Destiny: The Taken King Review – Dynamic Evolution (PS4)
(Author’s Note: I have already reviewed the changes in Destiny update 2.0, my first impressions with The Taken King’s Crucible, and my first impressions of The Taken King. Please take a moment to read each of these, as this review of The Taken King builds on that foundation and will not repeat some of the things mentioned there.)
I’ve had a lot of trepidation with reviewing The Taken King. I don’t feel that it can be fairly reviewed as a DLC, because unlike traditional DLC, it fundamentally changes the base game of Destiny at its very core. On the other side of the (strange) coin, Destiny: The Taken King cannot be reviewed as an entirely new game due to its evolution and foundation that was set up throughout the last year. Destiny: The Taken King is an evolution of Destiny’s year one problems and Bungie’s answers on how to fix them. You could argue that this is how the game should have always been, but you can’t have a Charizard without first going through Charmander and Charmeleon… and that’s how I worked Pokemon into a Destiny review, ladies and gentlemen!
With my previous massive investment into Destiny, and the controversy it loves to generate online, I had to ask myself if I could play the latest expansion without letting either color my opinion, whether it was too glowingly positive, or painting it in an unfair negative light. After hundreds of hours of playtime in year one of Destiny, I did finally reach a point where it felt like a grind and a task list. I expected that moment to come rather quickly with The Taken King following the completion of the main campaign, and that I would reluctantly, yet willingly fall back into the old grind of just accomplishing daily and weekly tasks, but that moment hasn’t arrived yet after over 40 hours playing the latest evolution of Destiny.
Instead, I’ve had to tear myself away from Destiny: The Taken King to move to a keyboard and write about Destiny. Again. For better or worse, most people here know me as PSLS’ main Destiny guy (though I’m far from the only one here that regularly plays it and loves it). I’ve written about Destiny a lot this past year. Reviews of the base game and both expansions so far, numerous opinion pieces about the near countless changes that the game underwent in year one, and more recently, pieces about update 2.0, The Taken King’s crucible, and my first impressions of The Taken King. As noted above, please take a moment to read these last three, as they set everything up for this review, and I try to expand on those things rather than repeat myself.
Reworking the Fundamentals
The changes that have been made going into year two have struck me as largely positive. There are fundamental mechanics that have been reworked at their very core to make Destiny a more rewarding and fun experience, all without feeling like a chore. The biggest question that remained was how the changes would last long term. It’s easy to make changes that feel good on the surface, but changes to the very DNA are risky when it comes to seeing how they will play out over time, particularly with The Taken King’s evolution over Destiny year one.
Fortunately Bungie seems to have made the right moves with The Taken King, both on the surface, and in creating a deeper and more engaging experience that is sure to continue to capture players for many more hours. The story is much more engaging with Oryx’s arrival to our solar system, and actually continues long past (seemingly) defeating Oryx and opening up Destiny’s first full new area, the Dreadnaught, for patrols. Each character is given a larger purpose and backstory, and while the full, in-depth lore is still contained within the Grimoire inaccessible anywhere in the game, there’s a lot more up-front narrative to appreciate.
The narrative is opened up through “quest-ification,” which is Bungie’s word for giving a deeper purpose and meaning to everything that just felt like tasks in year one. Instead of simply needing to get kills with the sword (the new heavy weapon type in The Taken King), there is a reason given by Shaxx for why you are seeking to accomplish this task, as well as definitive rewards for quest completion, which in this case is the exotic sword. The part of the quest system that continues to amaze me is just how expansive it it. Long after completing the main campaign within about four hours on the first day, I am still finding new quests some 40+ hours later.
In fact, as I am writing this, I just read about another secret quest — a hidden mission within a mission –that rewards an Exotic sniper rifle. Color me impressed! This new Destiny experience is far more dynamic than it has ever been. Strikes will be different each time you play them. Quests pop up dynamically. The Taken are an interdimensional plague that can show up nearly anywhere with their new abilities and throw a wrench in the familiar. The new subclasses give each character class what they were missing and fully round them out. With these new dynamics, Bungie has solved the problem that a lot of players had with Destiny: content and repetition. What could use some tweaking in the future is the organization of the multitude of quests that you’ll be taking on though.
