Depending on where you're sitting, Bungie's divisive shooter Destiny is either the best thing since sliced engrams or an ambitious experiment that went horribly wrong. When it launched in September 2014, Destiny was the most exciting and unlikely of gaming propositions: a genuinely new breed of shooter.
With the Halo creators attempting to reinvent the FPS once again, Destiny took the addictive loot system of an MMO and married it with the frantic, futuristic shooting they knew best.
Thanks to unprecedented levels of anticipation, it came as no surprise that Destiny's launch was one of the most successful of all time. Bungie didn't have long to celebrate however, as Destiny's many problems soon caught up with them.
While they had undoubtedly delivered a great shooter, Bungie had neglected the most important component of an MMO: a satisfying end game. After finishing the story, players soon found themselves stuck in a frustrating and repetitive grind, destined to repeat the same actions until they got lucky with random loot drops. With the player base getting increasingly agitated, Bungie quietly spent the next year working hard to appease the mob, resulting in the release of last September's game-changing expansion, The Taken King.
Changing the levelling system, reinventing loot drops, introducing new gameplay elements and even recasting voice actors; The Taken King was a huge undertaking that righted many of vanilla Destiny's wrongs.
Fast forward a year and Bungie is ready to reveal what comes next. Enter Rise of Iron, Destiny's latest expansion, and its last before Destiny 2.
We had some hands on time with Rise of Iron at Gamescom 2016, and our demo began with brand new competitive multiplayer mode Supremacy. This new Crucible mode sees players frantically battling it out to collect crests from fallen foes, with the team collecting the most crests winning the match. In a neat twist, each time a guardian is slain and they physically drop a crest, it is left for either the opposing team to collect, or for the player's own team to nab from under them.
If that all sounds a bit like Call of Duty's popular Kill Confirmed mode, then that's because it's pretty much identical. Yet, as unoriginal as it may be, Supremacy felt like a great fit for Destiny. The new maps fared well too. Playing on PS4 exclusive map, Icarus, Supremacy was a tense affair. The brightly coloured and intimidatingly open new Mercury map is designed so players are constantly ushered into open spaces, forcing them to push forward in fear of ambush, making the matches we played feel stressful and scrappy.
Private matches are also making their long overdue debut. The ability to create private matches puts the Crucible back into the player's hands, allowing solo players or parties as large as 6v6 to choose the modes and maps that they want to play rather than leaving it to whatever the server dictates. To long time Destiny players this well be a very welcome addition.
Opting to keep the cinematic story missions a surprise, Activision chose to show us a brand new strike instead, called The Wretched Eye. Tasking players with hunting down an SIVA-infected Fallen biologist in a hive-controlled missile silo, this was our first glimpse at the new enemy faction players will be facing in Rise of Iron. While the enemies look slightly different, gameplay wise this was largely what you'd expect from a Destiny strike: waves of enemies followed by a boss.
Thankfully there were a few small changes to the formula. After riding a Sparrow down to the first location with my teammates, I leapt forward to start my attack but after a few steps, found myself suddenly unable to move. What I had assumed was a nice green piece of environmental decoration was actually a futuristic bear trap called a Terra Clamp, which encased me in a prison of green energy. Thankfully these can be destroyed with a few shots, quickly returning you to the mission at hand.
Another noticeable change came with the objective. The Wretched Eye saw us locating nodes hidden around the map and destroying them – which while a nice break from scanning, wasn't exactly mixing things up much. The boss fights however are still as good as players have come to expect from Destiny, tasking them with taking down a huge behemoth and its magical manipulator.
After The Taken King, it's definitely a bit disappointing to see the new strike from Rise of Iron play it so safe. While Supremacy was fun and private matches are a solid addition, we're hoping the new story elements will mix up the gameplay a bit and continue to build on the narrative and gameplay lessons Bungie have learned over the last two years.
If you're a lapsed Destiny player wanting an exciting new reason to jump back in, it doesn't look like there will be a lot here to convince you to. For those Guardians already happy with the experience and looking for more, this is shaping up to be exactly what The Speaker ordered.