Game Name: The Taken King
Platform(s): PS3,PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: 9/15/2015
When Destiny was launched a year ago, the reception was, well…mixed. Its moment to moment gunplay was and remains its greatest asset. Everything we expected from a decade of playing Halo along with a suite of abilities fueled by “space magic”. Where the game faltered, however, was trying to be an RPG and a “persistent world”. First-person shooters usually have campaigns that last a few hours and then proceed to sustain players with competitive multiplayer. In Destiny, however, while there is PVP gameplay, the meat of the game was clearly meant to lie in PVE. For a year, the game has maintained a large following, but lackluster mission design, frustrating progression systems, and a clear lack of story content (or content period) turned many off.
Two DLC releases over the past year alleviated some of the symptoms, but did not succeed in solving core issues. But with The Taken King expansion (and the patch that came with it), Bungie has gone back to the drawing board on a lot of things and reworked many of the game’s systems. For a “Year One Guardian” like myself, the game is almost unrecognizable, and in a good way. Rather than simply choosing from a few weekly rituals, I find myself unable to choose what exactly I want to do among the myriad options, and more importantly, all of these options are fun and rewarding. The Taken King is both a fantastic expansion and a great game in its own right.
The first big difference when beginning the new content is that, whereas last year there were a few scenes that were frustratingly vague (I have no time to explain why I have no time to explain), The Taken King is loaded with story. It’s nothing Shakespearian; Big Bad goes to war with, well, everyone, and the Guardian must join up and take the fight back to him. What makes it work really well is the writing for these characters, all of whom we have met before, and their interactions with each other and the player. In particular, Nathan Fillion steals the show as Cayde-6, turning him from just another vendor into the Han Solo of Destiny. Bungie was very wise to make him the driving force of the main plot.
You can also tell that the effort was put into taking all that lore that was previously only available on Bungie.net and bringing it into the game. Names like Praedyth, Kabr and Toland, who were previously only known to us through Grimoire cards, are now explored in the actual game through quests, missions, and conversations. After the main story was over, I was actually left wanting more, and not for a lack thereof. One concern is that new or lapsed players may be a bit lost lore-wise, but quite frankly so are many hardcore players who didn’t care to take a trip to the Grimoire.
But how does the game play? The gunplay is just as satisfying as it has been for the past year, and the addition of three new subclasses means a whole new set of abilities to play with. They all feel great, and fill in gaps that each class was lacking. For example, I spent the majority of my time with the Hunter’s new Nightstalker subclass, which for the first time gives Hunters a support role on the fireteam (although, unlike the Titan Defender, the Nightstalker is still very versatile and deadly on its own). The ability to shoot a “space magic” bow at my enemies feels awesome, especially once I unlocked being able to fire multiple arrows. I was using my super constantly, even against low tier enemies, because it was just really fun.
More crucial to what makes The Taken King so great, though, is how the progression system has been entirely overhauled. Player level and light level are now two separate things. The former isn’t as important as the latter, which is the average of one’s defense and attack values (for each piece of gear). The separation allows for players to equip gear freely without having to worry about losing progress to gain certain perks. You still have to pay attention to base defense and attack values, but that is where the new loot system kicks in. Gear drops with your light level in mind, rolling stats accordingly. That means even blue items will drop with good rolls, many times better than that legendary armor you’re wearing. Every once in a while you find something a little better, and your light level slowly increases. Bungie did a great job of both making loot more generous and pacing out progress, and this allows for a greater focus on the perks and stats on the gear you use.
Bungie has also loaded The Taken King with enough to keep players occupied for a long time; far more than there was in vanilla Destiny. But I don’t just mean story missions, as these comprise their own quest. Players will receive quests from various members of the cast, and they more often than not are composed of a multitude of “steps” (do a mission, kill this target, collect these items, etc.) and are more than worth completing for the experience, reputation, and rewards. Many can be completed while doing other activities, and often culminate in the unlocking of a side mission separate from the main campaign. It’s a good system and is used by Bungie to introduce players to different aspects of the game while rewarding them. The only issue I found was that a few quests in particular were difficult to complete because of the random nature of their objectives (enemy or Patrol mission spawning, for example), but even then I could do something else while waiting. I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the Exotic Quests, because they are pretty epic, decisively out-doing their predecessors from vanilla Destiny and rewarding players with some fine weaponry.
