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Why Destiny: Rise of Iron May Be the Expansion We’ve Been Waiting For

7 minute read

Bungie’s fourth and final Destiny expansion Rise of Iron arrives September 20, and with it, a flurry of additives and adjustments intended to lure players back to its interplanetary fray.

We can say a fair bit about it at this point: It’s $30 and requires the first three expansions to function. It’s only for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this time, ergo legacy console support is out. It’s packing a new Raid, new Strike, new enemies, patrols, public events, weapons, gear and quests, a new competitive multiplayer mode, and the obligatory level cap bump. It has a few new areas (the Plaguelands and Felwinter Peak), plus at least one revamped one (The Wall, the game’s starter area). And it features a makeover for Gjallarhorn, a rare, extraordinarily powerful exotic weapon overlooked in the last expansion, and now available to any player.

I spoke with Rise of Iron director Christopher Barrett this summer about the expansion’s, and why now might be the right time to revisit this game after its two years of relentless modulation.

This is the story bump story wonks have been waiting for

Destiny is this really cool setting with a lot of potential stories,” says Barrett. “So we have this event called The Iron Banner tournament, which has been in the game since the beta, and I think it’s been something players have really gravitated towards.”

“We’ve got a character, Lord Saladin, who visits the tower in front of a giant flaming gong. And he has this tournament that players have engaged in, and they’ve been introduced to these weapons that have these cool, iconic names like Felwinter’s Lie and Efrideet’s Spear, these really powerful weapons that have their own stories. So we thought it would be really cool to dive into all that lore. So Rise of Iron is all about finding out, what is the history of these characters? Who is Jolder from Jolder’s Hammer? Who is Felwinter? What is the deeper lore behind all that? It’s also bringing an element that was primarily Crucible focused and PvP into a story campaign and building an entire base around that.”

“On top of that, at the same time that we’re telling the history of it, players also get to engage in the adventure and become an Iron Lord themselves. It’s like this new generation of heroes. You have the story of who founded the city and helped save humanity long ago, and then you get to become one of those heroes yourself.”

What’s old is new

“There’s definitely a medieval vibe to it, a Norse and Scandinavian aspect,” says Barrett. “So you’ve got giant axes and fur and the cold north. One of the things I love about Destiny is that we’ve taken elements from fantasy and science fiction and melded them into this universe. To have this futuristic world that’s relatable but also has heroes and mythology and lore and weapons with a past and personality, those are some of the elements that are really exciting for us to bring into the game. You’ll see a lot of it in even the emblems and things, that everything has a handcrafted feel to it, these sort of sigils made of iron and fur collars and all that stuff.”

“The tone and look play right into this idea of going back to the past, not only in the war but returning to a place that players first began their adventure in Destiny. You’re going back to this iconic wall where players were first revived by their Ghost. So players get to journey back there and see what’s happened, what’s changed, that the wall has collapsed, weather and snow have come in, the Fallen have run amok. So there’s this feeling of nostalgia for the players, but on top of that we’re delving deeper into the lore and backstory.”

It’s more than ever a communal experience

“Speaking to your point about being a hero yourself, we want to recognize it’s a world where people are playing with friends, it’s a cooperative world,” says Barrett. “We want everybody to feel like a hero on this shared journey. Certainly there are elements of the story that try to make you feel special as a player, so players play through that stuff by themselves. But we also want to recognize that this is a community of guardians. So a lot of the types of things we put into the world are purposefully cooperative things, like public events, the tower, dancing and social spaces. This is all about building a community and recognizing that players are playing together.”

Rise of Iron represents the original plus three expansions’ worth of tweaks

“We’re very active in the community, listening to our fans, we always want to get their feedback,” says Barrett to a question about creative versus community sourced fine-tuning. “At the same time, we have our own internal critics inside the studio, who are just as passionate about the game as the fans are. So it’s a combination of things. We have an incredible user research team that’s looking under the hood, so when someone says something is overpowered, they can pull up and figure out how often a weapon’s used, what is its actual effectiveness, balanced against all the other weapons. So we can see, where people think it’s overpowered, but actually the number of kills per second its doing in the Crucible is much lower. We use that data, as well as our own internal expertise. So we try to factor all of those things in.”

If it’s a slot-machine, it’s at least a scrupulously curated one

“I think it’s finding the right balance,” says Barrett when asked about suggestions that the game engages in slot-machine mechanics. “I know a lot of us come from loving roleplaying games. I really loved massively multiplayer games, and a lot of the fun in those games was finding the new weapons, finding new armor, searching out these relics and other cool bits. We wanted to bring a lot of those elements into Destiny. I think also we want players to keep coming back and having place to have fun. So a lot of it is the fun of shooting in the game, the experience of getting together with your friends and going on adventures. But at the same time having those elements where you’re upgrading your character and sort of achieving things. We’re always looking at that.”

“We want to make sure all the elements the players are collecting are unique and interesting and add to the gameplay. We’re not just putting out things to collect for no reason. We want to have things that, like, when you get a new weapon and it’s got a new name and a new ability, you have to think how you can use that in PvP or how it pairs with a particular ability.”

“We don’t want to make a game that people are staying up 24 hours a day trying to grind to get everything, so we want it to be healthy, and a healthy hobby for players. We’re players ourselves, so we don’t want to do anything that’s going to make us have to work too hard.”

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Write to Matt Peckham at matt.peckham@time.com