NOTE: The following are initial impressions of Destiny: Rise of Iron based on completing release week content. We'll update where needed as new content rolls out.
Long before Destiny released in September 2014, the game was guided toward launch by two years of unparalleled hype and anticipation. Bungie's mega-successful partnership with Microsoft had turned Halo into one of the video game industry's most recognizable as well as profitable franchise - and fans were eager to see what the studio could deliver when they broke-out on their own and developed an entirely new sci-fi shooter experience (available to both PlayStation and Xbox gamers). Unfortunately, initial reaction to Destiny at launch was mixed - with many reviewers and players suggesting the project was, at that point, more proof of concept than a fully-formed retail-ready experience.
Once most players had completed the story campaign and hit max character levels, the active player base steadily declined; yet, a core group of gamers remained committed to the title and learned that where Destiny fell short in certain areas, Bungie had produced an experience with high replayability. In fact, most fans would agree the fun doesn't actually begin until players reach end-game activities.
In the two years since that time, Bungie has continued to refine and hone the Destiny experience, taking feedback, improving mechanics, fleshing out the game world, and putting more resources into presenting a cinematic story - culminating in the release of "Rise of Iron" (aka Destiny Year 3). The "Rise of Iron" expansion is a relatively small content drop (bigger than either Year 1 expansion but smaller than the Year 2 "Taken King" package); though, offers enough content to reenergize existing fans as well as cracks the current progression path open - providing an accessible entry point for new (or returning) players. It's an improvement in every way over what came before, adding value to an already robust package, but the new expansion is limited in scope (so far) and will not drastically shake-up the Destiny formula or lingering shortcomings that have prevented Bungie from connecting with a significantly wider audience.
What's Included in Rise of Iron?
The latest expansion can be purchased as a digital add-on for existing game owners (at $30) or as part of the all-in-one Destiny: The Collection (at $60) - and both are a good value. The Collection gives gamers access to everything in Destiny Years 1-3 - which, for players who have continued with Destiny since release, totals close to $150 in game content. Pre-"Rise of Iron" missions (even raids) don't drop current level gear but they are still fun to explore - and offer, arguably, some of the game's best experiences (especially the original Destiny raid: "Vault of Glass"). That's all to say, newcomers will get a lot of content for a low price - even if they can only gear-up with loot from the current expansion.
Officially announced new "Rise of Iron" activities and features include:
- New Story Campaign & Quests
- New Armor and Gear
- New Weapons
- New Raid (available 9/23 with Hard Mode releasing later in 2016)
- Maximum Light Increase
- New Strike (& 1 Updated Strike)
- New Plaguelands Zone & Social Space
- New Crucible Mode & Maps
- New Enemy Faction and Bosses
The new "Rise of Iron" threat, the Fallen Splicers (a Fallen faction that has augmented armor and weapons with a mysterious material known as SIVA) provide new mechanics and fresh ways to challenge players but are not quite as big a leap as the Taken monsters featured in the previous add-on. The revamped Fallen are tougher but retain most of the same abilities as the non-Splicer variants and do not fundamentally alter how players approach combat encounters.
As in "The Taken King", "Rise of Iron" (both the expansion and Collection version) come with boosters for new and returning players that will bring a character to the current max - so that they can jump right into the new content (without needing to play through Year 1 or 2 story missions to unlock the newest content). It's also possible, and a frequently requested feature, that Bungie will re-level prior raid activities with tougher enemies and, subsequently, better loot - providing added incentive for newcomers and veterans to visit legacy activities.
A purchase of The Collection or "Rise of Iron" is a ticket to everything the content team will roll out in Year 3 - meaning buyers will be treated to new activities months after the initial "Rise of Iron" offerings.
The Destiny: Rise of Iron Experience
Returning Destiny players will have some idea of what to expect from the expansion, read: they should already know the story campaign will be short and end-game quests will require a lot of loot grinding. Still, "Rise of Iron" sports one the most coherent story campaign in the series so far - turning one of Destiny's most iconic heroes (Lord Saladin, last of the Iron Lords) into a tough mentor as well as an empathetic window into the series mythology. Like Eris (in "The Dark Below") and Cayde-6 (in "The Taken King"), Saladin spends the majority of his time in "Rise of Iron" on the sidelines, sending the player's guardian into battle, but Bungie imbues the character with nuance, personal regret, and relevant backstory to make the narrative "feel" important at a human level - in addition to standard "save the world" motivations.
