Like countless other players, Destiny enthralled us with its incredibly solid gunplay, gorgeous visuals and the promise of shinier loot always on the horizon.
It was by no means perfect, though. Criticism of the patchy story and the need to sift through countless grimoire cards for the meaty information was justified, and the initial ‘carrot and stick’ reward system had far too much ‘stick’ for our liking.
Still, Bungie went on to tweak and tinker, listening to player feedback and releasing two mini expansions in the process, improving the Destiny universe with each one. For some players though, those incremental improvements weren’t enough to keep them coming back, and we have more than a few people on our friends list who officially retired their guns.
The Taken King however, is the biggest update to the Destiny universe ever, and it brings with it a tonne of tweaks and changes, not to mention a new story, explorable area, strikes and more quests than you can shake a grenade at.
But at the price of a full game, does it offer enough to bring in new players, retain existing ones, and, perhaps more importantly, bring back previously loyal Guardians who have strayed away from the Traveller’s light?
THIS IS HOW YOU TELL A STORY
That was the title of the number one post on the Destiny subreddit the day The Taken King was released, and we agree with it.
The very first mission throws you into chaos, with a giant Cabal warrior suddenly crawling at you, clearly dying. As you progress through a battlefield, watching these gargantuan beasts reduced to nothing, you’ll probably feel a twinge of Halo nostalgia, mixed with a healthy dose of curiosity and fear.
It’s followed by a cutscene and dialogue between various characters that blows anything else we’ve previously seen in Destiny out of the water.
The previously dull, two-dimensional Vanguard mentors (the trio of senior Guardians that send you on missions) now have fully fleshed out personalities, and Nathan Fillion’s performance as a rebellious Exo Hunter is just excellent.
Cutscene after cutscene felt like we were watching an actual Destiny movie, making the story far more engaging than Bungie’s previous efforts, and the extra personality goes a long way to help you care about what it is you’re actually doing.
Peter Dinklage’s Ghost has been replaced by gaming voice-over veteran Nolan North. Despite Dinklage facing quite a lot of stick for his occasionally cheesy lines and emotionless delivery, we have to admit that we preferred him over North’s interpretation.
It’s hard to put into words why we don’t like the new Ghost’s voice, but it’s far too… happy and delicate. It’s like having a children’s TV presenter follow you around, and we’d much rather have Dinklebot back in the game and in our headsets.
The story itself is easy to follow and engaging, and sees players take on the Hive God Oryx. You’re number one on his ‘To Kill’ list, thanks to the fact that you and your friends disposed of his son Crota in the last raid (in fairness, he really was asking for it).
He’s so displeased in fact, that he’s decided to corrupt all sorts of different enemy races into his personal army of ‘Taken’, all of which want nothing more than to end your very existence.
The Taken enemies are dark, almost glitchy versions of familiar foes, and we love them. They remind us a little of the Flood in Halo, with their erratic movements and zombie-like qualities, although they thankfully don’t look as gross.
Each Taken enemy has a set of unique abilities, making them very formidable and rather dangerous. Fallen Taken Captains for example, can now move at approximately 1,000km/h, teleporting around in the blink of an eye, and shooting you with waves of darkness, making you blind for a few seconds.
Then there’s the Cabal Psions, which split into two when you shoot them, or the darned Vex Hobgoblins that blast you with void cannons when they die, forcing you to
scream like a little girl assess the situation carefully and make a tactical retreat.
They add a welcome twist to the gameplay, and Bungie throws in a few other surprises along the way, but we won’t spoil those for you here.
We hammered through the main story itself in around four hours, which we thought was a little short, but that’s by no means the entire, or even the main meaty filling, of The Taken King.
TIME TO EXPLORE
While there are a few new areas sprinkled on existing planets such as Earth and the Moon – with some of the Earth areas providing spectacular, jaw-dropping views – the star of The Taken King is the Dreadnaught – Oryx’s ship and all-new explorable area.
It’s a gigantic gloomy labyrinth of a ship with ominous dark hallways littered with skulls and bones, secret tunnels, and plenty of enemies to sink your bullets into.
Visually, it’s uniquely striking, and we’ve had genuine fun exploring its nooks and crannies without any real objective in mind.
