I've just finished my first Strike in Destiny's Rise of Iron expansion. Am I happy? Oh yes I am. It's a classic, utterly polished slice of Destiny co-op. Level design, objectives, enemy placement and boss design all absolutely on-point. As finely honed ever, in fact. This is clearly the work of a comfortable and confident Bungie. A studio that knows instinctively what Destiny is and how to make it really sing. Pacing, escalation, set-pieces… Everything just works. Well, apart from my team's disastrous revive strategy. But Bungie can't be blamed for that.
It all starts off where it all started off. Old Russia. Snow. Desolation Crumbled signs of a civilisation long-lost. You know the drill. Only now there are Splicer Fallen everywhere, an unsettling new faction transformed into mechanical hybrids by a banned nanotechnology called SIVA. They go down the same way, but they have a habit of launching tracking grenades out of their necks if you drop them with a headshot.
Between that, their sheer, swarming numbers, and those disturbing, black, spindly-legged silouettes against the endless snow, Bungie seems to be delivering on its aim of making this expedition into Old Russia's outer limits feel entirely unsafe. It's been a long time since this territory was charted, and we're here only under extreme duress. The City's outer wall is breached, SIVA nodes are springing all over the place, and as a whole, it feels like we're in as much trouble as we've ever been. After a couple of years of growth, familiarity and dominance, it's nice to feel out of my depth and slightly lost again.
But there's work to do, so we must press on. Hurtling through the wastes on Sparrows, stopping intermittently to mop up small mobs, my team eventually reaches the entrance to a huge underground silo. At this point things get a bit less linear, Ghost guiding us to three different SIVA sources that need to be destroyed before we can unlock the final area. Spoiler: It's a boss room.
Fortunately, the pre-rolled character I'm given has a powerful scout rifle and a fairly meaty shotgun. Oh, and the new Iron Gjallarhorn. Sorry, I probably should have mentioned that.
In no time I'm having a hoot rattling through the fray, chokepoints alternating with wider arenas and more intricate, multi-levelled rooms with a pace that always feels just right, while still managing to mix things up with a few surprises. In particular, the drops down the huge silo’s central shaft are great, deceptively lethal platforming blending nicely with close and long-range strategy as shotgunners take point on the small doorways below while the scout shooters cover from above. While, of course, trying not to fall off and force the frontline to turn back on revive duty. That might have happened once or twice.
But the boss. Oh yes, the boss. It's a cracker. We enter the room struck by the sight of a Hive ogre chained in place by the arms. We examine him and discover a delicious body-horror mangling of flesh and metal where his head should be. Also, he has hammers for fists. Fuck, quite frankly, this shit.
But guess what? He's not actually the boss! The boss is a nippy, human-sized Splicer Priest. He can teleport, and he has a large plasma cannon which can do serious damage with a sustained burst. After an abortive first run we realise that this fight is really built for team-play, and so we get strategic. We split our team to different sides of the arena, create a cross-fire, and ensure that he's always distracted by one of us so that the other two can open up on the back of his head. And it totally works. He staggers easily, so by splitting our fire, keeping our distance, and keeping our aim accurate, we have him down to half health in no time.
But oh look, now the ogre has broken free.
And now there are mobs, and Shanks are setting up shop in the middle of the arena, making the fastest route across - for evasion or rescue - pretty much a no-go area.
We try, we die, we try again. But we happily keep going, because the fight is great. It's tough, but it's entirely fair, and most importantly the strategy we need to maintain - a more mobile version of our earlier one, with frequent switch-ups of the player taking charge of mob control - is a really fun one.
We eventually run out of time, alas, and I've long-since run out of Gjallarhorn ammo - that thing still feels great to fire, by the way, all screeching rage and impact, though its damage no longer seems as dominant - so we’re forced to retire before we quite finish the fight. My partners have a habit of attempting suicidal revive attempts in lethal situations, you see. Never try to pull up the guy who's lying under a biomechanical ogre.
But I don't begrudge them. We've had a damn good time. And most importantly, the kind of good time that implies far more are on the horizon. Rise of Iron. It is looking good. It is playing good. I am excited, and I would very much like to jump into the fast of it now, please.