Destiny: Rise of Iron Review (PlayStation 4)
Rise of Iron is the beginning of the final chapter for Destiny, and strangely enough it has many of the same problems that Destiny had when it first arrived. This expansion itself is actually another way of tiding us over until the arrival of Destiny 2, which was originally to arrive this year, but now finds its home in 2017. As the last full expansion for Destiny before Destiny 2, and a follow-up to The Taken King, Rise of Iron had big shoes to fill. It’s a shame then that it doesn’t.
Rise of Iron’s story focuses on two things: the Iron Lords and The Fallen, an existing race of enemies in the game. Before this expansion the only info we’d received on the Iron Lords was through item descriptions and bits of dialogue from Lord Saladin in the monthly Iron Banner events. Rise of Iron tells a bit of the story of how the Iron Lords fell to SIVA, unstable nanomachines that can be used to create just about anything. The focus here fell more on the current threat of the Fallen using SIVA to enhance themselves and threaten to overrun the Last City. There isn’t any new voice acting from any existing characters besides your ghost. Instead we have Lord Saladin and Shiro-4, a vanguard scout, narrating the story missions and strikes. Shiro-4’s delivery and voice-acting feels very flat and unemotive, which is especially noticeable next to Saladin’s passionate and empowering lines.
The storytelling is reminiscent of Destiny’s initial release, in that it feels rushed and poorly explained. Outside of the first cutscene depicting the Iron Lords fighting SIVA and the premise of the Fallen using SIVA, nothing else is explained or elaborated on. Not to mention that the campaign ends very abruptly with an echo of the Destiny’s original last story bosses, three of the same large enemy type. It was three large minotaurs back then, and in Rise of Iron it’s three corrupted Iron Lords. In total, the campaign was a little under two hours and five missions long. There was no real progression, as you went from discovering SIVA to blowing up the SIVA bunker without any real explanation, and it all felt half-baked.
The short campaign is punctuated with a couple of quests and the Iron Record book. This record book is the same as the year two record book, but with much more to do. Not that any of it is particularly engaging though, killing enemies, doing patrol missions, strikes and the raid. It’s essentially a passive way of getting rewards over time, and isn’t meant to be completed right away. The most interesting story content ended up being the quests that end with you getting Gjallarhorn and Khvostov. These quests re-introduce the two fan favorite weapons with what felt like a heartfelt thank you from Bungie for long time Destiny players. These short quests were fun, but still weren’t very substantial. Therein lies one of the biggest problems with Rise of Iron, it’s lack of content.
Rise of Iron’s biggest contribution to the Destiny experience is a new patrol area and social space. The Plaguelands add a lot to the Cosmodrome in terms of physical size, but there isn’t really much to do. Missions and quests are mostly structured in a way that has you running back and forth across the Plaguelands, which gets tiresome after about the third time you have to do it. It’s a strange step back for Bungie considering The Taken King used the majority of Destiny’s existing areas to create new, interesting content. Rise of Iron seems content to just have you explore the same two or three areas over and over again. This wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t feel like such a chore to actually get anywhere. This new patrol area and social space felt more like mandatory additions to the game after such a long content drought rather than a meaningful addition to the world Bungie has built.
The only new thing to do in the Plaguelands is take on the Archon’s Forge. This a Court of Oryx style public arena where you make an offering and take out waves of enemies, and eventually, a boss. The problem here is that in order to even make an attempt you need an offering that drops randomly, and you can only hold one at a time. What’s worse is that if you die and don’t get revived by a teammate you’re locked out of the forge, meaning that your one key is wasted. In turn, that means you have to go out and hope to randomly find another offering. This design philosophy outlines the majority of Rise of Iron, and it’s not great. The biggest example of this is the new light level progression.
The light level cap has been raised from 335 to 400, but getting to the recommended 360 and 370 for the Nightfall and raid is an incredibly tedious grind. The same leveling system from Taken King is present here: loot drops will drop at your light level or higher so you can equip better and better gear as you obtain it and steadily increase your level. However the numbers essentially stop going up from 340 to 350, and getting anywhere past that seems entirely up to the game’s RNG. This halt in progress feels so out of place considering it directly echoes the original light level system’s tedium. Doing the same strikes over and over in hopes that you’ll get at least one drop that you can use isn’t fun.
In that sense Rise of Iron is a bit baffling. Most missions all bear the same “shoot stuff while your ghost scans something for a while” layout that plagued original Destiny’s campaign. Rise of Iron feels like a piece of Destiny that was left out of the initial launch and was added without updating its content to fit what Destiny has grown to become. The new Fallen Splicer enemies are interesting and well designed, but not a whole lot is done with them. I found myself feeling nostalgic for original Destiny while playing Rise of Iron, but it was for the tedious grinding, lackluster story presentation and lack of content.
Rise of Iron is a strange hiccup in Bungie’s progress towards making Destiny a better overall experience. SIVA is an interesting villain that is ultimately never explained or explored. The majority of the content here is the actual Plaguelands themselves, and all there is to do is a couple of fetch-quests and patrol missions. Everything in this expansion seems to revolve around tedious grinding; grinding to finish the Iron Record book and get more rewards, grinding to get your light level up to do the raid. Whereas Taken King did so much to improve Destiny in every way, Rise of Iron feels like a big step back.
This review is based on a purchased download of Destiny: Rise of Iron for the PlayStation 4.