Destiny: The Taken King
Developed by Bungie
Published by Activision
Available on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Its difficult to recall a birth of a franchise more popular and yet vexed than that of Bungie’s Destiny. The immensely fun but flawed game was quickly labeled the fastest growing franchise ever, and yet, since then, for a myriad of reasons from poor story, to lack of match making, to players burning out or getting burnt too many times by the game, Destiny has struggled to maintain its player base beyond a very loyal, albeit large, fan base. With its new expansion, The Taken King, the makers of Destiny hope to take back lost fans and correct many of the issues with the base game and its initial expansions. Regardless of the dichotomous views and opinions of the first year of Destiny, it is without a doubt that Destiny: The Taken King is a massive success, triumphantly improving upon the initial experience and usurping all other periods of Destiny as king and the best experience for the shared world shooter to date.
First in the king’s court of improvements is the story. While the narrative throughout all of Destiny has been murky at best, loosely woven together by minuscule threads of a yarn received in bursts of exposition heading in and out of missions, The Taken King immediately improves upon the formula in a number of ways. To begin with, the expansion implements cutscenes to accompany the missions, which serve to highlight the conflict, develop characters, and ultimately prove there is a plot in which the player is an important piece. The cinematics themselves are beautiful, range in art styles, are skippable if the player doesn’t want to watch them again (though they’re worth at least one watch), well directed and acted, and give personality to existing characters from the games previous campaigns. For the first time, the Tower truly comes to life as its inhabitants interact with one another and work to guide the player through the six plus hour campaign. Taking a page out to Destiny: The House of Wolves‘ book, dialogue occurs in and out of cutscenes, at times over the radio in some of the games funnier moments, and more surprisingly when players return to the Tower for direction and interact with the AI characters. Central to the narrative and the its success is Cayde-6, brilliantly brought to life by Nathan Fillion, who is a pleasure to listen to and watch as he provides humor and a human translation to the plots goings-on. The conflict itself is much clearer, with Oryx, the father of Crota, operating as the antagonist and coming for revenge on those who killed his son. While narrative and character development do take a bit of a backseat after the initial campaign, the quick transition into quests which eventually lead the player to the raid tell just enough of a story on their own, informing the player that this fight is far from over.
The aforementioned quests are one of the new and refreshing integrations of The Taken King. Taking a seat next to the bounties on the new “Quest” tab in the menu screen, quests operate similar to bounties, but tend to be multiple steps and range in length from quest to quest. Never too long to complete, they highlight player accomplishments, grant bonus experience, and often come with a desirable reward. Some see players completing the campaign or other objectives as they normally would, while others are there to stretch players out of their comfort zone and experiment. In either case, quests are a welcome addition that add both variety and keep the game from getting dull after the campaign. Plus, both quests and bounties, of which the player can now hold sixteen, are now easily trackable as well, making them absolutely painless. Similar to quests, new items and materials also invigorate the experience, having the player complete specific goals before the items themselves can be used for their designed purpose. Purposes vary, some are secret keys that eventually unlock hidden chests, while others activate public events for everyone to participate in. Small touches such as these again add variety and not only give players more to do, but reward the player for doing what they normally would.
A story and some user interface overhauls are far from everything players get from TTK. The third, and largest, of Destiny expansions also comes packed with new content, including a new area to explore. Comparing the Dreadnought, Oryx’s ship and a new area to explore, to the other planets in the Destiny universe isn’t exactly fair. While it isn’t nearly as large as Earth, Venus, or Mars, it has an unbelievable amount of things to do on its surface, and buried underneath are countless secrets yet to be unearthed. Many of the campaigns missions will serve as a general guide to the Dreadnought. It’s not until the player is free to patrol the place that all of the locations loot is truly revealed. While patrolling the Dreadnought, players can participate in the Court of Oryx, an arena that pits players against some tough adversaries and riddles on how to defeat them. Up to nine players can participate in the player activated public event at a time, and by activating the event themselves, players guarantee some rewards for participating. The Dreadnought also boasts two new material types. One, wormspore, operates like any planet specific upgrade material. Calcified fragments, on the other hand, serve a different, secret purpose, which the player will have to discover for themselves. While discovery isn’t limited to the Dreadnought (the expansion is littered with hidden gems like an exotic drop from a daily mission) its filled with secret events, adversaries, and rewards, that makes it a place of true wonder and discovery.
