Destiny: The Taken King
Destiny might be one of the most polarizing games of the 21st century. The original product and its follow-up expansions (The Dark Below and House of Wolves) established a base of players who love the game, but naysayers were quick to point out Destiny’s many shortcomings. A lack of mission variety, a nonsensical story, a clumsy quest interface, confusing leveling, and a misleading loot system are just a few of the complaints Destiny faced during its first year.
Our review of that original game reflected these problems, but also pointed out what fans of the series love. Destiny features spot-on first person controls – the best a console has ever seen. It has an amazing arsenal of weapons, a seamless multiplayer world for both co-op and competitive play, and a gorgeous world to explore – all wrapped in the RPG trappings that MMO fans have loved for years.
Year one for Destiny was a story of great success and confusing failures, but it drew millions of gamers into its world despite its shortcomings. Bungie clearly listened to the community’s feedback on what needed improvement, because The Taken King tackles the major problems head-on. It marks the beginning of year two, but more importantly, The Taken King is a rebirth for the series and ultimately represents the game that Destiny was trying to be from the beginning.
The story has been streamlined from beginning to end, including slightly reworking and rerecording parts of the original narrative. The new content may not shed much light on the epic sci-fi world, but it does deliver a fun and coherent romp that finally gives the characters of the world personality. The world is no longer filled with unconnected NPCs; the citizens of the tower finally seem to stand for something, and now when they speak, I actually listen.
The Taken King has a number of quests that continue the adventure past the culmination of the base game’s storyline. They feature some of my favorite missions in the game, and are definitely worth playing. These quests also include rewards like elusive pieces of legendary armor, exotics (the ultimate prizes), and the new heavy weapon – a melee sword that I quickly fell in love with. New strikes join the fray, some old strikes have been reworked, and new competitive game types are available across an array of old and new Crucible maps. The Taken King has a host of other tweaks and additions, but I won’t go through them point by point. Instead, I want to discuss the major changes with the game design that I think make all these activities – old and new – more enjoyable than ever.
All three classes (Titan, Hunter, and Warlock) have a new subclass. These are all expertly executed; the new powers and strategies they introduce make the classes feel new again. The Hunter’s Shadowshot brings a variety of support to the raids, but still feels deadly with the right load out. The Warlock’s Stormtrance lets you live out power fantasies as you spill lightning from your finger tips, and the Titan’s Hammer of Sol kills enemies with a satisfying and thunderous toss.
What good are these new powers without loot to take advantage of their power? The loot system is still based on the the classic uncommon-rare-legendary-exotic scale of quality, but the way they drop and how you upgrade items is much improved. For one, legendary engrams actually drop, and they give legendary items. But so do great blue items, which you can use for a while to up your light level (which is essentially your item level) to grant access to new content. As you find the legendary or exotic items with the perks you want, you can use any of your other year-two items of the same type to upgrade them to higher light levels. This system gives all the loot more value, which brings a Diablo-like excitement to heading back to the tower to sift through all your loot.
The Taken King requires you to farm up items if you want to reach its highest levels. To do this, Bungie knew you would be doing strikes repeatedly (either through matchmaking or gathering with friends to do the weekly Nightfall) so the team added more strike variety. This is one of my favorite advances in The Taken King, since you play through different enemy encounters in different areas of the various strikes. They feature unique item and turret placement, plus distinct dialogue depending on the situation. While there are only three variations per area, it’s fun not knowing exactly what is around the corner, which makes the strikes better than ever.
Nightfalls are also improved, as they no longer rely on finding the exploit to complete. They are difficult-but-doable, and have interesting modifiers.
The Dreadnaught – The Taken King’s primary new environment – is Bungie’s best public play space. It’s full of surprises, including the Court of Oryx – a fun public event that features quick horde-mode rounds against giant bosses, and many other mysteries that require finding keys that unlock rare loots or entire events.
Finally, players get the new raid, King’s Fall. The raid is best explored on your own, but I can say this without spoiling anything: It is a culmination of what Bungie has put into all the other raids. King’s Fall is easily the biggest, with all the fan-favorite elements including mazes, jump puzzles, and fantastic encounters that require teamwork and communication to complete.
The Taken King ultimately is what the players – and probably even Bungie – always wanted Destiny to be. The improvements to the user interface and quest system alone make the game so much more playable, but they quickly fade to the background once you dig into the content. The game is not without some minor annoyances, but the good far outweighs the bad. You couldn’t pick a better time to try Destiny if you haven’t yet. The Taken King is a testament to Bungie’s craftsmanship and its ability to listen to the feedback from the players who both loved and hated year one. The studio has given us a game that truly is legend.