REVIEW: Destiny: Rise of Iron – Rusted Lands

Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Activision
RATED T FOR TEEN
Formats: PlayStation 4 (REVIEWED), Xbox One
Released: September 20, 2016
Copy purchased via PlayStation Network.
GAME CONTAINS MICROTRANSACTIONS 

The following review covers content released from Patch 2.40, the release of the Rise of Iron expansion, and the preceding two weeks.

Destiny has come a long way from its launch two years ago. The FPS/RPG hybrid made by Bungie failed to live up to years hype with its banal story, lackluster voice acting from big name stars, and puzzling game design choices. Each paid expansion during Year One made the game better but it wasn’t until the release of The Taken King when Bungie truly nailed it. That expansion showcased Destiny’s potential with rich content and overhauls to each broken game mechanic that made Destiny truly fun to play. But the game quickly fell into a dry spell when Destiny started funding new game content via Microtransactions and players easily burned through said content within a couple of days. As the fourth and perhaps final paid expansion to Destiny, Rise of Iron sends players back to where they first started to reclaim old Russia from a new threat. At $30, is there enough great content in Rise of Iron to warrant becoming a legendary Iron Lord or is this nostalgia trip too painful to endure?

Stoking the Forge

I didn’t discuss this basic stuff when I reviewed The Taken King, but things have changed since the last expansion. As of August 2016, Bungie is no longer updating the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of Destiny. In order to play Rise of Iron, you need to have a PS4 or an Xbox One along with every expansion and the original Destiny base game. It’s a pricey proposition but one that’s made easier with Destiny: The Collection which has everything released including Rise of Iron for $60. Last-Gen Console owners can receive a discount on the Collection (provided they bought everything from their old platform) and have their account transferred over.

Other than that, you’ll still need an internet connection to play Destiny as the game is accessed through Bungie’s severs. You’ll also need a PlayStation Plus or an Xbox Live paid subscription (depending on your console) in order to access Destiny’s online features like  competitive multiplayer and the new raid. Any way you look at it, playing Destiny costs a lot of money so it’s up to you whether or not you think it’s worth it. I’ve been playing Destiny since the Closed Alpha and I feel like I’ve got my money’s worth. But for those interested in purchasing Rise of Iron or just curious about it, continue reading.

Striking Iron
Before the age of Guardians, the champions of the last city on Earth were the Iron Lords. This mythical group of warriors gave their lives to seal away Siva, a self-replicating nano virus that consumes all matter and enhances technology. Saladin Forge became the last Iron Lord and dedicated his life honoring his friends sacrifice with the in-game Iron Banner tournament. But Winter has returned to the Cosmodrome. Several Fallen scavengers from the House of Devils have breached the Plaguelands where Siva was locked away. These Splicers have not only unleashed Siva, but transformed their bodies into abominations of flesh and metal. It’s up to you to assist Lord Saladin in reforming the Iron Lords, combat the Devil Splicers, and to destroy Siva for good.

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Similar to The Taken King, Rise of Iron follows a three act structure to how players experience all of its content. The first act is the main campaign which will take about two hours to complete. The theme of nostalgia runs through the campaign as players discover the past of the Iron Lords while re-experiencing the Cosmodrome in a new light. The story itself lacks the humor and fleshed out characters found in The Taken King. Lord Saladin and Shiro-4 are one note compared to Cayde-6 and the dry voice acting only exacerbates how undercooked is the threat of Siva. Nolan North’s Ghost is still great at delivering witty banter, but this straight forward approach to storytelling feels reminiscent of the bad storytelling found in the original version of Destiny.

Once the campaign is finished, the second act of exploration and questing opens up. The frost covered and Siva infested Plaguelands serves as the new patrol area with its own secrets for players to discover. One such secret is the new “Archon’s Forge” arena that’s a hybrid of Public Events and the Court of Oryx but lacks the lasting appeal of either. To activate the Forge, players need to find a Siva Offering that’s randomly dropped from Splicers. Each Offering varying in difficultly and rarity but the procedure is to just kill everything (including the champion) before the time runs. It’s a fun excursion that sadly languishes from bad game design. The rewards players earn from victory are good but isolating the forge at the far end of the Plaguelands doesn’t make it convenient for players to fight together of going it alone. Compounding this issue is that  if you die without someone to revive you, you’ll respawn outside of the locked arena so going it alone is not viable for the more difficult encounters.

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The Iron Axe Relic that spawns in the Plaguelands is as fun to use as it is hot.

Aside from the Forge, the handful of new Quests and strike missions are quite fun. Exotic Weapon quests like reforging the Ghjallarhorn and the Khvostav harken back to my earliest days of playing Destiny which tugged at my heartstrings. That feeling of nostalgia permeates every facet of Rise of Iron including a remix of the Sepiks Prime strike. Speaking of which, The Wretched Eye is the only new strike mission and it’s not very good. From the long slog through a missile base all the way to the final boss who has an indestructible blind ogre chasing after players, it’s just a frustrating exercise in tedium with each section testing the patience of random players. Grinding through strikes is the only sure way to gear up for the third act of Rise of Iron, the Raid.

