The Taken King does not feel like an expansion; it feels like a complete revision of the script. Destiny’s long await expansion represents an entirely reformed way of thinking. Everything from how the game talks (say goodbye to dear dinklebot,) to how the shiny loot drops is different and not in a bad way. Before loading up the Bungie developed first-person shooter I had heard the horror stories. Players lined up by the hundreds to fill forums and comment boards with hate. “The grind!” They yelled as stories of rare and randomized loot filled the Interweb. “Story!?” others hollered as they spoke of a beautiful world they knew next to nothing about because of the game’s narrative was broken and incoherent. There was little to find in the way of positivity.
The Taken King changes that. Not because it is perfect, it is not, but because it puts a foot in the right direction. Story from the onset is noticeably improved, partially because there actually is one . The expansion features a full and robust narrative that has fancy plot points, actual characters, and a villain worth caring about. There is a flow to the game’s missions that shows the players that the designers know where the story is going and what it is trying to accomplish.
They streamlined the questing experience to highlight pacing. It was not uncommon for me to gain a level after every quest, a speed that sent me hurtling through a highlight reel of sorts. It was obvious that the game did not want me to hang around its tired vanilla world. It actively pushed me to out level and out run old content. In less than a day I was level twenty five and trucking through content from The Taken King. After the very first quest I was given missions to unlock a new class, fight against a Hive king, and save the world from a terrifying Taken invasion. All of these quests held a weight that the earlier content lacked. There was personality to its presentation and characters that had always remained stoic or unchanging now exhibited sass and spunk. Cayde-6 in particular was a favorite of mine. His voice actor, Nathan Fillion, felt like he had finally been unleashed and actually allowed to play, becoming a comedic and dramatic plus across the board.
Of course the leveling system was just the first stepping stone in a long trail of updated and revised ideas. Loot, for example, has completely changed. The vanilla game was greedy with its riches. Choosing to take the Smaug route with their loot. Getting anything was torture and even when you did it could unwrap to be literal trash. Now all of that has changed. The hobbits stormed the mountain and killed the evil dragon and engrams rain down across the universe in droves. One thing I personally adore about the new content is that I can do anything I like, from story missions to strikes to raids, and get the gear I want. There simply is not a shortage of green, blue, purple, and even yellow, in The Taken King. Which is a very good thing for a game where shooting things and looking cool is why people play.
Which leads us to the new classes, Sunbreaker, NightStalker, and Stormcaller, all of which are badass killing machines. Bungie absolutely nailed it with the design of the new subclasses for The Taken King. All of them offer a unique and powerful twist on their old and tired parent class. Warlocks shoot lighting from their fingers, Titans throw flaming hammers of war, and Hunters get a shadow bow that harnesses the power of the void, and of them are powerful. One of the really cool things to see come out of the expansion is a harmony amongst the three core classes of Destiny. None of them are left out to dry and all three of the new classes have an avenue to shine. Stormcallers are fantastic in 6v6 pvp and AoE destruction, Sunbreakers have a monstrously powerful super, and Nightstalkers are the masters of movement and suppression. All of them are interesting and fun to play, which is a decided step up from where balance was in vanilla Destiny.
Classes are not the only things evolving either. The Taken Kings new raid, Kingsfall, is an immaculate example of Bungie’s choice to listen to what their players want. Kingsfall is a mixture of first person shooting, World of Warcraft raiding, and Super Mario Bros platforming. Having never played the other raids before The Taken King, I have to say, the raid is an entirely unique and new experience. There is seriously nothing else like it in the gaming world, and that is a noteworthy achievement. I found myself seriously challenged but always having fun and I haven’t missed a chance to clear it since the raid dropped shortly after launch. Even from a story standpoint Kingsfall is an outstanding success. From level twenty five onwards The Taken King focuses on building up the relationship between you and the Hive king, Oryx, investment that isn’t wasted for a second as one of the last quests in the game is to enter Kingsfall and finish the big bad off. This kind of structured storytelling is a strict upgrade from the confused and muddled narrative before. In The Taken King we know who our enemies are, we know what they want, and we get stop them in epic fashion. A formula that hits all the right beats on its way to entertaining players and making them feel like the heroes it says we are.
