It’s been a long time coming, but in this Destiny The Taken King Review, I can finally recommend Destiny to others. The Taken King brings about a significant improvement to the vast majority of the game, and whilst it still lacks polish in some areas, the meat has been put on the bone.
Look and Feel
There are no real updates to the visuals here, but there’s a brand new area in the form of Oryx’s Dreadnaught – the main ship of his fleet and the place where he resides. Being the King of the Hive, this area is covered in lots of the standard gothic-inspired Hive aesthetic. Plenty of green, black and more green to go around. The new Taken enemies seem like a palette swap at first glance, and I’ll admit that not having new character models outside of Oryx himself had been disappointing in the lead-up, but there’s a narrative rationale for this choice, and though they’re by no means a completely new form of enemy, the ways in which you have to adapt to the Taken quickly alleviated the disappointment I’d felt about their design.
The feel is pretty much the same as well, although the weapon balancing brought about by the 2.0 patch has changed how many play the game. Auto Rifles are relevant again, but I’m not a fan. Hand-cannons are practically useless at mid-to-long range, as they should be, but being close to most enemies usually involved a shotgun, so they’ve taken something of a hit. Machine Guns are vastly more impressive now, whereas before I only dealt with rocket launchers for the most part. Ultimately, the changes are weapon balance based more-so than anything else, but Destiny’s gun-play has always been great, so it doesn’t need revamping in my humble opinion.
By far, the biggest improvement Bungie have made to Destiny is the story and the way it’s delivered. Strangely enough, I’d advise playing through the prior content before jumping in to The Taken King as it’ll lay the very basic groundwork for what you’ll face in the Year 2 expansion.
To summarise, the game opens on an epic cut-scene with the Queen of the Reef, Mara Sov, and her fleet trying to bring down the Hive invasion, led by the Taken King, Oryx. Ultimately, the Hive prevail and are seeking to snuff out the last of the light and subsequently get vengeance for how we all shoved Crota’s own sword in to his ankle a lot. With the Tower in trouble, the Vanguard, along with Eris Morn, grow concerned about Oryx’s presense, and Cayde-6 decides to set you up on a stealth mission to get on to Oryx’s Dreadnaught and take him out.
It has an obvious beginning, middle and end. It has enjoyable cut-scenes with great voice acting being prevalent throughout the expansion, and the back and forth between characters such as Cayde and Eris feels natural. The game began this path with Petra Venj and Variks during the House of Wolves, and they’ve capitalised on it here. The Quests have detailed text to inform you of why you’re actually doing what you’re doing, and it’s just a much better experience than it was in the original game. Oryx feels like a genuine threat that could actually bring you down, and the Taken are just as legitimate because of this.
There are some glaring omissions. The Stranger and The Speaker are noticeably absent from the expansion, and whilst I’m glad they focused the spotlight on the Vanguard, I’m curious particularly about The Speaker as to why he didn’t seem more concerned, or even remotely involved, regarding Oryx’s coming. It’s not a big deal, but as a protector of the Tower, why wouldn’t he be present at the emergency meeting of the Vanguard? Nevertheless, Cayde-6 is the star of the show, and Nolan North does a fine job of Ghost, though he’s still not important enough to care about given the narrative. We still need a reason to care about our Ghost.
There are so many quests that offer story content even after the main campaign, and I particularly enjoyed the class specific quests, detailing how characters became their new sub-classes. The Sunbreaker Titans, for instance, had a disagreement with Commander Zavala, the Titan Vanguard, and the background seems to imply a future conflict / uneasy alliance as the world expands. These new sub-class story lines made me feel more connected to that class because the story was in the game itself and delivered to me in the narrative. That was important.
Of course, there’s still the issue of Grimoire Cards, and yes, they’re an issue. Not because they exist, but because they’re still not available to view in the games. I understand if you’re playing Destiny, you have access to the internet, and you most likely have the companion app, but you shouldn’t have to jump through hoops for story that could be included in the game as a page, akin to the inclusion of the Quest section.
For the basics of what Destiny is, you can check out my original review here, so we’re going to get in to what’s new in The Taken King.
So Destiny is Destiny. It’s still shoot and loot, but now – at least in the beginning – the loot is far more rewarding. Most of the Year 2 gear from the start is more powerful than your current legendaries and exotics from Year 1, despite being uncommon and rare items, but that’s common-place for MMO games, and Destiny shares a great many of those traits whether it wants to commit to it or not.