Changing the Formula
Destiny year one reached a formulaic point for many, myself included. It was a series of checkboxes and repeating the same things that many players eventually learned how to do in their sleep. The random nature forced many to try to find exploits and shortcuts, as working legitimately only to get the same damn set of gloves for the fourth time was extremely frustrating. The Taken King seeks to break those formulaic walls and reevaluate players’ priorities on their checklists. The loot game is vastly improved so that you aren’t seeking a single piece of gear to hit that next level. Definitive quest rewards give you a goal to work for, while still maintaining the randomness of other loot drops. It’s vastly more rewarding while not taking away the allure of why so many people played Destiny in the first place.
One of my personal biggest complaints with Destiny was that everyone was working towards the same rewards in both aesthetics and perks. The Taken King presents an infusion system for gear that allows players to keep and level up the gear that they like, rather than being forced to wear a piece of armor or use a weapon they don’t like because the defense or attack values are high. While initially a little bit intimidating, I quickly got the hang of infusing gear using higher level drops that I obtained, which means that my Titan is completely my own. Allowing for the freedom to play and create the character you want through the gear system is a much nicer feeling than being chained to needing those Raid boots to be any good.
Let’s be clear about my time with The Taken King since release. I have primarily played my Titan, who is my main character, for about 30 hours. He is now light level 292, and still has three pages worth of quests in his quest log, which I actively am trying to complete. I played the main campaign, new subclass side mission, and some additional content with my Warlock, and my Hunter hasn’t even seen the arrival of Oryx yet. That’s over 40 hours between just two characters, and I still feel like there is so much for me to do. In fact, I’m itching to finish typing this so that I can go play more. We’re planning to go through the full Raid tonight.
Wait, that’s it. I knew I left something out. The Raid.” King’s Fall” — a journey deep into the belly of the Dreadnaught to fight some of the nastiest things that the light has ever had to face. Bungie outdid themselves with King’s Fall, crafting an experience unlike any other, requiring precision and communication between six guardians in a massive Raid to push back the darkness. It’s more than a simple test of brute force. It’s a test of wits and cooperation. I haven’t made it through the entire thing myself yet, but the first half of it tested our group in ways that Destiny has never tested us before.
Pitfalls of an Online Experience
It may seem like sunshine and roses, but Destiny: The Taken King does have some downsides. This is a multiplayer game, and as such, it is recommended to have friends that play. I could see myself moving away from it much more quickly if it were not for the social aspect. Fortunately I have more than enough people that I regularly play with that this aspect doesn’t affect me (in fact, it’s a large reason that we got my wife a PS4 too), though it should be noted for those that are primarily solo gamers.
Another aspect inherent to an online experience is the move away from older content. There will be certain year one strikes and crucible maps that you may notice appearing less or not at all in your playlists, and of course we have to mention the weapons that have been left behind in favor of the new additions to The Taken King. I’m personally excited to get my hands on all new gear, but some players may resent leaving the old stuff behind. Let’s not forget intermittently not being able to sprint, either. Can we fix that? Pretty please?
Destiny is not a static product. It is an evolving experience that changes and updates constantly. There are experiences and memories from year one that new players will never get to have. The Taken King goes far beyond a simple expansion, and reworks the core of the Destiny enterprise. It’s entirely up to you if the cost of joining or continuing the experience is worth it, but keep in mind that you are not buying a static single-player experience. I’d wager that a year from now, Destiny will once again be a very different game from the one that we are playing right now. This is the perfect time to enter the Destiny universe, and if the changes and additions introduced in The Taken King are any indication of how Bungie’s world will evolve, I’ll gladly continue to bring my light to the fight against the darkness.
Review code for Destiny: The Taken King provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.