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Destiny: The Taken King Review

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The fall is here, and with it, a deluge of new games to bolster an ever growing backlog. For me, this effect has been compounded by the release of Bungie’s latest expansion for Destiny, The Taken King. Although Destiny has had two previous expansions, The Dark Below and House of Wolves, The Taken King is distinct from those two installments, more in line with the game’s original release than a mere expansion. Of course, Destiny has emerged as something of a contentious game. Many gamers were soured by its initial release while its die-hard supporters have repeatedly ignored those criticisms and facetiously called it the best six-out-of-ten they have ever played. Bungie has repeatedly stated that they hear their player-base and that The Taken King and Destiny's Year Two were driven by a year of player experiences and feedback.

The Taken King builds upon the events of Destiny’s first expansion, The Dark Below. The Dark Below was largely centered on Crota, a Hive god who had reemerged to resume his assault against Earth and the Traveler. This expansion culminated in Crota’s End, a raid which tasked players with venturing into the heart of Crota’s realm to put an end to his machinations. In his dying moments, Crota reached out across the stars to Oryx, his god father. Oryx has finally arrived in our solar system to wage his war of revenge and to finish Crota’s conquest. However, Oryx’s army is unlike anything players have faced before. Oryx’s powers allow him to seize control of other lifeforms, twisting and subjugating them to his will. All opponents, Hive, Fallen, Cabal, and even the Vex, cannot escape Oryx’s reach and become pawns in his army. These enemies become infused with glowing energy, similar to various Hive powerhouses fought throughout the game. Beings taken by Oryx twitch and spasm randomly, reinforcing the idea that a more powerful entity is in control and is bending and contorting these creatures to its will. Oryx’s control isn’t just about aesthetic changes -- enemies gain new abilities and work in previously unseen combinations which present new challenges and require new strategies and coordination.

While Destiny’s gameplay has always stood on a strong foundation, one of the game’s biggest criticisms a year ago was the weakness of its campaign and story. Back when I originally reviewed it, I touched on the seeds the original release had planted. However, although the two subsequent releases have improved on the story, neither release truly capitalized on Destiny’s potential. Considering the original turmoil, The Taken King’s story and campaign are thankfully a drastic departure from the Year One content. From start to finish, The Taken King is built around the fight against Oryx and his armies. Objectives and motivations for every mission are clearly laid out, and although there are unexpected twists, the story progresses in an understandable and sequential manner. Missions also break away from the 'go to objective, scan objective, fight off waves of enemies' mold so many of the early missions followed. Furthermore, Bungie has restructured much of the content around the a new quest structure, even the Year One content, so the overall experience flows more seamlessly from one task to the next.

If you’ve never played Destiny, I recommend taking a look at the game’s IMDB page -- I imagine the phenomenal voice actors Bungie secured for Destiny will blow you away. People like Peter Dinklage (although that’s a discussion I should probably avoid..), Bill Nighy, Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Lance Reddick, John DiMaggio, and many others all provide their voices to characters in Destiny. However, if you’ve actually played the game, you were likely equally blown away by how badly their potential was wasted through much of Year One. For the most part, most characters were not deeply integrated into the game and most voice actors provided, at best, a handful of lines. In The Taken King, key NPCs around The Tower are not only closely involved with the campaign cutscenes, but are also in near-constant communication with players as they progress through missions and quests. Of course, Nathan Fillion’s performance as Cayde-6 throughout the campaign deserves special praise, proving once again, Hunters are the best. I also need to take a moment to praise The Taken King’s soundtrack. The dissonant tones of several of the tracks perfectly match the chaotic nature of the Taken. However, for me personally, some of the best tracks stand out because of how perfectly they capture the spirit of some of my favorite songs featured in the Halo franchise -- namely, Send in the Cavalry which immediately brought me back to watching Sarge and the Arbiter preparing for the assault against The Ark at the end of the Floodgate mission in Halo 3.

