We need to talk about Destiny. We are now entering year three of what was originally conceived as an ten-year plan. Bungie, the maker of the Halo series has created a world which provides gamers around the globe with what are arguably the finest shooty mechanics available on consoles. They have done so alongside a wealth of content delivered by way of the original game, expansions - like The Taken king and this, Rise of Iron - and free additions. The campaigns to date have been mixed, the strikes invariably fun even after multiple playthroughs and the raids outstanding entertainment for those strong enough to tackle one or more. The multiplayer experience has benefitted from a variety of modes, changed-up over time to avoid over-familiarity and of course the wonderful jump and shoot looped gameplay at its heart is, as mentioned, second to none. Ultimately the loot has been what’s driven people ever onwards and although the way we get this, what we get and how you manage or upgrade it has changed, that core incentive presents reason enough to carry on fulfilling your destiny as a Guardian, or now, an Iron Lord.
And yet, at the same time this most current of expansions, Rise of Iron, feels like a step or three backwards. In part this is due to the fact it has evidently been put together in haste once it was clear the real Destiny 2 would not be ready for release in 2016 (it has since been announced for next year). Before the launch of Destiny originally there were a significant number of late changes to the game and its story and mythology, all obvious in the final release which underwhelmed outside of the aforementioned mechanics. So hurriedly putting together a full-on, mid-priced expansion should have rung alarm bells. But then, when the alternative is to have nothing and either see fans walk away from the game they still play today after two years, or lose momentum on the message ahead of the second game’s proper release, it seems a sensible business strategy - if not the best in terms of artistic game development, which is kind of what we care about at The Digital Fix. Fundamentally though if you’re an experienced Destiny player what you will get with Rise of Iron is a somewhat flat experience; one which makes you long for 2017 and the new game, because the old one is starting to feel like more of the same old.
Whereas The Taken King was effectively resetting the game with its new level cap, brand new story told well, new characters, entertaining dialogue, the recasting of Ghost and an alternate experience system sitting on top of the XP level itself (in the form of light) what Rise of Iron does is provide expanded content. That’s all that it feels like, anyway. There are new things going on and some aspects of the game have changed but it feels like extra levels rather than something novel when taken as a complete experience.
In terms of what you actually get we can start with the five campaign missions which comprise the single-player story. As a piece of narrative it engages without ever feeling like anything special. Jarringly it seems as if the writers have been watching Game of Thrones and wanted to do that in space. Seriously: your main quest-giver is the last of the Iron Lords and he has a wolf and you might become more than just a Guardian if you succeed - you might become an Iron Lord yourself. The missions themselves are actually really well done. You do have one which ends like the standard bullet-sponge boss fight of old, but around that there are some lovely winter landscapes, varied set-pieces and a devastatingly entertaining foray down underground in the final throes of your quest to succeed Lord Saladin. Alongside the missions we have a new social hub full of snow and wolves, extra weaponry, the ability to upgrade your Taken King weapons further (rather than have to forget about them as you did with your Year One favourites), an increased light level cap, novel strikes and a high challenge raid, of which a harder version will appear later this year. The package is filled out well and we’ve not even mentioned the new multiplayer mode (kill your enemies and collect their crests), maps and ability to customise games now rather than just join ones readily available. There of course are after-campaign quests (some which result in what will be seen as fan favourite rewards aping early-game weapons and the like) and some new abilities for true Iron Lords whereby you can do something new and funky, like throw multiple grenades - in place of something else - but lose your super in its stead. It’s a comprehensive package and good value. It’s just not anything new.
Excitingly this is the first Destiny experience only for the current generation of consoles. Whilst that is a pain for those still saving the galaxy on their PS3 or Xbox 360, it does free up Bungie to make the most of the hardware power they want to use. It can be seen throughout the campaign with what seems like more expansive arenas with more verticality to go alongside the horizontal traversal. Things feel a little more cinematic and more thunderous. Older areas and levels have been altered to take into account the new threats and of course patrols and public events still abound but littered with enemies old and new alike.
With Rise of Iron we’re witnessing the end of Destiny as it exists today. There’s no doubting the quality of the gameplay on offer, nor the variety. Players now have multiple campaigns, lots of multiplayer maps and modes, all kinds of quests, raids and strikes. Combine this with the social hubs, the loot grind, the upgrade paths on offer and the variety of armour and weaponry - as well as designs - we have to play with, the smorgasbord is delightful. This is all without mentioning that this is the game within the MMO Bungie has put in place here, to some effect at least. If you’re new to Destiny you will have hundreds of hours of fun here. If you’re an old hand, you’ll still have hundreds of hours of fun. For that we should applaud. But it needs to be properly changed-up. The game is great but it’s the same game it was a year ago, and has the same mechanics it had two years ago. The second game proper was due now and it has not arrived. This is filler. Quality filler, but filler nonetheless.