The Iron Lords rise again.
Aside from the steady stream of PvP events, Destiny has been largely dormant for the past five months. An April update helped to reinvigorate the experience for a while, but eventually it became clear that most of the content had dried up for PvE players. It was time for yet another injection of life into the shared-world shooter, and that has arrived in the form of Rise of Iron.
Rise of Iron expands on the Destiny story by, in a way, taking players back to the beginning. One of the more interesting factions in Bungie’s universe is the Iron Lords, yet players have only ever met one member up until now: Lord Saladin. That’s because he was the last survivor of that ancient order, pledged to defend the last bastion of humanity. But now players are granted the opportunity to explore what the Iron Lords stood for and witness the events that brought about their ill-fated last stand. Of course, there is more to it then just exploring the history of dead Guardians. A new threat presents itself as well in the form of the SIVA virus, a mechanical disease that grants overwhelming power but seeks to bring about nothing but destruction and chaos.
Coming into Destiny: Rise of Iron, I was excited. I had stopped playing not too long after hard mode for the King’s Fall raid was released, having done everything that I had wanted to. It’s not that I felt that the game as a whole was suddenly bad, I just had no real reason to stick around after the 500+ hours I had already given up to Strikes, Nightfall challenges, raids, and goofing around in the Tower (nothing beats those dance parties). But hearing that this latest expansion would be diving into the past, I placed my pre-order and dove in for some pre-game preparation (I had resigned at a paltry 307 Light, and needed to beef up a bit). Once the expansion went live I was all in.
Rise of Iron kicks off with a visit from a very familiar boss, Sepiks Prime. From that point on it became clear that everything old in Destiny was being made new again, a theme that kept rearing its head throughout the day as I blasted endless waves of the new “Splicer” enemies, and explored the now snow-covered Cosmodrome. At first I welcomed this nostalgia-fueled romp with open arms, but in time it struck me as a bit odd.
Normally, an expansion becomes more focused on the past when it’s ready to completely close the loop. A recent example of this is the incredible The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine. While the action itself didn’t take place in familiar areas, Geralt did take time to look back on all he had done to lead up to that point in his life – all of the lives he’d saved and the choices he had to live with. It was a fitting end, as CDPR were hanging up Geralt’s swords, at least for now. But with Destiny: Rise of Iron, that isn’t actually the case.
We already know that Destiny 2 is on the way some time in 2017, and there are rumors of one last add-on for the current game hovering about. That in mind, all of the nostalgia failed to pack much of a punch. Still, I had to laugh at some aspects of the game (in a good way). The new Exotic Khvostov 7G-0X is something that brought smiles to many veteran players’ faces. If you don’t recall, the Khvostov 7G-02 is the very first weapon that every player receives in Destiny. The fan base has long joked of it becoming an exotic, launching the auto-rifle into immortality just like the Guardians who wield it. Then there’s the Gjallarhorn quest which is pure fan-service at its finest. My missions happily took me to areas I hadn’t set foot in within months, or even over a year, and some sappy moments with the Ghost were worthwhile.
Gameplay, on the other hand, is a bit more fresh than the story is. No, Bungie didn’t completely revamp things by introducing new classes and a ton of new balances to the fold like they did with The Taken King. However, the new areas and activities are very well done. The new Felwinter’s Peak social space is full of mysteries, including a series of bells and a mountain just begging to be climbed. Then there’s the playable area itself. While most planets were left unchanged, Earth received a huge makeover thanks to the introduction of the Plaguelands, a new area northeast of the Cosmodrome. It’s full of the SIVA virus that was unleashed by the Fallen House of Devils, remains of a war that ended ages ago, and hordes of Hive and Fallen enemies. Like the Cosmodrome, it holds plenty of secret passages, caves, tunnels, and buildings to explore, each offering different challenges to players. The Plaguelands also takes a page out of The Taken King’s book with locked areas that require you to seek out keys to access, as well as a challenge area called the Archon Forge.
The locked areas are accessed by using Splicer Keys, obtained from slaying Brood Mother Wizards and other major enemies. You’ll find challenging opponents as well as rewards waiting for you if you’re willing to test your might. The Archon Forge serves as this new area’s Court of Oryx. Its powerful, SIVA-altered enemies can be surprisingly challenging, requiring multiple players and perhaps even some strangers just be passing by. It’s a nice addition that fared well for the Dreadnaught, so I’m curious to see how much longevity it adds to this new area.
Another nice touch was giving players the ability to travel to an updated Cosmodrome after spawning into the Plaguelands. Enemies are tougher here, and there are some new areas added to fit the Rise of Iron theme as well. However, if you enter Earth through the Cosmodrome waypoint, you won’t see any of the updates, which most likely has to do with how older quests work. I did love going back to my old stomping grounds to see what changed, and arriving only to find wreckage and war made the new SIVA threat really hit home.
The one thing that trumps the new area are the new Strikes, one of which – Sepiks Perfected – is a re-imagining of sorts of the very first Strike in the game. The way its boss fight played out was impressive; having to juggle multiple different burns while fending off waves and picking up special weapons kept everyone on their toes and coordinated. The design was similar to that of TTK as in it didn’t have an abundance of filler. Instead, it moved at a brisk pace before throwing you into the final fight. The Wretched Eye also had an encounter that easily ranks among my favorites, introducing a Fallen Priest who is one part mad scientist and one part ruthless warrior. Other new elements come in the form of Artifacts and Ornaments, as well as new ways to earn worthwhile rewards. These expand on a lot of systems introduced through the TTK period and April update. Ornaments add beautiful skins to certain pieces of weapon and armor, while the Iron Lord Artifacts add new abilities to Guardians such as the power to make minions fight for you.
I am a bit worried about the longevity of this expansion, though. It is slightly smaller than TTK and is priced as such, and after the few initial questlines there doesn’t seem to be much else to do until the Wrath of the Machine raid release on Sept. 23. PvP lovers will be able to dive into Iron Banner and Trials of Osiris soon, but like in the past, PvE goers may be left with another lull before long.
This is not a new challenge for Bungie, though, as they dealt with a similar issue after the last few expansions. The answer then was secret quests and free events, and they’ve definitely given themselves a lot of opportunities for this by staging a virus as the new enemy.
Worries of the future aside, for the time being I am content with what the developers have brought to the table for Destiny. Rise of Iron is more of that fun, engaging content that helped to make The Taken King such a memorable experience. The changed world makes old environs seem interesting again, and if the Strike bosses are anything to go by, then the raid will certainly be intriguing. While I’ll definitely have a full review after more time with the expansion and a run or two through the upcoming raid, my time so far has shown me that Destiny: Rise of Iron is a solid addition to an adventure that has only gotten better over time.