My relationship with Destiny is complicated. On one hand, it would only take a subtle prodding to get me to unleash a violent torrent of criticisms and resentment towards a game that was so obviously a shell of its true potential. On the other hand, I had sunk more time into it than I would ever care to admit in front of polite company. And so, Destiny made me a walking hypocrite. I was the slimy politician condemning it in public before slinking back to my basement to indulge in Destiny until fingers of pink light scratched the horizon and I realized what time it was.
Well good news everyone, I have a confession: I love Destiny, and now I'm not afraid to admit it. For all the confliction I suffered throughout last year, those deep sighs as I reached for my credit card when both of its wholly lackluster expansions arrived, Destiny is finally in a place where I can wholeheartedly recommend that you should play it. If anything, the new expansion pack, The Taken King, should give anyone who lamented how short Destiny had fallen a good reason to experience just how far it has climbed. I might never forgive Destiny for what it did to my dignity this past year, but The Taken King has me looking to the future feeling more optimistic than I ever have.
The Taken King itself is, without a doubt, the best expansion released for Destiny to date. Though some might balk at the $40 price tag, double that of its previous expansions, it won't take long until you realize that this isn't some elaborate bait and switch. The Taken King is bursting with so much to do, so many meaningful changes in how you play and fight, that it feels like the fine folks over at Bungie have finally begun to understand the true potential of the game they've been working away on for so many years.
At the center of this expansion is the struggle between you and Oryx, The Taken King himself. Like a true space drama, Oryx is the father of Crota, the bad guy from The Dark Below expansion released in January. After players defeated Crota, Oryx wasn't too happy about it and decided that daddy was going to have to settle things on his own. He arrives in our solar system, positioning himself in the rings of Saturn, and is poised to wipe us all out.
It feels obvious that Bungie was painfully aware of how limited and thin the story of Destiny felt before The Taken King, a problem that they were keen to address within the opening cutscene. An explosive battle between the Forsaken of the Reef and Oryx on his titanic Dreadnought space-palace sets the tone perfectly. But where most of Destiny's expansions came accompanied with a singular cutscene to set the mood, The Taken King makes use of them generously to tell the most coherent and exciting story of the game to date. Characters whom previously existed as mere vendors, spouting lame platitudes while you contemplated the stats on a pair of boots are now fully fleshed out personalities.
Standout among these are the exchanges that exist between the hunter vanguard Cayde-6 and the guardian Eris. In many ways, these two represent the dynamic shift in tone that Destiny has undertaken. Eris remains stoic and sombre, constantly filling your ear with hymns of dread and despair as you dive deeper into the Dreadnought in your bid to stop Oryx. She represents the old, too serious tone of Destiny. But Cayde-6, voiced by the always lovely Nathan Fillion, exists solely to take the wind out of Destiny's sails—and it is hilarious. Where Eris is constantly droning on about darkness, Cayde-6 chimes in with irreverent jokes that dismantle the whole mood. Their juxtaposition infuses some much needed charm into Destiny's world.
But even if Cayde-6, Eris, and your newly voiced Ghost were all silent, I think that The Taken King would find a voice of its own. The story missions you'll experience on your path to save the solar system are some of the best that Bungie has ever created. Not only is there far more of them than the measly offering that accompanied previous expansions, but each one is a memorable set piece that adds a new dimension to Destiny's world. There is a distinct amount of attention paid to the presentation of each of these missions, and the result is a captivating dive into the necrotic depths of the Dreadnought—a location that mimics the aesthetic seen in other Hive locations found on the moon, but with an arresting majesty about it that inspires awe and invites you to comb its expanse.
These new story missions not only look amazing, but the battles you'll fight within them are amazing in their own right. The new Taken, which you can think of like spectrally infected versions of previous Destiny enemies, are easily the best designed foes you will fight in the game. Each one of their many variations comes packed with a secondary ability that they will use generously during a fight, which turns otherwise boring encounters into spectacular battles. Taken captains, for example, will fire massive, slow moving missiles that do a significant amount of damage but will also blind you; Taken minotaurs launch a barrage of homing bombs that cruelly dodge your attempts to shoot them down; Taken thralls shamble toward you like celestial zombies, teleporting away from your bullets as they inch ever closer; the list goes on and on. But when the Taken are involved, what would otherwise have been a simple fight with regular enemies becomes chaotic and thrilling.
Strikes are much the same, and I am happy to say that Bungie has finally listened to the criticisms surrounding them. Strikes feel shorter, more intense, and better paced. The boss fights that punctuate the end of each one now require a proper strategy to defeating. Gone are the bullet-sponge bosses whose only strategy is to see how many rounds you can pump into their head before you toss the controller across the room in a frustrated fit of boredom.