The new Wretched Eye strike (a mix of Shield Brothers and Omnigul-like gameplay) and revamped Devil's Lair (with new boss fight mechanics) will offer fun challenges throughout Year 3 when either mission lands as the weekly end-game Nightfall activity. Neither mission presents a particularly inventive story moment or major overhaul in mechanics, the goal is still to track and kill a damage-sponge boss, but longtime fans will, no doubt, enjoy the additions nonetheless - if for no other reason than they inject a bit more variety into the strike playlist rotation.
While Wrath of the Machine God is now available, it'll be weeks before we really know if the new raid is both enjoyable and repayable - not to mention whether the activity is approachable enough for newcomers or freshman raiders to jump into. Even on normal difficulty the last raid (King's Fall) was an often grueling experience for a lot of players - especially those without enough time to learn the core raid's mechanics inside and out along with whatever strategy was most popular at the time. The difficulty of the activity ultimately led to exclusion in the game community, as many experienced raiders became less open to training newbies, making it difficult for newer players to get into King's Fall as well as procure higher-end gear from the raid that would, subsequently, make the activity easier to navigate next round.
Bungie has since made it clear that they developed Wrath of the Machine God to be a bit more approachable as well as less time-consuming - in the hopes that more people will get to learn and appreciate that piece of the content - the studio has largely succeeded in their goal. Second only to The Vault of Glass, Wrath of the Machine God is easily one of Destiny's most exciting and fun raids. Certain raid mechanics (especially throwing bombs) are repeated in several encounters but there's enough variety and enough different roles within the various boss fights to provide challenge and room to grow - whether players are first-time or veteran raiders. Experienced players can still look forward to a "Hard Mode" version of the raid as well as expert challenge events in the coming months but, in the meantime, veterans would be smart to guide new and returning players through Wrath of the Machine God. After all, raiding is, more many players, the premium experience of any new Destiny release - one that only about 15% of Destiny players have ever completed.
Destiny: Rise of Iron End-Game
Retaining the progression system from "The Taken King" spring update, "Rise of Iron" ensures that players always have opportunities to progress and increase the strength of their gear. Early indications suggest that Bungie has slowed progression down slightly (preventing veteran players from power-leveling their characters with stored-up loot) but the studio has indicated they'll be including more "events" and activities to help players improve their gear without resorting to "grinding."
Iron Banner (a monthly PvP event), Trials of Osiris (a weekly PvP activity), The Wrath of The Machine God (Destiny's latest raid), and even the Sparrow Racing League (hover bike races) will provide gamers different avenues to progress - in comparison to the early days of Destiny where grinding strikes or multiplayer matches were the only way for casual players to prepare for higher-level content (which, as suggested, prevented most players from ever participating in a raid, for example).
In addition, "Rise of Iron" features plenty of collectibles for dedicated players at end-game: strike specific loot, new and returning exotic weapons and armor, slick armor sets, as well as customizable weapon skins, known as "ornaments," that change the appearance of several iconic exotic weapons. None of that content will mean much to anyone who is strictly looking to play through the story campaign but for gamers who intend to spend a significant amount of time in multiplayer, raiding, or replaying story content, recent additions to the Destiny arsenal mean the biggest and most diverse set of gear in the game's three year history.
For those on the fence, "Rise of Iron" is, above all else, more Destiny - meaning there's no reason to jump in (or back in) if Bungie isn't moving the series in a direction that excites you. Players that expected a major overhaul of the core Destiny experience may find "Rise of Iron" to be underwhelming but established guardians and new gamers looking for a good deal (as well as those who have been reluctant to play catchup with their friends) should give serious thought to picking up "Rise of Iron." It's a great time to hop into Destiny or continue the journey to "become legend" - especially in preparation for Destiny 2 in 2017.
Destiny: Rise of Iron is now available on PS4 and Xbox One.