When I first got my hands on Destiny expansion Rise Of Iron, it was hard not to feel a bit disappointed. As someone who hadn't touched Destiny since Year One expansion House Of Wolves, I'd heard about the bold changes ushered in by last year's The Taken King and was expecting to have my mind blown.
Yet when I sat down to play the fun-but-unoriginal new Crucible mode Supremacy and new strike The Wretched Eye, I was shocked by how little seemed to have changed. Sure, level progression and the function of materials have been completely revamped, but by and large the core gameplay and the bare-bones approach to storytelling remained.
With all the talk of 10-year plans and a game that was constantly evolving; after two years is this still all that Destiny is? As the answer thankfully turns out: not quite. With each expansion, Bungie has inched closer to telling the story it has been yearning to tell since launch.
After two weeks playing The Taken King and Rise Of Iron back to back, it became apparent how far Destiny has come and how it's shaping up for the future.
The biggest problem with Destiny when it first launched was how empty and soulless it felt. While the world looked and sounded beautiful, the vast majority of missions consisted largely of shooting wave after wave of enemies as robot buddy Ghost blurted out half-hearted exposition. While the Taken King took great steps to inject some personality and variety into the game's writing, Rise Of Iron is the closest Destiny's story missions have come to having a sense of scale and actually delivering on its grand galactic promise. Destiny 2 will undoubtedly continue along this trajectory.
Freed from the shackles of last gen hardware with ROI, Bungie has been able to utilise the additional processing power to push Destiny's engine further than ever, teasing what will be possible in next year's sequel. Where The Taken King relied on larger pre-baked backdrops to give missions an unconvincing sense of scale, Rise Of Iron delivers far more detailed environments. Missions take you through varied environments, injecting the planetary settings with more personality, so they feel more in line with the game's narrative, allowing the story to unfold in front of your eyes rather than just through dialogue.
Hub areas are sure to play a far more crucial role in Destiny 2 as well. Rise Of Iron features a hub world that was more than just a space for interacting with NPCs – a first for Destiny. Felwinter Peak is a social space with an environment players can actually interact with. Each week the fire below a statue of a fallen Lord goes out, presenting players with a quest to relight it. This idea of a living, changing hub world hints that Destiny 2 will breathe life into these once-lifeless social spaces with special quests and events based around them.
A greater level of interaction with the environment could play an important part in Destiny 2. Rise Of Iron made an effort to mix up how players travel across and interact with the environment, lending missions a greater variety. With simple additions like having a rideable cable car and being able to jump up a mountain's snowy peaks, Bungie showed a commitment to creating a better-realised world. With rumours of Destiny 2's planet areas featuring towns and outposts there's even more potential for interactivity and the sense of a living, breathing world.
Aside from just prettier environments, players can also expect missions with more seamless and tightly-scripted story moments too. In Rise Of Iron players escape exploding buildings in a set time and there are sudden changes to the environments. These tent pole missions felt more important thanks to the additional urgency of set pieces like these. This bodes well for Destiny 2's campaign giving players an experience to match the bombast of Destiny's visuals and score.
While the expansions don't build on Destiny's vehicles in any huge way, this is certainly an area where many Destiny fans would like to see improvements. Sparrows are handy for getting around, but the lack of true vehicle combat or even space exploration in Destiny is puzzling for a game in which travelling around the galaxy is a cornerstone of the plot.
With the constraints of last gen now a distant memory, we'd love to see vehicles play a more integral part in missions and put these new larger planet areas to use. While we're asking we may as well be greedy and request a space ship we can actually fly. Being able to customise your ship is all well and good, but it all seems rather pointless when your ship only exists to disguise long loading times. Space dogfights above the Reef anyone?
In the last year, Bungie has righted many of Destiny's wrongs and pushed a three-year-old cross gen game to its limits. With Destiny already sitting on a strong foundation of great gunplay and a passionate community, all Destiny 2 has to do is focus on expanding its gameplay to finally deliver the epic space fantasy that Bungie promised. With RiseOf Iron already hinting at a new found sense of scope and ambition for the franchise, and with it taking less than a year to develop, the future for Destiny 2 looks promising indeed.