The Taken King was always going to be a hard act to follow.
Year Three of Destiny brings a different mood to this evergreen shared world shooter, a smattering of story missions, one new strike, and a return to former glory with its new raid.
It is tricky, possibly even unfair, to evaluate a Destiny expansion without taking into account the entire package. Although listed as DLC, the same way as new maps and missions are for Call of Duty or Star Wars Battlefront, the impact of the new patrol area, enemy types, vendors and all manner of associated items and available bounties / quests is felt across the whole world.
This time last year Destiny looked weak and more than a little worn. The regular players had been holding out for a new raid especially, but the wealth of new content in The Taken King was an embarrassment of riches, devouring time across 'mains' and 'alts' for many months. TTK fixed so much of what forum warriors had considered broken, and polished it all with outstanding story-boarding, script writing and charismatic voice talent to carry it all off.
Rise of Iron, with its remote Iron Lords and guardian wolves approach, doesn't hit anywhere near as hard as the space opera that had integrated so well beforehand. There are fewer, if any, innovations, rather we have iterations on existing ideas to work its Rise of Iron theme. But, as we called out earlier, there's an argument that Bungie no longer needs to work on foundations. Now it's more about expanding the lore and finessing what we already enjoy.
In terms of narrative, the five main story missions are less than compelling. We revisit many familiar locations such as The Divide and Rocketyard of Old Russia, and Clovis Bray on Mars. The gameplay is also unremarkable in terms of how it mixes things up, depending too much on the nuances of the newly introduced enemy types to enliven straightforward shoot outs. They're fun to outmanoeuvre but, on first encounter, not really all that smart or surprising.
The main story is a whistle-stop tour of the Iron Lords versus Devil Splicer premise, telling us enough about the effects of SIVA; a "self-assembling, self-replicating nanotechnology" that has empowered the Fallen beyond their own comprehension. It's over quickly, too quickly, with a battle that just about qualifies as climactic, channelling as many guardians as possible into the new grind. To which end we have one new strike, plus one modified (Sepkis Prime), a keener focus on Crucible achievements (PvP) that includes a new (borrowed) mode, and of course the Fallen-themed Wrath of the Machines raid. On top of that we have a variation of the insanity that is The Court of Oryx in the form of Plaguelands public arena Archon Forge, and already a couple of Exotic Quests to earn Gjallarhorn and the Khvostov 7G-0X auto rifle.
The latter are involving but not so great, considering the lengths everyone went to acquire Year One Thorn and Year Two Boolean Gemini or Touch of Malice. But at this juncture it's time to stop complaining about Rise of Iron and focus on stuff that's honestly quite strong.
A PSN friend messaged us with "Destiny is very Destiny" to sum-up his first dozen hours in the Plaguelands and dealings with Lord Saladin, Shiro-4 and Tyra Karn in the Iron Temple. Which means, more or less, that if you hadn't had your fill of Daily Missions, Weekly Strikes, Nightfall and Raid duties in The Taken King, and boosting Factions with Bounties since that time, Devil Splicer territory is an excuse to indulge in considerably more of the same. However, if you feel as though you've 'done Destiny' and maybe it's time to move on to pastures new, well Rise of Iron struggles to lose its shackles of same-old, regardless of the prizes in store.
The new strike, The Wretched Eye, is almost equal to The Sunless Cell in terms of complexity and nightmarish final encounter. Folks have already found a way to cheese the Splicer Priest Kovik, which is a shame because the legitimate cat-and-mouse strategy is really satisfying. Strikes across the board are slightly more worthwhile with SIVA variations plus guaranteed loot if you have a Skeleton Key in your possession... which are dropped randomly in strikes. And so it goes on. We've already bagged the cloak we were after.
In Crucible, the new Supremacy mode is basically Kill Confirmed from Call of Duty - bagging Crests as trophies instead of dog tags from every elimination to score points. It's a classic game mode that has been iterated well for Destiny. Otherwise PvP feels like the same deal that it did before the update. It's an acquired taste, running at 30fps, with everyone blaming OP capabilities and/or weapons for their own dismal failures. If you want a fairer fight, there are now Private Matches to set up against friends or known enemies. You can also use this feature to scour the maps for dead ghosts that contain Destiny lore for your Grimoire.
The one, huge glaring omission from Rise of Iron, which became a game changer for The Taken King, is that there are no new subclasses. It's still Void, Solar and Arc to assist during strikes and raids, and mix things up in PvP. Broadly speaking, no matter which activity you prefer in Rise of Iron, it feels very similar to what you were doing before its release. There has been one small modifier introduced at least, the Iron Lord Artifacts, that provide cool benefits such as turning PvE enemies into allies, unlimited sprint, and reduced damage-over-time effects in the Crucible. Think of them as Perks in Call of Duty.
The raid, at least, is special and provides the excuse players need to reach the 385 level cap. It's accessible from 350, manageable from 361 (where the activity selection marker turns from Red/Hard to Green/Normal) but best attempted at 365 or above. While Wrath of the Machines isn't putting up the same degree of challenge as King's Fall, it is a fun co-operative adventure along the lines of Vault of Glass; a continuous journey full of spooky atmosphere.
In summary, Rise of Iron is on the whole a genuine disappointment, though it's not without redeeming moments. It panders very well to the existing community of players, providing a to-do list of grind-worthy events that will occupy each week before reset. But with players already conquering the new raid in record times, and reaching the max light-level cap inside of a few days owing to a system that's easy to exploit, it's tough to imagine all but the most dedicated players continuing beyond a couple of months. Somehow this already feels like the end of the road for Destiny before the true sequel. Having said that, it remains a road well worth travelling for the unique, unifying experience that it offers. Destiny continues to be a one-of-a-kind monument to what Bungie does best.
7 / 10
Enjoyable new raid, lots of small challenges to complete, a curious new set of gameplay modifiers in the form of Iron Lord Artifacts.
Only one new strike, lots of re-used content, short-lived unimaginative story missions, everyone and their dog now owns Gjallarhorn.