Review: Destiny: The Taken King
As much as I played vanilla Destiny, I never got around to writing my review for the original game. I was very optimistic with the original game and found there to be enough content overall, even though I didn’t really know what was going on in the campaign nor cared. The gunplay is terrific. The graphics are beautiful with a locked frame rate and a beautiful aesthetic sci-fi setting. The music is great. And the drop-in/drop-out co-op experience works seamlessly. And the deathmatch… err, PVP… combines a familiar feeling of Halo’s deathmatch with special abilities depending on your character class. The game is built around you playing with friends and that’s a good experience in its own. Destiny’s weakness came from grinding equipment, limited content, a story that’s generic on the surface, and rewards that never felt too rewarding. But I certainly wouldn’t say the core game is unacceptable as it was my most played game of 2014.
After The Dark Below DLC content hit, I felt the need to retire the game aside from doing the raids with friends. If their DLC was lacking as it was with The Dark Below, I had no desire to continue playing Destiny until a sequel was released. The House of Wolves was a bit better, but I was finished with it after the first week. The thought of buying The Taken King was not an option, or so I thought. A few of my friends were going to pick it up and I ended up with some extra cash so I decided to give it one last shot. I enjoyed Destiny enough for what it was but you can only put in so many hours doing the same thing.
The Taken King is a much-needed improvement over the original game and both its mediocre expansions. It feels like a true expansion rather than more generic DLC filler until the next game. They’ve completely rejuvenated the experience and given a new hope to a bad experience for those who hated the original game. If you’d never played the game before, The Taken King is the time to aboard the train and enjoy the ride.
Several friends of mine were frustrated with Destiny’s original campaign. The story was lacking any character and was incredibly vague on what was going on unless you wanted to open Bungie’s website to read several Grimoire cards collected throughout the game. Even if there was a story you cared about, the missions were nothing more than having your Ghost (a floating intelligence to help guide you) scan miscellaneous items and protecting it until you fought through the waves. Most games use this same method but disguise it through less obvious means. The Taken King doesn’t entirely change this aspect, but it tackles it differently. Instead of scanning items to start waves of enemies to shoot, you’ll enter a room full of enemies. There’s even more dialog chatter from characters to give the game a more authentic life than previously experienced. Most importantly is the variety mission goals are. Instead of just shooting room full of enemies, they’ve introduced platforming, puzzles, and stealth. There’s a couple of missions that stumped me as to how to complete an area to move on. It’s something Destiny was lacking completely before now outside of the raids.
Quests in Destiny “2.0” are streamlined into a menu system. You’re no longer completing quests then going back to the Tower (central player hub) to turn them in. You turn them in right from the menu screen which saves a lot of time. This isn’t a revolutionary feature by any means; it’s just a much needed feature.
When I first finished the campaign, I thought the game was basically over and I had wasted $40 on another lack-luster “expansion pack” for Destiny. It ended after about 5-6 hours and while it was much better than anything I had played before in Destiny, it wasn’t enough. But then I noticed more and more missions to do after that were more than boring patrols. They were adding a bit more to the story each time. I’m one of those that put in all of those hours in the vanilla game and couldn’t be bothered with learning the characters names. After finishing enough of the side missions and campaign, I can proudly say I know the core characters of the game. That’s how well they turned their story around.
With the introduction of a real expansion pack, there’s a new area to visit on a Hive ship called the Dreadnaught that’s located on Saturn’s rings. While the feel of the Dreadnaught is very linear and less massive than expected, there’s a lot more content in each area than some of the previous maps. Quality over quantity? There’s secrets all over the place but the overall best part of patrolling this area is for a public event called the Court of Oryx. During this, you’re teamed up with whoever joins you (or whoever you join) to battle waves of enemies. Each wave has objectives the team must work together to complete and makes for an interesting way to finish waves than just shooting. To put icing on the cake, it’s an excellent way to score tons of loot.
Strikes are longer (and better) missions with real bosses at the end of each one. You’d have a squad of three players working together to take out enemies while focusing fire on a very spongy boss. Once you’ve done enough of them, they grow tiring as they’re always completed the same way with you just unloading all of your ammo into enemies until the boss in down. There were no puzzles or mini-objectives, at least originally. With the introduction of 2.0, the strikes are a lot more involved. They feel like mini-raids, which is how I imagine they originally wanted them to feel. You may run into a non-combat related objective to complete while your teammates are focusing fire on enemies. It’s a lot less mind-numbing than holding down a trigger until you take down a boss.
