1st Impressions: Destiny – The Taken King
Destiny to me at least is a divisive game, either you’re a devoted fan or you’d prefer to play almost anything else. Upon the initial release of the game in September 2014 many gamers abandoned it. Destiny, at launch, suffered from a lack of story, lack of in game diversity in terms of activities and a lack of a compelling adversary. This coupled with a complicated character progression process and a player v player mode that was easily frustrating produced a game that had limitless potential but failed to be the revolutionary experience that many thought it might be. The Taken King expansion and the Destiny 2.0 Software Update address many of issues, its not an exaggeration to say that this is a different game than the one I played last year. In almost every way possible the expansion addresses the original deficiencies and gives players a more interesting world to play in. While its not a panacea for all that ails Destiny, its hard not to be enthusiastic about this version of the game.
The Taken King introduces Oryx, the father of Crota, the “Big Bad” of the Dark Below expansion. Oryx of course is taking revenge for the death of Crota in the Crota’s End raid. Oryx isn’t the first real villain in Destiny; that distinction belongs to Skolas from the House of Winter, however Oryx is the best one so far. There is a genuine sense of menace and foreboding that is created by every appearance. Without spoiling the initial opening sequence of the Taken King, he advances the overall Destiny story more in 30 seconds that almost all of the year one content. This is definitely a positive development after months of fighting the Darkness, the thing that ended humanity’s golden age, which is still not clearly defined or explained in game.
In addition to the presence of Oryx, the Taken themselves are the best Bungie adversaries since the “Flood” of the Halo series. Comprised of members of all of the previous Destiny villains (the Fallen, the Hive, Vex, and Cabal) they are formidable adversaries, ones that gamers will enjoy dispatching. I initially thought that brand new enemy class was what Destiny needed, but by giving preexisting adversaries new abilities Bungie was successful in achieving the same effect. Taken Vandals can now throw up shields like Defender Titans, but they can shoot through the shield, meaning that a player will have to rush them. Taken Knights can now shoot an arc of fire at Guardians no matter how far away they are. Taken Psions with their ability to duplicate if not killed quickly are an immediate threat. The Taken truly look supernaturally possessed and the idea that they have no free will and are completely controlled by Oryx “similar to Harbinger in Mass Effect 2” truly live up to the idea that this army has been built to destroy you personally.
In addition to new villains the Taken King gives the Titans, Hunters, and Warlocks, new subclasses to fight the Taken with. Titans get the Sunbreaker class, Hunters get the Nightstalker, and Warlocks get the Stormcaller. I’ve only played with my Titan, so I’m uninformed about the other classes, but if you think throwing a flaming hammer at the enemies of Earth sounds cool, you’d be absolutely correct. I can’t stress enough how fun it is to explore this new subclass and it genuinely has me excited to play the game, a feeling I truly haven’t felt since launch.
New adversaries and abilities alone would have represented significant changes, however a more fundamental change is the one that has been made to character progression. The Destiny 2.0 software update, released just prior to the expansion, changed how players will level up their characters. Character progression now is clearly understandable, play the game and your character will continue to gain experience and level up all the way to level 40. When I originally played Destiny after reaching level 20 it was initially unclear how to raise my character’s “light level”. Eventually I was able to continue my character’s development but I had to grind to obtain the armor that was needed to raise my light level. The light level is now a combination of both your cumulative attack and defense scores, not just your armor. I should add that now new weapons and armor seem plentiful where previously it felt like an eternity before you got useful new weapons and equipment. I wish the level cap had been raised higher, maybe 44, just to give me more to do until the next expansion but I’m willing to deal with it based on the revised progression system.
On the topic of weapons and equipment, anyone with any experience playing Destiny knows that Exotic weapons and armor are at the heart of Destiny; they are the loot that players dream, lust, and curse over. Bungie was in the unenviable position of having to decide the fate of the exotics from Year 1 and determine what if anything should be carried over. I feel they did the best they could and allowed players to keep all exotics they had earned, automatically completed any exotic quests for players that were still uncompleted at the time of the switch, and allowed for the creation of a limited number of Year 2 versions of old exotics. There is no way to please everyone and obviously some gamers are going to be affected. Players who loved the hand cannon Thorn and Gjallarhorn are destined to be disappointed. Xbox One players can try out both the Monti Carlo and Hawkmoon exotics that were previously Playstation exclusives. The net result is that you get to keep some of what you love but have to make space for the new exotics.
Players of The Taken King will also experience some much appreciated changes to the bounty system. In the original version of Destiny, players had to come back to the Tower to turn in bounties and the bounties themselves weren’t so enjoyable. Now you can remain on patrol, story mission, or raid actively playing the game and trade in bounties. In addition, bounties true to Bungie’s promise have been restructured so you can do the things you want to do in game. Previously, many bounties consisted of “Kill X things you’ve killed 12 times on heroic mode”. Now a typical bounty now is “Kill 50 Vex”, “Melee 30 enemies without dying”. It sounds like a small thing, but it produces major dividends. I was able to progress my character playing the in-game content I wanted to play, which is always a good thing.
Quests are a new addition to Destiny but are definitely a valuable one. Quests are given by individual members of the Vanguard, Eris Morn, Petra Venj, and others and occupy a new screen, and displayed to the left of bounties. I haven’t had the opportunity to play the game from the beginning again since the new changes, but Bungie has explained that the result of this new quests is that the single player story portion of the game has better structure and flows better. I haven’t completed any yet, but again its great to have more content in-game to explore.
There’s more to do at the Tower, one of Destiny’s two social hubs. You can take weapons prototypes into the field to gain reputation with Banshee-44. Also you can talk to the gunsmith to be able to order new weapons on “Armsday” every Wednesday. All of the NPCs at the Tower, seems like they have been put to better use. Master Raghool the Cryptarch now sells Legendary Engrams for Legendary Marks that can be earned through Vanguard Strikes and other activities. The three factions, Future War Cult, New Monarchy, and Dead Orbit still exist but it’s easier to change allegiance (only once per week) and gain reputation, which of course leads to more loot.
While I enjoyed playing through the expansion I still have my concerns and frustration about the game. The Crucible continues to an unenjoyable experience and it continues to be the one glaring problem with the game for me. I’m a pretty experienced Call of Duty player but achieving a 2 to 1 kill to death ratio still feels extraordinarily painful. Bungie has stated that better matchmaking will be delivered to the Crucible via an upcoming software patch, so hopefully that will improve the experience. The story is still lacking in parts, but to be honest, there is more story here than in the entire original version of Destiny.
The cumulative result of all these additions and changes, minor and major is a better, more enjoyable, more engaging game to play. Is the expansion worth $40 to existing players and $60 to new players? Yes, with this caveat: I think established players will get more out of the game. Jumping into Destiny at this point is like watching the Star Wars trilogy starting with Return of the Jedi. If you’re a new player you’ve missed the experience of fighting with the rest of the Destiny community as The Dark Below, which really serves as the basis for The Taken King was released. You also missed out on the House of Wolves and playing The Prison of Elders with the larger community. The content is still there, but the Destiny community itself will be focused on the new content and the new raid “King’s Fall” which is released on September 18.
Ultimately The Taken King brings Destiny closer to the original vision that Bungie gave us. I’m excited as a player not just for this expansion but for the future of this franchise.
4 Warlocks out of 5