Destiny: The Taken King Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3, Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One
Gaming promises don’t get much bigger than those made by Bungie in the lead up to the release of Destiny. Gamers salivated with anticipation, the promised land of a multi-platform Halo-style MMO world edging ever closer. Epic stories, access to the lessons learnt from nearly a decade of World of Warcraft, next-gen platforms screaming for their first real blockbuster. The stage was set for greatness, but last minute politics and hasty re-dos ensured that the Destiny Bungie delivered wasn’t anywhere near the one they promised.
That was the story a whole year ago; Bungie have been ever tinkering since then, through both The Dark Below and House of Wolves, and with each step Bungie have been refining their formula, attempting to step ever closer to those original epic plans. The release of The Taken King reflects a massive step in the right direction, and in many ways the content of this expansion is unrecognisable from the mess that greeted players who first jumped into Destiny.
For instance, take the story. Throughout much of Destiny’s Year 1 content we had no idea what we were doing, why we were doing it and who we were doing it to. The Fallen? The Vex? The Cabal? I still have no idea who these people are and what they want. They are reduced to generic space enemies, pewing away with no discernible end goal as your guardian stomps all over them. The Taken King changes that from the very first cinematic, explaining where The Taken come from, what they want and who you need to pew to stop them. The story of Oryx and his quest for revenge links into Crota, who for many players was probably the only memorable enemy from Year 1’s plotline, and this link allows this second half of Destiny to both build on the strongest part of the story foundation available to it while still branching off with a new style
In fact, the first twenty to thirty hours of The Taken King is probably the best Destiny that you will have played. The quests are tight, there’s a story (and it makes sense) and there’s also development and use of side characters. Well, mainly Nathan Fillion, but that’s better than nothing. Level progression is constant and appropriate, and once you hit level 40 there’s a very clear route from all of your hard-won scrub gear up to a light level high enough to get you into the normal King’s Fall raid. In fact, the change in how light is managed is one of the most significant in The Taken King. Instead of light adding up and increasing your overall level as and when it reaches an arbitrary amount, now the values of your equipped armour and weapons are averaged and provide a light level.
This light level effectively manages progression past level 40 – for instance, a guardian with a light level of 290 is going to be taking far less damage, as well as dealing far more damage, than a guardian with a light level of 200. Progression up the light chain feels constant – engrams will decode into a range based on your light level at the time of decoding, and with drops coming fast and furiously there will always be something better around the corner. This progression does slow down once you hit the 280 mark, and moving further than 290 without raiding will feel torturous. Once you hit that level then you arguably return to more of a grind-based experience for these rapidly diminishing rewards, but then that’s arguably the case for the generic end-game of most MMOs anyway.
Until then this new progression is addictive, and feels far fairer than the old system. It’s complemented by the fusion mechanic, which allows you to permanently boost the power of a legendary or exotic item by consuming a rare (or better!) item with a higher light level. All of the post-story content ties fantastically into these mechanics, with the road from strikes, to heroic strikes, to nightfall to raid clearly marked by light gates that are achievable if you engage with the relevant preceding content. It’s smooth, and never dares to leave you feeling as if there is nothing you can do to make your character better.
As well as this more sensible approach to end-game levelling, The Taken King also introduces a new subclass for each class as well as a stonking new area for your guardians to run around questing in. The Dreadnaught, Oryx’s giant ship parked in the middle of Saturn’s rings, steals the Taken King’s show; simply by virtue of being entirely inclosed it would be different from the other locations, but there’s so much more to love about it. the distinctively sombre architecture, the hidden passages, the invisible bridges, the list goes on. It might not be overtly pretty, but far more thought on how players interact with a given area has gone into crafting the Dreadnaught than did the other planets. And we’ve not even waxed lyrical about the Court of Oryx yet - like public quests, hate waiting for them to spawn? Grab a rune drop, head over to the Court and you can pop the rune to summon a couple of bosses with assistance from whoever else is hanging around. Great stuff.
Mechanical improvements aside, a fair few bugbears from the original release remain. For example, there is still a lack of information available in-game, and it’s absolutely criminal that vast swathes of story information are still only available via the grimoire entries at Bungie.net. Quite why, over the space of an entire year and three expansions, they couldn’t deploy one engineer to code an in-game interface to the information is beyond me, and should be counted as a big embarrassment to the team. Another Bungie.net gripe is the fact that there is also still no in-game clan interface; a real next step for Destiny would have been to cement the social element of the game and increase the potential for interaction, especially amongst end-game players. Instead you’re still looking to utilise external websites to both find your groups, and then to manage your friends once you’ve made them.
Anyway, enough of the grimoire gripes as it’s very clear that Bungie have been listening in other areas. Take the Crucible, for instance. The PVPers who have held off until now will be interested to note that the metagame within the Crucible has also been shaken up. Gone are the ubiquitous Thorns, and instead now a range of weapons are being deployed. Flavours of the month do come and go – pulse rifles are more common to experience now post-Iron Banner, and even with a couple of range nerfs the most common special weapon loadout is a shotgun. But, just as you get fed up of being one-shot because you were stupid enough to run into someone clearly holding a shotgun, heavy weapon ammo will spawn and a bunch of people will be shooting at you and killing you with machine guns. Machine guns! Even the ever-present rocket launchers are losing their stranglehold on the heavy weapon slot.
But, none of this is what the new Destiny 2.0 is really about. Whether you get hooked on all of this information is incidental, just background noise you zoned in on while levelling. The real meat comes with the player generated buzz – the excitement around the discovery of how to most efficiently exploit/use the Three of Coins item, the fervent yellings passing on to players what they should be doing to try to get ahold of a Black Spindle sniper rifle – even the muted reception on the latest Iron Banner (that pulse rifle soooooooooooooooooo wasn’t worth over seventy matches…) builds the player narrative of Destiny, making more than just a shooter with great gunplay and half a story.
The Taken King fixes so much of what was wrong in Destiny, but still doesn’t quite make it to the epic status it aspires to. Some of this is due to having the baggage of the year one content still bolted on, and some is due to Bungie still not quite understanding what they need to do to create end-game MMO content and balance. There’s a ton of content here now for anyone entering fresh, and those returning after a quick narrative run-through the first time round will find the overall package far more attractive. There’s still that gaping hole of promised potential that’s yet to be filled, but at least everything seems one step closer now.