Originally published on PlayStation Insider on September 30, 2016. PlayStation Insider is no longer active, so I have republished the review here for myself. If you would like to see the original post, check out the Web Archive.
Two years ago, Bungie released their first new IP in nine years. Not straying far from the theme of space and shooting, Destiny’s hype was lofted high thanks to promises and the pedigree of the studio at hand. What they delivered was a competent shooter that had style over substance. While the game was critically received as “good,” the community flourished and launched the game into the place it is today.
Now the game’s final expansion is out in the wild and Guardians are becoming Iron Lords. Bungie has corrected the mistakes of the original Destiny, often referred to as vanilla, with Rise of Iron having a full fledged and focused story with consistent cutscenes, a richer multiplayer experience, and the most varied content the franchise has had to date. It may not be as fundamentally game changing as The Taken King was last year, but Rise of Iron shows its strength in a calculated move of nostalgia aimed at its vibrant and loyal community.
Bungie was supposed to release the sequel this year, but decided to delay it into 2017. To fill the void and keep the community engaged, Bungie had to make some sort of content, and thus, Rise of Iron was born!
Narrative in Destiny has always been a go-to weak point for people to wag a finger at. It’s understandable and valid, especially considering the Halofranchise’s story under Bungie’s development. Vanilla Destiny had “no time to explain why they had no time to explain” a structured story. The Taken King vastly improved with a few more cutscenes and a cohesive narrative that tied throughout the campaign and the raid.
Rise of Iron is what vanilla should have been, considering on Bungie’s previous work. Its story is grounded in Destiny lore, based on Lord Saladin from the Iron Banner crucible event. Long ago, Lord Saladin locked away a virus-like material called SIVA. The Fallen have dug it up and Lord Saladin needs new Iron Lords to answer the call. It has focus, although it is shorter than The Taken King’s campaign. Cutscenes open and close out missions with a succinct narrative. Where Rise of Iron strives, in regard to narrative, is in the follow-up quests to the main campaign.
The real heart of Rise of Iron lies within the post-campaign quests. Two specifically stand out amongst the pack: The exotic quests for Ghjallerhorn and Khvostov 7G-0X. For those not familiar with those names, Ghjallerhorn is the exotic rocket launcher that was infamous for melting bosses with its absurdly good perks. Even more specific is the Khvostov 7G-0X, which was the very first gun every Guardian uses in the tutorial mission. Both guns have questlines that revolve around building each weapon. There is a sense of pride and accomplishment in creating your own of each. The callback to each is meant to evoke a sense of nostalgia and a feeling of just how far you’ve come in your journey to become legend. The Khvostov 7G-0X quest, in particular, felt hand crafted for day one Guardians and as a personal thank you from Bungie.
When it comes down to the gameplay of Rise of Iron, the expansion does not stray from The Taken King in any substantial way. There is a new area to explore called the Plaguelands. It is a new area of Old Russia that bleeds into the starting area of the main game. It is a smart way to tie the beginning of the franchise into new content. Some areas are reused, but spruced up with new visuals of SIVA overtaking the wall and Old Russia.
The Plaguelands are certainly the largest patrol zone yet, packed with more visual elements. It functions like any other patrol area though. Once you learn the lay of the land, you typically hop on your sparrow and race to your destination, rarely stopping to look at all the detail or pick off a few of the new Splicer type enemies. It would have been nice to fill all that open space with more dynamic tasks to complete instead of the same tasks in other areas.
Other than the Plaguelands, a new patrol mission type was created for SIVA and a new public-event area called Archon’s Forge was made akin to Court of Oryx from The Taken King. These add just one more thing players can do on patrol runs as they fill out bounties and quests.
