Destiny: The Taken King Review

So remember Destiny, that massively overhyped game from last year that underwhelmed fans and critics everywhere? Of course you do, its five-hundred million dollar advertising budget has made sure of that. Well it’s back again, this time in the form of a major expansion called The Taken King that includes several large additions to the base game as well as major overhauls to many of its core mechanics. The new “year two” version of the game, as it’s being called, has officially been on shelves for a month now and as such has given me ample time to dive back into a game that just last year was largely considered a disappointment. If you like so many gave up on the original but have had your interest piqued by all the new content in the expansion, then allow me to fill you in on what you can expect should you too decide to dive into the year two version of Destiny.

Remember these guys?
Remember these guys?

For starters, let’s talk about what you’ll notice straight out of the box when you load up the game for the first time. Basic things like the menu, world map, character and inventory screens are all the same, but there is now a brand new playable area called “The Dreadnought” which is a giant alien craft embedded within the rings of Saturn. It’s a setting that makes for some impressive skyboxes. Along with this new area comes a slew of new missions, strikes, and a raid (more on that last one later). And not that the story in this game has ever been particularly good, or even really existent for that matter, this time around there is at least something resembling a coherent narrative to give players a sense of purpose when playing through the new content. To add to that, Bungie seems to have done away with Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) as your guide through the story in favor of Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Castle), who acts as your handler back at the Tower. Nothing against Dinklage, who is great in GoT, but his performance as your ghost, a sort of personal assistant robot, in the year one version of Destiny was just sort of awkward at best. Bungie seems to have decided Fillion’s character was just a bit more likable, and I would agree. These changes and additions come together nicely to make playing the missions in the expansion far less tedious than those of the base game were.

I mean seriously, how cool is this? Saturn is way more fun than those stupid rocky planets back in the inner solar system.
I mean seriously, how cool is this? Saturn is way more fun than those stupid rocky planets back in the inner solar system.

But let’s be honest with ourselves for a second. Destiny is basically just one elaborate slot machine, and I’d wager most people don’t play it for story but for the prospect of getting increasingly better loot. It’s kind of a sad way to go about injecting fun into your game, and can make things kind of boring once you have all the best gear, but I’d be lying if I said making your climb up the loot tree wasn’t actually pretty entertaining. If you were a year one player you likely remember the thrill of seeing that little yellow square pop up on the side of your screen signifying you got one of the coveted exotic level guns or armor. It can make you feel like a kid on Christmas. I think what turned a lot of people off to the game in its original form was that getting good, let alone great, item drops was prohibitively difficult. Players would grind out activities for hours on end only to finish with nothing in hand to show for their efforts. Sometimes players would get the same sniper or chest piece they had already received four times before. It was a flawed system that at the time showed potential but left players scratching their heads as to why Bungie for months did nothing about it.

Fortunately for year two players, the loot system has seen a significant overhaul. Legendary tier items, the second best in the game, now commonly show up in almost any activity. My time spent running missions in the strikes playlist has seen me netting a legendary item roughly every other strike. If you were a year one player you’ll also likely be surprised to see the frequency with which legendaries drop in crucible. You even now have a chance to find exotic items from defeating bosses in anything from the raid all the way down to low level story missions, provided you purchase a specific item from the weekend-only vendor, Xur, beforehand. If that wasn’t enough, Bungie has added quests into the game which reward players with gear upon completion. They kind of had this in year one with exotic bounties, but these are a bit more elaborate and well thought out and, at least in my opinion, have a better payout, as some of the most desirable guns can only be obtained through completing quests. Gone are the days of players having no way to acquire that one, say, rocket launcher that everyone wants (looking at you, Gjallarhorn) other than by crossing their fingers and praying for a lucky drop, and that’s a good thing. It means everyone can level up their characters without having to make Destiny their full time job, which in turn means more people will have access to activities like the raid which require players to have earned top tier guns and armor to enter.

No but really, it's way easier to get solid gear. All this was after, like, a week and a half tops.
No but really, it’s way easier to get a hold of solid gear, especially as a returning player. All this was after, like, a week and a half tops.

Which brings us to the part of the game that in my opinion gives Destiny its staying power. Raids are something new to shooters and relatively unheard of on console games. To those unfamiliar with what I’m referring to, a raid in Destiny is basically one very long story mission filled with a series of challenging bosses, jumping puzzles, and mazes. Attempts at completing the raid when it’s new and there isn’t any information online in the form of tips and walkthroughs can take anywhere from seven to eleven hours. Even once the player base familiarizes themselves with it, the raid can still take teams hours to complete. Oh, and yes, I said teams. As in you will need six people minimum to clear it (there are exceptions of course). It’s easily the most challenging part of the game and requires a significant degree of patience, teamwork, communication skills, and competence as a player to make it through. Upon finishing the raid, the game will reward players with an item chosen at random from a set of the best gear in the game. The challenge of doing the raid and prospect of getting the best gear available to show off to all your friends make this aspect of the game particularly fun, far more so than the regular story missions.

The raid that comes with The Taken King is called King’s Fall and is the third raid to be released for Destiny. Compared with the first two, it is a very mechanic driven raid, meaning this time around there is a heavy emphasis on teamwork and communication. There are also more jumping puzzles and bosses to fight. Come to think of it there are even jumping puzzles inside of boss fights. The entire thing is a pretty complex ordeal, and would probably take an entirely separate piece to cover it all. So for the sake of brevity, I’ll just say that the new raid is definitely worth an attempt if you decide to pick up The Taken King and rank your character up to the appropriate level. Check out the video below of the final boss fight if you’re still not convinced.

All things said, The Taken King is a step in the right direction for Destiny. There is a good amount of new content for returning players, and enough to keep new players with their hands full for quite a while. On the downside, the game is still a grind fest, but Bungie has made significant changes to the loot mechanics to make the process of acquiring better gear far less tedious than it was in Destiny 1.0. I’d say even a new initiate to the franchise wouldn’t have to spend more than a couple of weeks with moderate playing time to deck his or her character out with respectable gear. All that plus the raid, which again I am a big fan of, means that The Taken King is basically what Destiny should have been at release last year. It is certainly not a great game (fingers crossed for Destiny 2, though), but it has been moved from the “return to gamestop” category and now firmly sits in the list of games you should check out, especially if you didn’t get the chance to play it last year.

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