Destiny has had a troubled lifespan. However, the grindy shooter survived a tumultuous development period and a rocky first year, and things saw a dramatic upturn with the release of The Taken King in 2015. Now, a year on from that, we're heading back to where it all began – the Cosmodrome – in Destiny's second expansion Rise of Iron.
The Taken King as an expansion was all about reaction. The convoluted Light leveling mechanic was retuned, and and a more detailed quest system was implemented. Your ever-present Ghost companion got a new voice, with Peter Dinklage's work being replaced by new versions from Nolan North. Even the expansion’s story was reactionary, with Oryx coming to exact revenge after you killed his son, Crota, in the game’s first DLC pack, The Dark Below.
But while The Taken King was about reaction, Rise of Iron is all about legacy. The expansion doesn't try to overhaul any new systems or change the direction the game is heading in. That isn't surprising given the widespread rumours that Destiny 2 will be released next year, and that the majority of Bungie's developers are working on this sequel. With that in mind, Rise of Iron feels very much like Destiny's swan song – a final foray into a two-year-old title that's already full of so many memorable moments.
Diving into Rise of Iron, we're given the history of the fabled Iron Lords, with the sole survivor of that group becoming our mentor. Fittingly, the techno-virus that all-but eliminated the Iron Lords is the same threat we're up against now. It's best you don't blink while playing through the story, or you'll probably miss it. With an arc spanning just five missions, the techno-virus known as SIVA never has the chance to feel truly threatening. For something that almost wiped out the most powerful force humanity had, you'd expect more of a challenge for a single Guardian.
Once the story is complete, players are left in a kind of no man's land with another 20 Light levels to grind through before they can tackle the expansion's new raid, Wrath of the Machine. There are enough activities so there's always something to help you level, but the slow progress makes for quite the grind, whether you're running Strikes, the Archon's Forge arena, or the new Crucible match Supremacy.
Archon's Forge feels much simpler than its TTK counterpart, Court of Oryx – and not in a good way. While the Court held dynamic fights with a need for coordination, Archon's Forge lacks any real mechanics, replacing quality with quantity in a horde-mode style fight. This does make it easier to jump into an event with random players, but for those wanting to run this with a fireteam or clan, expect a simple smash 'n' grab.
Rise of Iron also feels a bit anaemic when it comes to Strikes. Retooled versions of The Summoning Pits and The Devil's Lair add some great new dynamics to the game's oldest Strikes, but ultimately, there's just one new addition in this expansion: The Wretched Eye. It's a truly forgettable level, but it does feature a great boss fight that has already created countless stories of heroism and failure for this reviewer.
Despite all these complaints, Rise of Iron still holds some incredible content. The final mission of Rise of Iron's story has by far the best climax of any of Destiny's campaigns – and that's in spite of its almost-absent story arc. Similarly, the new Supremacy mode in Crucible switches up the PvP dynamic nicely. Teamwork and communication are as important as ever, but territory becomes a fluid element that can make or break a match.
The expansion's Record Book is a fantastic new inclusion for completionists, and helps extend the longevity of Rise of Iron. There's a good mix of milestones, with some being completed within a day of starting, while others will take weeks – if not months – to accomplish. It's certainly not going to keep everyone going, but for many, it will be a great reason to dip into elements of the game they wouldn't have considered before.
Similarly, Private Matches will offer extended gameplay for the coming year, with players and clans finally getting the tools to set up their own Crucible games and modes.
Beyond these elements, there's the tone and feel of Rise of Iron. Departing from a lot of the humour that featured in Taken King (Cayde-6 is sorely missed), the story of the Iron Lords explores the sense of loss that can be felt by the immortal. The story's tone is almost weighed down by its own gravity – your mentor has some choice moments of sullenness – but for the most part, Rise of Iron's narrative is executed well.
This sense of gravity and loss is reflected brilliantly in the score as well. An enormous step up from the moody tones of The Taken King, Rise of Iron's music is perfect at empowering the player as they reach the expansion's climactic moments. A number of motifs are revived from the original score, which ties all of the game's content together nicely while bringing a sense of finality to what will be referred to as Destiny 1 in years to come.
And then there's the Raid. Wrath of the Machine feels like an encounter that's been three years in the making. The fourth Raid for the game, it has a brilliantly balanced feel: it's not too short but not too drawn out; not too complex, but not overly simplified, either. It is set within the iconic walls of the Cosmodrome, and it's great to get in and explore the territory of a monument that has stood in the background of the game's first area since Day One.
Previous raids are a clear and heavy influence, but there are new elements to keep things fresh. The Siege Machine (aka 'Death Zamboni') encounter is fantastic in its controlled mayhem, and it also creates a greater sense of teamwork – something that hasn't been seen in previous raids. Destiny raids generally require each Guardian to have a certain role, and while the same is true for Wrath of the Machine, there's more of a responsibility on team members to ensure they succeed. The need to protect team members as they run machine parts or throw a SIVA bomb means that you succeed or fail as a unit, rather than due to the shortcomings of an individual.
Like much of Destiny, Rise of Iron has its flaws. There's repetitive shooting, recycled enemies, and missions that will make you feel like you're stuck in Groundhog Day. But all of this is part of a framework that props up some of the most memorable encounters, events, and moments a video game can offer. Rise of Iron is light on content for players to sink their teeth into, and as a single player experience, it's seriously lacking. But the core of Destiny is about that shared experience, and refreshed Strikes, Private Matches, and Wrath of the Machine all give you countless chances to create moments of heroism with your fellow Guardians.