Which is ultimately one of the strongest and weakest parts of Bungie’s new expansion, character progression. On one hand there is a very clear cut path to progress. The Taken King’s many quests are structured to constantly push your abilities and award you with better, shinier loot. From the story quests that find ways to get you into the games new strikes and raid. To the new quest driven exotic items that Bungie has sprinkled throughout the end game. One of the main driving motivations in The Taken King is forward progress. Bungie wants you to always have things to work on and ways in which to improve, and that’s a good thing. At the very start of the expansion there I had million reasons to log on. Even when you are done with strikes and tired of PvP, The Taken King has something for you to do. One of the best Exotic items currently in the game, The Touch of Malice, is hidden behind a long quest chain that has the player running around the entirety of the new zone in search of hidden items called Calcified Fragments. After finding a whooping 45 of them a particularly difficult quest opens whose reward offers you the gun. None of these things are bad, in fact I would argue they are fantastic. The problem is what happens when you are done. Once the raid has been beaten, the story finished, and the few exotic quests completed, The Taken King returns to its inbred genetic roots, randomized loot, grinding, and time gated content.
The Push and Pull of Balance
Out of all the ways in which Destiny attempts to artificially extend it’s life, timegating is the worst. What this particular form of fascism refers to is Bungies love of hiding content behind time based lockouts. Many of the promised Year2 exotic items are not currently available in-game because they have been locked out of the games current loot table. In fact, they have only just been announced as being available in the next December patch. This same restriction was also applied to both the raids hard mode and challenge mode difficulties. One of which was only just released nearly two months after launch, the later has only been announced and has no current release date. Keep in mind that these are things advertised as being a part of The Taken King well before the expansion even launched. All of this is a part of Bungie trying to balance the speed at which players complete the expansions content with the inevitable burnout most people feel as a game’s lifespan drags.
Balance seems to be a running issue with Destiny. Many of the drastic improvements seen in The Taken King are not the product of complete revolution of the game but are an evolution in terms of progression, randomized loot, grinding, and playability. While the majority of The Taken King does a fantastic job in this balancing act, other parts fail spectacularly. The loot system in Kingsfall is a complete and utter mess. Gear drops off specific bosses but the light level and perks are completely random. For those who do not know, light level is a endgame form of character progression. A character’s strength is determined in two ways, one is overall level, which caps at 40, the other is light level. Light level is a score found by calculating the total item level of a player’s gear, the overall cap being 320. This level is not affected by anything other than the strength of discovered gear. Meaning you can run the raid for weeks, getting frequent drops, and have all of it be garbage or downgrades because there is no standard drop rate or level. A person with a 307 light level can run the raid and get gear as low as 300. To further compound this issue, each piece of gear takes a certain resource to upgrade and experiment with. The problem is the drop rate of these resources has been nerfed into oblivion. They are scarce to say the least. So not only can you raid and get bad gear, or gear with weird stats, you cannot even try it or upgrade it, because you would be essentially wasting a valuable and rare resource. This treadmill of grinding out a raid, to get lucky on a drop, to get lucky on its level, to get lucky on its perks, is trying to say the least.
Most of the people I talk to quit after finishing both incarnations of the raid. After the initial burst of enthusiasm and excitement, the grind quickly becomes unmanageable. Why the game does not have a set loot table for its raids like all the other MMO’s would be a mystery if it wasn’t so readily apparent. Bungie is terrified of people finishing their game. Destiny is one of the most expensive games ever made and creating content for it costs Millions with a capital M. Due to this there are a number of artificial ways in which Bungie attempts to draw out The Taken King’s lifespan. One one hand Bungie has heard the call of its fans and taken a step in the right direction. As far as expansions go, The Taken King win the award for most improved. It does everything a good expansion should. It progresses story, it revitalized old mechanics, it pumps new blood into the system. Everything Bungie wanted The Taken King to do, it managed to accomplish. I mean, I would be lying to you all if I said I did not have an absolute blast shooting my way through the galaxy. The trouble is that its staying power is limited. For those who cannot or will not grind out gear and weapons, there is little left at endgame to do and that is a problem. Luckily I do not think that is a deal breaker. The Taken King is not perfect, but it is a shift in the right direction. It is a promise of good things to come.
It is due to these reasons that I regretfully, and with a heavy heart, give the game the following score: #1 shiny star sticker and #2 smiley face stickers.
(Nitwitty reserves the right to not score games in any meaningful manner. Whether or not the game is worth your time and energy is a conclusion you must personally decide. Thank you for reading!)