Spoilers for the first mission of Rise of Iron follow.

It’s no secret that Destiny has changed a lot since its launch. After nearly two years of steady, thoughtful growth and evolution to match that of the Guardians who inhabit its world, Bungie’s MMOFPS has diversified its content offering immensely, improved its explicit storytelling, and completely rebooted its initially over-complex and restrictive levelling system into something altogether more welcoming, fun, and open to truly freeform player customisation. So while Destiny has always been a brilliant, compulsive, endlessly repeatable experience, particularly since last September’s Taken King expansion it has been an entirely more robust, confident, and complete game.

Playing through the first story mission of the upcoming Rise of Iron expansion – which launches on September 20 – it’s abundantly clear that that confidence is here to stay. With Destiny’s structure and meta-systems now well and truly sorted, the game is evolving and fine-tuning in more granular ways, the fabric of moment-to-moment play improving, evolving and becoming entirely stronger. While the real meat of Destiny’s fun still lives entirely within the whirling, kinetic, ever-shifting strategic carnage of its flowing, player-driven combat, the journey between those standout battlefields now feels entirely more crafted and curated.

Where once Destiny was happy to simply funnel the player from fight to fight, frequently through waypoint-guided jaunts across familiar, multipurpose, overworld landscapes, the opening to Rise of Iron’s campaign can easily stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any of Bungie’s Master Chief-fronted shooters. Pacing, atmosphere, set-pieces and storytelling are now all absolutely on-point, creating an enigmatic, trepidatious introduction as ominous as it is ultimately stridently exciting. Destiny has always played great, but now it has real drama as well.

Set in the blizzard-torn wastes of the Plaguelands, Destiny’s expansive new, Earth-set sandbox area on the outskirts of Old Russia, King of the Mountain starts out slow. Asked by sole surviving Iron Lord Saladin to investigate some troublesome goings-on in the long-deserted mountains around the Lords’ old temple,  your Guardian finds themself on a desolate, winding path upward with no support, limited visibility, and zero clue as to whatever the **** to expect.

After two years of familiarity and growth in Destiny’s world, it’s immediately refreshing to feel lost and under-prepared. Similarly, devoid of any of the game’s more extravagant architecture –  otherworldly structures and sci-fi tech are eschewed in favour of staunchly real-world geography and geology – King of the Mountain establishes a unique sense of place and presence. By stripping away the excesses, it makes the experience feel all the more affecting and striking. So much so that it’s a good few minutes before I notice that I haven’t even considered firing up my Sparrow to hurtle through the desolate, empty space, preferring to trudge through the murk on foot and really take it all in.

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