The gem in its crown, is the Court of Oryx – an area which lets players activate runes to spawn waves of powerful enemies, netting you all plenty of loot in the process. It’s essentially like playing on a giant arcade machine, with players using up runes like coins – except deadlier, with more wizards shooting lightning at you.
Bungie really needed to add a new area to the game to keep things fresh, and while it’s technically not a new planet (though it is situated in Saturn’s rings), it’s a massive breath of fresh (stale, death-reeking) air.
It’s stuffed with mysterious locked chests, new materials to collect and puzzles to figure out, and it’s by far our favourite area in the game to date.
A WHOLE NEW YOU
Each class has its own miniature story quest line in which they discover their new powers. We’ve only played as a Warlock so far, and – without spoiling anything – the way in which we obtained my lightning powers was rather awesome.
Until now, the Hunter has always been an attack-centric class, with the golden Gun and Arc Blade supers both focused on dealing out massive damage and slicing through foes ultra quickly.
The new Nightstalker Hunter subclass is instead a support role that makes use of a void damage bow to ensnare enemies and make them immobile, leaving them open to attack.
Other notable abilities include a Voidwall Grenade, which throws up a wall of damaging light, and a smokescreen that disorientates and slows down targets.
The Sunbreaker Titan is probably the most notable new class, as it offers titans a ranged super attack for the first time. Arguably the coolest super in the game, Sunbreakers can summon the Hammer of Sol, which is essentially Thor’s hammer but, you know, on fire.
Said hammer can be used to devastating effect, killing enemies with mighty blows across a large area. The current Fist of Havoc, like the Warlock’s Nova Bomb, is a one-hit kill, but is limited to a restricted area of damage.
The new hammer lets Titans run around killing foes over a wider area, making them a formidable enemy in the deatmatch-style Crucible mode. Like existing Sunsinger Warlocks, solar burn damage is also on the cards, letting you watch enemies’ health tick away before they drop dead to the floor.
Lastly we have the Stormcaller Warlock, whose super is essentially Emperor Palpatine on a bad day. Warlocks can now tap into the power of arc energy and fry multiple enemies with bolts of lightning, shot straight out of their fingertips.
It offers more flexibility than the single-area damage Nova Bomb, and the new grenades, which call down bolts of lightning, are an absolute joy to use.
Another favourite is a perk that instantly recharges your punch power if any enemy hits you, and it’s proved to be incredibly useful (to the point that it’s almost unfair), in the Crucible.
Not that we’re complaining, you understand. Warlock 4 Life, yo.
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
At first, the thought of putting that hard-earned Fatebringer out to pasture made us sadder than we care to admit, but within an hour we’d forgotten all about it. The new weapons in The Taken King look and feel excellent, and even the basic, common blue and green items pack a decent punch.
There’s even a new sword that can go in your heavy weapon slot. It makes cool swishing noises when you wave it around, and we’re currently halfway through forging one.
Selected exotic weapons and armour class can be carried over and upgraded with a new blueprint system, but we’re looking forward to seeing what new threads and weapons we can use this time around.
There’s also a new light and level system which, while confusing at first, soon becomes clear. Whereas before your level was tied to your armour’s light level, the two are now separate. Your overall level is now based entirely on experience points, and existing players will probably hit the new maximum of 40. But your new light level will take a lot longer to max-out.
It’s calculated from a combination of your weapons’ attack level and your armour level, and it can be bolstered by different ghost shells, artifacts and class items. The light level is the new factor that determines which missions and Strikes you’ve got a realistic chance of completing, and the game is far less forgiving of under-powered players than it has been in any previous version of Destiny.
We tried to do the Daily Heroic Mission (which was previously extremely easy for high level players), and despite being just 20 light points short of the recommended level, found it utterly impossible. The Nightfall and Weekly Heroic activities are even harder, and many players will struggle to even bolster their light level enough to have a crack at those in their first week.
This new light level system, coupled with the new Legendary Marks (a currency earned through various missions and quests) all appear to have the sole aim of slowing player progress down.
It sounds strange, but we actually think that this is a good thing. It’ll stop people burning themselves out and maxing everything out in a few weeks, after which they’ll complain that there’s nothing left to do.
CONTENT WITH CONTENT
Before we’ve been consigned to repeating the same bounties over and over and over again, but Bungie’s injected a good deal of variety with The Taken King, with tonnes of quests to keep players occupied.
