Destiny's fourth expansion is a more modest affair than The Taken King in terms of its size and scope. Its story is centered on the player's ascension to a next generation of Iron Lord, a multi-mission adventure that largely takes place in a brand new Earth zone dubbed the Plaguelands.
The Fallen are back, and this time they're more dangerous than ever. They've managed to get their claws on some Golden Age technology called SIVA, a self-replicating nano-virus that they're using to enhance themselves and weapons to gain an advantage in their never-ending war against humanity. Not only that, but they've managed to breach the wall surrounding the Cosmodrome in Old Russia, and it's up to the player to drive them back.
The expansion begins with a mission where you're assaulting Felwinter Peak to create a bridgehead so that a counter-offensive can be mounted against this new SIVA-empowered Fallen faction called the Splicers. It's a great opening to the game that starts with a ride up to the mountaintop on a rusting cable car, and culminates in a classic Destiny shoot-out when you reach its peak.
I'd forgotten about how exciting Destiny's set pieces can be. The fast-moving enemies aren't easy targets to take down, and you need to keep on your toes and stay mobile to ensure you aren't overwhelmed. It took me a few minutes to get into the swing of things, and then I started to remember the routine of hit-and-run tactics – popping out from behind cover and shooting at enemy targets before running to a safe spot to decide what to go after next, and recovering health if needed. It makes for a game that feels dynamic and challenging – at least it does to me, a relative Destiny casual.
With Felwinter Peak taken, the location becomes the expansion's social hub where you get to talk to Lord Saladin, the last remaining Iron Lord, who outlines the plan of attack. What transpires is a fairly short, but quite tough series of storyline missions that will probably take an average solo player the better part of an evening to work through. That said, I think Destiny experts will probably be able to complete them all in a few hours, especially if they team up with other Guardians.
The missions themselves are quite varied, and although some of their fundamental mechanics feel recycled from earlier expansions, I nevertheless found them fairly entertaining to play through. Enemies are generally fast-moving and smart, while the tougher characters remain bullet sponges that require a good deal of patience to take down. In other words, it's very much Destiny in terms of its style and feel. Those who were hoping for something a little different might be disappointed, but I think that for the most part, Destiny fans will enjoy the storyline campaign's action, short though it may be.
There's a trio of gun emplacements to take down that's essentially another mountaintop set piece, and a mission that involves working through a fairly large open-world area before things tighten up and you enter a complex where the action becomes a little more intense and close-quarters. One particular mission that I did find quite tough involved battling hordes of captive Thrall, which rush the player in waves. Here, it's all about finding the right place to make a stand in what is ostensibly an area-type environment, and that involves a lot of movement to ensure you don't get overwhelmed. It makes for a really tense and dynamic battle that had my controller creaking and groaning because I was gripping it so hard.
Once you reach the end of the storyline missions, the game opens up patrols in the Plaguelands, and a new strike, the Wretched Eye. Those, along with the new Archon's Forge public event, and the latest raid, Wrath of the Machine that opens on Friday, essentially represent the endgame PvE content for Rise of Iron.
I tackled the new Wretched Eye strike last night, and was lucky enough to get matched with two very good players who made short work of it. I could barely keep up with them as they blew through the enemies on the approach to the strike's final encounter, and then took down the boss with relative ease. Perhaps I might have a tougher time of it with other players, but it seems a quite straightforward fight that left me feeling a little underwhelmed.
Indeed, I'm feeling that way about Rise of Iron overall so far. I certainly wasn't expecting an expansion as epic and substantial as The Taken King, but even so, the story aspect of Rise of Iron definitely does feel a little on the lean side. What's there is fun, but it just left me wanting more. But then, I haven't yet gotten into the endgame content, and that's perhaps where there will be more meat. There are artifacts to collect that imbue your character with special abilities that sound quite interesting, plenty of new weapons to collect, and, hopefully, a lot of new secrets to discover. Plus I have yet to sample the new PvP additions that the game has to offer.
Last night I journeyed into the Plaguelands and spent a good few hours running patrol missions. The new Earth zone is quite expansive, and incorporates some varied and interesting landscaping, from the rusting hulk of an absolutely massive broken ship to Archon's Forge, where lava flows across the snowy scenery into giant pits. It makes for a quite beautifully desolate place that I really enjoyed exploring.
The patrol missions themselves are classic Destiny, and feature objectives such as killing a certain number of enemies, collecting items, and traveling to specific points on the landscape to scan positions or survey the surroundings. Combine those with the public quests that seem to spawn fairly regularly, and you have a zone that feels quite dynamic and full of activity. It's not quite a warfront, but it's dangerous enough to keep you on your toes as you work your way around the environment.
I'm not sure exactly how long the Plaguelands will keep me entertained before the repetition of the patrol missions begins to grate, but there do seem to be additional endgame quests and secrets to uncover that will help keep the zone feeling interesting and relevant for quite some time. What also helps is that loot drops are quite generous, which makes the game feel rewarding to play. In Destiny's early days, loot was a relative rarity, but that definitely doesn't seem to be the case now. I've been picking up plenty of interesting items while I'm out and about in the Plaguelands, and as a consequence, I've been upgrading my light level slowly, but surely. It's giving me a really good feeling of progression, and makes me want to keep on playing.
