Note: This review was written for those familiar with Destiny and its Year 1 content. , and for that reason does not cover the mechanics of staple Destiny gameplay. For more information on Destiny, please refer to our “Explaining Destiny” and “Destiny’s Year 2 Update” articles.
The Taken King opens with a cinematic unlike anything that has come before – in Destiny, at least. Fast-moving, action-packed, and full of emotion, it sets the stage for a story befitting the expectations of a vocal audience, and delivers in spades. Feeling like a sci-fi epic for the first time in the series, there are a number of “wow” moments, and a couple of “OMG” moments – provided you are up-to-date with who is who in the Destiny universe – which sets players in motion for a series of equally thrilling story missions.
The new focus on storytelling doesn’t stop there, however. Each new mission is bookended by cinematics, which is not REALLY new for Destiny, but the difference lies in the characters that are involved. Finally, Bungie has focused on character development, with a story based not only on the Vanguard Mentors (Ikora Rey, Cayde-6, and Commander Zavala), but also Eris Morn and Amanda Holliday. Utilising these characters – who were arguably neglected in the original game – paints Destiny in a new light: one that clearly has a history and a structure. While most characters are still very serious, Cayde-6 takes up the mantle as the game’s comedic relief, a role filled perfectly by Nathan Fillion. His interactions with the other characters – particularly the melancholic Eris Morn – makes what is still a brief storyline worthwhile, if not completely engrossing. It’s a refreshing change for the series, and I’m sure this will appease dissatisfied fans and haters alike (well… maybe not the haters).
The new story missions themselves also take the game in a new direction.Not only is there a sense of urgency created by the story and your surroundings (the first mission puts you smack bang in the middle of a war between two enemy factions), but new mechanics break up the monotony of Destiny‘s core gameplay. There’s some light platforming in several levels, another that introduces an element of stealth, and the introduction of object scanning (not unlike that of the Metroid Prime series, but much more limited in scope). Object scanning provides a dual purpose – it provides some context to the mission, while at the same time providing a new source for story and lore. That said, the majority of Destiny lore is still hidden within the Grimoire, and I was disappointed to find that there was still no way to access this within the game itself – it must be accessed via app or PC.
The new story missions also introduce a new environment – the Dreadnaught: a menacing spaceship orbiting Saturn. It was brought there by Oryx, the father of Crota, who many of us killed in the Crota’s End raid. As a result, he’s not perfectly happy that we exist, and is here to wipe us all out. The Dreadnaught itself is massive – not only are there open spaces to search through, but some of the environments within the ship itself are simply awe inspiring – they appear to go on for miles. Hidden within the ship are Calcified Fragments, which play a role within the game (enabling players to forge a sword), not to mention many locked doors and chests. This encourages a new level of exploration – it will likely take months before all of the secrets have been discovered.
In addition to the new location and the new story missions, there are, of course, new Strikes. While they initially feel very similar to old Strikes, subsequent playthroughs show that things aren’t always the same – Nolan North’s ghost has different things to say, and other aspects of the Strike will change up as well. For example, one playthrough might be filled with the Taken, while others with the Cabal, and another still with a mix of both. Not only that, but there are multiple sub bosses as well – providing some much needed variation. Given we will (still) be grinding through the Strike playlist, this is a welcome change.
More welcome, though, are the new main bosses. While they still have a huge number of hit points, they are far more mobile, with more varied attacks. The Shield Brothers Strike, for example, will see you take on two bosses – one of whom dive bombs players while the other bombards them with mortars. The Sunless Cell puts players at the bottom of a darkened cell – limited vision will have them trying to beat a boss they can’t see. This variation makes for far more enjoyable Strikes. In addition, Bungie has reimagined several Strikes from the first year as well, and added them to the playlist (which is appreciated – the playlist would otherwise have been a little short).
Clearly, a lot has changed in regards to the above, but more than this, Bungie has introduced the element of Quests, adding structure where previously there was none. Now vendors, Vanguards, and others besides will start providing Quests, which are added to a new “Quests” screen in the menu system. This means that players will constantly have something to do – a goal to chase, or a story to progress. While this gives structure to the game initially, I’m unsure of the long-term value. Already I’ve reached a point where I don’t really care that much about most of the Quests in my list, but that may change given time – Bungie could potentially add Quest lines between major updates, but I don’t expect they will. My biggest gripe with Quests, though, is that while some of the instructions are a little unclear (don’t talk to me about High-Level Targets), others are virtually impossible to understand – the Quest line that rewards players with the exotic shotgun “The Chaperone” is unlikely to be completed by many players, due to the difficulty of its first step.
What Quests have done, though, is open up both the Gunsmith and the Factions as viable resources (some may argue that Factions were already viable, but I ignored them prior to The Taken King). Now, earning reputation with Factions is as easy as choosing allegiance to one every week – increasing reputation provides rewards, and sometimes Quests. Earning reputation with the Gunsmith is new – he now provides access to “Field Test” weapons: free weapons that are likely of a lower level than players have currently equipped, each with a target to achieve. Completing this increases Gunsmith reputation – which provides rewards and opens up Quests (one exotic weapon Quest is opened up at Gunsmith level 3). This provides yet another level of interaction that wasn’t previously available .
