Release Date: September 15, 2015Platforms: XBO (reviewed), PS4, X360, PS3Developer: BungiePublisher: ActivisionGenre: MMOFPS
Along with the Year 2 updates available to all players, The Taken King marks a shift into the next stage in Destiny’s evolution. Bungie’s MMO-shooter hybrid had a rocky start, with solid gameplay but frustratingly random rewards and a gilded shell of a story. The Taken King improves on a lot of the most common complaints heard during Year 1, and while the loot and new leveling system still don’t quite feel perfect, the story and the types of missions available revitalize the Destiny experience. The Taken King was funny, moving, and a lot of fun.
In total, the $40 expansion adds new campaign missions, four new strikes and three remixed legacy strikes, two PvP modes, and eight new maps in the Crucible. The “King’s Fall” Raid, which I hadn’t done by press time, opened on Sept. 18.
After Destiny stagnated with fetch missions in the months before The Taken King, I find myself – at least in these early days – having a wealth of things to do in the new expansion. Quests stack and chain together, so that completing one mission for any particular character unlocks another. It’s a bit like the several steps required for Exotic Weapon Bounties in Year 1. Each Quest has a dedicated, guaranteed reward, so there are fewer instances of engram roulette. Bounties are also more varied and tend to overlap with the Quests in terms of location or enemy type, so it takes less strategizing to complete two tasks at one time.
The mechanics of the gunplay haven’t changed. Missions still present satisfying challenges, just difficult enough for a team of two or three higher-level characters to cautiously strategize before charging into enemy territoy. The new subclasses provide versatile new abilities: for my Warlock, the chance to blast lightning became a needed area attack, letting me quickly clear out crowds of Taken. Each subclass also comes with its own Quest, and for the Warlock, that was a thoroughly enjoyable mission that felt like an empowering training montage against a horde of Vex.
The new campaign missions and Strikes add more puzzle elements and hidden areas than have been seen in Destiny before. Hunting for Calcified Fragments and other loot led me to invisible bridges and narrow grottos on the Dreadnaught, a new location that functions just like a planet in terms of its missions and public patrol area.
Of the new Crucible types, I found Elimination to be more entertaining for an average player: the three-on-three matches are fast and tense, with tight strategy required for the close-quarters fights. Rift’s capture the flag stylings made for a lot of fast, back-and-forth play which could bowl a less experienced player over. The gorgeously colored map The Drifter adds some low gravity effects, but they only kick in when a Guardian has died, and don’t otherwise affect gameplay.
Gear changes mean that some of the new weapons are stronger than formerly rare guns, decreasing the value of Exotics. The nerfing caused some consternation, especially in the Crucible, but to me the fun of trying out new weapons remained and made end-of-mission rewards more meaningful. Leveling is easier, almost effortless now that it’s returned to the experienced-based method. No more hunting for gear to reach an elusive next level. I found myself switching gear after almost every mission, and therefore steadily increasing my light level.
When a character reaches level 40, their light level can continue to grow based on their gear, and it is light level, not character level, that determines eligibility for the new dailies, Strike playlists, and Nightfall events.
The new Strikes are unlocked after you complete the campaign, but they continue to tell a story. Characters from lore pop up throughout the new content, literally giving voices to people who formerly only appeared in the Grimoire cards. They also bring in some very varied bosses. The final fight in Shield Brothers throws guided missiles and an energy shield into the mix, while the climax of Sunless Cell takes place completely in darkness. I found myself shooting just to orient myself, as some aliens were completely invisible until something hit them. The Stormcaller subclass was especially useful there, too.
But the heart of the story is the campaign, and while Bungie is still no BioWare when it comes to a focus on characterization, The Taken King brings a lot more than we’ve seen before. Eris Morn, herself originating in The Dark Below, and Nathan Fillion’s Cayde-6 are the primary guides during the player’s fight against the Taken. Cayde’s irreverent gunslinger attitude and Eris Morn’s sonorous doomsaying clash humorously. Cayde’s dismissal of Eris’ jargon-filled proclamations could be read as Bungie acknowledging its story’s flaws, but it’s also true to what has been previously established for the characters in both the game and the Grimoire.
Fans of The Dark Below especially are treated to new looks at the characters first introduced in Eris’ backstory, plus hints at what might be next for her. One story mission brings the player back to the site of Crota’s death, a.k.a. the finale of the Raid from The Dark Below, and its ending reinforces just how powerful are the creatures the Guardians are fighting.
Although I found myself curious about how Peter Dinklage would have delivered some of the lines, Nolan North’s Ghost was warm and funny. The player character, on the other hand, isn’t voiced at all in the DLC, and does not make choices: oddly, the most connection I felt between the character and the world was actually in the Veteran’s Tour, a neat little quest that provides Year 1 players with both rewards and an introduction to the new ways quests and factions operate.
After all of the wonderful story brought about by his presence, Oryx himself is an unremarkable villain. Except for some bloodless but violent scenes showing what the Taking of the title entails, he’s a stock villain, designed to look like a towering demon. It is with Oryx, and only Oryx, that I felt the best part of the story was still hidden in the Grimoire cards.
I haven’t yet participated in the Court of Oryx, the player-initiated public events that require activating Runes on the Dreadnaught. With so much more to explore, though, I’m confident in saying that The Taken King changed Destiny in a major way, and for the better. The $40 essentially doubles the size of the game, unlocking all of the options made available by the Year 2 upgrades. This is almost – almost – what Destiny should have been at the very beginning. Even though the story and loot still aren’t perfect, The Taken King shows Destiny living up to its potential and providing an engaging experience for both old and new players.
Megan Crouse is a staff writer.