As of writing this review, I haven't yet had the chance to play the King's Fall raid that caps off all of the group content in The Taken King. That said, since the raids have always been considered a strong point in the series, I'd be surprised if King's Fall ended up as anything less. If that is the case though, I'll be sure to append my findings into this review.
The Taken King also introduces new sub-classes for the Hunter, Titan, and Warlock, which finally rounds out each class in terms of what roles they can fill. Sunbreaker Titans can hurl fiery hammers of destruction, Stormcaller Warlocks channel their inner Emperor Palpatine and can fire arcs of electricity from their fingers, and NIghtstalker Hunters can tether groups of enemies so their teams can easily kill them.
Perhaps the best change in The Taken King doesn't come from the rejuvenated story or awesome missions, but the progression system that ties them all together. Though patch 2.0 (which houses considerable changes to the game and is free for everyone regardless of whether or not they own The Taken King) is responsible for the fundamental change, The Taken King is what puts those changes to good use. Before, when players reached the level cap they would slave away to increase their light level by finding better pieces of armor and slowly upgrading them in an exhausting grind that spread too little reward over too much effort. Now, light has been regulated to a secondary stat that acts as a general metric of your character's overall strength. While it still acts as a barrier to harder content, this new change also coincides with a new philosophy towards progression that makes meaningful growth a rewarding and exciting prospect.
Along with a host of other changes, like condensing various forms of currency and scrapping the need to upgrade equipment to increase your light, earning better gear now happens at an almost rapid rate. Even a minor upgrade now feels like a small reward, and Destiny has finally managed to recapture the joy of picking up bundles of loot as they leap from an enemy's corpse. The middleman of grinding for upgrade materials has largely been removed, meaning you can now spend your time simply playing the game and collecting new and better gear—which seems to drop much more generously now. Where Destiny used to feel like a daunting slog to get equipped to handle its most difficult content, the road to light level 290 (recommended for the King's Fall raid) has been a joy thus far.
Those wanting more player versus player action will also be well looked after. Eight new maps accompany The Taking King and each of them felt right at home with the established roster while still managing to do something new. Vertigo was set on Venus and used a complicated set of portals to allow players to traverse the map in a non-linear fashion, while Ghost Ship was set in zero gravity, something that doesn't impact gameplay but looks incredible when you kill an enemy and his corpse cartwheels upward and hangs limply.
I could go on discussing everything The Taken King has hidden within, but I think you're starting to get the picture. While it's disappointing that social systems are still sorely lacking and Destiny is still years behind on basic features like fully implemented guilds or more options for meeting new players online and grouping together, it's also a problem that I find is bothering me less and less. The lack of matchmaking on incredibly hard Nightfall Strikes and Raids still presents a big issue to me, however. While I understand the frustration that can be caused by playing with random players in such highly skilled content, it also means people like me who don't always have a schedule conducive to organizing a night to play consistently have a hard time keeping up.
There is no denying Destiny was one of the biggest disappointments of last year; an awkward, disjointed jumble of half-baked ideas that only glimpsed the true potential of what could be. The Taken King might not make up for that first year and all of its shambling about, but it puts Destiny on a path that, as someone who spent all of last year whining endlessly to anyone who would listen, I can finally shut my mouth and just enjoy the game. If that isn't an incredible feat, I don't know what is.
GAMEPLAY: 9 New enemies and more interesting boss fights make The Taken King one of the best shooters of the year. Coupled with a ton of quests to complete, Destiny finally feels like it has some meat on its bones.
VISUALS: 9 Continuing the stellar presentation Destiny has been known for, the new locations are vibrant and affecting. Few areas are recycled and the new zones are tantalizingly maze-like and fun to explore.
POLISH: 9 Stronger voice acting and a refinement of how you progress makes an already smooth ride even smoother. Deciding to play Destiny feels like an effortless decision now.
LONGEVITY: 8 Though The Taken King's new content is easily the most we've ever experienced, it only took me a week to see just about everything the game has to offer. Like most MMORPGs, you can expect to repeat the same content over and over as you chase the ever vanish gap between you and the level cap.
VALUE: 9 Though The Taken King costs twice as much as older expansions, it also packs so much content—all of it leagues more engaging—that you likely won't dwell on the price after diving in. Coupled with patch 2.0, Destiny has shown us there is a lot of life left in this franchise. No subscription, no hidden cash shop feeds either. If you’re new to Destiny and buy The Taken King Legendary Edition, it comes with all other Destiny content for the same price Destiny 1.0 cost players a year ago.