Destiny was described as the World’s Most Popular 7 out of 10 when it first came out. It was, to put it bluntly, the perfect example that if the mechanics of a game are good enough, and the art direction gorgeous enough, players will tolerate a lot. And tolerate we did because there was always this feeling that just beneath the surface there was more. There was more story, or more secrets hidden within these worlds that we were exploring. So the players of that original “vanilla” Destiny kept searching for the game that we felt aught to be in there somewhere.
Then slowly at first, but increasingly, we stopped. We logged on less frequently, and Destiny stopped appearing on your friend’s statuses. Expansions came out and might have sparked a bit of interest, but the things that caused people to lose faith in the first place remained. Until finally, only the hardest of the hard core still wandered the strangely sterile halls of the Tower and spoke whispers about Bungie’s changes to PvP weapon balance and Raid glitches.
It had turned out that that the game that many had hoped Destiny would be wasn’t really there in its vanilla incarnation. At least, it wasn’t for me and a few months after launch I put it away, and I know I am not the only one. But now there is a new expansion for Destiny, and maybe like me, you wanted to know if it finally delivered the promise of the core game. To that I can say, The Taken King will not make a believer out of you again, but it will reignite the hope you had.
The More Things Change
If the last time you played Destiny was back when it first came out, there are a whole lot of changes and most of them are for the better. The plot exists, progression is a lot more pleasant and the loot system has received a generous overhaul.
So let’s start with the story in The Taken King. Yes, there is a story now and this is an improvement over vanilla Destiny. Thinking back to the original there was a quick tour of the planets, some pleasantires and bullets were exchanged with the hostile locals of wherever and then you went to a place called The Black Garden that was so important it was never mentioned again. Honestly it was a thinly veiled excuse to show you lots of art assets, and it got the job done. There’s an argument that the story was so light that it allowed people to project the specifics, but I seriously don’t buy that. Destiny had no story worth exploring and that’s it. Any narrative that was there existed almost entirely in the minds of the players.
If, like me, you’ve not been back since vanilla Destiny, the expansions are a successful step up in terms of story quality. In The Dark Below the exploration of the Hive as a race was interesting while it also invested time into creating a sense of unnerved horror. Having Eris Norn tell you spooky stories while you wander around in the dark will have that effect. If you need the resolution for the story you need to engage in the Crota’s End raid, but them’s the breaks. This is not the case for the House of Wolves expansion. Instead it tells a complete story about the clan structure of Fallen society and the rise of a Kell of Kells while also giving some insight into the Awoken. Like The Dark Below before it, HoW did an excellent job of making the featured races more than just featureless targets and made the world(s) of Destiny a lot stronger for it. The player’s Guardian was totally interchangeable throughout all of this, but mostly silent protagonists (we’re looking at you Master Chief) are an FPS / MMO norm, so it’s not fair to expect these characters to gracefully arc.
All of this is a way of saying that the story for The Taken King is serviceable. While that may come across as damning praise, in the world of 1st person shooters it’s actually a gold star. The Taken King focuses on a new race known as, wait for it, the Taken, which is comprised of corrupted enemies from the other races. But unlike the other races the Taken are led by a leader with an actual point. It turns out that the son of the titular King Oryx was Crota, the dude that was struck down in the last expansion. Having an enemy with an actual point of view is an interesting change of pace from the way that Destiny handles the rest of the story. Is the story going to win any awards? Of course not. The plot of Destiny makes Halo look as complex and interesting as Slaughterhouse Five. This also includes the caveat that maybe a player has never finished the Crota’s End raid. In which case King Oryx is super angry for basically no reason, but so it goes.
Having said all of that, I’m actually interested in the story more now that I was before. By fleshing out the different races the way that the Destiny Expansions have, Bungie has introduced conflict between them. Since conflict is the core of any story I think the canvas that they have available moving forward will continue to pay out dividends. Maybe, just maybe, the story will go from serviceable up to decent.