The most satisfying experience in Destiny is completing its raids. Raids are time consuming, very difficult, require a good team of 6, but are very satisfying. After finishing the Vault of Glass (Destiny’s first raid), there was cheering coming from all who were in. Screams of excitement. Nothing comes close to beating it the first time. I enjoyed the raid so much, I managed to find a crew to spend two weeks knocking out the most difficult trophy/achievement in the game known as the Flawless Raider in which no one on your team was allowed to die. The new raid I haven’t had the pleasure of playing, although I’ve heard nothing but excellent things about it. There’s more puzzles, variety and challenges than the previous raids so I’m excited about getting a group together to try it out. Destiny has constantly had heat about not allowing matchmaking in Destiny. Instead, most players looking to raid use forums, Reddit, or a website known as Destiny LFG. While it seems asinine to have a system missing, I understand why matchmaking isn’t involved. Strikes have matchmaking and every once in a while, you run into someone that’s AFK or trying to be a one man army. I can only imagine matchmaking with random people that aren’t communicating or trying to do things without the team.
Leveling in Destiny has changed quite a bit. In the original, you were capped at level 20 and then you had a separate leveling system based on your gear called Light levels. The level cap has increased to 40 and while there’s still a Light levels in 2.0, it’s handled more similarly to World of WarCraft’s gear rating system. You’ll still need to maintain a certain Light level to access some content such as raids or weekly content, but the system is a lot easier to understand and manage. Every piece of gear now has a rating that helps increase your Light level. Even picking up class specific items such as cloaks give you an armor rating. And your Ghost friend? You can buy or locate new ones, and now they have an armor rating. It feels more like an authentic loot game since you’re switching gear out a lot more frequently now.
One mechanic they introduced is the ability to infuse better gear into gear you want to keep. Say you have a legendary chest piece that has special abilities you want to keep but the defense rating is much lower than a rare chest piece you just picked up. Instead making a switch, you can sacrifice your better rated item into your current gear to increase it’s rating a percentage.
Loot drops are more friendly to players now. Instead of battling the RNG system, it feels like it’s working for you now. You have a much higher percent change of getting better gear than what’s currently equipped. This reduces gear grinding to a point that’s enjoyable. While I put in easy a few hundred hours into a single character in the first run of Destiny, I didn’t realize how arcane the original system was until playing The Taken King. I was generally lucky in my drops, scoring a Gjallarhorn and Ice Breaker (two terrific year one exotic guns) in a few months of play. But that was after several hours of playthrough and doing the same content over and over to obtain weapons and gear that suited me. Now there’s a much better pick up and play system in place that feels rewarding for hardcore and casual players. The best thing about Destiny is how the shooting feels so being able to experience more of their vast and unique weapons is a treat.
Fighting for more gear is great and all, but what about your old gear? Sadly, most of the gear I had was trashed. There’s year one content and year two content. Some year one exotics are stored in a banking system you can access to buy for a new currency called Legendary Marks. These year one models are converted into year two items meaning you’re getting a completely updated version of the same gun or armor you had before. On top of storing exotic weapons and armor, you can also access any emblems or shaders you’ve uncovered throughout the game. There’s various “banks” for each type of item and it makes it a lot easier to recover broken items or manage your bank. Your old bank is now also big enough to hold practically everything you ever dreamed of. It’s another much needed improvement.
Each class has a new subclass to experience for crowd control massive amounts of enemies. The Hunter is given an elemental bow to fire that you can change around to do different things such as slow enemies or cause massive explosions. The Titan has a solar hammer that can be thrown at enemies for massive damage which is not only fun to play with but incredible cool to see in action. And lastly, the Warlock now has the ability to shoot lightning out of his hands which is great for a crowded group of enemies. Learning how to effectively master these new abilities is a lot of fun and makes your characters feel new again.
The PVP aspect of the game has changed a bit with the 2.0 patch, but The Taken King added new maps and modes to experience. There’s Mayhem, which is a much more action packed experience giving everyone access to specials quicker. As the name says, it’s a mode for pure chaos and is fun for just watching crazy kill streaks. Rift is the other mode introduced which is more focused on pure team play. The concept is similar to classic shooter modes such as capture the flag. A shard is generated in the central location of the map and the objective is to bring it to the enemy base. The other mode, Zone Control, is similar to Battlefield’s conquest mode. Holding zones will bring an overall team score and the objective is to defend rather than tally up kills.
Recently, Bungie has decide to introduce a microtransaction system to keep a live team going to ensure more content is released and things are changed around. The microtransactions are purely cosmetic and do nothing to affect the gameplay. It will be interesting (and a disaster) if this changed in the future. But currently it’s a good way to keep a money flow into the pockets of Bungie so they can work on more content for free much like a traditional MMO.
I completely recommend giving Destiny another shot if you were disappointed with the original game. I believe that if The Taken King was the initial product, a lot more people would be satisfied with their experience in Destiny’s universe. It’s a much more complete package and for newcomers, it’s going to be that much satisfying. You didn’t have to put up with the grinding for gear like us veteran Destiny players. You’re in for an enjoyable ride, just make sure you bring some friends along. Destiny shines with a group of 3 friends. It’s an overall satisfying shooter with enough content to keep you coming back for more.