I’ve climbed to the mountaintop. I’ve confronted the SIVA infection. I’ve felled the Banner’s enemies. We’ve previewed a lot of Destiny’s latest expansion over the last month, and we’ve given a preliminary review in progress of Rise of Iron, but after a week with it in the wild, we’re finally bringing our full thoughts on the resurgence of the Iron Lords and how Rise of Iron will perform long term as Destiny enters its final year before the sequel.
Narratively and thematically, Rise of Iron is a change of pace from Destiny’s usual space and chitin filled nature. Focusing on something a little closer to home, Rise of Iron takes a grounded and historical approach, with themes familiar to the likes of Dragon Age, Game of Thrones, and other high fantasy tales. The new social space lacks a lot of technology, creating an almost zen-like environment that feels far removed from the busy hustle and bustle of the Tower. It’s a place for reflecting on history, both in-game lore, as well as taking a nostalgic look back on our characters and time with Destiny.
It’s not just limited to Felwinter Peak though. Rise of Iron is full of nostalgic references and moments — callbacks to early events and items in the game (those original class items returning as legendary drops!). From the obvious things like the much desired return of the Gjallarhorn rocket launcher and the quest to obtain it, to the wistful recollections that Ghost makes during the Khvostov exotic quest, remembering year one of Destiny while also offering new content is a large part of Rise of Iron’s appeal. Altogether it feels like things have come full circle, Destiny becoming the game we’ve always wanted it to be while maintaining the improvements and sore spots gained over the two years that it’s been out.
Splicing With the Devils
With a new expansion and new infection comes new enemies: the Devil Splicers. These are Fallen that have augmented themselves with SIVA technology, but they aren’t nearly as different as the Taken were in The Taken King. While they do have some slightly different mechanics, they are little more than subtle variations on existing Fallen enemies. With the sheer variety of foes already present in Destiny, it isn’t that big of a loss to not have a completely new class of enemy added to the roster. The slight variations and increased aggressive nature are interesting enough to make combating the Splicers a more exciting experience than taking on the garden variety Fallen, though there’s nothing to write home about.
Early in Rise of Iron’s life, many players complained about the slow process of leveling up, hitting a soft wall at light level 350 and having a hard time finding gear higher than this level. Leveling methods were quickly found, but this leveling wall made saved engrams basically moot, stopping most players from rapidly hitting the new light level cap of 385. I’m happy for this slow burn, allowing the expansion to breathe and have some life as it offers reasons to keep coming back week after week, playing endgame material like the Nightfall strike, Wrath of the Machine Raid, and completing Shaxx’s new weekly Crucible (PvP) bounty. Granted, it may be quite a confusing affair to players who are less than hardcore, with a confusing path to the top. This is where Destiny can rely too much on the community outside of the game to communicate information that should be in game.
Archon’s Forge is billed as a wave based challenge arena in the new patrol area with rewards to help level up, but currently has some problems and inconsistencies that make it difficult to play reliably. Rewards are not always given, matchmaking into the instance with other players can be arduous, and each player can only hold one offering at a time, meaning that waiting for another to drop can take anywhere from a few minutes to hours upon hours. When it works, it is a lot of fun, but as soon as everyone uses up their offerings and no more waves can be played, it can take a long time to find another group to play with. The rewards that drop are also rare, making it not worth the current time or effort for the rewards that you can possibly get. It may conceivably be good as you get to a higher level, but often the raid becomes the mainstay for gaining gear that reaches the cap, and Archon’s Forge needs refinements if it wants to be seen as a viable source of high level endgame gear drops, which is in stark contrast to the relative ease of play offered by the Court of Oryx in the previous expansion.
Grab the Crests!
The new PvP mode Supremacy is an absolute mess of fast paced chaos and close quarters combat, in both the best and worst ways. I’ve played some matches that are more annoying than anything else, with a very low time to kill, and I’ve played ones where the teams actually play well together, effectively eliminating opposing team members and swiping the crests. Supremacy seems to work much better on the four new maps that Rise of Iron added, as they were clearly designed with the new game mode in mind, being spaces that add some breathing room while not having an over reliance on sniper combat or being too close quarters in nature. Existing maps are hit and miss. Some may become a fun bout of close quarters combat, or you may find yourself in a murder pit full of anguish and sadness. I’ve taken to enjoying the more slow paced and strategic nature of the three on three game modes too (I’m getting better at Crucible, I promise!), so needless to say Supremacy won’t become a go-to game mode for me. Instead I’ll visit occasionally when I’m looking for something with a little more chaos than the standard fare.
