Last updated on December 16th, 2016
When Destiny’s “The Taken King” expansion released on September 15th for PS4 and Xbox One, many, including me, looked at it as a crossroads for this nascent and embattled franchise. Some see it as a chance to tweak and fine tune what they already think is a righteous game; others might be inclined to look at The Taken King as one last chance to redeem a game they feel has been nothing but empty promises. Ask a dozen players what they think of Destiny, and you’ll get answers ranging from groundbreaking to forgettable. As with many questions like this, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle.
Developed by: Bungie
Published by: Activision
Release date: September 15th, 2015
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One (Reviewed on Xbox One)
Launch Price: 49.99 USD
The list of praise and criticism for Destiny is long. Much of both is reinforced to some degree in The Taken King. Bungie is clearly looking for a reboot of their game by making wholesale changes to many basic designs. The biggest and most noticeable change is that RNGeesus is now a more forgiving and benevolent god. A year ago it took over a month for me to acquire my first legendary while playing casually, without any specific grinding focus. And even then, it wasn’t a drop; it came from earned Vanguard marks. In TTK, my first legendary came to me within an hour. By the end of the second day I had seven. While Bungie may have originally planned a game where players waited long periods of time for sporadic rewards, hoping this would each feel more monumental, they overestimated player patience, and have been forced to re-think that plan.
Generosity with loot drops is only part of this new direction. Weapons and armor still level with XP, as they always did, unlocking new perks. But now you have an option to select “infusion” with each one. Provided you have another comparable Year 2 weapon from that class, one that is at least blue, you can dismantle it in the infusion process, destroying it, but adding a nice bonus to your attack. Clearly the Bungie devs have taken a few night-school classes from other RPG/MMO makers and gained better understanding of how much these players enjoy incremental progress and crafting on gear. As well, while much was made of new XP-based leveling, many players hit the cap of 40 on day one. Browsing strike and nightfall playlists also makes clear: Light level is still the bar you must clear to access end-game.
Crafting and in-game currency have both undergone big changes in TTK, and in some ways have been melded into an overarching process. Quite simply, most everything you find in the expansion is useful in some way. Lousy blue guns can be saved for Infusion, or they can be dismantled. This process yields weapon parts for upgrades, or even Motes of Light, which have other applications, such as being traded for rep in your faction.
Despite the positive changes to crafting and upgrading, old issues have returned with a vengeance. Remember grinding patrols for Spinmetal until you thought you’d lose your mind? Guess what? New mats have been added. The first couple you’ll come across are Hadium Flakes, used in your quest to obtain a forged legendary sword, and Worm Spores, which upgrade legendary gear. The arrival of new mats, unfortunately, means that players will still be grinding missions and patrols a hundred or so times. All we can do at this point is hope they’re more abundant. Searching for upgrade materials is not new in these games. I do it all the time in Elder Scrolls Online. However, Destiny’s problem is still that you have to do this in the same few areas, rather than organically, as a larger, expansive world unfolds in front of you.
The Taken King’s game world is not especially large; much smaller, in fact, than the original game. It is more layered, however. A quest to find “calcified fragments”, of which there are 50, will take you into every little tunnel and hole in the wall you can find. There is a greater sense of exploration aboard the Dreadnaught, allowing quiet moments of discovery to take hold as you find connective routes between major hubs. Anyone who has played From Software games will feel right at home, with no map and only your muscle memory to guide you.
It’s also a beautiful world. The Dreadnaught itself has the vibe of a haunted shipwreck. Ethereal lighting guides most paths, reminding me of the first time I saw the blue glow inside Ayleid Ruins in Oblivion. Coloring is mostly muted tones of sepia, barely hiding piles of bones underfoot. It’s easily the most atmospheric locale in the overall game. Patrol spawn points are located in the Breached Hull, where a Cabal ship has rammed the Dreadnaught. Finding a quiet corner on the edge of the breach, away from enemy fire, you can stand and look out into the rings of Saturn. Amid the debris you’ll see wrecked ships, remnants of a previous battle, tumbling aimlessly in orbit. The graphics look as real as the reflection in a still pond, making you feel as though it would ripple at your touch. While Destiny’s world may not be as large as some, it’s certainly been crafted with care.
