The latest instalment in Destiny's massive universe, Rise of Iron, is out this month and we visited Bungie HQ to take a look at the expansion and what it offers.
Rise of Iron doesn't take you on any major new excursions or even to exotic new locations, and instead it ties up a bag of previous threads. Rise of Iron is about The Iron Lords who protected The Traveller (the large ball-shaped creature that the base game is all about) before there were Guardians. Iron Lords consisted of eight men and women and they lived in The Iron Temple in ancient Russia, far up in the snowy mountains. The expansion starts with Lord Saladin (who has hosted the Iron Banner since Destiny was released) asking for our help. Apparently there are strange things happening on Felwinter Peak, where the temple is situated.
And so you head off up into the snowy landscape and, lo and behold, enemies pop up immediately. Fallen are trying to get up the mountain too, but their motivations remain unclear. After your adversaries are eliminated you're asked to go into the gondola and ride up even higher. Further up the mountain you meet Destiny's new enemy type for the first time, and it's none other than the old arch-enemy Sepiks Prime, who has been revived by some mysterious force.
The game's new enemy is a group of Fallen called Splicers. They have come for the ancient SIVA technology that raged around the earth before the Iron Lords put a stop to it. SIVA is described as self-replicating nanotechnology and naturally it has self-regenerating powers. Humanity once tried to take advantage of its power but failed, and now our enemies are after the same devastating tech. When we got to talk to the man behind the design of Rise of Iron, Chris Barrett, we learned that the theme of snow and the fearsome red colouring of SIVA is a conscious design decision to create clear and contrast visuals. This works amazingly well and even though the enemies are ultimately re-skinned Fallen, they feel like a new threat to the universe. We won't talk any more about the game's story and the basic themes, to keep away from the spoilers, but it's not only new missions that come with Rise of Iron, but also a couple of mechanical changes to the game as well.
Main missions and other side activities seem to be everywhere in Rise of Iron. A brand new zone called "The Plaguelands" is available to explore and there should be lots of secrets to discover. A completely new social-area is up in the mountains as well and it's the place we took back in the first mission. Here you can access all sorts of important people to get new missions, get loot, or you can dance a little with the other players you meet there. In the Plaguelands there is also a brand new activity, Archon's Forge, which is similar to the Court of Oryx that we visited in The Taken King, where a player activates an event and then anyone who is nearby can jump in and help. We got to test what is called Tier 1, and we had to kill enemies while a gauge slowly filled up. If someone who attended the activity died they were removed and locked out and could only get back by using a special key that you can get by doing various other activities in the game world. The lava-covered area is threatening on its own, but Archon's Forge adds challenging, fast-paced action as enemies pour in from all sides.
A new Strike is included in the expansion as well, called The Wretched Eye, which includes the new enemy types. The final boss in this mission is clearly different from other bosses we've seen and put the emphasis firmly on cooperation. The first Strike that many already played in the beta, Sepiks Prime, has received a remaster too, featuring new mechanics and enemies. It's a little nostalgic trip when you return to places you may not have visited for a while.
As expected with an expansion of this type, it will of course add lots of new weapons, armour and gadgets to improve and dress your character in. The game's light level is raised in Rise of Iron from 335 to 400, and to get there you will need to collect everything you can find. Just about everything you equip your character with builds against your light level and it's therefore important to keep track of armour, weapons and other types of in-game paraphernalia. You will be able to keep all your favourite devices, however, infused through the system that landed during the previous expansion, The Taken King. It works in that if you find a weapon that has a higher level than the weapon that you like to use, you can easily (for a fee) transfer the new weapon's light level to your old and thus feel that you are still making progress without having to sacrifice the things you like to use. Of course there is new armour and fresh weapons to use, and something that Bungie has been very good at in Destiny is creating unique and exciting guns, and in this sense Rise of Iron is no exception.
Another feature of Rise of Iron is new and updated artefacts. Previously these were useless gadgets with small bonuses, but now there are completely new and unique perks associated with them. There are advantages to using them in both story missions and the Crucible's PvP arena. For example, one makes it so you get an extra grenade and another that you can temporarily get your enemy to fight by your side. How these can be combined with other perks in the game and other players remains to be seen but we would imagine it will produce hilarious synergies in the coming months.
In addition to what looks a meaty campaign (length wise it should be slightly shorter than The Taken King), Bungie has once again made sure to sprinkle content everywhere by littering the game with secrets. Exactly how all this will work will become more clear after the game is out, when players are discovering more and more hidden treats. It's also worth highlighting that a new Raid also comes with Rise of Iron, but Bungie has remained tight-lipped on that front for now, and we didn't hear a peep other than the fact that the minimum Light level to get into the raid is 360, and that it's releasing on Friday September 23, three days after the expansion.
Destiny's PvP mode is getting a big update in Rise of Iron too. First and foremost, private games are a feature that many have been screaming for throughout the last few years, and the feature finally makes its grand entrance. The ability to set up your own rules and match conditions and challenge friends, or even hold regular tournaments, will obviously be a huge bonus, and Bungie announced at the same time that they are going into the esports world with Destiny. In private matches you'll have the ability to control things like the map, the game mode to be played, and whether the Light level has an effect or not.
In the new game mode, Supremacy, you don't count the number of dead opponents, but each person you kill in combat drops a crest which you must pick up in order to get the points. It works the same way as Kill Confirmed in Call of Duty and it's practically a requirement to run around with at least one teammate by your side. If your opponent emerges victorious from a firefight, your partner quickly picks up the crest you've dropped and thus blocks the point, and they might even be able to pick up the battle where you left off. The dynamics of Destiny's multiplayer matches should be more balanced, especially considering modes where snipers have often dominated.
Rise of Iron comes complete with four new maps (three for Xbox One players). We had the chance to test the Floating Gardens of Venus and Icarus (the PlayStation exclusive) on Mercury, and both felt like good additions. The other two maps we didn't see, but they're called Skyline and The Last Exit, and they're located on Mars and Venus respectively. Along with the new maps and Supremacy there will also be new weapon balancing, and old classic weapons like the feared Thorn and the rocket launcher of legend Gjallahorn make their return.
Destiny: Rise of the Iron looks set to add a wholesome dose of content that many fans have longed for and that updates the multiplayer portion with some massive new features. With more focus on a cinematic narrative, more context to the stories and feedback from the characters, it looks like Rise of the Iron will continue to push Destiny in the same direction as The Taken King began last year. Bungie has also promised that there are a couple of events planned for the autumn and winter, not to mention Halloween event Festival of the Lost is set to return, as is Sparrow Racing League (SRL). All of this will happen after Destiny: Rise of Iron lands on September 20 on PS4 and Xbox One.