Destiny: rise of Iron
Is Destiny’s snowy new expansion filler, or killer?
PUBLISHER Activision Developer Bungie Format Xbox One due 20 September
You have to feel for Bungie – in so far as you can feel emotions towards a large company. At some point earlier this year, studio bosses faced an uncomfortable truth: Destiny 2 wasn’t going to make it onto shelves in 2016. Those execs also knew they would soon be faced with an even less comfortable phone call – after all, Activision don’t really do delays.
The publisher have squeezed a Call of Duty onto store shelves in the first week of November without fail every year since 2007, and they parp out licensed shovelware on time, regardless of quality (hello, Mutants in Manhattan). Yet they proved oddly receptive to Bungie’s request to leave Destiny 2 off this year’s calendar. But there was a catch. You need until next year? Sure! So, what are you giving the fans this year instead?
Bungie’s answer was Rise of Iron. It is, unavoidably, a stopgap, a middle ground between DLC and full-on expansion (bigger than House of Wolves or The Dark Below; smaller than The Taken King). It is the latest showcase of the studio’s remarkable flair for making you do much the same stuff you’ve always done, in much the same locations, but making it feel just new enough to deserve another couple of hundred hours of your life. It is tremendously easy to be cynical about Rise of Iron – we’re only too glad to be. Yet there is plenty here that is exciting, intriguing, intelligent and, yes, certain to keep us on the IV drip for however many months remain until Destiny 2 makes its belated debut.
So, to the Cosmodrome, the first place you laid eyes on in vanilla Destiny. It has now been expanded to encompass new areas, changed slightly in the places you know like the back of your hand and covered in a thick carpet of snow throughout – it always felt a bit sunny for Russia. We’re here for Felwinter’s Peak, home to a mausoleum built in tribute to the Lords of Iron, a group of powerful warriors who, many years ago, buried a powerful relic deep beneath the Cosmodrome to stop ne’er-do-wells getting their hands on it. The mission did for all of the party bar Lord Saladin, who Destiny players will know well. Host of the monthly Iron Banner tournament, he used to spend his days saving the world, but now kicks back in the Tower to offer up sweet faction rep for heavy ammo kills.
Well, no longer. The Fallen have been digging up the Cosmodrome, found the relic and used its power, Siva, to augment themselves. Now, part-Fallen and part-machine, they call themselves the Devil Splicers – and like the Taken, they look familiar but fight in strange ways. And like the Taken, they’re the basis for a couple of redesigned Strikes, giving Activision’s PR licence to claim Rise of Iron has three new ones. At least the one truly new Strike, The Wretched Eye, introduces a new concept to Destiny: multiple routes through a level, making repeat playthroughs less of a chore.
“It’s easy to be cynical but there’s plenty to keep us on the hook until Destiny 2 arrives”
Another change is clear on the first mission, where you fight through the Cosmodrome to reclaim Felwinter’s Peak from the Fallen. Once complete, the area unlocks as your new social space, home to NPCs for nattering with, wolves for petting and, down below, the mausoleum. At the start, you’ll see the fires beneath each of the eight statues of Saladin’s fallen comrades go out; once a week you’ll choose which to relight. Each will require you to complete a quest, and will reward you with a new artefact.
Previously a wasted gear slot, the artefact takes on a new dimension in Rise of Iron, thanks to the Iron Lords. One grants permanent enhanced radar – a godsend for PVP. Another reduces the severity of damage-overtime effects. Others let you block rocket launcher rounds and energy blasts with a sword, remove cooldown on sprinting or randomly turn enemies into allies when you melee them. While the marketing focused on the returning Gjallarhorn and the new Iron Axe relic weapon, the artefacts are the real game-changer here, adding a much-needed layer of flexibility to the way you build your loadout, whichever part of Destiny you like to play.
Inevitably, not everything that’s new to Rise of Iron is so imaginative. New Crucible mode Supremacy is just Call
“While on paper RoI doesn’t add a lot, the changes to the ‘quality of life’ really matter”
of Duty’s Kill Confirmed, though rather than dogtags you must pick up Crests dropped by dead enemies for the kill to count towards the score. It’s a curious fit for a competitive game that was always defined by the range you fight at, as you’ve got to be up close to pick up the Crest before an enemy does. So sniping, or even longerrange primary weapons like pulse rifles, feel suboptimal. Destiny’s noisy PVP community will, however, be more than happy with the long-overdue support for private custom matches.
While on paper Rise of Iron does not add a substantial amount to Destiny – five story missions, a new Strike, a new raid, plus extra weapons, armour and artefacts – hardened players are more interested in the ‘quality-of-life’ changes Bungie are making. That term, which was born in the MMO era, is rather ironic (if quality of life is what you really want, maybe go outside), but it’s vital to the long-term health of a game. It’s an expression of how streamlined and accommodating the process of playing and replaying the game is; of living within it, if you will. There’s certainly plenty of it here.
While the Light level cap rises from 335 to 385 in the base game, and 400 when the raid comes out, all Taken King gear can be infused to the new max. The new Skeleton Key item offers a guaranteed route to a Strikespecific weapon or armour, some highly coveted and all previously only available through miserly RNG. And the new Record Book sits permanently in the inventory and tracks your progress to guaranteed, pre-defined rewards, including the Iron Lord armour sets shown off in pre-release marketing.
Does it still sound like a stopgap? Perhaps. Yet Rise of Iron has a sense of iteration, of subtle but welcome change. It may have been birthed to meet a contractual agreement, but it will benefit more than just Activision’s Q4 balance sheet. As Destiny grows, expands and improves, so Bungie, makers of Halo, learn more about persistent online worlds where players spend thousands of hours. That has to be good for Destiny 2, whenever it arrives. Hopefully the studio is also learning how to ship games on time but, for now, just like Activision, we’ll take whatever we can get. OXM
below The fancy Iron Lord gear set unlocks after you complete tasks in the new Record Book.
below The axe again. Expect the returning Gjallarhorn RP G to be even more common early on.