Destiny: The Taken King Review

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Despite Destiny’s turbulent beginnings through the initial release and its subsequent expansion packs, it has still managed to gain an enthusiastic and thriving community. The Taken King, the third expansion to see release, feels like the combined result of that community’s tireless feedback and Bungie’s first real step towards realising their original concept.

Game: Destiny: The Taken King
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Activision
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4 (review code provided)

Unknown

Of course, not everything is completely linked to Destiny’s new expansion. Bungie ushered in the game’s second year with a rather hefty ‘2.0’ patch that made some great changes to the core Destiny experience. The more notable changes were the leveling and quest systems. Instead of the original Light number that based itself upon the luck of loot drops, the new level system allows consistent growth and merely indicates an estimate based on the gear you have currently equipped. That means, for example, that any drops you receive will take a look at your current light level and rate your drops accordingly to allow a steady progression – a much more satisfying experience all round.

The tweaks to questing are also a massive leap up from vanilla Destiny. Whilst they might only be adhering to tried and tested traditional RPG mechanics, they really help add some direction for the player and infuse the narrative with a deeper sense of purpose. Being able to track those quests with an intuitive tap of the Dualshock’s pad makes you wonder how you ever persevered through the first year without it. It’s a common theme with Destiny’s new tweaks; typical MMO mechanics that inevitably beg the question – why they wasn’t there in the first place? However, now they are, Destiny 2.0 is a far more tolerable game to exist in, even without The Taken King’s plentiful offerings sweetening the deal.

A bug bear of the first two expansions was their lack of content. The initial burst of enjoyment they provided was short lived and not nearly as fleshed out as some had hoped. The Dark Below offered a frustratingly thin story line and a raid that couldn’t match the high standards set by the original Vault of Glass raid, eventually being exploited and soloed in a whole manner of ways. Then, House of Wolves despite taking some positive steps with narrative and game modes, suffered longevity issues and lacked incentive to grind through the constantly recycled content. Thankfully, The Taken King suffers from none of the above and at the same time provides a more compelling and engaging experience than anything to come before it.

At the heart of it all sits a narrative that actually feels fleshed out to a certain degree, and more importantly, feels like one you might actually care about. Even the missions themselves offer glimpses of depth into characters that felt hollow and meaningless up until now, with some humorous back-and-forths between the excellently portrayed Cayde-6 and the joyless Eris serving being a great example. It’s great that the game is taking itself a little less seriously, too, although it’s the main event that keeps things serious. As it turns out, all those Gjallarhorn rounds you unloaded into Crota’s groin hasn’t gone unnoticed; Oryx, his father, is a tad upset about it all and is unleashing his Taken minions on, well, everyone and anyone he can find.

The main campaign lasts a decent 4-5 hours depending on how distracted you are on the way to the final mission. The variation in those missions has slowly improved with every expansion, but The Taken King hits its pinnacle of interest with gameplay that culminates in more than simply shooting everything on your way to a finish point. Lots of boss fights, platforming and puzzling mixed in with a few new engaging gameplay mechanics means that whilst they may not be particularly lengthy, they are more replayable than before without fatigue setting in too quickly.

The new mission and free-roam area is a large Hive ship called the Dreadnaught. It puts the other planetary zones to shame when it comes to activities. It houses the addictive Court of Oryx that challenges you to quick-fire boss battles for loot. Then there’s patrol missions, public events, keys and chests to find and secret areas all congested into a crossfire of different races battling for supremacy. It’s not the prettiest place to traverse, but it’s rarely dull.

Recycled content is, for better or worse, Destiny’s longevity. So, it’s good that hardly anything in this expansion feels laborious from the outset. New strikes are challenging and incorporate some of the public event and raid mechanics, whilst new subclasses such as the Hunter Nightstalker or Titan Sunbreaker offers completely fresh ways to play. Using the Nightstalker’s tethering ability from their void bow, for example, will cause enemies to be slowed and weakened, then in turn can cause multiple extra orbs to drop (which power other player’s super abilities). It’s great to see gameplay that encourages players to work with each other for the common goal, and it’s much more apparent in The Taken King than it’s ever been.

The King’s Fall raid is perhaps the prime example of just how superb Bungie’s game design can be once they give themselves a little bit more time and grab a project by the scruff of the neck. Teamwork isn’t an option; it’s absolutely essential. I’ve been gaming for longer than I’d care to admit and I’ve never had so much enjoyment problem solving with a group of other players in a video game. It’s shockingly difficult, but, at the same time immensely rewarding. That moment where your strategy has been honed and carried out to perfection is ultimately reward enough, but then comes Destiny’s carrot-and-stick loot mechanics to fortify the bliss of surviving those sometimes soul-crushing onslaughts.

The team play aspect of Destiny is by far the strongest feature and certainly the most endorsed by Bungie. Which is why it’s still baffling that there’s still no real way to form groups in game outside of matchmaking modes. The Raids and some other endgame events such as the weekly Nightfall Strike (a toughness tweaked version of a regular strike) require you to form your own group, but provide no way in game for you to do so. The community has come to rescue through sites like Reddit and the 100.io to help players form groups, but it makes no sense that there’s no way to do so in a game that prides itself on online play. Even the smaller Public events in Destiny’s free-roam patrol mode advise two or more players to participate, but partying up with a player standing next to you will mean being booted back out to the main screen before you can do so, making the entire process senseless.

This leaves casual players with a dilemma. The game’s best content is hidden behind a social wall and The Taken King only adds more layers to it. It took me two hours to find a Fireteam to play the Raid with, not because I’m fussy, but because no one wanted to play with someone who hadn’t already gained experience of the raid, and who could blame them? The activities can be immensely time consuming and for those who haven’t got a great deal of time set aside to play don’t ideally want to be spending 3 hours explaining mechanics to others. For some, the absolute best parts of Destiny might have to be forfeited altogether in favour of the quick-run and PvP multiplayer modes, which is a genuine shame – for Bungie, too. A simple search feature for like-minded players would solve a lot of problems.

In fairness, there’s still a whole host of content to wade through alone and it’s even better now that Destiny’s MMO identity crises is starting to be resolved somewhat. It’s use of archetypal mechanics used by games like WoW, have cleaned up questing and leveling to the point that you could be 30 hours in before you even consider forming a fireteam. And when you do, you’ll possibly be overwhelmed with activities, especially once older expansions are brought up to speed with the new updates. There was even a daily story mission with a secret, rock-hard alternate ending recently discovered by accident, that yielded an exotic sniper rifle exclusive to it. Hopefully there’s more of this to come.

VERDICT

Destiny had some initial teething problems, it’s true. It was merely a solid, slightly reptitive shooter with a thin story line and not enough engaging content before this latest update. Today, post release of the expansion, anything feels possible. Suddenly there are reasons to care about the Destiny universe; the gunplay and system features grow more refined with every passing patch, plus content is not only rewarding, but it’s interesting and more enjoyable. The fact is that Destiny grows a stronger game by the day, and despite some issues with fireteam forming that still remain, there has really never been a better time to jump in. The Taken King is a genuinely captivating piece of gaming, and I can’t seem to put it down.

Seriously… send help.

9/10

Began gaming on a hand-me-down Commodore Vic-20 back in the mid 80's and hasn't managed to shake the addiction yet. Genres of choice include anything that contains bullets and/or bouncy balls. Has been known to dabble in Destiny content.

@nickjh82

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