Destiny: The Taken King Impressions

9/24/2015 at 1:32 PM

A matter of content

When I first started playing Destiny last year, I enjoyed my time with it but more often-than-not, I was let down by the experience. In the weeks leading up to Destiny 2.0 and the new DLC, The Taken King, I found myself getting excited to play Destiny again. Perhaps this would finally be the co-op shooter experience for which I was looking. While it still has its flaws, I can confidently say that it comes pretty close to being just that.

I’m going to gloss over any in-depth listing of all the changes that have been made to the game recently - you can go through our recent news posts on the game and Bungie’s blog posts for that - and instead focus on what those changes mean and what The Taken King brings.

Ultimately, what the new changes and new additions to the game boil down to is this: you, as a player, are now engaged with this world/universe that Bungie has created. Throughout the game’s initial year, I was always left feeling like my actions didn’t really matter; I was just being shuffled through in order to get to the end-game content, which required such a dedication that it almost wasn’t worth it. You were barely an observer of the things that came before - with information gleaned from what you saw in the world around you and what you read in the (separate) Grimoire - and a confused participant in the things that were going on currently. This was disappointing as those were some rather interesting things. An entire race of robots had/have the ability to manipulate time and space and you raided their vault in an attempt to curb this. The necrotic/insect-like Hive woke a demigod to fight you. But all of that was presented with such indifference and a lack of any particular context that it always felt as if the only real goal was to get whatever new loot was available.

In The Taken King, the invasion of Oryx and his Taken (a new enemy that is composed of re-skinned and re-tooled Fallen, Hive, Vex, and Cabal) has an impact on the world around you. The Taken will randomly invade areas in patrols; they will appear in the familiar Strikes of yore (when participating in the Strike Playlists). Your actions (killing Crota) have lead to a world that is different now than it was a year ago. Not just for the Vanguard, either; the Fallen, Vex, and Cabal are all responding to this new threat. The full impact of these changes may not be realized until the planned DLC for this year gets released, but it is utterly refreshing to be able to now live in the world of Destiny and see what will happen next.

Part of being a part of the world is discovering its secrets. The Taken King comes loaded with content that is waiting to be discovered, particularly within the new area, the Hive Dreadnought. For instance, you may wander into a little cave and notice there is a strange green aura filling your screen. Wait in that cave long enough, and you’re suddenly given a debuff titled “Scent of the Worm.” But what does that do? The answer lies within the same area if you’re able to successfully cross a chasm that has hidden platforms, which can be briefly seen when you scan with your Ghost. From what I’ve seen thus far, that is just the tip of the iceberg as well.

Players are discovering new secrets, including bonus missions that are hidden WITHIN other missions, every day. If comments could be dropped on the ground, then I would say that Destiny has been taking some lessons from Dark Souls. Regardless, completing the story of The Taken King is only the beginning of the journey. Vendors and NPCs in the Tower will now give quests when certain criteria are met, such as completing certain missions or randomly discovering some special item while out on patrols, and great rewards await those who are diligent enough to pursue all possibilities.

Speaking of new possibilities, each of the main three classes - Hunter, Titan, and Warlock - now have a new subclass type. The Hunter gains Void-based abilities with Nightstalker, the Titan harnesses the power of Sol with Sunbreaker, and the Warlock calls down the thunder with Stormcaller. Each of these subclasses add some interesting new roles for the classes that were previously absent. For instance, the Nightstalker’s Super ability fires a single arrow that creates a black hole which tethers nearby enemies and the melee ability is replaced with a smoke bomb that temporarily blinds foes. This degree of crowd control wasn’t a part of the game (much) previously and provides a needed relief from the constant barrage you will sometimes face in the Strikes. The Titan’s Sunbreaker allows the class to now deal damage from afar and the Stormcaller is an excellent crowd thinner.

Finally, let’s talk about the guns/equipment. The biggest downside to Destiny’s progression system prior to the 2.0 update and The Taken King was that it was all tied directly to the armor you had equipped. The higher the Light was on all your gear, the higher your “Light level,” which was roughly a way to artificially boost your character’s level and make him/her tougher. That’s all changed now. The level cap has been raised to 40 and is used as a gauge to determine what you’re ready to undertake from a mission perspective, i.e., one mission may recommend you’re at least level 32 before attempting. You still have a Light level, but this time it’s determined by averaging the offensive/defensive stats across all of your gear, which now includes your Ghost’s shell and a new slot for artifacts. Thus, once you hit level 40, content that opens up beyond that will have a recommended Light level that you’ll need to hit to have a hope of survival. Increasing your light level is far easier now and engrams actually mean something beyond gear to dismantle. Any gear that is of legendary quality (purple) can be infused with another rare of legendary item that is of a higher value and uses the same gear slot.

This system allows players to level up their gear so that they can keep a particular piece of armor or weapon and not always been replacing it. For example, if I get a legendary hand cannon that I particularly like but it’s offensive rating is only 200 (the max is 300), and then get a rare auto rifle whose rating is 235, I can “infuse” the hand cannon using the auto rifle to increase the cannon’s to 230 (you rarely get the full amount). The stats on gear also seem to be tied to your Guardian’s Light level. Thus, by raising the stats of that hand cannon, your Light level goes up, and a higher Light level means higher stats on gear found by decrypting blue and purple engrams. Combine this natural progression system with the fact that many of the new exotics can be found in engrams or via missions handed out to you by various NPCs, and you never have to do the Raid to “get the best gear.”

From a co-op perspective, there is not much that has changed. Working together as a group makes many of the game’s later missions easier to complete and all of the Strikes require a Fireteam to complete. The Raids will require a group of six to complete, and it appears that the Vault of Glass and Crota’s End raids are still available at the current levels (i.e., they haven’t been scaled up to the new limits). I have not yet been able to try out the new Raid (King’s Fall), but if it’s anything like the Vault of Glass raid, I have high hopes for the degree of cooperation that will be required to complete it.

The three new Strikes (four, on the PlayStation) all require a certain degree more tactics and cooperation than previously seen. Much of these tactics usually involve one or two players thinning out the regular enemies that enter the fray while the other player engages the boss, but it at least is a change of pace from “just shoot the boss from behind this pillar.” Bosses now drop loot (rather than it being awarded in the post-mission wrap-up screen) when defeated and some even have a chance of dropping unique legendary items that are tied into their character design. For instance, the Psion Flayers that are a part of the Dust Palace strike (which was formerly a PS exclusive) now have chance to drop their capes for a Hunter.

The Taken King is the game Destiny should have been upon release. With content far beyond the story (which actually exists now) and some additional fine tuning of the game’s systems, I am so very glad to be playing Destiny again. It no longer feels like a weekly chore just to keep up with the daily missions, weekly strikes and nightfall to get a few rewards, but an adventure to see what I uncover next.