Note: This was written for a popular video game site that declined to publish it because of its negative tone. Irony!
It’s a strange time to be a video game reviewer. For many years when I was a writer and editor for Game Revolution, we prided ourselves on our independent ownership. Our watchword was objectivity, and we occasionally got into some messy conflicts with video game publishers. We also always tried to consider each game with the perspective that we had bought it with our own money, even though we usually had not, because games are not cheap.
Smash cut to a decade later, and we’ve had several fiascoes shake up the industry. Gamespot famously changed a review score and fired an editor because of advertising money. Most recently, Warner Bros paid a large fine to the FCC for failing to disclose that they paid “influential” gamers (including the lovable asshat PewDiePie) to say good things, write good reviews, and otherwise promote the game Shadows of Mordor. (The fact that Shadows of Mordor was actually really good has no bearing on how sleazy that is. Also, where was my money, WB?)
The problem of free merchandise in exchange for reviews on Amazon has gotten so bad that an entire website, reviewmeta.com, was created to highlight and fix the problem. They proved mathematically that people who got free stuff rated it better. Science! In response, Amazon has just this month banned vendors from sending out review samples in exchange for reviews.
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “This Duke guy sure is a long-winded bastard. I really came here to read about Destiny: Rise of Iron,” so here is my point: Activision was VERY VERY very clear, that I needed to tell you in writing that they gave me a FREE COPY of the game for review purposes. Without that, I would have had to fork over $30 for the expansion.
Is this game worth $30? No, not really.
Rise of Iron takes us right back to those first two, early, thin Destiny expansions. Let’s go down the checklist: New classes or abilities? None. New level cap? Nope. Re-used game areas? Check. Re-skinned enemies? You-betcha. Making previous content you bought pointless? Not a problem. More keys, tokens and other stuff clogging up the bad inventory system? Done, done, and done.
People who are fans of the occasional Iron Banner tournaments that crop up in-game will be pleased that this part of the Destiny lore has been more fully fleshed out. In the olden days, there were the Iron Lords who were a bit like Guardians, but they messed about with ancient biotechnology and managed to get themselves all killed. Now some of the Fallen have found one of those technologies, SIVA, and are up to no good. They modify their own bodies and genes with SIVA to become more powerful, reminiscent of Bioshock’s Splicers. So much so, in fact, they are even called Splicers.
Billed as a universe-destroying technology, SIVA will take you about 2-3 hours to defeat, which is pretty anti-climactic. Especially since the final fight is just a simplistic button-masher. That leaves you with a new patrol zone, the plaguelands, which has a public event area called the Archon’s Forge, which is similar to the Court of Oryx from The Taken King. At the time of this writing, however, I have yet to find any of the public there, which makes me think the Destiny audience is starting to get spread pretty thin. Next up is a new PVP mode “Supremacy” which requires your team to collect trophy “crests” from the dead for kills to count; it’s not much of an addition. Vehicles have also returned to some PVP matches, which I really like.
Then there is the long term grind: slowly watching your light numbers slowly go up to the new maximum of 385 if you really must. At the end of a recent game session with a friend, I remarked that after 3 hours of replaying areas I’ve seen a dozen times before, my reward was seeing one number go up by 4.
I have not done the raid yet, because the time commitment of the grind, not to mention the raid itself, just isn’t possible for anyone who isn’t dedicating their life to a single game. Which also highlights one of Destiny’s continued glaring problems: the lack of matchmaking for a number of game modes, which means you have to find 5 more fanatics that you can organize a half-day session with. Most of my friends who play Destiny dropped out long ago as the buy-in crept over $100 and is now closing in on $200. Activision also added a new premium currency, and lots more things to buy via microtransactions, Including Sparrows and the coveted Iron Banner armor. Cha-ching.
Did I mention that Activision provided me with a free copy? They did.
Destiny continues to be a game that, though its design decisions, continues to be a difficult game for more casual players to get into. At $10, I might be able to recommend Rise of Iron, but at $30 there’s just not enough here. Take $20 of your game money and buy the brilliant new game Inside instead. Then you’ll have $10 left over to buy me something nice. I promise to review it.