Bungie’s ever-expanding Destiny’s third year is underway with the release of its third expansion, Destiny: Rise of Iron. Though there’s already rumors flying about Destiny 2, this latest expansion sets the tone for a year full of action-packed sci-fi combat. Last year’s The Taken King expansion only held my attention for a few moments, though it introduced many of the changes that make year three such a strong package. Still, two years of responding to player feedback make Rise of Iron an experience more compelling than ever.
Oryx, former king of the last expansion’s “Taken,” has been defeated. This doesn’t mean the world is without targets; Fallen enemies destroyed the wall south of Russia, allowing mutants to invade. The Iron Lords, the hosts of the series’ staple Iron Banner tournaments, have decided to do more than sit in the background. Your Guardian will fight at the command of Lord Saladin, leader of the Iron Lords, to combat the Fallen menace and uncover more of the lore of the Destiny universe.
Destiny’s taken many cues from other MMOs and integrated them full-stop into Rise of Iron. To encourage exploration, hidden SIVA Clusters are spread around the new areas in social sections, traditional missions, and even on multiplayer maps (though you can only find those when competing in private matches). Finding more SIVA clusters gives you items as a reward, similar to the Calcified Fragments in The Taken King. There’s also a brand new social area, the Felwinter Peak, where players can meet a new Cryptarch and see the snowy land that the Iron Lords inhabit.
Of course, there’s also plenty of new items, weapons, and an increase to the light level cap, giving players new heights to achieve with their progress. There’s a new endgame mission as well, a new six-person raid called Wrath of the Machine. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to play through it myself before the review, but the raids have always been one of Destiny’s highlights in their combination of puzzle-solving, white-knuckle combat, and massive bosses. I hope that this one follows suit.
Strangely enough, it’s the little changes and enhancements in Rise of Iron that compel me to enter back into the fray. Destiny’s always been a beautiful game with gorgeous landscapes marred by the overly-technical HUD. There’s now an option to play with the HUD disabled, which I prefer to use whenever I can. This makes the game harder because many of the game’s context clues go missing, but it instills a brand new wonder into exploring Destiny’s worlds.
Quest management is smoother than it was in the original release; sorting through missions and quests is easier due to a redesign of the quest menu, and each expansion offers a book of special challenges that can only be completed during that year of the game. The completionist in me is upset by having to look at the challenge book for The Taken King in my menu that I’ll never be able to work on, but it also provides a reason to play the game during the time the expansion is current. It’s that compulsion to be an active part of Destiny’s universe and player base that makes Rise of Iron feel so likely to pull me back into the fray.
For all the technical improvements that I’ve seen in Destiny, I’ve loved how the game’s reunited me with old friends. Just as the release of World of Warcraft’s Legion expansion brought many players back to its servers, my PSN friends list is full of people who’ve returned to the Tower. Destiny has always been a game meant to be played with friends, and that doesn’t change with the new expansion. Sure, they’ve tightened up the campaign experience by making it much more cinematic, and there’s plenty to do when you’re playing through the game alone. For me though, the energy ramps up substantially when I’ve got friends to plan with and coordinate assaults.
I’m also much more successful in Crucible multiplayer matches when running with friends. I’d highly recommend searching out friends to play with over voice chat; having people to help you find hidden items or revive you in Darkness areas makes the game feel much more fluid and enjoyable.
On the note of the Crucible, it’s worth mentioning that there’s a new gameplay mode: Supremacy. Like Call of Duty’s “Kill Confirmed” mode, each player drops a marker at the spot where they’re killed. Making a kill nets your team a point, but grabbing the player’s crest gives the team an additional point. This means that progress towards victory takes place regardless of whether or not you’re picking up crests.
I’ve noticed this changes some of the strategy of the game: since running out for a crest can make you a sitting duck, it’s sometimes better to leave crests behind for other players. There are new maps as well: Last Exit, Skyline, Floating Gardens, and Icarus. They each open up gameplay in different ways and feel well-balanced, though it’s worth noting that Icarus is a PlayStation-exclusive. Also, Destiny now allows Private Matches; this allows players to engage in more effective practice matches with friends and opens the door for eSports and competitive play.
Not all of Destiny’s changes are pure improvements, though, particularly for legacy players. People used to syncing their last-gen and current-gen console progress will be disappointed to know that Rise of Iron won’t sync data. Last-gen players are given a one-time opportunity to port their last-gen characters into the current-gen version of the game, though. Given, we’re almost three years into the current-gen life-cycle, so while it’s unfortunate that last-gen devotees are seeing the ship leave without them, price drops as a result of the Xbox One S and PS4 Pro should help players get up to speed.
Destiny: Rise of Iron feels like the shot in the arm the franchise needs to continue its hold on the console MMO space. With gameplay that’s just as tight and satisfying as ever, the additional content and attention to story rounds out the Destiny experience in fantastic ways. Though I’m still a devotee to more narrative-centric games, Rise of Iron will definitely be taking up more of my time in the next few months.