Game review: Destiny: Rise of Iron makes a game out of waiting
Downloadable expansion Rise of Iron is full of promises, which involve long, laborious backtracking through previously completed areas for rewards
Destiny: Rise of Iron
In a promotional video accompanying Destiny’s release announcement in 2013, Jason Jones, co-founder of game studio Bungie, said the project had been driven by a desire to occupy as much of their players’ time as possible: “Like, how do you keep a player going for 50 or 100 hours over some number of months? And to not just want to play the game, but to want to play it with their friends?”
When Destiny was finally released in 2014, it felt like a game motivated more by scale than any specific creative vision. It was huge but repetitive and narratively incomprehensible. Players seemed to come to it for its unfinished quality and for the hopeful space of imagination it offered, like a bunch of teens sneaking into a high-rise construction site.
Destiny: Rise of Iron (for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One) is a reflection of how successful Bungie has been in its original plan for occupying players’ time. It’s another attempt to finish what it began in 2014. The downloadable expansion tells the story of Lord Saladin, a side character from an earlier expansion who handed out armour and weapons for completing special feats in the game’s player-versus-player matches.
In Rise of Iron we learn that Lord Saladin is the last surviving member of the Iron Lords, a Teutonic band of warriors who watched over the abandoned wastes of the Russian Cosmodrome, the original game’s first major zone, while trying to defend against the last remnants of The Fallen, one of the four enemy races in the game.
As with the game’s three other expansions (The Dark Below, House of Wolves, and The Taken King), the pretence of new story missions is the biggest selling point for Rise of Iron, but it turns out to be the least significant. The five missions – most of which take place across a new snowy zone on Earth called the Plaguelands – can be run through in two or three hours and are hard to distinguish from any of the game’s other missions. But there is no finishing Destiny. After resolving Saladin’s story, there are a half-dozen long and laborious quests to chase, most of which involve returning to the game’s older areas to sniff out a few new collectibles: pieces of the core SIVA hardware, or lost fragments of armour left by the original Iron Lords.
The biggest incentive to stick around is the new raid “Wrath of the Machines,” which, like the game’s other raid levels, takes what could have been a 15-minute single-player level and floods it with infinitely respawning enemies, obscure puzzles which involve running artefacts back and forth across a sea of enemies, and bosses who are invincible until you stumble across the one obscure condition that causes them to lower their shields. It’s fun in the way that binge-watching a television series is, a triumph of gluttony that focuses the senses and leaves one drained and almost numb to the touch.
To access the new raid, you’ll need to rank your character to the maximum experience level of 40, after which your primary currency switches from experience points to “light” points, a combined average of all your armour and weaponry ratings. To improve, you need to shift from the linear grind of menial tasks to playing the odds that a new piece of equipment will drop while you repeat one of a few dozen missions, side activities or competitive multiplayer matches.
To offset the blind chance, you can accrue a third type of currency, Legendary Marks, by completing a handful of Bungie-selected daily activities, which you can use to buy a piece of Legendary equipment from a vendor. Fifteen hours after finishing Rise of Iron’s main story missions, and with eight of the 10 item slots filled with Legendary equipment, I was still 20 light points short of the recommended light level to start the raid.
Destiny might have failed to live up to the dramatic heritage of the Halo games, but it has excelled in creating an economic honeytrap, an inescapable web of overlapping currencies to ensure that even when you’ve played everything there is in the game, you feel like you haven’t done it all. There’s always an item withheld, a leftover side quest that you forgot was in your queue.
The shooting is pleasurably meaningless, and the promise of all of Destiny’s different currencies and steep exchange rates are tolerable because, one hopes, at some point the economy will produce some new tool to heighten the animalistic pleasure of pretending to kill.
Those improvements never come – weapons feel inescapably similar regardless of level. But there is a kind of cruel artistry in continually making people expect change. With Rise of Iron, Bungie seems to have perfected the art of baiting expectations and then postponing them, making a game out of the waiting itself.
To paraphrase what O. Henry said of New York, Destiny is really going to be something when they finally finish it. Rise of Iron makes it feel like Bungie is only just starting.