I’ll fully expect to catch flak for saying this, but I miss the Dinkle-bot. Nolan North is fine in the role, but after listening to the sardonic and dry humor of the Peter Dinklage Ghost for most of my time with Destiny, the change is jarring. Which leads me to the reason I bring this up. During the opening cinematic for the TTK, there’s a downright sexy cinematic that shows a battle around Saturn; during which the Queen of the Awoken is overwhelmed and killed. After it was over I found I was more upset that the Rings of Saturn were damaged than the loss of the Queen. After all, in Classic Flavor Destiny she was a pain in the ace. Of course, from a story perspective she got the ax because there aren’t any other kill-able characters in the plot. The Vanguards are safe and so is anybody that may issue you a quest. Which just leaves old blue eyes.
Which brings me back to the Dinkle-Bot. Throughout Destiny you can find Dead Ghosts, which means that they can be killed. Since your Ghost never gives you a quest, that would mean that you can kill it from a game perspective. So if you really wanted players to hate Oryx, Bungie missed an opportunity to have him kill your Dinkle-Bot. The player gets a motivation for attacking Oryx to match his reason for hating you, and the different voice coming out of my Ghost would just remind me of the last one.
Moving on, changes to the loot system are a delight. During my playthrough I noticed a major uptick in the number of items which sprang out of defeated enemies like they were pinatas. Little green, and blue and, oh my, purple engram orbs would be scattered about after different engagements. Most of them, especially for the late game, are total garbage. But those players are not who those are for. No instead dropping all of this hot loot is for beginning to middle players who are not at a point where they care about their “Light” level.
First, some backstory. In vanilla Destiny the loot drops were downright miserly. It was possible for a player to play for hours and run missions and have only a one or two new items to show for it. This had a couple of effects on the game. First of all, it made those glowing engrams a real treat and players would get excited that one dropped. Secondly, it was disappointing when those items were garbage 90% of the time. To make matters worse back in the bad old days the engram guy would not always give you an item that matched the engram you game him. So while you may give a blue (rare) engram you may get back a green (uncommon item). At which point you wanted to punch him in the dick.
The new loot system basically takes that and makes it closer to Diablo. Now the amount of new weapons and armors are much greater, which gives players a real sense of progression. Even if everything went to crap, at least you found a shiny new shotgun; and as we all know, a new shotty will enhance basically any day. To go along with that Bungie has introduced a system where you can break down items to power up your legendary and exotic items. So if you found a new item, but prefer the legendary item you have it’s not a loss and a player still gets that feeling of progression. In short, it’s a delight.
Additionally, with the new expansions Bungie has added missions to find exotic weapons. Players that embark on these Grail Quests are well past the point where random drops are going to do them much good (although it’s good to be surprised from time to time). The downside is that these quests can be really long and mostly stupid. For example, to get the exotic scout rifle The Touch of Malice a player needs to venture into The Dreadnaught and find 45 Calcified Fragments. These fragments are not marked on your in game map and are in obscure / obscene places. It’s a giant pain in the ass, and most oft the exotic quests are similarly obnoxious.
However, they do keep a sense of progression, which is the point I think. Say a player is running strikes or screwing around and they happen to find a couple of Fragments or whatever other chotchkie their current quest needs. Just the act of finding that moves them closer to getting that new item. Even if the steps are small they reduce or eliminate any feeling of stagnation – a feeling that caused many vanilla Destiny players to quit in the first place.
The More They Stay The Same
The moment to moment gameplay of Destiny remains great. The guns continue to have a spectacular feeling to them, the movement is fun in and of itself and the class abilities continue to make you feel powerful while experimenting with different builds.
Starting with the core gameplay, Bungie learned a lot from developing Halo. The core of Destiny remains the triad of shooting, grenades and melee. Different fights require pretty much all of these and much of the gameplay stems from using the right type at the right time. Then frosted over all of that is a class and subclass system that adds the additional wrinkle of intrinsic abilities.
The true genius of Destiny is that so many different weapons with different characteristics keep falling into your hands. Getting a new gun can, and probably will, change the math of melee, shooting, and grenades. If learning is fun then Destiny is built from the ground up to constantly teach you new things.
