Will The Taken King pull you back into the light, Guardian?
Destiny undoubtedly did a lot of things right in its first year. As a very good shooter, with a just above average sci-fi hokum storyline, it drew more watercooler talk among my colleagues, and fostered more online co-op play than anything I’d witnessed before. Millions of people play it, teaming up to run the daily and weekly missions, and more demanding raids, with little regard for what’s actually happening, just enjoying the mechanics of shooting things in the face (or weird stomach pouch) with your friends – it’s so much fun.
Multiplayer has also been a massive success and time-sink, introducing new abilities, and modes for beginners and pros alike, that are now being imitated by other shooters. It also helps that with voice-chat disabled by default, multiplayer is much less rage-inducing when you’re not constantly being belittled by pre-pubescent teens.
But Bungie did make a few mis-steps in Year 1. The player leveling system was confusing, and the requirements to hit the top tier required so much grind I’m surprised they didn’t give out codes for a free orthodontist appointment. The vast majority of missions were structured like intergalactic whack-a-mole; go here, hit this, hit this some more, hit it again, then go home – with all but the major story points punctuated by a woefully under-used stellar voice cast. The likes of Bill Nighy, Lance Reddick and Gina Torres had little to say and little to work with (though this may be linked to recently unearthed documents in Bungie’s ex-composer’s court case, indicating that the main story was re-written just 9 months before launch). The two expansion packs, The House of Wolves, and the Dark Below successively improved on the game and its storytelling, but were still hampered by the original systems somewhat.
Yet I’ve still racked up over 12 days of playtime, and I’m not what you might consider a hardcore player. 12 days.
Now at the start of Destiny’s second year, the launch of The Taken King represents a major shift in the game from top to bottom. What has Bungie added to the game to further increase the amount of time I spend running around shooting things in the face (or weird stomach pouch)?
If the two previous DLC felt a little threadbare, The Taken King feels much more like a fleshed out full expansion – the main quest featuring a clearer narrative with a specific antagonist, rather than the whispers of grand story lines and mythos that were only decipherable through ‘Grimoire Cards’ on Bungie’s website.
The quests within the story are also much more interesting this time out; while there’s still a lot of whack-a-mole going on, there are also platform-y bits, puzzle sections, and more inventive boss fights. Destiny’s inaugural 6-man raid, The Vault of Glass, was the best part of the first year, and the inventiveness that spawned that has bled through into these new missions it seems. All of this is now better tracked and organised within the interface too, so it’s much clearer as to what you’ve done, what’s next, and what rewards you’ll get your hands on if you complete them.
“…while there’s still a lot of whack-a-mole going on, there are also platform-y bits, puzzle sections, and more inventive boss fights.”
Wrapped together nicely with much more interaction and characterisation of the various inhabitants of the game world, if Destiny felt like flicking through a Panini sticker album of characters in Year 1, The Taken King at least feels like reading an actual book, or short story at least. Everyone’s favourite space-rogue Nathan Fillion takes a lead role, and offers some much needed snark and humour to the sometimes relentlessly po-faced dialogue, and the various faction leaders all add context to the world and their roles in it.
Each character type gets a new sub-class to unlock and upgrade, so those who have sunk their time in to one of each Warlock, Titan, and Hunter, will have much to do and lots of entertainment to be had from the differing abilities. If you’ve ever wanted to Palpatine-it-up and fire lightening through your fingertips, as a Warlock, now you can. You can almost feel the force flow through you.
Multiplayer has also been expanded with new modes, on top of the few evergreen modes and the couple of timed events; if you found yourself sticking to Control for the most part last year, new mode Rift is a worthy addition to the rotation, and with even less focus on individual score, Zone Control is a joy to play with people who aren’t only interested in sliding a shotgun in to your face.
All of this barely scratches the surface of the minutiae of upgrade paths, the hidden quests, the new exotic weapons, simpler currency and equipment (though there is still a bewildering array of ‘stuff’ you’ll amass), better matchmaking, weapon balancing (you go to hell, Thorn!), a new Raid, and much more – if Bungie can build on this new base, the future for Destiny is looking very bright. The cycle of loot drop, upgrade, discard, and hunt for more loot may have started again, but with everything else going on this feels less like re-treading old ground, and more like everything is new again, but better.
If you wanted something to dissuade you, then you might balk at the price point for an ‘expansion’ – at £40, it’s almost as much again from what you paid initially. With traditional long-term games, like World of Warcraft, enforcing a monthly fee on top of whatever you pay for PSN or Xbox Live, it’s best to think of Destiny’s ongoing expansions as a culmination of those fees, rather than one lump sum you had no idea was coming. They’re an expensive habit, videogames.
That said, Destiny is finally the game that it was pretending to be for its first year – if you’ve resisted the call of the Traveller so far, or dropped out mid-way through, now is the time to (re)join the fight against the darkness.
The Taken King is an excellent re-invention, and addition, to Destiny's already great gunplay.