Platform: Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4

While the gameplay mechanics for Destiny has always been an excellent rock solid foundation, everything else surrounding it – story, progression, rewards – has been tinkered with over the past two years. The game finally found its groove with last year’s The Taken King expansion implementing a new leveling system, offering better rewards, and introducing a crazy new villain that players could band together to destroy.

The great thing about Rise of Iron, Destiny’s newest and last expansion before a Destiny sequel, is that everything we loved about The Taken King’s leveling and reward system is still intact. The light level for characters has increased from 335 to 385, and then to 400 later this year. Plus there’s a nice cache of new weapons and armor to obtain, along with a new storyline and new areas to explore.

Who or what is SIVA?

The Iron Banner is a weeklong event that happens in Destiny every month. The event, which has its own bounties and rewards, allows players to compete in PvP with the level advantages of their weapons and armor enabled. The Iron Banner is hosted by Lord Saladin, an Iron Lord, who until now we didn’t know much about, let alone what an Iron Lord was. With Rise of Iron, we’re getting the story revolving around Lord Saladin and the Iron Lords.

After Earth’s collapse, there were no Guardians to protect the Earth and its people from the dangers of the universe. To fill the void, The Iron Lords took up the responsibility. The Iron Lords are immortal and powerful warriors, however they met their match when a virus-like plague with its own intelligence, named SIVA, overtook them leaving only Lord Saladin. While the Iron Lords were wiped out, SIVA was able to be locked away in a chamber, keeping the world safe. Until now.

The Fallen have opened up the chamber and other facilities trying to use SIVA to its benefit, letting it control their weapons, armor, and even bodies in hopes of overtaking humanity. Lord Saladin has left his post at the Iron Banner and has called upon the Guardians to help destroy SIVA once and for all. I still wasn’t clear on how SIVA came into existence, only that the Iron Lords tried to use it to their benefit as well before things went crazy. Is there more to the story here?

Although the game’s campaign is pretty short (it only took me a couple of hours to complete), we’re introduced to a new snowy area on Earth called The Plaguelands, that’s filled with SIVA-infused Fallen. Although it doesn’t feel as vast as The Dreadnaught, it is refreshing to have some new areas to explore. The Plaguelands also connects to parts of the Cosmosdrome, albeit with some major changes to the environment like snow and wrecked areas where the Fallen have been experimenting with SIVA.

Overall, the story isn’t as dark or intriguing as The Taken King. SIVA doesn’t scare me like Oryx did so I really didn’t have that feeling of dread or anxiety when traversing The Plaguelands like I do The Dreadnaught from The Taken King. The SIVA-infused enemies don’t really feel that much different than regular Fallen, except that they have a some new weapons, like guided grenades, and take a bit more ammo to take down. Of course things get easier as your light level rises. There is still some crazy, hectic, fun action throughout the campaign, especially the final campaign mission. And I did it by myself instead of co-operatively which ups the stakes even more.

The previous light level cap for the game was 335, earned by equipping weapons and armor up to that level. When Rise of Iron dropped last week, I was at 327. Once I finished the campaign, I was at or around the 340 level.

The After Party

Anyone who’s been playing Destiny for the past two years knows that the campaign is just a piece of the game and not the whole game. Once I finished the campaign, there were a number of quest lines and activities to complete which would also raise my light level and get me ready for the new raid (more on that later). Aside from the handful of patrol missions in the Plaguelands, the first post-campaign activity I did was the new strike, “The Wretched Eye.” This strike has you and two other Guardians heading deeper into the Plaguelands to find a boss that’s been experimenting with SIVA and an ogre to make a powerful weapon. That final boss fight, which features an angry roaming Ogre that is immune to your weapons and a Fallen Kell with that Ogre’s eye attached to the end of a rifle along with Fallen soldiers and Shanks disrupting your strategy, makes for a pretty intense battle.

The previous strikes have also been updated to higher difficulties and offer some decent light level-increasing drops including a chest at the end that requires a Skeleton Key. The Skeleton Key, however, is one of my grievances with the expansion so far. In the 30-some hours I’ve played since Rise of Iron launched, a lot of that time was spent in Strikes trying to level-up my character -- I’ve only gotten two Skeleton Keys. The Skeleton Keys at the moment are only attainable to by beating strike bosses. Once a boss is defeated, there’s a chance that they will drop a key and you’ll be able to open the chest and grab some level-increasing Legendary gear. I think it’s a great idea, but I just wish that I would be able to get a Skeleton Key drop more often.

One of the other post-campaign activities is Archon’s Forge in the Plaguelands. It’s like a mix between Court of Oryx and Prison of Elders from Destiny’s previous expansions where players present an “offering” inside this arena and battle waves of enemies and then fight a final boss. These events also have their own bounties too where you can earn more rewards plus we get use the flaming axe again that we used during the campaign. While the events in the Archon Forge are fun, the grievance I had here was that you can only carry one offering at a time. There are three levels of offerings, which determine how difficult the event will be, and are supposed drop from enemies during your battle. So if you use your offering, and nothing drops during the battle, then you’re finished, unless someone else in the Forge has an offering. There were times when I was in the Forge with four or five other players, which is a blast by the way, and after the battle no one had an offering so we sat around for a moment in an empty arena looking at each other before we all eventually left one by one. For the Court of Oryx, you’re able to keep multiple Runes of all three levels to summon events and keep going for a while. Can we get a similar system for Archon’s Forge?

One of the most anticipated post-campaign activities for Rise of Iron is the raid, “Wrath of the Machine.” For me, personally, I like the way this raid was designed. “Wrath of The Machine” is shorter than the The Taken King’s “King’s Fall” raid (there’s four checkpoints as opposed to “King’s Fall’s” nine), but for me it’s more enjoyable. “King’s Fall” required a lot of technical strategy, relay racing, and player positioning. If one player messed up one of their responsibilities or died, you’d have restart the entire encounter, which can be frustrating if people keep messing up. Seriously, the Totems section of "King’s Fall" was the bane of my existence. In “Wrath of the Machine,” there’s still some strategy required in bringing down an enemy’s shield, but for the most part, it’s shooting, dodging, running, and watching your teammate’s back. If one of your teammates dies, it’s not the end of the world. You can still move forward with the encounter with a man down. And it’s pretty darn fun. And being that “Wrath of the Machine” can be completed in just a couple of hours entices me to replay it more often than I did the King’s Fall Raid.

Meet me at The Crucible

On the competitive multiplayer side, Rise of Iron brings with it four new maps and a new mode called Supremacy. Supremacy can be played in 6v6 matches or just a Free for All Deathmatch where players earn points for not only their kills, but picking up “crests” their opponents drop when killed. In 6v6, players can pick up their teammate’s crest and get a point, which also denies points for the opposing team. My clan and I have a great time in this mode because a lot of players risk their lives for these crests that sit out in the open. Whenever we have the chance, we’ll leave a crest out in the open to bait opposing players to grab them and take them out when they try to make a run for it. It works every time.

Of the four new maps, I think Last Exit on Venus is my favorite. It takes place it what seems like an abandoned subway station. There are hallways and tunnels that make for some really fun close quarters combat along with an outdoor courtyard where everyone can launch their supers that make for a pretty exciting match.

Overall, Rise of Iron may not be as robust or as game-changing as The Taken King was, but it still has some has some worthy experiences that any Destiny fan would enjoy. Also, keep in mind that the Rise of Iron expansion is $10 less, at $29.99, than The Taken King was at $39.99, so it might be best to temper your expectations content-wise. For those of you who have yet to jump into the fray, Destiny: The Collection features the base game and all of the expansions for $59.99, which is a steal.