Four expansions later, Destiny is a better game than it was at launch.
I fell short of claiming “it’s come a long way,” because a lot of the core issues with Bungie’s philosophy have persisted throughout the game’s now two-year history. Some of those problems still pop up in the new Rise of Iron expansion, but as a standalone release that rests on the laurels of two years of updates and patches, it’s growing on me.
Destiny: Rise of Iron (PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)
Released: September 20, 2016
MSRP: $29.99 (digital) / $59.99 (physical with previous expansions)
Bungie has stated from the get-go that Iron won’t be as meaty as Taken King (which was $40 compared to Iron‘s $30), and it’s pretty clear from the story content that this claim is accurate. Whereas Oryx took you on a fairly lengthy journey (by Destiny standards), you can expect to clear out Lord Saladin’s tasks (which includes the new Gjallarhorn questline) in several hours, and there aren’t any substantial mechanical changes like new subclasses.
The campaign will lead you through the snowy Felwinter Peak and the roughed-up Plaguelands, both of which are part of the Earth biome. And it’s here that I encountered my first big Bungie red flag — re-used content. Part of one mission will take you through the first launch quest, something a previous expansion has already done (to greater effect). The new enemy, SIVA (self-replicating nanotechnology), manifests itself inside of Fallen enemies — an existing faction that launched with the game. The models are slightly different and they pack a few new abilities to deal with, but it’s basically the same deal as the Taken and the Hive from Taken King. I like the Fallen just fine, but this is their second DLC appearance at this point.
While Felwinter is a nice little social hub zone that’s far more intriguing than the one included in House of Wolves (you can really see the Souls inspiration here in the shrine), the Plaguelands consists of roughly half familiar content mixed with completely new assets. The first time I saw the giant forges that dot the SIVA-ridden bits of the new area, I was actually taken aback by the amount of effort that went into designing them. It looks pretty amazing, almost like a moving piece of concept art — no doubt a bonus of not having to program for the PS3 and Xbox 360 platforms anymore (they were ditched entirely as of Rise of Iron).
But that was after Sparrowing through familiar territory, with landscapes that are essentially a mix of Earth and Venus. When Bungie gives us something we haven’t seen before, it aims to impress, but Destiny can’t escape the pitfall of re-using old stuff, even this far down the line. It’s a hard feeling to shake and it colors the entire DLC with a weird sense of anxiety. The same goes for the three one new strike (dungeon), and the two re-purposed legacy strikes (Sepiks Prime and Phogoth).
I can’t help but be charmed by the parts that do work, though — so much so that I’m more forgiving of the aforementioned stumbles. The forge, the new zone/activity that operates as a combination of Prison of Elders and the Court of Oryx, is better than both. As a giant arena it hosts both a seamless horde-like mode and a boss-rush pit in one, and allows the greatest number of Guardians (read: more than three, which is what 90% of the game’s PVE activities are limited to) to participate. On higher difficulties, it feels like an all-out slugfest, with new arcade-like hammer power-ups to pick up and plenty of opportunities to throw your weight around and save a run. It’s arguably the best single thing Bungie has created outside of raids.
Another new addition, the record book, is more like a streamlined Moment of Triumph menu. Now you can earn in-game achievements for more than just cosmetic upgrades, as each goal will move you closer to picking up a new piece of gear or a bag of goodies. And since it spans the main story, patrols, the raid, and PVP, anyone can feasibly unlock most of the book with any activity of their choice. The added cherry on top — it grants you gear for all three classes, so you don’t need to grind it out on your other two alts. What this does is not only explain some of the more esoteric things that only hardcore redditors will care to uncover, like how many Exotic weapon quests there are (four), but it also pushes players towards things they may not have even cared about. Several MMOs have adapted this strategy lately (including the new World of Warcraft expansion), and it’s brilliant.
I need more time with PVP, the Nightfalls, and the Wrath of the Machine raid (which is dropping this Friday) before I can offer a full verdict, but so far Destiny: Rise of Iron feels hefty enough to warrant the upgrade if you’re still blasting Fallen and Hive alike. If you’ve sworn off, you probably don’t need to come back.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]