complex, made-up space mumbo jumbo, which is a lazy and unsatisfactory approach to story-telling at best. As for the other Iron Lords? I still don’t have a clue what happened to them other than the fact they died. Perhaps the quest lines I have yet to explore or the upcoming raid will offer welcome context and narrative expose, but as of right now I’m left bitterly disappointed.
What doesn’t help the weak story is the exclusion of the entirety of Destiny’s main cast. Fan favourites from The Taken King, Cayde-6 and Eris Morn are completely absent, as is the Tower which seems to show no interest in the development of a threat that has the potential to wipe out the Tower! Rise of Iron’s story feels like a B-side song that was unlovingly stuck on an album to make up the numbers. What’s more, the new characters introduced – Shiro-4 & Tyra Karn – are for the most part both uninteresting and unimportant, simply acting to push you from mission to mission. Furthermore, Shiro-4 is effectively a rip off Cayde-6, even going so far to have an almost identical character model, but as with most rip offs and ‘wanna be’s’, nothing can compare to the original. Finally, Nolan North’s most recent appearance, while from a purely voice acting perspective was perfectly fine, was the most annoying Ghost has been over the course of his three-year existence. Choosing to build on the wise-cracking nature of Ghost that The Taken King began to explore in earnest, every single line feels like it was written to elicit a humorous response. Sadly, seldom did I crack even a slight smile, as line after line missed its mark.
In terms of the story missions themselves, Rise of Iron starts out strong. The first mission begins on a snowy mountaintop, and tasks you with ascending atop Fellwinter’s Peak. You are the first Guardian(s) to respond to a newly emerging threat, with reminiscent feelings of The Taken King’s first mission. The mission see’s you fighting from a Gondola, navigating the snowy landscape, fighting through a social space you will later unlock, and cumulates in an intense and somewhat evocative boss fight – even though the boss is another one of Destiny’s now infamous bullet sponges. From here on out the missions are a mixed bag, with some featuring excellent game design, other’s feeling pedestrian by comparison. Sadly, Rise of Iron fails to offer diverse and interesting objectives throughout most of its missions, with level design reminiscent of that seen in Year 1 Destiny. One particularly appalling mission is effectively a shortened and inferior – something I did not think was possible – version of The Archive from Destiny Year 1. On the other end of the scale, the final mission of the story is unparalleled, ascending to take the throne as Destiny’s premier mission (note: I will talk about this mission in detail in my full review – set to release next week – when spoilers should be less of a concern).
What does, to some extent, excuse the lacklustre objectives seen in some of the missions, is the landscapes were the traditional waved based encounters take place. The expansive area of The Plaguelands. While the expansive areas of the Plaguelands don’t quite inspire the same sense of awe that the Dreadnaught achieved with The Taken King, a mix of the snowy landscape, sprouting SIVA bio-mechanisms, and sweeping terrain evoke the same desires to explore its many plains and layers. Furthermore, Bungie have redesigned the normal Cosmodrone areas, creating shortcuts where there were walls, using heaps of snow to alter the topography of the landscape. The Wall has now been blown open, creating an open-air environment that feels light and airy, from the previously dank and somewhat claustrophobic locale. These redesigns are surprisingly effective, as I found myself in the strange yet welcome position of being lost and disorientated, despite being in familiar and frequently visited areas.
In terms of the Splicer Fallen (Fallen who have been modified with SIVA technology), don’t expect the levels of variation found with the Taken. For the most part Splicer Fallen behave and attack exactly as their non-Splicer cousins do. The adjustments here are small, such as vandals that shoot a burst sniper rifle instead of a single shot sniper rifle, captains with void shields, and tracking darts that behave almost identically to those used by Taken Centurions, except that when you shoot them they now shift slightly to the left or the right, potentially resulting in follow-up shots missing if you don’t make the proper adjustments. The result means that instead of needing new strategies to fight these enemies, you can simply adjust your current ones, making the necessary alterations to account for the Splicer’s modifications. As such, Rise of Iron offers no real change to Destiny’s gameplay that The Taken King introduced. Few new mechanics are introduced in the missions either, don’t expect to a stealth level, or to be transporting Tomb Husks as with The Taken King. Consequently Rise of Iron is Destiny business as usual, which is a shame because The Taken King was able to shake up Destiny’s normal formula, and the concepts behind SIVA suggested the same would be true for Rise of Iron.
Finally, the (only included) strike see’s you before an engaging final encounter with what is effectively a mad-scientist who has been experimenting with captured Hive. As with the final mission of Rise of Iron, this strike is truly exemplary – besting that of any strike yet in the game with its mix of enticing level design, additional elements – such as turrets that auto-repair (auto-revive maybe? I’m still not certain if SIVA is a machine, an organism, or a mix of both), and memorable final encounter. Sadly, I cannot speak on the matter of the re-designed strikes as I am yet to explore them, the next item on my list.
At this point, until I explore more of what the expansion has to offer, there’s little more I say about Rise of Iron. So to conclude, Rise of Iron is not a bad expansion, in fact it’s a great expansion. An engaging premise, strong mission design (in places), the mix of redesigned and additional areas, and new gear to hunt down make for a compelling and thrilling experience, yet alone what the reaming content has to offer. Rise of Iron does make some mistakes reminiscent of Year 1 Destiny, but it also shows, and occasionally exceeds some of Destiny’s premier content. Perhaps Rise of Iron’s biggest flaw is not anything related to Rise of Iron at all, but instead lies with the high bar set by its predecessor The Taken King. The Taken King became the new ‘gold standard’ that myself, and many others, will use as the bench mark for all Destiny-releases after the fact. But are these expectations unfair, or unreasonable? Certainly if Rise of Iron had released before The Taken King many of the above complaints would seem slightly more anecdotal. Yet even so, The Taken King had a number of flaws, and from what I’ve experienced so far Rise of Iron is making little to no forward progress in those areas.
There is still much left for me to explore with Rise of Iron. I have yet to uncover most of secrets that the Plaugelands surely hide, yet to dabble in Archon’s Forge, wreak havoc – more likely need to be carried – in the new PvP mode Supremacy, and most of all dive into the new raid – Wrath of the Machine. Fingers crossed what remains is more of the excellent content offered by Rise of Iron at its best – find out in my full review, which will be available sometime next week. And for more on Destiny be sure to check out our new podcast, Guardian Down, where we will be talking at length about our impressions of Rise of Iron.
* I say ‘lack’ as without experiencing everything Rise of Iron has to offer it is hard to speak definitively