Version reviewed – Xbox One
I’m a Year 2 Destiny player.
Shortly after Microsoft’s backwards compatibility announcement at E3, I made up my mind to buy an Xbox One – at the time, purely to play Halo. I did, and, a few weeks later, lacking anything to play and wanting an FPS, I decided to buy Destiny. And since then, I’ve played very nearly nothing else.
So when Bungie went around telling everyone and their uncles that Rise of Iron’s theme was ‘nostalgia’, I mostly went ‘meh’. I never had a Gjallarhorn. I dismantled my Khvostov on my warlock without even knowing what the name of the gun was because I’ve never played an FPS in which I grew attached to my guns. As someone whose first Destiny experience was with Nolanbot, I couldn’t for the life of me fathom why people wanted Dinklebot back.
My first Vault of Glass experience was at level 40 and, having never played a multiplayer game before Destiny and not knowing the value of raid gear, I dismantled the entire VoG raid set on my Warlock because the light level was so low. (I’ve become significantly smarter in the months since.)
So in the almost-a-year that I’ve spent lurking around the Destiny subreddit, reading what veterans of Year 1 have been talking about, I’ve been thoroughly lacking in context. It took me a while to catch up. Lots of reading, watching Broman’s old Vault of Glass and Crota runs, lots of Gjallarhorn drop reactions, looking up Black Hammer to understand why people thought Black Spindle was such a big deal, figuring out what the heck a Randall the Vandal was, the ‘nerf Fusion Rifles’ joke. I finally understood the Year 1 conversations, but it was always from the outside looking in.
As a Year 2 player, I’ve felt for a long time that I was missing something because I wasn’t there. After Rise of Iron, I don’t feel like that so much.
And it’s all because of the Gjallarhorn
It’s odd to lead by talking about a gun, but let me explain. I’ve never understood people’s attachment to the rocket launcher because I’ve always been more of a machine gun Guardian myself. And because Nemesis Star dropped for me within roughly 4 hours of firing up Rise of Iron, I didn’t bother starting the Gjally quest until I was already about 10 to 12 hours into the expansion.
After having gotten it, though … goddamn. It hasn’t left my heavy slot, I’ve blown most of my exotic shards infusing it, and it’s literally changed the way I play Destiny.
Take this week’s strikes, which have solar burn on. the Bond Brothers strike is an almighty pain in the nethers when solar burn is on, but having my Gjally equipped changed that. The moment I see ‘Reinforcements incoming’ I spin to the right, send one rocket at the Psions as they come out the door and follow up with the second on the other side if someone on my fireteam hasn’t done it already.
On Undying Mind, hammers (I now main a Titan) used to be my weapon of choice for dealing with the Axis Vex as they spawn. Not anymore. Hammers are the follow up for when Ruin Wings is being temperamental and not giving me heavy blocks.
Having the Gjallarhorn has made it fun to come across a large groups of clumped-up adds and my heavy slot now does much more work than just boss DPS. After a whole year of playing Destiny and seeing everyone talking about the Gjallarhorn, it’s nice to finally appreciate the conversation from the inside out – rather than from the outside looking in.
The Gjally quest made me feel like a legend
As much as anything else that’s happened up until this point, if not more. There are plenty of moments that have been incredibly epic – watching Oryx’s corpse slowly floating off towards Saturn among the best of them – and having Lord Saladin roar “Your light is a Dragon” in my head as I solo-ed the last mission of the Gjally questline is easily among the best of them. It felt as though the world was acknowledging the presence of a god-killer by handing him a weapon powerful enough to make the remaining gods wet themselves.
An interesting counterpoint is the Khvostov quest. It felt quieter, more personal, with the only real companion I’ve had across the entirety of my first year with Destiny – ghost. Perhaps the best quest step I’ve ever been given in Destiny is “Enjoy the view with ghost” and it’s been a good many years since a game tugged on my heartstrings like that.
While it’s only a few lines of dialogue, the view, the music, and the sincerity with which North delivered that little speech made that moment among the best that Destiny’s still-fairly-thin story has ever given me.
So it’s disappointing that the main storyline is awful
Like, actually awful. SIVA was hyped up so much and it took all of five quests to beat into the ground. Lord Saladin finally took off his helmet and that was the entirety of the character development he received.
