Destiny: Rise Of Iron PS4, Xbox One
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