It’s been a year since Bungie’s $500 million baby was released upon the masses. Destiny was a polarising grind-fest, but an admirable take on the shooter genre nonetheless. I wasn’t a massive of fan of Destiny la première, noting its incoherent and cryptic story as a missed opportunity to expand the lore’s fascinating premise. There was also the game’s levelling up system that, while addictive and rewarding at first, basically broke down once the story missions and strikes were completed. I hated hitting a brick wall, and I didn’t feel that the world was compelling enough to justify the endless grind to progress past the then-level cap of 20. Two expansion packs since last September have fed into the obsessive commitment from the game’s loyal fanatics, but it’s the third and most recent, The Taken King, that has tongues wagging again. This soft reboot subtly makes the Destiny experience more rewarding and compelling, helping reignite the vision both Bungie and Activision had for the game only a year ago.
That vision was one of community and reward. Those initial hours in Destiny were great because the world invited a bit of ambition and cockiness. It made playing the game alone completely viable, but of course, it thrives when played in a fireteam. Either way, your Guardian’s chances stacked up well next to an impressively balanced progression system, one that tied in well with the game’s scenic level design and exploration. It all made Destiny a genuinely fun game to play, but the brick wall would come up hard and fast. Once I had reached level 20, I just couldn’t embrace the game’s punishing Light system (a Guardian attribute that increases damage dealt by subclass abilities and weapons). My Guardian level felt worthless, and spending hundreds of hours grinding through strikes and raids in the hope of landing Light-boosting gear just wasn’t appealing to me. Thankfully, Destiny: The Taken King essentially reboots the entire system. I now feel as though every single one of my actions is rewarded, and I know that taking on a Strike or Patrol mission will give me something that improves my Light. Tying the Light level to weapon and armor power is a great change, and I’m no longer busting my way through the world, praying to the Guardian gods that I’ll land some good gear.
This soft reboot subtly makes the Destiny experience more rewarding and compelling, helping reignite the vision both Bungie and Activision had for the game only a year ago.
Quests, which were first introduced in The Dark Below expansion, open up once The Take King’s story missions have been completed. They add a bit of flesh to the world and story, dealing multiple objectives and keeping you busy long after you’ve taken down Oryx. There’s a wonderful variety of boss battles, and patrolling Dreadnaught offers some of the best fun I’ve had playing Destiny. It’s the sort of challenge and depth I craved in the original Destiny release, and it’s part of the reason why I’m loving The Taken King so much. Getting to that point in the game is a blast as well, because The Taken King’s campaign is among the best I’ve played in a shooter for a long, long time. Whereas Destiny’s original campaign was a forgettable mess of cryptic plot points and pretentious dialogue, The Taken King offers developed and engrossing characterization, wonderful level design, terrifying new enemies, and an amazing final boss battle with Oryx, The Taken King himself. I managed to fight my way through the entire campaign alone, and while there is the occasional spike in difficulty, I rarely struggled to the point of rage quit. It’s certainly easier with friends and you tend to get more rewards when in a fireteam, but I loved every minute of the campaign. Stunning cutscenes blend the story together well, and previously unimaginative characters suddenly have a personality.
The campaign really is the best Destiny has to offer on the story front, and The Taken King’s new Guardian subclasses add an element of differentiation that classes previously lacked. I prefer my Titan over the other Guardians (don’t judge), and so choosing between Striker (my favorite), Defender (probably the subclass I should be using) or Sunbreaker gives me something extra to fight for and upgrade. These subclasses add a new layer of depth to the class system, so if you ever do hit that brick wall as you did in the original game at least there’s an extra layer to peel away.
Another area The Taken King really excels in is Strikes. While they’re generally slightly tweaked variations of past Strikes, they’re far more challenging and reliant on team communication. One Strike had me and my fireteam tackle a boss in complete darkness. I had the lowest Light level on the team so I died frequently, and even my teammates on level 40 with 260+ Light struggled to blast through unscathed. Frustrating, sure, but as rewarding as anything else in the game, and I walked away from that Strike feeling satisfied that I had genuinely achieved something of worth. The game’s changes to how you increase Light, the loot drop system, the levelling system, and sweeping changes to Strike and mission design help make Destiny’s more structured elements that little bit more engrossing.
If you’re after a competitive outing, Crucible adds eight new maps and two new game modes. The maps don’t stand out as much as Bungie probably would have hoped, but the two new modes are fantastic. Rift is a unique take on Capture The Flag, in which players must capture and then slam a Rift ball into the opposing team’s marker. I went in with the goal of improving my K:D ratio and found myself unintentionally marked as the Rifter. I noticed my team break off into attackers and defenders, with some of my teammates defending me while I trekked through the map, while others branched out to flank the opposition from the choke point. Then there’s Mayhem, which is a chaotic battle in which player supermoves are recharged at a faster rate. I struggled here against more experienced players but had a blast nonetheless. I like these two modes because they’re not as reliant on raw shooting skill as other Crucible modes are, but that doesn’t mean that I’m any better at it. I just suck at competitive modes in Bungie games. Always have and always will, but I can respect great game design and competitiveness when I see it.
I haven’t played The Taken King’s first raid, King’s Fall, because I don’t have anywhere near the right amount of Light yet to tackle it. But Destiny’s best game design and challenge comes from its Raids, and when you factor in The Taken King’s changes to the Light system, subclasses, campaign structure and new enemies, it’s hard to see it not living up to expectations. I’ll update this review once I‘ve sunk my teeth into it.
The Final Verdict
The Taken King, or, Destiny Rebooted, is the game Destiny always wanted to be when it was first released 12 months ago. The world’s been fleshed out to be more engrossing and engaging, characters suddenly have more personality, and the stories that accompany The Taken King actually give Destiny’s lore the weight we so desperately craved 12 months ago. Changes to the Light system and subclasses make the experience more rewarding and less the slow grind of yesteryear, while Crucible additions make for mindless fun in a competitive arena. If you hit the infamous brick wall after reaching level 20, The Taken King is as good a time as ever to jump back in.