RRC Digest 9/27/16 – Destiny’s Rise of Iron expansion

I have a lot to say about my topic this week, so let’s keep the life update quick. Firstly, my internet is back and stronger than ever. It only took an army of Optimum Online techs to fix it, but there’s a brand new line running from the street to the modem, so problem solved! Other than that it’s been a week full of Destiny’s Rise of Iron DLC. Let’s get to it…

Rise of Iron is fine, but it’s no Taken King – I like Bungie better when they’re scared. Destiny’s first big expansion, The Taken King, was a dramatic response to the 6-out-of-10 reception that Destiny received in year one. It was rich with content, and rewarded players for their efforts. It was Bungie in damage control mode in the best possible way.

The pre-release talk around Rise of Iron was often about how much confidence Bungie gained after The Taken King and their well-received April Update. This wasn’t really “Destiny Year 3” because “Year 2” was such a fundamentally positive change to the game. But the expansion they’ve released isn’t Taken King, and some of the choices they’ve made to prolong the experience are giving me year one PTSD.

The Taken King’s initial campaign was not massive by any stretch, nor was its mission structure particularly spectacular. The first and last missions are the only ones that genuinely hark back to Bungie’s campaign mission work in the Halo games. Everything in between maintained Destiny’s standard story mission structure of running through a patrol area, getting to an instance, scanning an object, and fighting off some waves of enemies. The final fight against Oryx was stunning, and then the whole thing wrapped up in a cliffhanger ending so that we could go on more quests and take on the raid.

Rise of Iron sticks to that structure, with a legitimately spectacular  opening and an ending mission that is one of Destiny’s best. But the content in between? It’s over in a heartbeat. There’s barely any time to exist in the SIVA threat or Lord Saladin’s plight before the whole thing is solved.

Destiny is a game that can get away with a little filler. Bungie could have added three more bare bones missions just to imply some kind of journey. The final mission is fantastic, creepy, thrilling, and it really puts into perspective how sad Saladin’s circumstances are, but it does far too much heavy lifting for a single mission. Once it’s over, the whole story still feels rushed and unfulfilling.

At the same point in The Taken King, any unfulfilled feelings are met with an endless stack of quests, additional story missions, and a clear path from the campaign ending to the King’s Fall raid. Rise of Iron follows a similar structure, but the quest stack doesn’t last even half as long, leaving you with a good 20 light levels of progression and no direction on how to obtain it.

The trick? Play high level activities like Heroic Strikes, Nightfalls, and Archon’s Forge to gain a few points  of light at a time. Bungie even introduced “artificial bottlenecks” into the light system to prevent engram hoarders from leveling up too quickly, without taking into consideration the 99% of players that don’t do that. It’s a very odd, very “year one” move for Bungie.

Progression bottlenecks or not, my big issue with Rise of Iron is that the non-repeating content runs dry well before you’re high enough light for the raid. If Bungie had added even the slightest of structure — “Complete 10 Siva Crisis Strikes for a higher light level item,” for example — I would at least feel like I was working towards something.

Simpler yet, Bungie could have saved some time by lowering the light level requirements by 20 points and admitting that this is a smaller expansion. A light level grind isn’t “content” without some goal or context, especially when I’ve already ran most of these strikes about a millions times.

What’s worse is that many of Destiny’s quests are simply a series of checkbox goals played out in recycled areas with a few lines of dialogue from an NPC — and we’re usually happy with that! I loved going through the Taken King questline where we checked in on Variks and Petra, and that played out entirely through recycled zones and short bits of dialogue.

I think the lesson Bungie needs to learn here is that players will happily repeat the content at their leisure if the rewards are good. When the script is flipped and players MUST run dozens of strikes to qualify for a raid because there’s nothing else to do, then we get angry and start looking for exploits.

It’s a shame that this grind has been wearing me down, because what’s there in Rise of Iron is solid. I’ve already had a few of my favorite Destiny moments in this expansion, and I haven’t even tried the raid yet. But I’ve also completely burned out on running Omnigul and Psion Flayer strikes and I NEVER WANT TO SEE THEM AGAIN.

Rise of Iron is a necessity for a living, breathing game that supposedly won’t have a proper content drop until Fall 2017. It’s also the result of what is likely a lot of hard work from a small “live team” within Bungie. So for that I have to give them a lot of credit. At the same time, some of the decisions they made to extend the content beyond its limits are just flawed. In a post-Taken King world that’s not the kind of Destiny I want to play.

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