Of course the most anticipated part of the new expansion is the raid it brings, Wrath of the Machine. The biggest problem with King’s Fall (The Taken King’s raid) was that it relied far too much on exact mechanics to complete, needing pinpoint accuracy to take on bosses, and finding players standing in one place for long periods as they unloaded sniper and heavy ammo into boss’ weak spots. If one person died, it was usually a wipe. There was little room to be a hero and pull off multiple roles, clutching out a victory. This made running King’s Fall each week a long and arduous experience. In fact, killing the final boss wasn’t even reliant on players dealing damage to him themselves, but on mechanics that were part of the fight and took specific chunks of health down each round.
Wrath of the Machine is a shorter raid, but much more fun overall. Though there are obviously mechanics in place for each encounter, these mechanics offer more flexibility to the players, making it more fun to run through. You can be the hero who ultimately pulls of that clutch move that saves the encounter for everyone on the fireteam. The shorter length also means that it is less of a task to set aside time each week to make a go at it, and not necessarily getting the rewards you want doesn’t feel as punishing as trying to beat Oryx for hours each time and never getting the helmet. Add in the wealth of secrets that the raid holds, including multiple exotic chance chests, and the recently discovered complicated raid exotic quest, and you have a raid that is more accessible, yet somehow deeper than most raids that have come before. It’s also nice to get away from the tired bones and flesh look of the last expansion and into a far more technological variance.
From Zero to Hero, No Time Flat
Rise of Iron does feel smaller than the previous release in many ways, such as the very short and rushed feeling main campaign. I felt like even two extra missions here could have really rounded it out to make SIVA more of a threat, and our assistance to Saladin more of an accomplishment. The missions do continue post-game, linking to things like the raid, exotic weapons, and doing patrols in the Plaguelands, but these have much less of a narrative focus than the main five story missions. This is slightly made up for by the final story mission being one of the best in Destiny history, offering an epic and cinematic approach to making your guardian feel like the badass that they should (running away from massive explosions, anyone?), even if those awesome final moments come far too quickly after beginning your climb to Felwinter Peak. The characters also failed to grab me quite as much as the impressive offering in The Taken King (Shiro is no substitute for Cayde!), but you win some, you lose some.
The thing to remember about Destiny is that it’s not over yet. What I’ve covered here still isn’t all that Rise of Iron has to offer, with Iron Banner returning soon, Trials of Osiris coming back, the hard mode of the raid to be released, and a wide berth of planned live events like the Festival of the Lost in October, large Winter event including Sparrow Racing League in December, and the promise of more live events and updates to come. Even things like Archon’s Forge that don’t quite work right now, are apt to change over time with Bungie listening to the community and making Destiny a game for the players. It doesn’t excuse the current problems it may have, but knowing the strong support Destiny has for its lifetime is comforting. This live game is really what makes everything replayable and offers long term promise for the release of Rise of Iron and year three of Destiny.
With the long term in mind, Rise of Iron is a great addition to Destiny. They’ve embedded secrets, past references, and nostalgia in ways that few other games can, because few other games retain this strong of a community for years following their initial release. One thing I talked about in my vanilla Destiny review was the moments I created as a player. It wasn’t about the story Destiny was telling to me (as little of that as there was), but the story that I created for myself and the group of players that I play with. We made our own moments, some that we still talk about today, and Rise of Iron seemed to bring back those feelings of creating a personal narrative for me and my fireteams as we navigated the likes of Felwinter Peak, the new raid, the Plaguelands, and corpse filled chaos of Supremacy. Destiny is the player’s story and Rise of Iron continues to make me feel like a legend in my own right, even if at the moment it holds a little less endgame vitality than other releases have offered.
Destiny Rise of Iron review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.