Stand tall, Guardian
It appears that Destiny is both a social experiment and a mutually beneficial learning process for both developers Bungie and the game’s large player base masquerading as a Triple-A first-person shooter experience (a very convincing masquerade I might add). The game has been out for just over a year now and has seen the release of two expansion packs during this time. The Taken King is the game’s third, transitioning Destiny into its second year. It isn’t without its faults, but the game’s latest expansion is, without a doubt, its biggest and best yet, with more content than the other two combined. It is also the outcome of community involvement, player feedback and the evolution of the game’s much-touted ten-year plan. The end product almost feels collaborative, as if the developers are finding their feet at the same time as the players.
The expansion’s first significant accomplishment is the balance it finds between accommodating player requested features and delivering fresh new content. If laying the groundwork for a ten year project wasn’t enough, Bungie had to ensure that there was enough flexibility within the system to make constant changes – a particularly daunting task given the content rollout plan, which appears to be at least one major release and two minor ones every year. The Taken King is Year Two’s first major release, and this balance is quite apparent from the beginning.
Complaints with Destiny’s lack of direct storytelling are addressed almost immediately in The Taken King, as it kicks off with something the game’s players have been asking for since September last year: a cutscene. As we are introduced to Oryx, the game’s new antagonist and father of Crota (who was brutally ravaged by Guardians skilled with sword and unplugged LAN cables alike in the game’s first expansion The Dark Below), they are also immersed in a world that looks like it’s actually willing to tell a story. If House of Wolves took baby steps, The Taken King takes one giant leap. The game’s story missions all sports cinematics, with optional “passive” storytelling as well – achieved by pulling out your Ghost on an area of interest. Destiny has some pretty heavy lore, and The Taken King gives you a front row seat to the show without having to play private eye on Bungie.net.
An integral component of the game’s evolved storytelling is the voice acting and the voice actors themselves. Nolan North (Uncharted’s Nathan Drake) now voices Ghost, and while a lot of players expressed disappointment over his take on Peter Dinklage’s (Game of Thrones) lines in vanilla Destiny, his work on The Taken King is unquestionably good. Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Castle) brings some much needed snarky commentary and humour to the proceedings, all while showing that it’s not necessary to take everything in Destiny seriously to enjoy it (a reflection of game’s player base and development team’s attitudes as well, one could argue). However, Lennie James’ Lord Shaxx is a personal favourite, with newly recorded lines for killstreaks and more in the game’s Crucible PvP mode – wipe the floor with enemy Guardians and you’ll hear Shaxx absolutely lose it. It’s wonderful.
Moving on the content itself, the game now features an interesting quest system with rewards that range from new currency and Legendary Marks to regular and exotic gear. While a lot of them involve grinding and backtracking, there are some very cool endgame-style story missions that are unique to these quests set in new areas. The Taken King also features half-a-dozen new Strikes (some of them have interesting fight mechanics), an all-new enemy in the form of The Taken (Oryx’s new minions spawned by consuming familiar foes such as The Fallen, Hive, Cabal and Vex), a massive area to explore in the Dreadnaught (which comes with The Court of Oryx public event system) and a new Raid, King’s Fall, which is the game’s most ambitious yet. Since Destiny is all about the loot, there’s a lot to find—both through the magic of random drops as well as by completing various quests.
Then there are the new subclasses: Sunbreaker Titan, Nightstalker Hunter, and Stormcaller Warlock – all of which grant elemental abilities each of the classes lacked before. The Titan with his flaming hammer and Warlock with his best Emperor Palpatine inspired chain lighting abilities focus on dealing damage, while the Nightstalker, with her Void Bow, is the quintessential support class that shoots off arrows to tether foes for suppression and extra damage.
The new and refreshed Destiny does bring with it some baggage, however. The system of earning rewards, ludicrous number of currencies and needlessly complex progression system tied to ‘Light’ level (which in turn determines the attack and defense values of random drops) can be a little taxing. As someone with over 1,500 hours logged in the game, it took me a while to comprehend what was going on—I can’t imagine how a newer player will feel with this overwhelming volume of information. I understand that RPGs and MMOs tend to have deep and complicated systems, but this is one area where there’s a lot of room for improvement in Destiny. It’s also a sign that the creators of the game are still experimenting with progression, loot and resource systems as well as their interplay.
Another aspect that feels like a classic case of taking two steps back is the trading of resource materials. By combining Crucible and Vanguard Marks into Legendary Marks and making them a lot harder to earn than before, it is difficult to acquire much-needed resource materials for upgrading weapons and armour.
Destiny’s competitive PvP has been constantly evolving as well – just when the Crucible’s metagame began to feel a little static, the new changes brought on by The Taken King attempt to redefine it. The Crucible is a fun place to be once again by making Year One weapons obsolete when level advantages apply in game, modes such as the Iron Banner and Trials of Osiris limit time events, and enforcing balance changes to overpowered weapons and abilities, as well as the addition of tremendously fun game modes such as Rift and Mayhem. However, its viability as a competitive shooter is still in question.
In the end, Destiny: The Taken King represents a lot of value for Destiny fans paying the asking (approximate) price of US$40/Rs. 2,750 when purchased as an add-on or for the PS4 or for the full price of $60/Rs 4,000 for newer players, who will get 20+ hours of story missions alone, with some of the best co-op they’ll ever play. The endgame content is as good as ever. While there are facets of the game still in the experimentation phase, The Taken King is the sort of expansion that will make any Destiny player optimistic about the future of the series.
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