In addition to the wealth of new enemies, Oryx’s arrival has also introduced a massive new area for players to explore -- the gargantuan hive fortress known as the Dreadnaught. Unlike previous expansions which only offered new areas within the existing maps (minus the Reef), the Dreadnaught is an entirely new area. The crux of the game’s campaign and many subsequent quests occur within the confines of this massive new area. While the Dreadnaught definitely feels smaller than the original four planets, the area still feels vast and saturated with secrets and unknowns. In fact, leading up to The Taken King’s release, Bungie repeatedly described the Dreadnaught as a “loot filled fortress.” Bungie did an impressive job of introducing the Dreadnaught and establishing it within the context of the game. The player is the first guardian to set foot on the Dreadnaught, and after progressing through the game’s campaign, players are tasked with placing beacons throughout the ship; the very beacons which players later use to acquire patrol missions. However, the Dreadnaught is not the only mystery in The Taken King. The Taken King released on Tuesday, September fifteenth. By the following Monday, there was a thread on Reddit where players were complaining that Bungie had held back a number of the game’s exotics, to maintain a trickle of content. Rather hilariously, on Wednesday, players wandering off the path during the daily story mission found a secret objective which rewarded one of the missing exotics which Bungie had supposedly held back. The Taken King has been out for around two weeks, and players are still scouring the world, searching for secrets. This time around, Bungie has done a great job hiding secrets and keeping players from discovering everything within a short period of time. It has been really entertaining watching the community craft theories, pine over minuscule details and clues, and scour the world searching for answers.

The Taken King also gives players three new subclasses to fill out the missing elemental rotations for the three classes. Hunters finally get access to a support class: the void-based Nightstalker. Nightstalkers are designed to enfeeble opponents, use their grenades to control opponent movement, have melees which can cloak allies or poison enemies, and a super which weakens and slows down opponents. The Warlock’s new subclass is the Stormcaller, a close-range arc power class with a super which will draw immediate references to Emperor Palpatine. Their grenades and melee abilities chain lightning from one target to the next. Titans fill out their rotation with the solar hammer wielding Sunbreaker. This class is about dealing massive damage and with their super, Titans can throw their powerful hammer, dealing both close and long-range damage. Honestly, as much fun as these three subclasses are to play, there’s no doubt that they are not balanced compared to the original six -- which is realistically not a surprise given that the original six have been balanced and patched over the course of this year. In the Crucible especially, the extent to which Sunbreakers seem far too strong compared to all alternatives truly stands out and has me hoping that Bungie will balance these classes sooner rather than later.

When Destiny shipped last year, the game had a soft cap of level twenty, and a hard cap of level thirty. After reaching level twenty, players had to acquire gear with light to reach the higher levels. Unfortunately, initially, there was only one location where players could acquire gear with the highest light levels, and players were at the mercy of the game’s, at times, punishing random number generator. This led to the mordant “Forever 29” joke amongst players. With Year Two, Bungie has revised Destiny’s level system to have a single cap, level forty. Like the original Destiny, players earn experience to progress towards this cap which can be reached fairly quickly. However, the game hasn’t completely abandoned the light statistic. Light is used for damage scaling and a player’s light level is a weighted average of the attack and defense values across all their pieces of gear. Gaining light is more of an incremental process and equipping pieces of gear which increase a player’s light level lead to better drops. Given the wider range of values gear can take on, sometimes players will acquire a weapon or piece of armor with perks and stats they might really like, but unfortunately has a lower attack or defense value than a newer piece of gear. To combat this, Bungie has introduced a mechanism called infusion which allows players to use higher rated gear to power up weaker pieces. While the system admittedly could be better explained for newcomers, it is fairly intuitive once you understand it and gives players far more options for customization based on individual playstyles.

This past year, if you had asked players to describe many of Destiny’s bosses, far too many would have provided some synonym or phrase related to the term bullet-sponge. In Year One, the challenge presented by many bosses came down to a copious supply of health points and merely pressured players to gradually whittle them down over time without making mistakes. As a result, players relied on weapons which rapidly dealt the most damage or offered the least risk. Most of the Year Two bosses distance themselves from this problem and are instead defined by unique mechanisms and phases. In one of the new strikes, players have to battle two Cabal brothers with different abilities. The challenge arises due to fighting one brother, shifting gears to fight the second whose abilities and attacks contrast the first, and finally fighting them together when one's strengths mitigate the other’s weaknesses. The drastic change of modifying the core nature of boss mechanics is one of the best examples which shows that Bungie is listening to its players and wants to create a game that players partake in because they enjoy the experience, not because it is their weekly obligation to clear a specific mission or fight.

