Review: Destiny: The Taken King

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I won’t say the original Destiny was bad by any means, but I, like a lot of players, got suckered by the hype and promise of the early alpha build that Bungie released over the summer last year. The gunplay felt great and the world seemed to have so much potential just waiting to be unlocked, but by the time the retail release came along later in the fall the game proved to be a disappointment. The gunplay still felt amazing, and the visual world was incredible to look at, but that’s about all the game had going for it in my opinion. The “story” was dry and lacked any connection to really keep me interested. Each mission consisted of the same flow: explore an area, use the Ghost to scan an old computer terminal, and then shoot all of the waves of enemies until Ghost was done scanning. Every. Damn. Mission. There was no variety, and I lost all interest in trying to finish playing the game.

That, of course, didn’t stop millions of players from diving into the paltry amount of content and getting hooked. I’ve got several friends that I’ve joined Fireteams with, and they can describe what to expect at every turn in an encounter just before it happens. Now partially that’s because Destiny got its hooks into them from the start, and partially it’s because there just wasn’t that much to do except repeatedly play the same strikes over and over and over again. New content was doled out but nothing was there to excite me for more than a few hours here and there.

Now we arrive at The Taken King, an expansion I was interested in but somewhat reticent to play. Bungie’s PR machine went to great lengths to promote the changes the development team had put in place for the launch of “Destiny 2.0,” and the more I looked at the upcoming changes, the more I lost my reticence. Not every change makes sense, but a complete overhaul of the game would likely have alienated the rabid fan base that can’t get enough of the yawning space opera that is Destiny.

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Originally, Destiny didn’t start to “get good” until the initial level cap of 20 was hit and the grind to boost the level further kicked in by way of gaining better armor, which was determined by how powerful the Light of that armor was. It didn’t make any fucking sense unless you spent hours diving into the forums seeking out the best and fastest ways to get to the top. It all ultimately meant that you spent way more time grinding through the same content over and over again, with the hopes that some rare gear would drop. I could play through missions and by the end never feel like I was rewarded with any new armor or weapon to actually justify the time investment. The Taken King has really tweaked how loot drops in the game, and even though items may not always be better, there is still a compulsion to keep playing because at least now SOMETHING drops at pretty much every step. Loot isn’t as crazy as Diablo 3, but there is definitely a better reward loop keeping players tantalized by the notion of obtaining better gear.

Additionally, the way a player’s Light level is presented has been shifted from the actual player progression level cap to a calculation based on how powerful both armor and weapons are. Once a player hits the new level cap of 40 there is still a long way to go in order to reach the recommended Light level of 290 (or higher) to play the new Raid, King’s Fall. One of the other things The Taken King fixes is the simple fact that there is fairly compelling content to play through in the quest to gain a high enough Light level to play the Raid (assuming players want to team with a group of five others to complete an extended and challenging encounter). Weapons and armor also can be “fed” to items to actually merge and boost stats for both attack/defense as well as boost the Light level.

The Taken King‘s quest structure has been overhauled as well. Previously players would walk into the Tower on Earth and find whichever Vanguard leader had an icon over their head, receive a less than helpful description of what was being asked of them, and then return to orbit and hopefully figure out the quest destination. The Taken King now has an actual Quest tab in the menu interface, which allows players to track or untrack a quest by placing a symbol on the map indicating which area the player needs to visit. The Quest menu also keeps tabs on bounty missions with a tracker of just how many more things need to be completed in order to turn the bounty in. Bounties can now be turned in directly from the Quest tab instead of having to fly back to the Tower on Earth, which used to suck since the load times were–and sadly still are–dreadfully slow. While load times haven’t been improved in The Taken King, at least now quests and bounties can be tracked and turned in from wherever a player wants, so there isn’t as much of a compulsion to travel back and forth, wasting precious game time staring at load screens.

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Most significant of all, there is actually a decently compelling story presented in The Taken King. Much was made about Peter Dinklage being replaced as Ghost’s voice by Nolan North. As much as I liked Dinklage’s performance, it wasn’t until I heard Nolan giving his own spin on the floating gizmo that I realized what was missing in the original Destiny–humor.

I never bothered to play a second or third class during the original release, so as The Taken King was leading up to launch (after the 2.0 patch but before the expansion) I decided to start over fresh from the beginning with a Warlock to carry into the expansion. The story hadn’t improved, but Ghost at least felt more like a true sidekick than a floating voice. Now the real kicker for me, though, was this: I had no freaking clue that Nathan Fillion was one of the Vanguard leaders in the original Destiny. The delivery was so dull and flat that his uniquely charming voice never once carried into the stilted, robotic character he was performing. Yet once The Taken King actually put real narrative with cutscenes and actual character depth to the experience I was suddenly enamored. There are moments in the story that are downright hilarious and charming, as well as moments that are stressful and scary and a real joy to play. None of that existed before; in The Taken King the story actually kept me wanting to play even through moments of sheer frustration.

While the new story takes the time to develop characters, the game still hides access to its deeper lore by making players go to the iOS or Google Play Grimoire app. I don’t understand why this information isn’t also available as a menu item in the game.

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The Taken King still tends to lean on encounters being best played with groups or Fireteams, which is to be expected given the game’s “shared-world” approach to first-person shooting. I love my friends who play Destiny, but I really loathe feeling like I have to commit to playing a game that is both convenient for me and the other players in my team. Fortunately there are plenty of active players, so running a Strike with a squad of random people can be just as fun as playing with a group of friends.

In the end, The Taken King has made some huge strides in correcting many of the original game’s missteps. There are still things that I just shake my head at, knowing that the end goal of playing in the raid will take me grinding through a substantial amount of content I’ve already played, but at least now there is a quest structure that adds a level of narrative to the repetition that was sorely missing during Year One. Year Two of Destiny is definitely off to a much better start, for new and returning players alike.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Actual story that is compelling
+ Gunplay still feels really good
+ New area to explore and fight in
+ Loot drops actually happen a lot more often and provide a nice reward loop
+ Quest structure that now provides better guidance

Cons:
– Load times are still annoying
– Heavy reliance on groups to get the best gear
– Grimoire app still heavily relied upon to learn more about the universe

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS4, also available on PS3, Xbox 360, and Xbox One
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Bungie
Release Date: 9/15/2015
Genre: FPS
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-16
Buy From: Amazon, PlayStation Store, Xbox Store

Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.