Destiny has come a long, long way since its original launch just over a year ago. Even though it divided opinion and exasperated its more regular and consistent of players with certain design flaws, Bungie have evolved and grown the game over that time. However, it’s really with The Taken King that we see the fruits of their continued labour, with a massive overhaul of many parts of the game in the 2.0 update that arrived a week before The Taken King.
Though The Dark Below and House of Wolves offered fairly sizeable amounts of content and playtime, The Taken King dwarfs both of those efforts. Yet it does so in a misleading way; the central storyline feels as though it is finished in around six hours of play, and yet it’s really here that it spreads its wings and branches out to offer you more content. Having flitted from one planet to another, completing the odd quest and mission here and there on the way to your first confrontation with Oryx, it then presents you with further quest lines that deal with individual planets and characters, and aren’t always focussed upon the new Taken enemies. It’s perhaps surprising and disappointing to reach such a point so soon, but there’s something to be said for letting you then decide what you want to do next.
That initial burst also shows off a renewed flair and panache to Bungie’s storytelling. One of the most criticised parts of the original game, 2.0 does little to remedy the game’s messy origins outside of having Nolan North battle through the same script as Peter Dinklage. North does much better with the new content to work with, but the real star of the show is Nathan Fillion as Cayde-6, the Hunter Vanguard leader. With a more lighthearted script in hand – in the face of humanity’s demise – he almost single handedly injects lightheartedness and humour into the daring plan to see the end of Oryx’s menace.
Of course, the Dreadnaught ship that Oryx rides into the system is the expansion’s major new centrepiece, with a large open area for you to explore that’s roughly comparable in size to the Moon. You can only unlock it for Patrol and open ended exploration after completing that main thrust of the story, but it’s a fascinating place that is filled with plenty of secrets to uncover. It takes time to learn the new layout, and you will find yourself getting lost as you try to reach the Mausoleum, or some other such place, but you’ll spot little nooks and crannies with locked chests in them, hidden paths, summon-able bosses and more within its depths.
The expansion also adds three new strikes – four on PlayStation – which show a new design philosophy to the boss encounters in particular. As you battle to reach them, there is a degree of variation to the kinds of enemies you can encounter, whether it’s the new Taken enemies or one of the main four races – and some existing strikes have also received similar Taken-based overhauls – but it’s the bosses that show the most notable shift. Rather than being simple bullet sponges that test your endurance, they have more varied and more interesting attacks and exist in arenas which feel much less prone to abusing “cheeses” to sit in a corner and snipe for several minutes.
Going up against the Taken is a great new challenge, as well, whether it’s a lowly Taken Thrall or a towering Minotaur. All have been imbued with new animations and behaviours that mean you have to take them on in a slightly different fashion than before. Taken Phalanxes now have a force push build into their shields, Knights spew fire from their eyes, Thralls shift suddenly and duplicate themselves, Vandals can put up a shield bubble, and so on. Especially when taking on higher level content, these altered abilities can start to pose you some serious problems and require new tactics to take out familiar looking foes.
The Taken King’s story and missions add a refreshing new layer on top of the core FPS gameplay which has managed to sustain the game for so long, but Bungie have also quite drastically overhauled the way you strengthen your character in the game. Your character level now maxes out at level 40, with a standard experience-based system rather than the one that was formerly based on the Light level of your armour. It was simply too punitive to long term players to be stuck missing that crucial piece of armour to reach the then maximum levels.
It’s a shame to see so much stuff from Year One being left behind and outclassed instantly with no recourse to upgrade, just as it’s a pity that old raids and the Prison of Elders have lost almost all their relevancy. At the same time there’s a lot to enjoy as you explore all of the new content, and I’m rather attached to a good looking Suros scout rifle. Beyond the weaponry, the new subclass that each of the Titan, Warlock and Hunter gets have all been very well thought out to offer something different and unique to what went before. All introduced by bespoke missions, the Hunter can now play a support role with its tethering, damage-boosting bow, while the Warlock roams the battlefield, unleashing lightning from their fingertips, and the Titan hurls flaming hammers at everything in sight.
The light level of your equipment does still count though, and once you’ve reached level 40 you will return to the familiar grind of looking for armour and guns with better stats to advance. However, the key differences are that your Light level and the damage and defence levels that you have are determined by an overall average of all your armour, weapons and special items – even the Ghost chips in with different looking shells – and the difference from one level to the next is much more granular than before. Best of all, it allows you to be excited about almost every pickup you see once again.
That’s largely down to the new Infusion system, whereby you can dismantle higher rated gear in order to boost the rating of a Legendary or Exotic. Opening Rare engrams at the Cryptarch holds a little twinkle of excitement once more with every decryption, as you might end up with something that outclasses what you’re currently wearing. Alternatively, because you’re very likely to lose some of the difference when you infuse, you can simply use the Rare equipment and hold off on upgrading until you have the exact gear and look that you desire. It’s a far cry from everybody wearing the same set of raid gear in order to be level 30, that we saw last year.
So it was that I ventured into the six-player King’s Fall raid with largely Rare gear equipped, and yet I still breached the recommended Light level of 290 and was more than able to hold my own as a consequence. Thankfully, the extended wait between Crota’s End and King’s Fall has been worth it, with a raid that rivals, if not betters the gameplay and inventiveness on show in the Vault of Glass.
Where Crota’s End was largely about combat and dealing damage, King’s Fall returns to more puzzle-based encounters – some are jumping puzzles, I should warn you. Yes, bosses require for you to deal an awful lot of damage, but this is generally alongside initially obscure game mechanics that you will need to experiment with and uncover in order to overcome the challenge before you. Both through randomised elements and systems, the workload is cleverly spread across the entire team, with any failures punished almost universally by death and restarting at a checkpoint.
The absolute best experience will be had going into the raid for the first time without any of you having an awareness of what lies ahead, just as it has previously, and there’s a great feeling of figuring out what you need to do on your own and refining your tactics and methods in order to overcome what initially seems like an insurmountable task. Having managed to reach but not successfully beat Oryx for the first time, it already feels as though the boss battles have the kinds of game mechanics and the inherent but not unduly unfair difficulty that will help to sustain interest in repeated plays in a few months time.
The Taken King and the patch that it brought with it have been a grand revisionist move by Bungie. Very few parts of how the game works haven’t been touched, tweaked and altered in some way to improve upon the flawed aspects of the game’s original release. With a fun new story, plenty of content that runs alongside it and an outstanding new raid, it’s a good time to be playing Destiny.
Version tested: PlayStation 4