The Iron Lords, who were talked about so much – particular in an interview with the writing team – made an appearance in precisely one cutscene (and that was mainly Jolder) and in Grimoire cards. Not in flashbacks Saladin could have had, not in dialogue that he could have delivered. Before Rise of Iron the Iron Lords were simply names on weapons and, aside from a handful of cards in the Grimoire, they still aren’t a whole lot more than just names.
As a result, although I’ve seen a great many people praise the last of Rise of Iron’s 5-mission campaign, The Iron Tomb was an enormous letdown for me personally. Killing the SIVA-infected Iron Lords meant literally nothing to me because the plot didn’t take the time to set them up as people, as characters that ought to mean something to me and the world that my Guardian lived in.
The fairly tight development cycle and limited resources at hand for Rise of Iron meant that Saladin didn’t have time to explain. And it’s sad. Cutscenes in between missions with Saladin looking back on all that he lost would have done a great deal to set up that final battle in The Iron Tomb.
Five missions is not a small number if they’re done right. And while the campaign opened strong, it felt too rushed, it ended too quickly, and did very little to further Destiny’s mythology around the Iron Lords. We know they lived. And now we know how three of them died, because we bludgeoned their heads in with a flaming axe.
The difference in the quality of the stories is noticeable and significant between the main campaign and the Gjally/Khvostov missions. In the main campaign, Destiny was trying to tell me a story. In the other two, it was celebrating mine. The story of my Guardian and how far I’ve come in the last year and, perhaps, that was why the campaign was the less effective.
For Destiny 2, more plot and character development, Bungo plz.
There are other things to this expansion also
Buckets of new loot, a lot of which is really reskinned old loot because nostalgia, etc. Two redone strikes – Phogoth and Sepiks Prime – within the context of the SIVA story. A new Court of Oryx-style arena, the quality of which has been vastly improved since the most recent patch. A new Crucible game mode called Supremacy, which most of the PvPers of the world will know as Kill Confirmed. Improvements to loot from public events, making them worth doing for more than the fact that they’re fun to participate in. A new raid, of course, a rather enjoyable one at that.
Lots of new things, most of which deserve more space than I’m willing to give them in this already 1300-word review. So I’ll talk about them separately and link them here when I finally find the right words for each of them.
But very little of that matters to this review. If you’re a long-time Destiny player, chances are you’ve already played through most of what Rise of Iron has to offer. If you’re a returning Destiny player, I think Reddit and the plethora of reviews elsewhere may have helped you decide whether or not to buy the expansion.
But if I have to say something to you now, to help you decide one way or another, what you really need to know is this.
Destiny feels new again
It feels like that time when I had just logged in and people were blowing up a tank in the Cosmodrome and I was watching in awe at these mad jumping people throwing rockets and purple space-magic bombs at a tank who was clearly having a very bad day.
It feel like the time I discovered the statues in Court of Oryx were more than just part of the scenery and I could summon something big and scary and blow it up with people who happened to be around at the time.
It feels like the first time I ran Vault of Glass – which was the first time I ever played a game with 5 other people, let alone attempted to do something as complicated as a raid – when the experience was fresh for everyone on my team and people were making new mistakes and learning new things.
Just because there’s new content, a new light level to reach for and a few new things to do, Destiny feels much more populated than it did in the weeks before the April update and in the months leading up to Rise of Iron.
This will end, of course. People will run out of things to do in a few weeks – if they haven’t already – and things will quieten down again. Until that time though, for at least a couple of months, Rise of Iron is definitely worth playing.
There’s enough content to keep even the hardcore players going for a while as they set new challenges for themselves (like Slayerage’s two-man Wrath of the Machine) and casual players will get more mileage out of the expansion because they weren’t among the group that somehow got to 370+ before the raid dropped.
Destiny feels new again, with so many players the world feels alive again, and that – perhaps more than any other reason – is why it’s worth coming back to. Because it’s an opportunity to create new stories.
And, as the Gjallarhorn and the Khvostov quests show us, the magic of Destiny isn’t in the stories that Bungie gives us. It’s in the ones we make for ourselves.
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While this expansion for Destiny is far from perfect, hardcore fans already have it and casual fans may have already dabbled in it. And having sunk upwards of thirty hours into it already, I can safely say that it’s worth the time and money.
But, srsly Bungie, Gjally too OP, plz nerf fusion rifles.