You’ll quickly notice that your leveling system has been revamped for the better, as now you level up entirely through experience and your “Light Level” is an aggregate of your attack and defense ratings to determine how much damage you deal and can withstand overall. This is a welcome change, but it does suffer similar issues to the original at end-game content, wherein the raid gear is the only realistic option to get stronger at a certain point. On the bright side, loot comes fast and often, to the point where everything you could possibly do is contributing to your climbing the light levels. Thanks to the now-invalid Gjallarhorn, the weapon load-outs tend to be more diverse, though there are particular stand-outs, such as the Black Spindle sniper rifle or the Exotic Swords, that are obvious choices for most of the content.
Speaking of swords, there are swords! A new Heavy Weapon type that trades the long-distance options for a melee-range, ultra powerful blade. You acquire these through an expansive quest line that does involve some grinding, but the end result is worth it when you finally get your Exotic version of whatever damage type you chose, each with a different special ability. My Exotic Solar sword “Raze-Lighter” can give a dragon uppercut to practically anything that comes near and wipe it out, outside of bosses. These new weapons have proven to be a big hit, but the best part is that they don’t invalidate their counterparts. Machine Guns, Rocket Launchers and Swords can all co-exist because their usefulness is often dependent on your situation.
Quests are the greatest addition to the overall Destiny experience. Before, you’d be given a bland mission marker, some lack-luster speech during a loading screen and you’d do stuff simply because you were told to. Now, you can take care of whatever you like. Naturally completing the main campaign will open up more Quests for you to do, but if you have a Quest on you, you can head out and get to work on it, knowing exactly why you’re doing what you’re doing.
They also often reward you with worthwhile items and great reputation gains. Quests are the real reason you’ll keep playing Destiny, and there’s enough there to keep you busy for a while to come. Having said that, there are Quests that are there just to be there and aren’t really worth doing based on the rewards being offered, but ultimately there’s something for everyone in PvP and PvE, and Bungie have given us a real reason to play I feel. They also provide a guarantee of loot over the mostly random business we’re used to. This makes the RNG grind easier to swallow, and the increased drop rates help a lot too.
There are two new equipment slots: Ghost Shells and Artifacts. Ghost Shells are no longer simply cosmetic. They contribute to your light level, your cool-down stats and can detect nearby materials via a perk when you level them up. Artifacts also contribute to your light level, but their perks are disappointing in my opinion. The same applies to class items, which have also been included in the light level aggregate, but their perks leave much to be desired against the main armour pieces. Still, it’s good that all of your equipment now has an impact and purpose, and they’re all actually useful at the end-game thanks to Infusion.
Infusion is the ability to upgrade any legendary or exotic item from Year 2 with an item holding a higher attack or defense rating of the same type of gear. Say, for instance, you really like that legendary helmet, but that new raid one has a 306 rating and your current has a 291, you can infuse the raid helmet in to your favourite legendary helmet and you might get around a 300 rating on your preferred gear.
It’s not a perfect system. Not knowing what rating you’ll get after spending your hard-earned Legendary Marks and consuming a piece of gear is an oversight that should be rectified, but it’s not a deal-breaker. You’ll get more gear and you’ll get more marks. This system also means that a lot of people look different in the Tower. Whilst wearing your raid gear is the best option for a while, after your third run you’ll be mixing and matching your favourite bits and pieces and infusing a bunch of spares for higher ratings on your beloved loot.
In a strange twist, the Nightfall is no longer worth the effort, but the rest of that section is. Daily Missions can sometimes contain secret items / events, and also give Legendary Marks necessary for upgrades and purchases. There’s a Daily Crucible and a Weekly Crucible that both offer Legendary Marks whether you win or lose, so it’s all worth a go on a daily basis. Nightfalls, on the other hand, are nigh-on useless. Whilst there’s still a chance you’ll get an exotic or a decent legendary, there’s also a big chance you’ll get a blue engram, legendary marks, three of coins (a new item from Xur that gives you a chance at an exotic engram when you kill an Ultra enemy, so, you know, not great), an Antiquated Rune (we’ll touch on that momentarily, but it’s not a good Nightfall drop at least) and many other disappointing drops that only serve to infuriate many that slog through the most difficult trial in the game each week. It needs to be revised, because the challenge is fun, and there’s a slew of new modifiers to make things interesting, but it’s not worth the hassle right now.