Destiny’s player-versus-player dimension, the Crucible, also expands with The Taken King to include a number of new game modes and maps. Arguably, the two biggest additions are Rift and Mayhem. Rift is a new 6v6 objective mode which most closely resembles neutral bomb. Players must collect a spark which spawns at a predetermined location and deliver it to the opponents’ rift. Mayhem, on the other hand, is a game mode which players have clamored over for months. All abilities recharge faster and players gain access to their grenades, melees, and supers at a ridiculous pace. As its name implies, Mayhem is chaotic, but incredibly fun if you’re looking to have some crazy and carefree fun. Of course, no discussion of the Crucible would be complete without reference to the end of Year One and the game’s disappointing meta-game. At the end of Year One, the majority of Crucible matches were dominated by the three exotic hand cannons and three shotguns which could be rolled to have perks which extended their range well beyond any reasonable range. As someone who developed a love for Bungie thanks to Halo’s multiplayer, it pained me to watch the Crucible transition into an unenjoyable mire. A week before The Taken King released, Bungie released a patch which rebalanced the game and shifted the meta-game to the point where a single dominant weapon and playstyle still do not exist. The biggest problem was not that the Crucible was unbalanced, but that Bungie was largely quiet during this stretch regarding any changes or patches. As Year Two begins, things are better, but still not perfect (for instance, Bungie has acknowledged that shotguns are still far too long-ranged). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that every cry that a single weapon or playstyle is unbalanced needs to be addressed. However, I do believe that Bungie needs to be faster with their balancing patches and do a better job telling players what they are seeing and considering -- which is shocking given how well Bungie has communicated with players at times.

Destiny players who have delved into the game’s endgame content typically agree that the raids are the best content offered, and no discussion of The Taken King would be complete without the requisite mention of the game’s newest raid, King’s Fall. Following in the footsteps of the Vault of Glass and Crota’s End, King’s Fall is a six player cooperative event which tasks players with pursuing Oryx into the heart of his Dreadnaught to permanently put an end to his domination. I’ve repeatedly expressed my love for fights which task players with unique mechanics, require precise coordination, and present challenges which cannot be overcome merely by slamming into them with brute force. Like the new strikes, King’s Fall’s bosses also break away from the bullet-sponge mentality which permeated Year One and place greater emphasis on the mechanics of each encounter. As a result, I think my first clear took around twelve hours over the course of three days and challenged my group and me like the Vault of Glass had previously done around a year ago. Much of the time was spent trying to understand how to damage a boss, how to avoid taking damage, or how to coordinate six people, each with a different role, to complete an objective. Subsequent playthroughs have inevitably been far easier, but the challenge is still present and I am enthralled to continue to progress through the raid each week. One of the noticeable differences between King’s Fall and the previous raids is the burden it places on individual players while also requiring them to coordinate and work as a team. While the two previous raids required coordination and teamwork, both typically presented the majority of players with similar roles and encumbered a single player with a more complicated task -- for instance, wielding the Aegis in the Vault of Glass or brandishing the sword in Crota’s End. In King’s Fall, especially the later parts of the raid, players must complete four or five different objectives at once, meaning a single unaware player can bring down an otherwise flawless run. It is challenging, stressful, and can lead to some tense moments, but it makes it that much more satisfying when your group successfully clear an arduous encounter. It’s worth nothing that again, Destiny’s best content requires a group, and while I’m still opposed to raid matchmaking, Bungie desperately needs to devise an in-game system to meet and befriend players. Oh, one last note about King’s Fall -- the raid's final boss might be the coolest boss I’ve ever encountered in an FPS game.

As great as The Taken King has been, in many ways, it feels like a substantial expansion which has highlighted the weaknesses of both The Dark Below and House of Wolves, and makes them both appear less like expansions and more like DLC. Destiny’s core gameplay mechanics have not changed drastically, but those elements were always impressive. A number of people and reviews have dubbed Year One Destiny’s Beta test with The Taken King signifying the game’s true release. While I disagree on some levels, this is a fairly apt characterization of the game -- in many ways, the player experience has undergone some drastic changes in the transition from Year One into Year Two, and is a noticeably different monster. Now, I’ve tried to be objective in this review, but the obvious caveat to all this is that I am, for all intents and purposes, a Destiny addict. Whether you believe me or not is up to you (but if you don’t, we’re not friends anymore and I’m not coming to your birthday party.. jerk!), but if you gave Destiny a try last year and were disappointed or never picked it up, I hope you will reconsider Destiny and The Taken King. Bungie has done a lot of things right with The Taken King, and going forward, I find myself encouraged that Destiny’s future again looks very bright.

All actions have consequences..
..and ours have angered a god.

All images owned by Bungie.
Did not realize this had turned into a massive wall-o-text till I finished.. apologies~


  1. Sagacyte -
    Sagacyte's Avatar
    Agree 100%! I abandoned Destiny shortly before The Dark Below, as the content didn't seem to be worth it to justify the price. Fast forward to TTK and I'm surprised by how much the game has changed, the amount of stuff there is to do and... well, how wonderfully it still plays.