It’ll be interesting to see how (or if) these different quest lines will be varied after your first week or so. There’s definitely a danger of repetition down the line, once players have completed everything there is to complete, but if the quests get refreshed and tweaked regularly, then there could be enough to keep players in the Destiny world without them feeling as though they’re beating a dead horse. Of course it helps that the actual amount of content is now vastly larger than it was when Destiny first launched.
In fact, The Taken King adds four new Strikes (three-player specific missions that are a good deal bigger and more rewarding than the standard story missions), taking the total up to 13. The new ones manage to introduce some new mechanics and present a fairly formidable challenge without ever becoming head-bangingly brutal. The bosses at the end of each Strike are all more interesting than the boring bullet sponges we’ve become a little too familiar with, too.
U WOT M8
With The Taken King, Bungie has thrown two new game modes into the mix – Rift and Mayhem. The former is essentially a single-flag capture the flag affair, except the flag is replaced with a spark, which periodically spawns at the centre of a map. Teams must control the spark and carry it to the enemy base before slam dunking it in the enemy rift to score big points.
It’s not quite the two-flag CTF mode that ex-Halo fans might have craved, but it’s a lot of (very stressful) fun, especially if you’re a player who enjoys objective-based matches rather than just shooting anything that moves without a second though. As with any objective game mode, it can be frustrating at times, especially if you’re playing with random teammates who don’t communicate. All too often we’ve found ourselves rushing around in a blind panic with the spark, screaming for backup that never arrives and eventually meeting my demise at business end of an enemy shotgun. Go team.
The other new mode, Mayhem, is aptly named. In it, Guardians’ supers are recharged at a significantly faster rate. This of course leads to utter chaos, as people wave around their explosive space magic, Earth-shattering grenades and fiery punches without a care in the world.
It’s not the sort of thing you’ll probably want to play all night given how hectic it is, but it’s essentially Destiny set to God Mode, and can be great fun.
DOWN WITH THE KING
The raid is an unforgiving place where dreams are pummeled, hope is shattered, and friendships are eroded by a torrent of salty tears. The latest King’s Fall raid, which sees you put your collective might against Oryx for the very last time, is is everything a raid should be – a fun, incredibly challenging way for hardcore players to level up with the most powerful endgame gear.
Bungie learnt its lesson from its last raid, Crota’s End, which had sections that could be completed by one person with relative ease. This time though, you’ll need solid and communicative teamwork from the off, and even getting in through the front door will pose a challenge at first.
The sections of the raid itself offer plenty of variety. The vast jumping puzzle in particular, found relatively early on, was visually stunning and thoroughly enjoyable – despite the fact that we plummeted to an untimely death multiple times.
We’re also happy to report that there are plenty of mechanics littered throughout, and they go beyond simply spraying bullet sponge bosses with ammunition.
We don’t want to spoil anything here, but the satisfaction you’ll get from working out the intricacies of taking down a boss, and eventually coming together with your team like a well-oiled machine, is really quite something.
It brings back memories from the Vault of Glass, and we found it far more enjoyable than Crota’s End.
In true raid tradition, the reward drop rates remain inconsistent, and there’s always one person in a group who’ll get more shiny gear than anyone else – and you should justifiably, and passionately, despise them for it. Just kidding. But not really.
Overall, Bungie has captured everything that a Raid should be, and it’ll provide hours of frustration and incredibly fun satisfaction in equal measure. Just be prepared to set aside half a day at least on your first ever run, and feel free to order some pizza. The two go very well together.
The amount of new content, mechanic tweaks and quests will make their inner Guardians very happy indeed. As for those fans that strayed away? That’s a little trickier to answer.
There’s no doubt that this is the best Destiny experience there’s ever been, so if you left simply because you ran out of things to do, The Taken King is definitely worth a look. If you’ve always been allergic or immune to Destiny’s grind for loot, that may still be the case. There’s certainly more variety here than before, but a certain amount of grinding is always going to be involved.
Lots of us actually quite enjoy that, but there’s no denying it’s not for everyone. Loot grind or not, the raid is a triumph, offering everything we’ve come to expect from Bungie since it first wowed us with the Vault of Glass. It’s tough, maddeningly frustrating at times, but when those big bosses fall, and those rewards appear on your screen, it’s all worth it.
This, then, is Destiny at it its absolute best, and we can’t wait to see what the universe has in store for us in future. See you on the Dreadnaught.