Of course, I’m yet to mention the new enemy type – the Taken. Essentially, these are the same character models represented by the original four enemy types, only reskinned and – again – reimagined. Each has a new ability that is specifically designed to not only make your life difficult, but to make you a better player. No longer can you ignore the Psions – Taken Psions will clone themselves if left alone for too long. Nor can you hide behind cover in order to take out a tough enemy – Taken Captains fire off a large ball of energy that will almost completely blind you… temporarily. Every new ability is specifically designed to frustrate to some degree. The Taken are not simply the reuse of existing assets – in fact, I would even suggest that giving seemingly familiar enemies challenging new abilities was even more innovative than the creation of a new enemy type.
Speaking of new things – the new subclasses are awesome. All three – awesome. They all make you feel like some kind of superhero, and all provide a new aspect to your character type that may have been missing – for example, the new Hunter subclass is essentially a support class, featuring a special move which allows you to tether groups of enemies to the spot. The requirement to now level a new subclass will no doubt open up a few weeks’ worth of grinding for those of us that have to have it all.
Speaking of unlocking everything, there’s one thing I am yet to mention… the new raid. While I’m yet to play through the raid myself, I’ve been watching others in their attempts (the first fireteam to do so took around 7 hours, so I’m in no rush). The raid itself looks fun – there’s a lot to do, the bosses are tough as nails, and there’s lots of teamwork involved. I expect this new raid to provide months and months of enjoyment, as the two that came before it already have. Of course, the main complaint remains – namely, that the raid doesn’t allow for matchmaking (and neither does Nightfall, while we’re at it). Bungie has mentioned that this is because they want people to work together – and don’t want people to drop out if things get too hard. I can tell you from experience that even a group that consists of friends will have drop-outs from time to time, and it hasn’t been too much of a problem to date. It would be nice to have more opportunity to take on these high-level activities.
There’s one other major change that begs to be mentioned – the new light and level cap. Hitting level 40 is no big deal – player level really only seems to gate certain story missions and item types. Beyond that, it’s not perfectly clear what the level means (although I’m sure it has an impact on attack and defence levels). Light level, though, is where it’s at. Given it’s now a (weighted) average of all of a player’s equipped weapons and armour (I.e., if all of your armour has a defence value of 100 and all of your weapons have an attack value of 100, then your Light level will be 100), everything you collect now “means” something. This means that level gains are now incremental – you’ll generally jump light levels in terms of 2 or 3 units at a time (to a cap of 310), so there is now much more choice in terms of what you want to use in a given battle. Should you equip higher defence blue leg armour, in order to increase your light level by 2 units, or equip the slightly lower defence legendary gear in order to utilise the perk to carry more ammo? This introduces much more of an RPG-element to the game, and it’s very welcome. I can now see myself hoarding more items for very good reason.
On that note, the huge influx of new weapons and armour meant that the first time I picked up a green engram, I discovered that the rocket launcher it contained had a higher attack score than my coveted Gjallahorn (attack 170). While this was pretty frustrating at first (and yes, meant virtually instantly that many of my favourite year one weapons were now rendered useless), I soon saw the silver lining – there are now many NEW weapons to chase. Uncommon (green) items generally have an attack/defence score of around 200, while rare (blue) and legendary (purple) items all seem to go up to max levels… This means there’s a lot more to choose from – legendaries will generally have much better perks and can be “infused” with a higher level rare or legendary item, increasing its power in the process (exotics can do the same). Exotics are all 290 power (or 280 when purchased from blueprints). The main problem with year 2 exotics is that most of them are not included in the pool for Xur/random drops. Decoding exotic engrams virtually always results in a year 2 version of a Year 1 exotic, which is not very satisfying, to say the least.
The Crucible has been updated with several new game modes – Rift being the standout. Rift is essentially a Capture the Flag mode, and is extremely enjoyable to play with a team. On your own, you might want to check out Mayhem – in this mode, special attacks and grenades are available much more frequently, which results in a hectic battle filled with explosions. The new maps are great, for the most part, and really bolster the amount of content on offer. The best addition, though, is the offer of Legendary Marks for the completion of Daily Crucible playlists as well as the weekly Quests offered by Lord Shaxx. Not only does this give me a REASON to play the Crucible every day, it provides something to actually try to achieve when I do so. I’m actually playing Crucible most days as a result (I’ve probably played more Crucible since the release of The Taken King than I have since Destiny was released).
Overall, the amount of content on offer in The Taken King is akin to a whole new game, but it does require players to be somewhat proactive. A less vigilant player might not play much more beyond the 3 or 4 hours offered by the story missions, and think it was a bit of a waste as a result, but they would be missing three-quarters of the content. Again, one of the biggest issues is that the game doesn’t do a good job of explaining itself. Things aren’t TOO buried in menus, but often the explanation is covered during one “unlocking” screen when certain levels are achieved. It’s not enough, but I’m not sure how this could be improved. As it is, though, The Taken King represents Bungie’s response to all of the criticisms they have received over the last 12 months, and for my money, they’ve hit the nail on the head. There’s a lot I’ve not touched on, but I could go on forever. So… leave me alone for a while. I’ve got a fireteam to gather – did I mention it’s still extremely fun to play with others?