Will Destiny: The Taken King Be Enough to Exorcise Its Flaws?

September 11, 2015 Written by Michael Briers

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The Taken King cometh. As the third, biggest and most important expansion launching for Bungie’s shooter, the Destiny community are expecting a great many things from next week’s DLC — and rightfully so.

After The Dark Below and House of Wolves, it’s fair to say that Destiny’s post-launch content has been, at least up until now, less than impressive. Without any new areas to explore — aside from the Reef, which is little more than a palette swap of the Tower — players were left pining for new material sooner rather than later. For those with Guardians that matched the requisite level requirements, blazing through these extra story missions rarely took longer than two to three hours.

The Road So Far

Trials of Osiris and the survival-based Prison of Elders modes may have offered new spins on the formula, but at a structural level, Destiny still failed to exorcise its flaws. A problematic endgame progression system and an unbalanced arsenal — particularly in the Crucible — have long been well-voiced complaints across forums and social media.

Perhaps the most egregious example was when, after the Vault of Glass raid harbored the only means of reaching level 30 for months, Bungie drafted in new gear in tandem with The Dark Below that was not only available to all via the Tower, it essentially rendered previous raid gear obsolete. Overnight, some of the most sought-after loot in the solar system became commonplace and all of those hours spent battling Atheon almost become redundant.

Fundamentally, a large portion of Destiny’s woes have been inextricably tied to the Light system. Introduced after a Guardian reached level 20, the risk and reward set-up proved to be off balance as time worn on, and much of the shooter’s coveted legendary gear was doled out via a miserly RNG (Random Number Generator) system that irked the Destiny faithful. A perfect carrot and stick-styled equilibrium this was not.

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A more accessible endgame, then, landed at the top of the priority list for Bungie. Indeed a flawed progression system, one which favored upgradeable armour over actual levels, wasn’t the only issue that the studio set out to fix.

Arriving just shy of the shooter’s one-year anniversary, The Taken King in many ways represents a chance for Bungie to reflect on what has come before; to reconcile Destiny’s shortcomings and flaws, and nudge the IP closer to the that much-touted ten-year masterplan.

Heralding the beginning of “Year Two,” the expansion is purportedly the mother load we’ve all been waiting for. Simultaneously beckoning back Guardians who have put up with Destiny’s vexing quirks and wearingly repetitive content over the past year or so, and those Hunters, Titans and Warlocks who became disillusioned with the game shortly after launch and placed Bungie’s shooter on the proverbial shelf — where it’s been collecting dust ever since.

Does The Taken King hold the power to reinstate Destiny’s status as the shooter of the moment?

One element that Bungie has made no bones about changing is the game’s innate tone. Having recruited new writing staff to wrangle and indeed streamline Destiny’s sprawling, exhaustive lore, there are signs that the studio is aiming to unlock the rusty old chains that have made the game such an astute sci-fi space opera hitherto. For a genre piece where the overriding malevolent force is referred to as The Darkness, Bungie’s shooter tends to take itself too seriously more often than not.

It’s a creative departure that is beginning to take shape already, with industry veteran Nolan North supplanting Peter Dinklage in the role of Ghost. Not only is this an effort to bestow a reinvigorated personality onto the ever-present AI companion, The Taken King will allow Ghost to play a more instrumental role in the moment-to-moment gameplay, while acting as a more lively and wittier conduit of the Grimore legend.

In Space, No One Can Hear You Grind for Exotics

You’ll need him, too, if you really are to topple Oryx. Ruler of the Taken and father to the fallen Crota, Destiny’s newfound big bad is a force to be reckoned with, and wants nothing more than to bring ruination to all Guardians and the planet on which they call home.

With Oryx and his reign of chaos comes the Dreadnaught, an ancient Hive warship that enters the solar system around Saturn (with or without Matthew McConaughey) to serve as Destiny’s new playable area. It is here that players will encounter The Taken King’s campaign, along with Patrol missions, Strikes, public events, and the all-new Court of Oryx.

Forcing Guardians to think on their feet, it’s the latter feature drawing the most attention on the eve of launch. Placing control in the hands of the player, Bungie has designed this public event in such a way where budding god-slayers can open up three tiers of enemies depending on the runes they present outside the court.

There’s an element of strategic play, too, with the studio keen to point out the mode’s emphasis on brains over brawn. No longer will you simply be chipping away to a colossal health bar; instead, the Court of Oryx will have you studying enemy patterns to decipher potential weak points. One encounter, for example, is said to feature two Herculean knights that can only be brought down when they are in close vicinity to one another.

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Small changes, sure, but it’s evident Bungie is taking heed of Vault of Glass’ reputation. Not only is Luke Smith acting as creative director on The Taken King — after overseeing design of Destiny’s first raid — but the fact that the expansion will place these enigmatic mechanics front and center is the studio’s embryonic answer to the complaints levelled at the game’s repetitive, chore-like nature. Mowing down waves upon waves of alien Gjallarhorn fodder is only fun for so long, after all. Mind you, Bungie has said that the elusive rocket launcher will remain a Year One weapon after the DLC launches. Good night, sweet prince. 

Will this be enough to sate the near-insatiable appetite of Guardians and ease Destiny’s transition into year two? It’s too soon to tell. But after a year on the market — which many consider to be one big year-long beta — Bungie’s shared-world shooter has changed substantially since day one, and the release of The Taken King really epitomises this gradual evolution.

Become Legend…Again

In the video game industry, it’s often quoted that the first game in a new franchise doesn’t necessarily represent a developer’s vision. Budget constraints and creative compromises led to a title that is decidedly PC — Vanilla Destiny, as it is now referred to. For all intents and purposes, this is Destiny 1.5; a quasi-sequel that embodies an impassioned community and a studio that isn’t afraid to change.

Despite its shortcomings, Destiny was and still is a first-person shooter that is arguably the best in the business at, you know, the actual shooting. Its burgeoning arsenal is meticulously designed so that every armament looks, sounds and feels fantastic. The foundations have been laid, it’s now a matter of delivering a better and more satisfying experience from here on out.

Boasting a simplified economy, new subclasses, enhanced storage, the much-requested divorce between Light and level, Destiny: The Taken King had my curiosity; now, it has my attention.

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