In regards to quests, Bungie has expanded upon the record book tracking introduced as a microtransaction in SRL (Sparrow Racing League). Bungie brought it back for free in both Year Two Moments of Triumph and now in Rise of Iron. Functioning like an in-game achievement system, the Rise of Iron record book is packed with tasks to complete. The more you do, the more rewards you get. Upon completion, players will unlock full sets of Iron Lord gear and will look unbelievably stylish as they slay their enemies while covered in wolf pelts. This is a great way to implement in-game achievements, outside of trophies or Xbox achievements. It has a checklist feel that demands to be completed. It’s not necessarily meant to be filled out rapidly, although the most dedicated may grind them out quickly. There are plenty of tasks that will keep Guardians occupied for the next couple of months.
Bungie has decided to leave PS3 and Xbox 360 in the dust. Rise of Iron does receive a small boost in visuals thanks to this decision, primarily with particle effects, such as snow or red particles from SIVA and Splicers. There maybe a wider ability of things to do in the raid, but at this time I have not completed the new raid, Wrath of the Machine. I will be sure to update this review with full thoughts on the raid upon completion.
The music also gets a new coat of paint. The new soundtrack revises original Destiny songs and adds slick electric guitar. It adds a slight edge, all while lending itself to a grand score that is worthy of legends. I cannot get over how good the guitar is during the Sepiks Perfected strike. You can listen to it and the whole soundtrack below.
Arguably the highlight of the expansion is the brand new raid introduced in Rise of Iron. Raids are the highlight of Destiny’s player vs environment (PVE) content. New raids are exciting within the community since the high level entry point allows Bungie to experiment with the game’s design and let their freak flag fly.
Wrath of the Machine takes a little bit from the previous three raids in terms of design, while embracing a wonderfully gripping sense of world aesthetic. The art direction for the raid is above and beyond previous raids. From clusters of red and shiny SIVA particles (thanks PS4 power) to the theme of computers and technology, Wrath of the Machine shines visually. The dedication to the theme even seeps into the quest for the raid exotic, Outbreak Prime. I would like to note that members of my fireteam experience a noticeable frame rate dip during the zamboni portion of the raid. During my time, the frame rate never pulled me out of the experience, but I have heard enough complaints that I thought it fair to mention here.
Mechanically, the raid strikes an excellent balance of teamwork, even though the mechanics themselves hardly evolve over the period of the raid itself. Each boss may use an element of the first encounter, but Wrath of the Machine never lays the burden of triumph on one Guardian or all. Bouncing back from a death or two is possible, without punishing the whole fireteam. Much like Vault of Glass, the victory belongs to all the Guardians (except the ones you carry).
Wrath of the Machine blends the best parts of the previous raids into one. It may not be the longest raid, but the environment and enemies are engaging. When considering the short time Bungie had to develop Rise of Iron, Wrath of the Machine is an engaging and exciting raid that you can play with friends on a weekly basis.
Multiplayer has received a few new features as well. The two most notable additions are private matches and a new mode, Supremacy. Private matches are totally customizable with mode, points, location, and time of day. They encourage the social aspect of Destiny within the crucible, outside of the heavily competitive scene. It may not capture the spirit of Halo 2 LAN parties, but it still is welcome.
Supremacy is Rise of Iron’s kill confirmed mode. The concept is to gain points, you not only have to get the enemy kill, but also pick up an orb called a “crest” to confirm the kill and actually gain points. The mode is fun and encourages open combat and more conflicts. Where Supremacy falls short is the length of the matches. Teams play to 135 points with each kill counting for two points. The mode certainly feels like a drag halfway through matches. Hopefully, Bungie will patch the length of matches, but until then players can adjust the time and points in private matches.
Rise of Iron doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to the Destiny formula. It is a love letter to both Destiny and the community it birthed. It’s filled with heartwarming memories that invoke comfort, nostalgia, and a sense of accomplishment. I feel like Bungie handcrafted this content for Guardians like me: Those that have been there from the beginning. Due to the reminiscent focus on content, Rise of Iron is not the best starting point for new Guardians who answer the Traveler’s call. It lacks a sense of reinvention and invigoration that The Taken King brought the table. Rise of Iron may not reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. I can’t imagine a better swan song for Destiny’s first full cycle. I truly feel like I have become legend with my fireteam.