In this regard the PvP is, what’s the word? Oh, right – bad. Around here I’m the resident crank and have a history of explaining why things are garbage, so I’m not just going to leave it at that. When it comes to PvP the best games are the ones where you learn as you lose. The multiplayer in Bungie’s previous game Halo was exceptionally good in that area. When it comes to PvP, you ideally want fewer things going on. Said things should interact in interesting ways, and it is this interaction that becomes the core of the learning. For example, the first time you run into a small room with a Battle Rifle and get Shotgunned you learn not to do that. Same is true when you bounce around in the open with a plasma pistol and get nailed by a sniper. In both cases you learned something new. Over time you would learn to play the matchups of weapon types and situational circumstance and after a lot of bullet shaped lessons, you would know how to do it better than your opponent.
Destiny’s Crucible doesn’t care about any of that. There are 9 different classes, each of which has 21+ different skills with 2187 loadout variations available. Then from mid level PvP on you get to contend with legendary and exotic weapons and armors that also have additional perks. This means that it quickly becomes impossible to learn anything about the matchups because there are too many to even calculate. This is why it feels so bad in Destiny’s Crucible when you get killed. Often you don’t know what you did wrong and begin to feel as if you can’t get better.
This changes the fundamentals of the way the game is played. Since you cannot play against what the opponent is doing (because you really can’t know) you instead focus purely on your own character and strategy. If your loadout and strategy won, great. If not, you still don’t know why. Maybe the answer is that you need more upgrades, or maybe the strategy was crap. In the end it’s a mystery.
The real issue with the Crucible is that Bungie has decided to require it for certain bounties. If you want to level up your sword for example, you’re going to need to venture into forth into some PvP. If you’re a PvE player primarily prepare to get killed a whole lot followed by a long period of wanton discouragement.
Finally, Destiny remains beautiful. The art direction in this game is top tier and there are players that play just because of that. To illustrate, I’ll shut up and show some pretties:
Of note for those of you that haven’t been playing all of the expansions as they came out is that The Dark Below and the House of Wolves expansions are basically just single plays at this point. It’s a damn shame too since The Prison of Elders in HoW is probably one of my favorite modes in the entire game. The reason has to do with the loot. As a player progresses in Destiny the gear they they receive gets better and better. With TTK even rare and uncommon gear can be very powerful and will drop from regular enemies.
So imagine this, your character is level 25+ and you are enjoying the content for HoW. You’re learning about Kells and Fallen Houses while introducing them to your good friends Melee and Grenade. Along the way you get a new uncommon Assault Rifle with a 230 Attack rating and grin wildly when you test it out on some unsuspecting Dregs. Then you finish the mission and as a quest reward you are given a brand new legendary Assault Rifle and it has an Attack of 180. Oh sure, it’s got perks, but because of the dopey way that Light levels work, it is a strict downgrade.
The reason for this is that all of the legendary and exotic weapons available in the last 2 expansions are set to the level of those challenges (level 20). Meanwhile the new loot system means that you’ll receive level appropriate items as drops. Good for you, but bad since once you have completed the content you have zero reason to go back and play it ever again. It will still come up in playlists, but I fully expect that most people will skip it entirely moving forwards. I’m hoping that Bungie at some point updates the weapon and armor rewards for The Dark Below and The House of Wolves, because like I mentioned the content is actually quite good. In the meantime it’s a damn shame.
I say all of this for a reason. You see at one point the new items in HoW and TDB were both the hottest end game items, and people fought long and hard to acquire them. The loot in TTK will one day do exactly this as well, and you should be prepared for when it happens. Instead, if you are going to play – just play. If you don’t enjoy chasing the loot of the new expansions don’t worry about it. There’s enough to do and enough random drops/rewards that you can be very happy with how you’ve spent your time.
It Was the End of the World (and I Feel Fine)
So now what? Well, here at NitWitty we don’t consider it our job to tell you if something is worth playing or not. If you’re reading about it here it was already worth playing/reading/watching, and we’re here to intelligently discuss.
With that in mind, The Taken King is definitely worth experiencing. If you’ve been away for too long, then it’s a good time to get involved with it again. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a lot closer to the game you wanted it to be back when it was the World’s most popular 7 out of 10.
NitWitty Score : 7 Purple Engrams, 18 Blue and 2 Greens