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Opinion – The Taken King Fixes Destiny's Three Biggest Problems

by Ben Reeves on Aug 14, 2015 at 09:00 AM

Despite Destiny's popularity, it remains a very polarizing game. For every enthusiastic fan, there seems to be another player who quit in disgust. I understand the hate, because I used to be one of the haters. However, sometimes games deserve a second chance, and The Taken King looks to be the perfect time to give Destiny another shot.

I was busy with personal family matters when Destiny launched last year, so I jumped into the game a few weeks later than most. In the grand scheme, a few weeks doesn't seem like much, but with Destiny it was too long. Once I started playing, I felt like I was struggling to catch up to my friends who had already finished the campaign and were well on their way to collecting a full set of exotic equipment.

After making a mad dash to finish a campaign story that made absolutely no sense, I felt like I hit a wall. The grind from 20 to 30 was pretty confusing and since most of my friends were already sitting around level 27 or 28, I was locked out of playing the same strikes they all wanted to grind through. While trying to collect my own set of exotic armor, I got some bad dice rolls and ended up with equipment I already had. I wasn't having fun, so I set the controller down, vowing that I was done with Bungie's new shooter experiment.

Fast-forward six months, when an out-of-state friend wanted to play some games with me, but Destiny was the only title in both our libraries. I was hesitant to jump back into Destiny, but the game had gotten two sets of DLC since I had stopped playing, and I had heard good things from co-workers, so I gave it another chance. By the end of the night, I was hooked again.

Destiny has been on a journey of improvement over the last year (as my colleague Brian Shea noted back in May). However, the upcoming expansion, The Taken King, looks to make big strides in fixing a few more of the game's legacy issues. I firmly believe that there has never been a better time to jump back into Destiny. To prove it, I've decided to lay out the biggest issues I had with the game, and then explain how Bungie is working to fix these problems.

Problem One: The story was a mess
Destiny's story is about an epic, centuries-spanning war between the forces of light and dark. It's about Earth's fall after a gilded golden age and about one mysterious figures noble sacrifice to save humanity. In many ways, Destiny has all of the hallmarks of a great sci-fi epic. However, story recaps don't sound anything like the game most of us played, and most of Destiny's lore is locked inside Grimoire cards that are accessed outside of the game. Even some of my friends who have spent hundreds of hours playing Destiny don't understand the game's deeper narrative.

The problem isn't Destiny's plot, it's the game storytelling. Thankfully, the narrative of The Taken King is much easier to follow. An evil creature - consumed by darkness - has returned to our solar system, seeking revenge for the death of his son. It is a much simpler narrative thread, and that's great because you can actually follow what's happening. The story even bleeds over into the gameplay, shaping story missions and helping create some memorable gameplay sequences. The characters in the tower now have some meaningful interactions with each other, and your ghost even relates some lore to you as you explore the world. I don't want to oversell the story, it doesn't reach the heights of a title like BioShock, but narratively it feels much more in line with games like Halo, which is a big step in the right direction.

Problem Two: Destiny's light system was confusing
One of the biggest turnoffs for many Destiny players was its confusing leveling structure. The game functioned like a sane RPG for the first 20 levels: you gained experience for completing bounties and shooting enemies, and that experience allowed you to slowly climb a ladder of ever-increasing firepower. However, after you reached level 20, Destiny throws that traditional gameplay structure out the window. From level 20 onward you have to collect new gear that is imbued with something called light. The more light you have, the higher your level grows. Sadly, Destiny does a poor job explaining to newcomers how much light you need to reach the next level, and acquiring this new gear often feels out of your control.

Players who hated this system will be happy with The Taken King's new approach to light leveling. Bungie is still fine-tuning this system, so we can't go into detail, but we can say that your light level is now separate from your character level. You reach level 40 doing the same things that helped you get to level 20 (completing missions, bounties, and shooting enemies in the face). However, your light is still very important, and is represented by a different number, which pools together all the light-based gear you're wearing. Your light value is also a good marker of how strong you are, and will give you an idea which strikes and other content you can confront, since each mission will have a recommended light level.

Problem Three: I got tired of the loot grind
Destiny's light leveling system was exacerbated by the fact that your journey to collect that gear often felt like pulling on a slot machine that paid out in pennies. A well-balanced loot system is a great carrot on a stick that ushers players through a game. Plenty of great games, from Diablo to Borderlands, have had players collecting loot and slowly upgrading their equipment. Unfortunately, Destiny's loot system wasn't as balanced as it could have been. In fact, some players felt like the system was rigged against them, purposefully holding back the items they really needed.

This is another area where The Taken King is making some big strides. New ghost shells and a revised class item slot widen the pool of relevant items for you to collect, giving you more treasures to seek out. But more importantly, Bungie has fine-tuned the algorithms under the game's hood, which govern random equipment drops. Now you'll be more likely to receive armor and weapons that you actually care to collect. The journey from the weakest gear to the best has been smoothed over, so you shouldn't have to wait nearly as long between finding something you actually care to equip.

Bungie knows that Destiny is not a perfect game, but it is dedicated to game concepts that it believes in and has spent nearly a year fine-tuning the Destiny experience to push it closer to that ideal. I don't blame anyone for quitting Destiny when they weren't having fun, but given the changes Bungie has made over the last year, I believe Destiny deserves a second chance. If you come back for The Taken King, you might discover that Destiny is the best game you ever quit in disgust.

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