The four new strikes are all very well done. They’ve taken the bullet-sponge criticism to heart and crafted some much better fights, and my favourite is honestly the Playstation exclusive Restorative Mind strike. This involves a relic-runner being unable to shoot in exchange for opening Vex doorways for your team, as your other two members must protect you on your way, clearing out adds. The final fight has a unique mechanic that I personally loved and I was glad to see overall that the strikes are well thought out this time around.
Remember how public events were a nuisance, never spawning when you needed them and seemingly without purpose? Well they still are, but there’s a brand new one that works far better than the ones we know and don’t love. On the Dreadnaught, the Court of Oryx allows you to put in one of three runes (Reciprocal, Stolen or Antiquated) for a different tier of fight against a boss that has a special mechanic attached to it. You’re guaranteed a reward upon completion and the harder the fight, the greater the reward most of the time – it’s still a random loot game after all. The good thing is these missions often contribute to Quests that’ll bag you even better gear upon turning them in.
Bounties are also a lot better this time around, often rewarding you with strange coins and motes of light as well as materials for turning them in, and you can turn these in directly from the menu unlike Quests, which you must turn in to the Quest giver for the most part.
Gunsmith bounties are also a thing now. You can field test weapons and completing the related task levels up your reputation with the Gunsmith, eventually leading to a level up, a package that’ll include a new gun for you and the ability to order a specific gun from his selection for the following Wednesday’s arrival, known now as “Armsday”. Reach level 3 with the Gunsmith and you’ll have a class-specific quest to attain a class-specific exotic for each one.
Reputations are improved this time around too with the Factions. Pledge your allegiance with a faction and you’re locked in for the minimum of a week and you’ll earn experience with them organically whenever you earn experience for other things, such as Eris, Crucible or Vanguard. Leveling them up works as it always did, but the rewards seem greater this time around and reaching rank 25 will net you an exotic class item that can be equipped at the same time as another exotic armour piece. It’s a fun addition and their gear can often be a difference maker in PvP.
Speaking of PvP, the Crucible has two new modes: Mayhem, in which super abilities regenerate abnormally fast, resulting in a super-fest of slaughter. It’s a lot of fun. Then there’s Rift, which is like Guardian basketball, with one member collecting the relic and aiming to dunk it in the opposition’s rift, whilst the other team aims to take the relic runner down. The teams race to the relic spawn each time to try to acquire it for themselves, and teamwork is essential. The new maps are fun too, with lots of Vex portals to spawn through and tight corridors to fear shotguns within.
Xur comes equipped with a new item called the “Three of Coin”. This item gives the chance of an Exotic Engram dropping upon defeating an Ultra – that’s any enemy that has a skull next to their name. This makes multiple raid runs worth-while. It gives a greater incentive to help people. It just makes the repetition valuable to an extent.
Whilst the Weekly Heroic has been removed, there’s no the Vanguard Heroic Strike Playlist, which guarantees a couple of engram drops at the end of each strike. By repeating these without leaving, you’ll earn the Vanguard Buff after your first completion, raising the chance of a legendary engram drop, making your grind even more rewarding. Whilst the loot remains random, they’ve revitalised the grind to make it worth doing, but it’s is still a grind for the most part, so don’t expect the core dynamic to have changed.
The masterpiece of this expansion, of course, is the raid. King’s Fall is an exquisite experience that a team of less than six people would find very difficult to complete. It’s not something I even remotely want to spoil in the review, but if you want to check out a full run through, I did a broadcast recently that you can check out by clicking here. Rest assured, if you’re a fan of the raids, this is the best thing they’ve done to date, with practically no technical issues (an occasional relic running issue at the end) and pure teamwork required. I absolutely love it, and I love that completing it is a part of a Quest line for one of the best guns in the game that makes the raid even more fun to run through. May the Malice be with you.
The Taken King is the first major step for Destiny’s potential to become realised. This isn’t just an expansion, it’s how the game should have been in the first place. The public event system – Court aside – needs a revamp, but the rest of the game received a great treatment, so I can hold out for that. If Bungie can continue to deliver on this scale, it’ll really be Destiny for life as far as I’m concerned. Oh, and leave behind the last generation whilst you’re at it. Destiny “2” can’t come soon enough.
Game: Destiny The Taken King
Review Format: Playstation 4