In September, Destiny returns, and so do the Lords of Iron.
Bungie’s massively multiplayer online first-person shooter has been quiet for the past six months, since the launch of September’s Taken King expansion (save a small content update in April). But now it’s back, with a new area, new raid, and new strikes – as well as the return of the fan-favourite rocket launcher Gjallahorn.
The new expansion is called Rise of Iron, and follows the story of Lord Saladin, best known to existing Destiny players as the enigmatic figure behind the Iron Banner, the game’s elite PvP combat event. Saladin’s history with the Iron Lords, and how he came to be such a powerful figure in the game’s post-apocalyptic Tower, has been drip-fed through weapon names and snippets of dialogue until now, but Christopher Barrett, Destiny’s creative director, says that it’s time to go deeper.
“With Destiny, we created a universe where a lot of different stories can happen,” he said. “There are a lot of threads that we’ve started, whether that’s in the grimoires, the weapons or in the different events. But we’ve never told the story of what the Iron Banner is and who Saladin is and the history of the Iron Lords. It was a great opportunity to dive deeper into something that players were already invested in – as opposed to a brand new story where we’d need to do a lot more groundwork to get people interested.”
Before last year’s Taken King, Destiny players had already heard the name Oryx several times, and even fought his son, Crota, building hype for the inevitable confrontation. This time round, the team had to build the expansion from a much looser skeleton. “There are a lot of high level ideas that led to the event, the lore and tone around it,” Barrett explained, “but the deeper history of what happened, we definitely fleshed that out for this release.”
The heart of the confrontation is with a new faction of the Fallen, the primary antagonists of House of Wolves, the second mini-expansion. But like the Taken before them, these Fallen have been mutated, leading to new spins on old enemies. They star in the first Fallen-centric raid, an outdoors scuffle which starts in a public area, like the Vault of Glass before it. For fans of the older raids, it promises more of a good thing, but the developers say they won’t be implementing much-requested features like matchmaking in this update.
The raid adds to the endgame content, but the bulk of the new expansion will take place in the Plaguelands, a new part of Earth expanding out from the Cosmodrome. “This is the first time that we’re expanding on an existing planet,” says Scott Taylor, the game’s executive producer. “It takes the familiar wall, and extends out to the east – you see this whole new zone. So Earth is larger now.
“You come in and you see the change – the transition from where you know and feel comfortable to this new space that’s infested with these Fallen.”
Also introduced is Felwinter’s Peak, a new social space for players to add to the Tower and the Reef. But it’s not just an empty zone full of vendors: it’s also the site of some of the game’s first missions. “[Rise of Iron] starts with having to climb Felwinter’s Peak and take it back from the Fallen. It’s been infested, lost by the Iron Lords long ago, and it’ll be part of the campaign to fight there, and take it back. Then it becomes a social space. We think players will enjoy that, it ties the social space into the story,” said Barrett.
For a persistent game that’s been running as long as Destiny, there’s a constant tension between pleasing long-term players, and bringing newbies into the fold. “Suddenly the world is getting bigger, but this specific experience, you could come into it as a new player and say ‘I just want to get that axe’. You don’t need to know the background, but it’s there if you want it, it enhances the experience.”
One introduction – or reintroduction – that is firmly targeted at older players is the return of the Gjallahorn, the dominant rocket launcher from year one of Destiny. “The decision to bring it back was organic,” says Taylor. “We were always looking for an opportunity to reintroduce Gjallahorn, and when we started looking at this game and what that weapon looks like and the story behind it, it felt very natural to bring it back here, it just kind of came together.”
The first two years of Destiny saw a vaguely chaotic approach to the development of an MMO, with the structured approach of year one (a major release, followed by two minor DLC packs) changing to a F2P-focused year two (one major release, a few small content drops and a lot of opportunities for real-money transactions). Over the last year, the process has settled down somewhat, Barrett says. “We’re always thinking about our short and long term plans to figure out the best cadence of releases – live updates vs DLC, stuff like that. It’s an organic, ongoing process. As the years go by we have more data, we see player patterns we see what people are excited by and not.
“We know that players want everything. They want stuff that feeds them each week, but they also want these big new adventures, and we have to make sure we can do all of that. It’s a big task.”