The upcoming DLC for Bungie’s space shoot-‘em-up Destiny — called Rise of Iron — marks the first massive release of content since Taken King debuted. Given the game-changing nature of the last one, Rise of Iron certainly has a lot to live up to. And it sounds like its up for the challenge.
While in Cologne at Gamescom, we managed to catch up with Eric “Urk” Osborne, Marketing Director at Bungie to chat all about Indiana Jones, humor, and how Destiny takes on a life of its own. Oh, and — of course — bosses, weapons, raids, and how the former writer of Mass Effect: Andromeda affects the alien humor in the franchise.
To start off, what’s one thing about Destiny: Rise of Iron you’ve never told anyone before?
Wow, that’s never easy to do in these days with so many interviews. But I guess I have one: It’s heavily influenced by an adventurer we all love: Indiana Jones. Now, the saga of the Iron Lords is very heavily influenced by the King Arthur saga. They were the first proto-Guardians who stepped up right after the Traveler had given its power to create what you guys experience yourself as Guardians. In a period of lawlessness and civil war, the Iron Lords tried to organize and uphold a sense of duty and honor — like the Knights of the Round Table. And I think what’s so unique about Destiny is that it all started with some small references on some swords and tiny pieces in the Grimoire, and then we had the Iron Banner, these monthly tournaments hosted to honor our fallen heroes. And now it culminates in this epic storyline that leads you into a hall with all these statues of the Iron Lords that later will become a giant new social space. The hall itself is reminiscent of one of the best films of all time: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Interesting that you mention Indy — Taken King was the first Destiny expansion that really embraced humor as a way to drive the story. How are you framing things with the potentially less light-hearted Iron Lord saga?
We have a fantastic writing team that consists of people with backgrounds in Halo, obviously but also Chris Schlerf, who worked on Mass Effect: Andromeda. And when you take a look at great movies, most of them have this sense of humor. I personally think Marvel totally nailed that with all their movies without losing track of their storyline. It’s not like we go full Tony Stark or Indy Jones, because that wouldn’t be a great fit for our universe. But a little bit of humor sprinkled in doesn’t hurt. Especially with this alien universe where you constantly interact with characters that are of a different race and might have a totally different understanding of things — which in itself can be very funny. You might know about Eris who constantly talks out of context, and you are like… “hmm, wait, what?” I like that.
So, the comedy elements are rather subtle and don’t come with a hammer?
I couldn’t describe it better. Destiny certainly is unique when it comes down to storytelling, because we leave a lot open for interpretation, and people just go wild with it. Like a ton of ideas have their origin in a tiny piece of information within the game, and someone blows it up into a huge fan theory, and he or she might create artwork around it, and we look at it and throw around ideas.
Now they are real fleshed-out characters: You have Skorri, who is a bit like Merlin. A powerful battle bard and warlock inspiring her allies with songs, wisdom, and an artifact that speeds up super recharge for all allies. And obviously Radegast, who is front and center. He was the King Arthur of the group fighting with a mighty sword that can reflect energy-based projectiles and even a rocket. It’s really about combining lore and characters with new gameplay elements, like artifacts that play a much more powerful role in Rise of Iron. If you play with Felwinter, you lose your super but gain an extra grenade and a boost to all stats.
My job first and foremost is this connection between community and devs that I would say is very unique. I mean, there is a constant back and forth when it comes down to lore but also gameplay improvements. These folks play so much more then we always think — there are people with more than 1,000 hours on the clock. So, we have to deliver, and sure there is pressure, but it’s a good vibe.
We pull jokes and pranks on each other all the time. My nickname is “Urk” — and you can read some rather interesting fan fiction about the adventures of Urk’s beard on our forum. It’s pretty awesome, especially considering that not long ago I was sitting at a little wooden desk in a bank with a tie tight around my neck, and the most fun part was taking care of a tree in the office that would have otherwise died.
Hopefully, the tree is still alive, you might want to check on it. Would you say Rise of Iron is the expansion where you go full narrative on a more cinematic scope?
It’s about finding that balance of your story and official lore. So the first five missions are told through heavy cinematic where we sort of set the scene for the Iron Lords: What was their goal? What was their sacrifice? Who was their enemy? From there it’s about following their legacy and stepping into their footsteps. It’s very epic and almost like a movie with you climbing the snowy mountains of Felwinter Peak to reclaim the former stronghold of the Iron Lords, relight their fire, and reach the old watchtower from where they guarded the land for centuries. It will give you Game of Thrones vibes for sure.
It’s inside a mountain, snow comes into play, and the environment becomes your enemy. But the stronghold is also frozen in time, and you have to unlock section by section by lighting a beacon in the darkness. But that’s really just the first chapter, and after that we hand it back to the player and let them chase the gear they want, go wild, and have fun with their friends. It’s still based on that storyline with the Devil Splicers, but it culminates in you becoming one of the new Iron Lords. There will be a lot of nostalgic moments when you visit new parts of Old Russia, where it all started in September 2014.
Let’s talk about SIVA, this destructive force in Rise of Iron. Why use a nanotechnology as the ultimate evil?
Obviously there are real evil characters too, but fighting the environment is a huge deal in Rise of Iron. Fighting a blizzard, fighting the weather, trying to ascend ruins and bunkers that are completely destroyed. SIVA is responsible for that. But it’s not the technology that is evil, but the Fallen that control it. It was invented as a nanotechnology for the golden age because it can literally turn into anything. It was the end of all resource problems, which obviously were always a cause for war. But you know the Fallen; they’d rather abuse it to mutate their Splicers into much bigger and more badass soldiers. A Fallen Tank can now summon additional SIVA clusters and all that good stuff. You will have to find entirely new ways of combating these foes.
And we have a ton of surprises that we’re keeping close to our chest for now, especially when it comes down to level design and all these secret doors. It’ll have to wait for September 20 when we launch Rise of Iron.