I found myself, however, also going back to aspects of the game that, previously, had become dull or “not worth it”. Patrols, which used to be empty, are now full of players and have become a war zone. Missions are now far more interesting, and with more frequent and challenging public events, as well as frequent Taken invasions and enemies the size of raid bosses, there is a reason to go on Patrol. Strikes are now reorganized, and give loot much more generously. The new strikes are well designed, with puzzle elements (what?) and bosses that keep the player on their feet. While previous strikes may still suffer a bit because of the “bullet sponge” nature of their final encounters, many have been reworked with new enemies to spice things up.
Overall mission design has been spruced up as well. In “Year One”, the running joke was that every mission was about defending your Ghost while he unlocked doors. This year, I found myself unlocking my own doors by solving small puzzles, platforming up towers, and even going on stealth missions. The new enemies kept me on my toes the entire time, each one using abilities that forced me to move about rather than try to “cheese” or “turtle” my way through. But this all pales in comparison to how fun it is to explore the Dreadnaught, the newest environment in Destiny. Not only is it beautiful to look at, but it is full of nooks and crannies where players will find locked chests, the keys to which are hidden in small clues and seemingly unimportant junk dropped by enemies. Each of these puzzles is a quest unto itself. I spent a few hours just using runes at the Court of Oryx to summon bosses and earn gear before I realized my stockpile of twenty-odd runes was up.
Competitive hearts needn’t worry, as PVP has not been ignored. While the new Mayhem mode is more of a novelty, Rift truly shines. A mixture of capture the flag and football, it is definitely my new favorite to play. Weapons have been re-balanced for the first time in six months, and while it is too early to declare what the new meta is exactly, right now I’m having the most fun I’ve had in the Crucible since the early days of Destiny. It may be because everybody is experimenting and looking for that one gun, but there definitely is more variety in most matches. Either way, it is better than the game being dominated by two guns. For the first time, I feel I can be competitive with most guns. Time will tell, however, where it all lands. The new maps feel great, and each allows for more vertical movement than “Year One” maps. However, I was disappointed that they all were designed for close quarter (and hence, shotgun heavy) combat. I was hoping for more open maps, similar to Blood Gulch in Halo, that would allow for scouts and snipers to have their day in the sun.
The question many are asking is whether they should come back to the game. The answer is that it depends on what game you want to play. If you thought that Destiny was going to be some magical cocktail of Halo, Grand Theft Auto and Fallout, you are out of luck, because that is not the game Bungie designed. Blame marketing on that one. If you like the idea of shooting aliens and getting loot in a (really cool) space opera setting, The Taken King has fixed the major snags that made Destiny so hard to get into. I’ve been playing this game all week and have not once looked at the subreddit for what to do next. Anything I needed, I didn’t have to grind the same mission repeatedly to obtain. I’ve simply looked for what seems like the most fun to do and played the game without worrying too much, and have had a blast while progressing to where I need to be for the end game. That is good game design.
Should Not Be Missed
- Story is a blast; hats off to Nathan Fillion as well as the rest of the cast
- Packed with content
- Good pacing when it comes to progression
- Gunplay is still top-notch, and is elevated with new abilities
- Overall level design has advanced by leaps and bounds
- Some may find themselves lost with regards to lore/story
- Quests can get frustrating when an enemy or mission won’t spawn
- New PVP maps still confined and prone to shotgun abuse
- Still no in-game matchmaking for Raids :(
The Taken King is not only a fun and rewarding experience unto itself, it is a great expansion for the Destiny universe and elevates the game in nearly every way.
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