When Destiny debuted last year, it did not seem worthy of the time developer Bungie had spent developing it. Their first title since leaving behind Halo, the mega franchise that made first person shooters on consoles a thing while simultaneously becoming a tent pole of Microsoft's XBOX, Destiny was billed as the second coming, a monetary monstrosity publisher Activision not so secretly hoped would become the next Call of Duty.
While more then technically sound, Destiny felt incomplete. With a nearly non-existent narrative and an end game built almost solely on the concept of grinding, shooting was the only part of the game that didn't come with some kind of caveat or warning. Having seen enough through the Beta, I was confident in my decision to not jump in upon release, hoping beyond hope that Bungie might somehow rescue their vision from the shallowness of its own reality.
Fast forward a year, and two questionable DLC releases later, we arrive at The Taken King. Functioning more as an expansion then just DLC, The Taken King is not only new content, but a full on reworking of the base game beneath it. With immediate parallels to Blizzard's masterful Diablo III 2.0 release, the changes made have gone a long way to making good on... well, to just making it good.
The Taken King opens on a space battle between a giant, rectangular ship called the Dreadnaught, and the Awoken, who... look, there's probably an awful lot of context surrounding this battle, but you're kind of given none of it at its start, and very little as the rest of the game goes on. What is shown is very beautiful, and does a brilliant job of showing why Oryx, the titular king, is extremely dangerous. It's the first of a few pre-rendered cut scenes, which in itself, is a huge change from the main game, which featured all of maybe three through its entirety.
The scenes help give the story missions some extra oomph and a little bit of sass, and given that the rest of the game only featured a small handful of these, watching them and getting anything other then an info dump is a pleasant change. It would be enough, probably more then enough, if the rest of the game found a way to incorporate the narrative elements within itself, even if it was through some “codec” like dialog, but the real interesting bits, the pieces that show how everything works together, continue to be hidden away in the Grimore, Bungie's online repository of all things worth exploring.
The other obvious change, at least story wise, between old Destiny and The Taken King is your Ghost's voice. Originally voiced by Peter Dinklage, work that has been ridiculed from the moment the words “wizard” and “moon” were uttered, your Ghost is now voiced by Mr. Video Game himself, Nolan North. The difference is impressive, and I'm not sure if it's entirely thanks to Nolan, or if they just got around to giving some better direction. This change stretches through the entire game as well, not just the new content. It's still the same lines being said, and your Guardian is still a silent protagonist through the vast majority of the story, but it could be worth going back to hear if you are so inclined.
On the gameplay side of things, a lot of work was done under the hood to improve both how you level and the kind of loot you get along the way. While your Guardian still has a class level, the main stat to be concerned with now is Light. Your Light score serves as the average of all of your equipment, and it is the gauge against which the toughness of your opponents is held. Changing the score is as easy as switching out a piece of gear, and thankfully, the end game no longer consists of grinding out stats on individual pieces of equipment, investing a ton of time for a slim gain.
That's not to say there isn't a grind, but changing the goal from “improve these specific best-in-slot items” to “get loot” makes that grind feel like less of a chore. Loot acquisition has been improved ten fold, with not only the amount of engrams (non-identified equipment) dropped increasing, but an overall increase to the quality of those drops as well. It's no longer impossible to find rare, or blue colored, equipment that is higher in stats then legendary items, and as such, each and every engram that drops has the capacity to be important rather then immediate trash. Add to that the ability to feed those stronger, but maybe less impressive pieces of gear into items of legendary or exotic quality, and the end result is a more customized experience, lessening the need for specific drops from specific encounters.
It also helps that those encounters have been tuned to offer a better experience. More then simply pumping bullets into an often inappropriately sized sponge, both the missions and strikes in The Taken King try to offer more. One notable mission had you working through the area where the Crota's End raid takes place, trying to stay out of the paths of enemy patrols while invisible, while a second has you planting and then completing patrol points inside the Dreadnaught to help cement the Vanguard's presence on the ship. There are still a few that break into the traditional Destiny formula of go here, have your ghost do something while you beat up a bunch of enemies, and repeat until you find the boss, but those situations are further and farther between then in the early game.
Spicing the world up beyond just the named missions are the Taken themselves. Looking like a simple palette swap of the original Destiny races, the Taken are tough, agile, and sometimes downright infuriating. When taken, a process akin to getting sucked into a black hole, each race develops its own powers, like Cabal Psions spitting into multiple copies of themselves, or Fallen Champions throwing huge globes of screen-blackening nastiness. Alone, they are easy enough to deal with, but heroic strikes have a way of ganging the Taken up in numbers that even now make my head shake.
Where The Taken King really shines though is in the stuff Bungie doesn't mark out with a mission or objective. These little points of interest, scattered throughout the new content, and jam packed into the husk of the Dreadnaught itself, are glorious, with most requiring a little luck, a bit more skill, and some real detective work to find. There are a ton of locked treasure chests requiring specific keys to open, and even more calcified fragments, little pieces of distilled Hive to collect and eventually turn in... for something. It's that something, the mystery that permeates these little extras, that is both so exciting and so frustrating. This was the promise of Destiny, this was what I wanted but on a scale that matched or even exceeded that which Bungie had done previously, and this was what was missing from the base game. That it finally shows itself now is a great boon to the game, but an equally sad one because of what it means when compared to the last year of content.
That, in essence, is the give and take of this package. Finally at a point where I can not only recommend it, but have actually bought it myself, I am still shocked when I think about the game as a whole. For the first time, Destiny feels like it's complete. It's not perfect, far from it in fact, and I still can't entirely disagree when they speak of the package itself as bad. But I've also been unable to put it down for the past month I've played it. And that, the fun of getting into the game and exploring what it does have to offer, rather then sitting on the sidelines grumbling about what it doesn't, makes The Taken King, a worthy addition to my library.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!