Des­tiny: Rise Of Iron PS4, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES SECTIONS - De­vel­oper Bungie Pub­lisher Ac­tivi­sion For­mat PS4 (tested), Xbox One Re­lease Out now

When Bungie told that us the over­rid­ing theme for Rise Of Iron was nostal­gia, we didn’t quite ex­pect this. The ex­pan­sion that ush­ers in Des­tiny’s third year is, in­deed, a tale of old, of min­ing deep into Des­tiny lore and honour­ing the Iron Lords who gave their lives to save the galaxy. Yet it’s also nos­tal­gic for its own past as a game. Two of its new ex­otic weapons are sim­ply up­dated ver­sions of guns that were de­lib­er­ately con­signed to his­tory at the end of Des­tiny’s first year. An­other is a souped-up ver­sion of the first gun you pick up in the first level of the base game. And through­out the ac­tion, your AI com­pan­ion Ghost (still voiced by a roboti­cised, but far from ro­botic Nolan North) speaks wist­fully about the old days. In places, it’s oddly af­fect­ing. In oth­ers, cringe­wor­thy. Fre­quently, it’s sim­ply in­ap­pro­pri­ate. “Déjà vu,” he says dur­ing Sepiks Per­fected, an up­dated ver­sion of an ex­ist­ing Strike mis­sion – sum­ming up, with in­ad­ver­tent el­e­gance, the en­tire Des­tiny ex­pe­ri­ence.

So, is fram­ing Rise Of Iron around the con­cept of nostal­gia a way of un­earthing Des­tiny’s mud­dled, deeply buried lore? Or a handy way of papering over the cracks in what is, com­pared to last year’s The Taken King, an ex­pan­sion lack­ing in con­tent? Well, both. The tale of Sal­adin, the last sur­viv­ing Iron Lord, and the story of the group hav­ing sealed a world-de­stroy­ingly pow­er­ful en­ergy source deep be­neath Old Rus­sia, are well worth telling. But the cam­paign is over in a flash, its five mis­sions last­ing barely an hour, and one of those a phoned-in so­journ to Mars where you re­visit an area you know in­side out, run­ning through it in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion. The fi­nal cam­paign mis­sion is one of the best in all of Des­tiny, with a se­ries of tense fire­fights and a des­per­ate es­cape at the end. You head back to the Iron Tem­ple, the new so­cial hub, ex­pect­ing a re­peat of what hap­pened when you fin­ished The Taken King, when ev­ery NPC wanted to speak to you and con­grat­u­late you, your quest log over­flow­ing as you went. In­stead you get a slap on the back and a hand­ful of ex­tra tasks. A few hours later, our to-do list was empty again.

Still, one of the post-cam­paign quests is a cracker, and it’s fit­ting given the weapon that awaits at the end is the pow­er­ful Gjal­larhorn. Af­ter sev­eral mis­sions and a cou­ple of hours spent seek­ing out spe­cific weapon parts dot­ted around the new Plague­lands area, you must defend your Ghost while he as­sem­bles your new toy. The Fallen just keep com­ing, driven by their un­der­stand­able in­ter­est in a myth­i­cal rocket launcher whose shells track their tar­gets and which ex­plode into a swarm of heat-seek­ing clus­ter bombs. When Ghost’s work is done, you take your new toy out­side, where the Fallen have sta­tioned half-a-dozen Devil Walker tanks and your al­lies have air­dropped count­less heavy ammo pick­ups. What fol­lows needs no ex­pla­na­tion. It’s a glo­ri­ous celebration of a glo­ri­ous gun that you ei­ther had in Des­tiny’s first year and have missed ever since, or sim­ply lusted af­ter, frus­trated. No longer.

But such gen­eros­ity can­not ex­tend across a whole game, since this con­tent-light ex­pan­sion has to last un­til Des­tiny 2 ar­rives. While the power curve re­tains some of the gen­eros­ity of old (for in­stance, the In­fu­sion sys­tem guar­an­tees a weapon’s full power will be trans­ferred to its tar­get), the jour­ney from the pre­vi­ous Light level cap of 335 to the new max­i­mum of 400 is un­even and fre­quently frus­trat­ing. Blue, rare-class en­grams max out at 340 and thus be­come ir­rel­e­vant within hours; at 365, pur­ple leg­en­daries be­come sim­i­larly mean­ing­less. A bizarre in­crease to the drop rate of com­mon green en­grams has been ex­plained away as a fix to a long-stand­ing bug. Ap­par­ently we should al­ways have been get­ting swathes of them, which is pre­sum­ably why they’re capped at 195. There’s a baf­fling, and baf­flingly in­ten­tional, stut­ter be­tween Light lev­els 350 and 355, when progress all but grinds to a halt.

Once you reach Light level 365, the only re­li­able way of con­tin­u­ing up the power curve is in endgame ac­tiv­i­ties. For PVE play­ers, that means the new raid; in PVP, it’s the monthly Iron Ban­ner and weekly Tri­als Of Osiris, both of which took a leave of ab­sence at Rise Of Iron’s launch. Only through RNG – le­gendary or ex­otic drops you weren’t ex­pect­ing, gifts when lev­el­ling fac­tions, the new and rare Skele­ton Key item – can you vault Bungie’s hur­dles. Lim­it­ing more than half of the new level curve to the most chal­leng­ing ac­tiv­i­ties may suit the com­mit­ted Des­tiny player, but those play­ing more ca­su­ally are in for a slow, ex­as­per­at­ing time. For­tu­nately, what we’ve seen of the endgame is bril­liant: a dozen hours in the Wrath Of The Ma­chine raid proves it to be right up there with the Vault Of Glass as the finest Des­tiny has to of­fer. Last year’s King’s Fall de­manded ev­ery player fill an in­di­vid­ual role and do so per­fectly. Here the em­pha­sis is on team­work, break­ing off into twos and threes or sim­ply work­ing as a large group of six, mak­ing it eas­ier to cover each other’s gaffes. A wider scale – in­clud­ing one fan­tas­tic out­door set-piece – and a sound­track of wail­ing hard-rock gui­tars mean Wrath Of The Ma­chine feels epic in a way that pre­vi­ous raids have only re­ally man­aged in their fi­nal boss bat­tles. That this is the work of a small team, pro­duced while the bulk of Bungie works on Des­tiny 2, sends an­tic­i­pa­tion for the se­quel through the roof.

In the mean­time? It’s just as well Wrath Of The Ma­chine is as good as it is, be­cause it’s go­ing to have to last us a while. Rise Of Iron is, to be sure, a work of nostal­gia, a fi­nal dig through well-worn archives, look­ing back not just on Des­tiny’s pro­saic lore but its meta-his­tory, too. But what has been de­signed to sate our ap­petites dur­ing Des­tiny 2’ s de­lay leaves us a lit­tle too hun­gry for more.

“Déjà vu,” he says dur­ing Sepiks Per­fected – sum­ming up, with in­ad­ver­tent el­e­gance, the en­tire Des­tiny ex­pe­ri­ence

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