Version Tested: Xbox One
Also Available On: Xbox 360, Playstation 4, Playstation 3
Developer: Bungie, High Moon Studios
Genre: First-Person Shooter, RPG
Almost exactly a year ago, Destiny was released. Created by Bungie–the studio that pumped out the greatly-lauded Halo titles for Xbox–Destiny was supposed to revolutionize gaming by fully utilizing next gen console capabilities. While both fan and critical reception was mixed, most agreed that the game did not live up to its potential.
Despite spanning multiple planets, the game somehow felt small. The story was terribly convoluted and took itself way too seriously (I’ve still never read a single grimoire card) and ended far too quickly. Bungie tried something new with the leveling system–basing character level on gear rather than XP–and that, combined with the limited activities in the game, turned Destiny into a grind-fest that frankly just stopped being fun after a couple of months.
Admittedly, the Bungie crew did as good a job as possible of keeping things fresh with constant updates, limited-time events, and new gear, but without a total overhaul, Destiny still only had limited replay value (a big deal when you are counting on your players to replay the same missions/strikes/raids 10-20 times). Thankfully, Bungie was not too set in their ways and they did in fact give the game that necessary total overhaul with their newest expansion, The Taken King.
The Taken King begins with the Awoken Queen battling Oryx, the father of the previous expansion’s boss, Croata. After he decimates her army, the Vanguard council send the Guardian (you) to find out what happened.
The first thing to notice is that the story is much more accessible this time around. Had I tried to write a review on the first iteration of Destiny last year, it would’ve been something like, “You’re a… ghost… soldier? Fighting for… Light? Against… dark… stuff? Man, I have no idea. But it’s pretty!”
The other great thing Bungie did is that–instead of adding characters like in previous iterations–they fleshed out the ones they already had. Destiny brought it tons of great voice talent like Peter Dinklage, Bill Nighy, Nathan Fillon, Lance Reddick, Gina Torres, and Peter Stormare and relegated every single one–even Dinklage, who was essentially the voice of the player–to little more that cameos. Dinklage bailed on the project earlier this year, but this time around Bungie had the good sense to tap Nathan Fillon–arguably the most popular voice actor remaining on their payroll among the nerd community–for a larger role.
Much of the story centers on Fillon’s charater, Cayde-6, sending the guardian on “unauthorized ops” to stop The Taken King, Oryx. There is lots of fun banter (what?! in Destiny?!) especially between him and Eris Morn, the heavy-handed downer merchant introduced in the previous expansion, The Dark Below. Cayde-6’s light-hearted rouguishness plays well against Eris’s gravitas.
In addition to the narrative changes, Bungie also overhauled the gear-grind-heavy leveling system and raised the level cap to 40. In the new system, characters level based solely on XP. Leveling is going to happen quickly (I went from 33 to 39 in about 5 hours). And gear/Light will now be used to unlock strikes and higher difficulties on missions.
The system for calculating Light has also changed for the better. Rather than just being based on a specific armor Light level, the Light stat now takes into account all defense and attack ratings. This means that improving your weapons will now increase your Light (which never made sense to me why it didn’t).
Along these lines, another nice touch that Bungie added is that your Ghost shells and class gear (Titan Marks, Hunter Cloaks, Warlock Bonds) now have their own defense rating and buffs, so those things are no longer just aesthetic items.
The level design took a step up from previous versions as well. The landscapes are more challenging and dynamic than in previous versions, requiring the player to jump, duck, and watch their step much like in the earlier Raids . Between the new level designs and the new enemy–The Taken–there are a lot of new challenges players will face routinely.
The Taken King adds three strikes (plus one extra for PlayStation) and a new Crucible mode, Rift. This new mode is similar to a “center flag” type game. In Rift, teams must collect the spark from the middle of the map and run it to the enemy base to score. Extra points are given for defending your own allied “runner” (the player carrying the spark) or for killing an enemy runner.
Finally, The Taken King comes will an entirely new set of gear to find. After being used to dropping anything below Legendary status without even thinking, it’s fun to go back to using Uncommon and Rare items again and looking forward to significant improvements that the new classes of Legendary and Exotic items will bring. Each class even has a new subclass to build and explore.
In summary, The Taken King seems to have breathed new life into the Destiny franchise. It’s less convoluted leveling system, more accessible story, and new gear make this expansion a must-buy for anyone who enjoys imaginative first-person shooters.