The Crucible, Destiny‘s player versus player arena, has also gotten an overhaul. With at least seven new maps (eight on PS4), two all new game modes, two game modes added to the regular rotation, and a much better loot drop system, Crucible is yet another place that TTK improves upon. Both new game modes are a blast. Rift, Destiny‘s answer to capture the flag, adds some fun variety to the mix of objective type games. The real, treat, however, is the Mayhem game mode in which player powers generate much more quickly, meaning grenades, melees, and supers will be virtually unceasing. Mayhem is an incredibly accurate name for the mode, and while it isn’t part of the regular selection, it is an experience unlike any other and worth a visit when its in town.
Strike playlists have also been majorly renewed. TTK adds three new strikes (four on Playstation), which are already the best of the bunch. Bungie has done an impeccable job listening to their player base. Not only are the new strikes more cooperative, with new mechanics and riddles to solve, making them much more comparable to previous Raid experiences, they also have moments of variability where dialogue heard over the radio might change, or a different enemy type might be encountered at select moments. Even old strikes have been revisited and infused with Taken, the new enemy type, who are themselves incredibly diverse, satisfyingly challenging, and brilliantly designed, despite being based on old enemy types. I would go so far as to say that Taken might be my favorite enemies to encounter. Gone are the days of bullet sponges, as well, instead replaced by bosses with engaging mechanics who test player skill while still taking the right amount of damage from players. One boss cloaks himself in shadow in a dark and dimly lit setting. Another strike concludes with the player fighting two bosses. Yet another has the boss change and develop as the battle progresses, forcing players into new tactics. Perhaps best of all, completing strikes is now highly rewarding. With the new loot system, all engrams are useful, and even blue gear can equip guardians with what they need to tackle the hardest challenges in the game. With each Strike boss dropping two engrams, on top of the Strike completion rewards, Strikes are well worth the time. Not only so, but the new Strikes can also drop class-specific armor, all of which is incredibly cool. This goes without mentioning that with a new consumable item, Three of Coin, purchased from the exotic vendor, Xur, a player could receive an exotic for beating an ultra, Strike level boss, regardless of the difficulty. Finally, sticking in a Strike playlist for a set period of time gives players a buff, so if they continue completing Strikes back to back without returning to orbit, their chances of better loot greatly increase. Strikes are unbelievably rewarding and one of the best parts of TTK.
The best part of the expansion, and the culmination of Destiny: The Taken King is its end game raid. The King’s Fall raid is impeccable, and may be the best raid to date. As someone who truly loves the first raid, the Vault of Glass, that is truly saying something. The six person event readily demonstrates why so many people love Destiny. With a brilliant mix of riddles to solve, platforming, and unique bosses that require the tightest teamwork to date, King’s Fall is a massive raid that incorporates all the sense of scale and mystery from the Vault of Glass and then some. Learning from the mistakes of past raids, King’s Fall requires six players and never relies on one player too heavily. Finally, by incorporating elements from outside the raid, including materials and quests, the King’s Fall feels like an integrated experience with a strong sense of importance to the overall narrative of the expansion.
Destiny: The Taken King is Destiny at its best, quite easily one-upping everything that’s come before it. With the best story the game has told up until this point, the best strikes, welcome new mechanics, tons of multiplayer content, and a very welcome new raid, this is what Destiny could have been and should always be. Though in many ways the new expansion might hurt what came before, highlighting the lack of story and devaluing the importance of completing past events, The Taken King by far and away makes up for it with its immense amount of new content, new mechanics, UI overhaul, immense amount of scattered secrets to discover, and overall general improvement that make this the best time to hop on, or back in to, Destiny.