In every way that last year’s fantastic Destiny: The Taken King expansion made it feel like Destiny had come closer to realizing its full potential as its own weird, scattershot, but nonetheless ambitious enterprise, Destiny: Rise of Iron is a regression. Though this latest expansion falls back on the tired, uninspiring grind that dominates the core game, which bought Bungie time to produce a proper sequel, it lacks for the two things that Destiny has never been short on from day one: personality and imagination.
One might not even be blamed for thinking the whole thing is a weird April Fools’ joke given that Rise of Iron takes Destiny—a game that has explored the far, infinite reaches of the void of space and the terrors waiting in other dimensions—and drags the whole thing kicking and screaming back to a boring, medieval presentation of Earth. A group of fur-wearing knights bound by honor to protect Earth’s last strongholds against the prevailing alien threat discover that the Fallen—one of Destiny’s snarling evil alien species—have managed to get ahold of SIVA, a nanobot-created substance which can, true to its name, either create out of thin air, regenerate lost parts, or consume matter indiscriminately. The last of the Lords, Shiro-4 and Saladin, cannot abandon their posts at a watchtower/temple atop a snow-covered mountain, and charge Destiny’s heroes with investigating and taking out the threat.
Right out of the gate, Rise of Iron is unimpressive: The new social space is Game of Thrones’s Winterfell in all but name. Even then, that’s a semantic difference, considering the place is called Felwinter Peak. The story missions introduce a new section of Earth called the Plaguelands, a portion of Russia beset by perpetual blizzard and blight, but it’s essentially an extension of the core game’s Cosmodrome with some new weather effects.
The scant new details that Rise of Iron brings to his universe visually occurs when dealing with areas that the Fallen have unleashed SIVA upon; red, muscular tendrils worm their way through all the abandoned technology, culminating in pulsing red nodes that bloom like evil flowers. It’s an interesting visual, but it still pales when compared to something like The Taken King’s Dreadnaught, a massive alien ship that suggested nothing short of a living H.R. Giger painting. The enemies equally disappoint: All are simple red versions of Destiny’s current rogue’s gallery of alien baddies, with no new tricks up their sleeves, aside from a few tricky new projectiles to dodge.
After a few short missions, the game brings players into Archon’s Keep and Archon’s Forge, the volcanic industrial area where SIVA is being mined and mass produced, for a truly fun boss fight allowing players to wield a massive, igneous axe. It’s a pulse-raising bit of gunplay, the first of a paltry few faint signs of life in Rise of Iron, and it’s the very last story mission in it. Naturally, there’s still plenty to keep players busy. The best is a quest line that opens up after the campaign is over, allowing players to find the parts required to build their own Gjallarhorn, the game’s legendary advanced rocket launcher. Most of it involves annoying scavenger hunts, but the final few steps are massively fun shootouts against swarms of enemies. There’s new strikes which involve the new SIVA-infused enemies. Archon’s Forge has its own public area where special challenges can be beaten for new loot.
Past all this, though, players have the distinct pleasure of replaying the same missions they’ve been tackling the last two years ad nauseam. Yes, there’s the new Wrath of the Machine raid, and, if anything, the raid emphasizes the need to start grinding for better loot. Despite the “required” player level necessary to actually enter the raid, Wrath of the Machine’s strongest, most annoying, and prolific enemies are set to the game’s maximum attainable Light level, which you can only achieve by grinding the game’s hardest missions for hours.
After The Taken King did so much to make Destiny’s more blatantly MMO-inspired elements feel rewarding, we’re back to square one: Destiny once again feels like a job. And one where the payoff is unworthy of the effort.