The Taken King has a short “main story”, and promises of a new emphasis on storytelling and cutscenes were exaggerated. It starts with a bang, and has a few highlights along the way, but really little has changed in their approach. Voiceovers during missions have been given new life, though. Nathan Fillion, as Cayde-6 now has a more central role, and better lines to accompany his sardonic wit. Fans of his role in Firefly will appreciate the work he does here. Bungie seems to get that they’ve been perceived as being wound a bit too tight when it comes to narrative lore, and take strides to make this a more light hearted, self-deprecating tale. I won’t spoil any of the exchanges, since they’re much better in the context of the game. But be sure to listen to all the characters during quiet moments. While the story is short, Bungie has tried to trickle-feed players a steady infusion of lore and background through follow-up quests aboard both the Dreadnaught and other planets. A cynic might point out that these mask simple fetch and collection quests as always, but at least they represent opportunities for NPCs to be fleshed out more along the way.
Three strikes have been included on Xbox One, and a fourth on PS4. I’ve played a couple of them, and they seem solid, albeit a bit derivative at times. The Shield Brothers feels ripped from the pages of Dark Souls and its boss fight with a pair of dragonslayers, Ornstein and Smough. At least it’s an improvement on playing “Hide From the Bullet Sponge” for 20 minutes. The new raid should be released shortly. Thus far, PvP seems to have been given a lot of love with The Taken King. Eight new maps (seven for Xbox One) and two new modes now give the game solid variety, although I would hope so after tallying the $140 price tag. Rift, basically a variation of Capture The Flag, wasn’t really for me. But Mayhem, where cooldowns on supers, granades, and melee is virtually non-existent, was almost more fun than I could stand. In an effort to make sure people at least try out all the different playlists occasionally, Bungie has put up a reward of 15 Legendary Marks in a rotating order on each of them daily. I was never one to play Salvage, but with 15 marks available, win or lose, for a single game, I had to jump in. It’s a good idea to do this, pushing players to step out of their comfort zone and try something different, offering good rewards for doing so. And PvP players now have a way to earn these daily rewards even if they don’t want do the same strikes over and over.
While Bungie prides itself on Destiny as a social game, it is heavily geared toward those who belong to clans. People with only short segments to time to dedicate toward progress, derided by the community as “casuals”, still make up the bulk of players when you look at Bungie’s own stats. Yet the game offers no matchmaking options for much of the end-game content. It is still and oversight, intentional or otherwise, that taints an otherwise solid social platform.
Legendary Marks, which have replaced Vanguard and Crucible marks, now have a lot more applications as well. All those crafting options I mentioned earlier? They take small amounts of Marks as part of the required currency. Again, this contributes to a feeling of having more incremental and varied progress in everything you do. They’re also required (in large quantities) to retrieve an exotic weapon or piece of armor from “blueprint” form. While Bungie has only added a select number of each, it’s conceivable that they may add more later to extend the life of the game. It also gives players incentive to go back to old content and continue looking for drops they may have missed on their first run.
BOTTOM LINE QUESTION: Is it worth the purchase?
At $40, The Taken King represents premium priced DLC. It contains new areas equal to about ⅓ of the original game, yet has ⅔ the original price. In essence, you’re paying more for less. But as many people will tell you, Destiny must be measured in perceived value. If running raids, strikes and patrols, along with weekly content, astride a couple of friends gives you hundreds of hours of entertainment, then you probably already own this. If you like PvP, then the price is on par with what Activision traditionally charges for map packs alone. However, for those who are wondering if promises that “rich, cinematic storytelling” are finally a reality, sadly, they are not. Destiny’s biggest issue, lack of matchmaking in half the content, has not been rectified. Solo, story driven players will be as let down with The Taken King as they were with vanilla Destiny, and should probably give it a pass.