Rise of Iron Finally Makes Destiny a Must-Play Game

For hardcore Destiny players, the new $30 Rise of Iron expansion is a chance to tackle new challenges and earn a bunch of cool new items in Bungie's popular online shooter. But for me, as someone who hasn't touched Destiny in about a year and a half, playing Rise of Iron feels like a homecoming. And boy, is it good to be back.

I was never quite the typical Destiny player. I fell pretty hard for the game when it first launched two years ago — its beautiful worlds and immaculate shooting gameplay had me checking in nightly to run Strike missions and compete against other players in the Crucible.

But I never stuck around for Destiny's grind-heavy endgame, which largely consists of repeating missions in hopes of getting new gear for tackling the game's bigger challenges. I couldn't even fathom finding the time or dedication to tackle one of the game's multi-hour Raids, especially since I was a lonely Xbox One player locked out from playing with my close friends on PS4.

Things are different now. I finally own a PS4, and after a year of watching Destiny evolve into a fundamentally more interesting and content-packed game, I officially had the itch to dive back in. So when Activision sent me a code for Destiny: The Collection, a $60 package that bundles the original game with all of its expansions (including the new Rise of Iron), I decided that it was time to start fresh.

Something Old, Something New

Starting my Destiny adventure in 2016 felt a lot like it did in 2014. I watched the same dramatic intro about mankind's ascent to outer space and all of the really bad things that followed it. I played the same opening mission, where you're awoken by your charming robot companion and suddenly realize that a bunch of aliens want to kill you.

I was instantly reminded of both how awestruck I originally was by Destiny's potential, and how disappointed I was when much of it ultimately went nowhere. But that's okay — we're here to talk about the cool new stuff.

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If you're just starting Destiny with The Collection and want to get right to the Rise of Iron content, you can do just that. The expansion gives you a special item that boosts your Guardian to level 40 — which is the requirement for Rise of Iron's new missions and challenges.

After watching Rise of Iron's awesome intro sequence — which had me more invested in Destiny's story than any part of the original game -- it was time to team up with Lord Saladin and put an end to some nasty mechanical virus called SIVA.

Between the wolves, the chilly mountains, and your medieval-armored teammates, much of Rise of Iron has a Game of Thrones feel, and I'm all for it.

I was truly impressed by how much Destiny's storytelling has improved over the years, from its engrossing cutscenes to the playful radio chatter that comes in from your teammates. Nolan North, who last year replaced a dull Peter Dinklage as the voice of your robotic Ghost companion, absolutely steals the show.

Rise of Iron's story campaign is short, but very enjoyable. There are tons of big moments and set pieces still stuck in my head, including a shootout on a moving gondola, an all-out war against turrets and tanks and a delightfully twisted final mission that lets you wield one of Destiny's most legendary weapons. But as any hardcore Destiny player will tell you, the real game starts once the story ends.

A Joyous Grind

With the campaign behind me, it was time to complete quests, do some competitive multiplayer and simply hang out for a little bit. One of my favorite things about Rise of Iron is Felwinter Peak, a new, gorgeously snowy social hub where you can buy new items, accept missions or just sit there and hang out with a bunch of wolves.

Me and my new best friends.

Me and my new best friends.

You read that right. Destiny has wolves now, and they're adorable as hell. In fact, my biggest gripe with Rise of Iron is that I can't bring them with me on my adventures, or better yet — play as them (get on that, Bungie!). Destiny 2 could literally be a game about these wolves and I would play it. Between the wolves, the chilly mountains, and your medieval-armored teammates, much of Rise of Iron has a Game of Thrones feel, and I'm all for it.

A spent a good chunk of time simply patrolling the Plaguelands, a new area on Earth that's been contaminated by SIVA. I forgot how addicting and oddly soothing the basic Destiny grind could be — one basic quest (kill this many enemies, do this many side missions) led to another, and before I knew it I was mowing down aliens and riding around the Plaguelands in my speeder for a good two hours, getting tons of experience and loot in the process. 

But for me, the real draw of Destiny has always been the competitive Crucible mode, which has gotten even better with Rise of Iron. The new Supremacy mode is essentially Team Deathmatch, except you have to pick up a crest from the body of your fallen enemy for your kill to count. Likewise, you can deny your enemy points by picking up your teammate's crests.

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This leads to the most aggressive iteration of Destiny multiplayer I've played yet, since you can't score by simply sitting back and getting kills from a distance. Every kill leads to an intense race between teams to pick up fallen orbs, and few things beat the rush of just barely securing a crest before your opponent, or — even better — stealing one of their own. Between Supremacy and the handful of new maps that come with Rise of Iron, it's a safe bet that I'll be spending most of my Destiny time trying to kill other Guardians.

Looking Forward

I've had a blast with Rise of Iron, and I've barely scratched the surface — I'm looking forward to tackling the new cooperative Strike missions, and, who knows, maybe I'll even take the time to gear up, join my friends and tackle the big new Raid that's launching today (Sept. 23).

I can't definitively say whether Rise of Iron is worth the $30 for those who have already poured hundreds of hours into Destiny. But having started fresh, I can say that the $60 Destiny: The Collection is an insane value. I'm currently overwhelmed with cool things to do — a feeling the original Destiny never gave me — and I'm reminded constantly that Destiny often looks, sounds and plays as well as any game out there right now.

Will I ever become the type of hardcore Destiny player who regularly goes on Raids and spends long hours grinding for the best gear? Given all of the other games I'd like to play this fall, probably not. But no matter how long my return to Bungie's beautiful sci-fi universe lasts, I sure am glad I jumped back in.

Michael Andronico

Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.