As I mentioned yesterday, my first foray into the Wretched Eye left me a little underwhelmed, so I tried it again last night, and actually had more fun on my second attempt. The two players I was matched with weren't quite as adept as the first pair I fought alongside, and that resulted in the strike feeling a little more challenging than it did the first time around. It took much longer to take down the boss, and that meant we had more time exposed to the additional threats that are introduced during the final encounter. As a result, all three of us died at least once, and that helped create a quite frantic firefight that had a genuine sense of urgency about it as we attempted to revive one another while under pressure. It made for an enjoyably stressful battle that was messy, but where we did prevail in the end. It just goes to show how much one's mileage can vary in terms of tackling content with different players. Ultimately, I think if you're an expert player, the Wretched Eye will probably feel quite trivial to you, but if you're a casual Destiny player grouped with other similar-level participants, you'll find the proceedings tougher, and consequently more entertaining.
One aspect of Rise of Iron I haven't yet talked about is its PvP. I've dipped in and out of Destiny's player versus player content semi-regularly over the past couple of years, and I've always found the Crucible enjoyable, even if it has felt quite brutal at times. Diving into it last night, it felt a little more balanced than it has been in the recent past, and by that, I mean that enemies weren't killing me almost instantly, and I generally had enough uptime during firefights to at least feel like I was contributing to my team's efforts.
Supremacy is the new mode that's introduced in this expansion, and it should be familiar to anyone who's played the Call of Duty series. It's basically a variant of Kill Confirmed, a Team Deathmatch mode in which you score points by collecting the crests dropped by eliminated enemies – or deny the opposition points by grabbing a crest from a downed friendly player. It makes for a slightly more nuanced fight than a straight-up Team Deathmatch, because it's all about staying alive long enough to garner crests. There are some interesting tactical elements you can employ too, such as hanging back and using a crest as bait so you can ambush an unsuspecting player as they rush to pick it up.
While playing in the Crucible, I sampled two of Rise of Iron's three new PvP maps. Last Exit takes place in an abandoned subway station, whose warren of tunnels and abandoned trains feel quite claustrophobic, while Skyline mixes open spaces with tight indoor areas. Both are entertaining to run around, and create slightly different flavors of skirmish. Skyline's indoor area makes for some intense close-quarters battles, while its open areas offer long lines of site for those handy with a sniper rifle. Last Exit is more of a mid-range map, where most of the conflict plays out in medium-sized areas that are connected by tunnels and pathways.
Although I've only played in the Crucible for a couple of hours so far, Rise of Iron seems to have ushered in a PvP environment that feels in good shape. Custom games are now available if you want to set up and host your own matches, and weapons have been balanced so that you can pretty much bring whatever you want to the party and feel like you stand a chance. With the addition of Supremacy, the Crucible offers a broad range of modes and game types, giving PvP fans plenty of activities to keep them busy, from free-for-all rumbles to a variety of team-based games. For what it's worth, I'm definitely going to be spending more time in the Crucible than I have done in the past – it just feels like it's in a really good place right now.
Yesterday, I ended up feeling a little underwhelmed by Rise of Iron – mostly due to my disappointment at its all-too-short story campaign. But today, having gotten into the endgame content, I'm feeling more positive. Patrolling the Plaguelands was an enjoyable experience, and it's clear that there are quite a number of objectives that I have yet to experience – especially when I open up Rise of Iron's in-game Record Book and see the numerous challenges it sets out for me to complete. I like that the Record Book essentially gives some structure to the endgame content, from specific PvP targets to hit to PvE objectives. So far I've only ticked off a few of them – meaning there's plenty more for me to do.
I've enjoyed my week with Rise of Iron. Its very short story campaign is definitely the expansion's weakest aspect. Most of its missions are challenging and enjoyable to play through, but there's just not enough of them, and the story reaches its conclusion at a point where it feels like it's just beginning to build up a really good head of steam.
The other thing that disappointed me about the campaign was that it lacked the engaging chatter that made The Taken King's cut scenes and moments of dialog genuinely enjoyable to watch and listen to. Sure, the intermission sequences are all extremely well rendered, but the characters come across as a little too deadpan serious, feeling rather like they did in the original Destiny release. It's just a little too dry. That said, the story is well articulated, and I'm sure Destiny lore buffs will enjoy listening to it. For me, though, it just lacked the depth of character that made The Taken King's scripting a real winner.
Rise of Iron's focus is on the endgame, and in that respect it delivers a robust set of activities, especially for hardcore fans who love collecting items and completing tasks. There are exotic weapons to find and make, a challenging new raid to gear up for, and an in-game Record Book that lays out plenty of objectives to keep players busy over the coming weeks. The expansion's generous loot drops also ensure that playing the game feels fun and rewarding, and there's definitely a really good feeling of character progression as you work through the story, and transition into the patrol missions and new strike.
Complementing that PvE content is a really solid PvP environment that I think is Destiny's best so far. It's been fettled, tweaked, and built out over the past couple of years to offer an impressive suite of modes and game types that deliver exciting, well-balanced skirmishes and battles. There's also a host of different maps to ensure you don't get bored easily – and this latest expansion's additions are particularly good.
The Taken King was always going to be a hard act to follow, and although Rise of Iron doesn't match the very high standards of that expansion, I think it offers enough to satisfy the Destiny faithful – even if its story mode leaves one wanting more.
Although Rise of Iron's story campaign comprises some quite exciting and intense missions, it's really short and only takes a few hours to burn through. Fortunately, though, the expansion's endgame content offers a host of activities and objectives to keep players busy, with weapons, collectibles and secrets to uncover, and a well balanced PvP environment to enjoy. It all adds up to a solid expansion that should satisfy the Destiny faithful, even if it doesn't exactly wow them.