The Raids are the real meat and potatoes to the Destiny experience and Wrath of the Machine is no exception. This newest six person Raid is the easiest in terms of mechanics but difficult in terms of team execution. Siva Charges, the raid mechanic introduced in Wrath of the Machine, are live bombs that players need to throw at bosses in order to weaken them. Coordinating when to pick up the Charges and when to throw them to maximize damage is key to conquering each encounter. Player agility is also important as multiple objectives, jumping puzzles, and giant Siege Engines will test players ability to quickly multitask with five other players. Loaded with great set pieces, a very rewarding loot system, and some infamous secrets, Wrath of the Machine is my favorite raid in the entire history of Destiny.

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Have fun doing math as you and five others try to unlock the elusive raid pulse riffle, the  Outbreak Prime.

While the cooperative experience is lacking, the competitive multiplayer mode has gotten a surprising shot in the arm. New with Rise of Iron are four multiplayer maps (one of which is a PlayStation Exclusive) that are designed with close quarters and mid range skirmishes in mind. The clear stand out is the new Supremacy mode offers an interesting spin on Call of Duty’s “Kill Confirmed” mode. Players collect crests from fallen enemies to score points or prevent friendly crests from being scored. Each kill and capture nets one point each but long range sniping is not ideal for capturing tiny crests the size of engrams. There’s a surprising amount of depth in this mode places emphasis on team coordination, high mobility, and risk taking.

By far, the best new feature added to Rise of Iron is the long requested Private Crucible Matches. Want to play 6v6 Elimination with your clanmates on one of the larger maps? You can do that. Want to play Inferno 1v1 Control on the smaller maps? You can do that too. There’s plenty of fun game options available to all players but it’s not as robust as the custom game settings found in shooters like Halo. You can’t change the spawn location of items like Heavy and Special Ammo. You can’t have unlimited time. You can’t infinite ammo. And unless everyone agrees not to pick up Heavy Ammo, you can’t disable heavy Ammo. Despite the small amount of customizable tweaks, there’s a lot of joy to be had with plenty of potential for improvement. I can see players using this feature to practice Trials of Osiris strategies, make Machinima, or just goof off with Supers and Rockets in one of the Mayhem modes.

Constant Grinding

Destiny’s end game is all about getting better gear but the grind in Rise of Iron is very harsh. The infusion system and loot tables from Year Two remain intact but the way loot drops has changed. Uncommon green engrams now populate the world for consumable fodder and the rare blue engrams can also produce exotic gear. The problem with this is that green engrams drop too often and the light level of blue engrams that drop just as often don’t reach much higher than 365. Legendary and Sublime purple engrams are where it’s at when it comes to reaching the new maximum light level but that grind from 340 to 360 takes hours of grinding through strike playlists or the Archon’s Forge. This frustrating grinding that feels reminiscent from Destiny’s first year ultimately ruins the simplicity and efficiency of the leveling systems fixed in The Taken King.

Facilitating the grind to the highest light level are some quality of life improvements Bungie implemented to Destiny starting with patch 2.40. Public Events now grant players more Legendary Marks and other material upon daily completion. The Meaning of War crucible bounties have been replaced with a consolidated weekly bounty that offers the same opportunities to earn loot. Completing a Heroic Strike once a week grants a Radiant Treasure Chest (more on that later) but the Hoard Chest that now appears at the end of each strike is the real game changer. Unlocking these chests grants players for strike specific legendary gear but getting Skeleton Keys to unlock said chests are far and few between.

The Iron Temple is the newest and by far the largest social space added to Destiny. The wolves roaming around the snow covered temple steps and inner sanctum that houses giant Iron Lord statues perfectly conveys the Arthurian aesthetic of the expansion. In addition to the basic necessities like the vault and postmaster, Guardians can earn new Iron Lord artifacts from quests given by the new Cryptarch. There’s plenty of secrets hidden in this massive social area but that doesn’t make up for the lack of faction vendors which prevents it from being a substitute for the Tower.

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The Iron Temple is also the new home of the Iron Banner monthly tournament where players can earn new gear for their guardian.

The Eververse Trading Company has some new emotes up for sale but making Radiant Treasure Chests part of the microtransactions are heinous. These chests contain ornaments that alters the appearance of specific gear and Silver Dust that enables the cosmetic change. Dismantling an ornament you don’t need earns one piece of Silver Dust but players may have to buy Radiant Chests with real money to get more Ornaments aside from the ones that drop once per week by finishing a Heroic Strike. These microtransactions are not an optional feature since they’re built into the game, but you don’t have to buy chests.

A Refined Edge, An Old Sword 

If Destiny: The Taken King was the massive overhaul Destiny needed, then Rise of Iron is just more Destiny. There’s enough new content to justify its $30 price tag but it all feels derivative to other games. Rise of Iron is steeped in nostalgia but its flawed design harkens back to the original Destiny when it first launched. It only took The Taken King to show everyone the kind of game Destiny could be but Rise of Iron feels more like a stop gap for Destiny 2 so it’s going to be anyone’s guess if history repeats itself. For now though, Rise of Iron is a serviceable expansion to a core game that’s starting to show its age. If you have the time, some buddies, and perseverance to grind, the end game truly opens up with the new Raid. It’s just disappointing that the overall package is overshadowed by what’s the past and restricted by what might happen in the future.

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