Friday, December 4

Destiny: The Taken King reviewed: Your loot’s light shines across a hill of content

(Note: This post first appeared on games.on.net. Unfortunately, they're now offline, so I thought I'd save this one too.)


One thing becomes clear when you boot up Destiny following the release of The Taken King: you’re supposed to feel dread. That overwhelming sense of awe and discovery that was inspired by Year One’s theme has taken an ominous turn. The composition that once played while I was in orbit — one of my favourite pieces of video game music — has now been replaced by an arrangement that sounds just that little bit more sinister. There’s a change in mood here that starts with the soundtrack and permeates through the level design.
That being said, the latest chapter of the story has been brought to life by a small, but memorable cast of characters, many of whom had appeared from the beginning but have only now found their voice. Cayde-6, voiced by Firefly and Castle star Nathan Fillion is the primary quest-giver for the fight against Oryx. Fillion doesn’t just provide mission briefings, he’s the star of several cutscenes and also provides colourful mid mission dialogue.
Nolan North of Uncharted fame replaces the unfairly-maligned Peter Dinklage in the role of your Ghost. Both actors turn in stellar performances, and while the script isn’t written to elicit much of an emotional response, the added dramatic flavour makes it that little bit easier to complete a strike, story or patrol mission for the three hundredth time.

Web 2.0

With the arrival of Destiny‘s 2.0 patch, each chapter of the story has now been “questified”. Additionally, the amount of bounty slots (for tasks like ‘Kill 50 enemies with precision damage’) has been increased with the added ability to cash them in on the go. What this should’ve meant was less time travelling to and from the Tower and Reef social spaces; however, quest lines still require players to return, and their touch points crop up just as often as the requirement to turn in bounties in Year One.
If you’re more of a PvP player, this ends up working pretty well. If you’re more inclined to take on AI-controlled opponents, you’ll end up exposed to just as many pretty loading screens as you would have pre-patch. Not a game breaker, but a missed opportunity all the same.
Even after putting in a solid few days of questing, I’m still yet to see all The Taken King has to offer. The main line lasts longer than House of Wolves, and doesn’t rely on lengthy seek and destroy tasks like The Dark Below did. Destiny is getting bigger and better.
New story missions are open to any character at level 25 or greater, meaning that it’s possible to bypass earlier quest lines and move straight on to the more exciting, better-written stuff. While this is great for writers needing to meet a deadline (huehuehue), I imagine it would make a story already infamous for being poorly told all the more confusing. I have a Hunter that I got to level 33 in Year One by equipping high level gear I bought from Xur (the mysterious weekend vendor of all things exotic) and Variks (the warden of the Prison of Elders).
Without even beating the original lot of story missions, I can skip straight to a scene where a key character dies. Without this character, the events of each Year One quest line would make little sense at all, if I were to revisit them.

You’re the one for me

It’s a good thing then that the economy has been overhauled so that it makes playing with one character a viable option. Crucible (PvP) and Vanguard (PvE) marks, forms of in-game currency used to buy high-end gear from various vendors, have now been merged into a single form, Legendary marks. Legendary marks are still subject to caps like their predecessors, but the best gear is found out in the field in The Taken King, and it’s not just found in the new raid.
Rare, legendary, and exotic gear can all be rolled with high enough light scores for players to be able to traverse the end game. Previously, you needed to be able to run the raids (Prison of Elders, and Iron Banner) to have a hope of hitting the light cap, but now it’s been opened up. At first it was disorienting, because as a veteran player my instinct was to rock purple (legendary) and gold (exotic) exclusively. Given time though, my elitism gave way to me actually wanting to progress.
Changing the way players view and treat their equipment will go along way to remedy the old end game conundrum of everyone rocking exactly the same loadout. The Infusion system takes this even further, by allowing players to upgrade lower light gear. In a game where items define your character more than anything else, this is a much-needed addition.

The new rituals

The systems that define the Destiny experience wouldn’t be worth discussing if the core action wasn’t compelling. Thankfully, the new story missions and strikes are thrilling and varied additions to the growing rotation of activities that you’ll play ad infinitum in the hope of netting better gear. There’s a competent stealth mission, a boss fight reminiscent of Devil May Cry, and a wealth of teleporting bullet sponges.
I did find it curious that several story missions are written to contradict a central aspect of Year One mission design: you’re tasked with escaping invincible foes, dark rituals, and exploding space stations, rather than facing a wave-based boss fight and warping to orbit. “Escape from overwhelming enemy threat,” is a staple of FPS mission design, but it’s not something that’s ever been done in Destiny until now. While I welcome new types of objectives and experiences, the few chase sequences offer up little challenge, and they feel a bit jarring given the last year of mowing down each last alien down before heading home.
What works, however, is the return to spaces that had previously been the domain of raiders only. The Vault of Glass and Crota’s End open up sans puzzles for players who may have found the idea of teaming up with six friends and/or random players a little too daunting. This is great as these are some of the best examples of level design you’re likely to see with a gun in your hand. Yes, the enigmatic riddles that had players stumped are absent, but they’re visually striking locales with interesting stories to tell, and I’m glad they’ll be exposed to more guardians.

In good company

Speaking of raids, King’s Fall is visually distinct, and features even more mind-bending situations than its predecessors. I’d go as far to say that the platforming sections in the initial stages of the raid are some of the most visually stunning set pieces I’ve seen throughout a year of playing Destiny. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’ve sampled two of the boss fights and they are brutally difficult, and absolutely require communication and careful coordination to progress. Some of the solutions seem a little too abstract for my tastes, and it’s a fair bit stingier than those that came before it, but I recommend giving it a go all the same.
Four new strikes have been added for PvE enthusiasts, and the Taken have also been added to existing strikes in a bid to freshen up some of the more tired examples of bullet spongery from Year One. Sunless Cell is my favourite of the bunch, with a boss fight that takes place in near darkness. It’s a bog standard fight, but it looks amazing and is sure to elicit the odd squeal if you’re easily startled. Shield Brothers is easily the most enjoyable clash you’ll have with the Cabal, whereas Fallen S.A.B.E.R and Echo Chamber have extremely durable enemies overstaying their welcome.
Heroic and Nightfall strikes (the same coop missions with more difficulty modifiers) have been overhauled to respect your time just that little bit more. New strikes drop strike-specific gear. One of the more grindy aspects of Destiny‘s end game is becoming dangerously close to enjoyable.

Holding court

Last, but not least, is the Dreadnaught, the new explorable environment and ship that houses Oryx and his Taken and Hive armies. It’s easy to get lost in the network of caves, hidden platforms, and crashed spaceships, but the mysteries hiding within are sure to keep me spelunking in the months to come.
The Court of Oryx, a space within the ship where players can initiate public events (read: timed boss fights), is a stingy disappointment that has its secrets spoiled prematurely. You’re prompted with hints as you play through all but the highest tier of these encounters, and if you’re not the player that initiates the fight, don’t hope for anything but blue engrams.
Patrolling the Dreadnaught falls into a rhythm similar to that which you’d find on Earth, Venus, Mars or the moon. The key difference here is that, for the first few hours at least, the Dreadnaught doesn’t feel like yet another sandbox with endlessly spawning enemies: there is more to it than killing low level ads and searching for collectables.

A bridge between worlds

The new subclasses for the Titan, Warlock and Hunter classes have supers that cover the gaps in their respective arsenals. I didn’t get the chance to test them all, but the Warlock finally has a close quarters arc attack to churn out orbs in PvE, and rack up quick kills in PvP. I’ve seen Hunters offer effective support as Nightstalkers, and Titans burn through minions of the Darkness with the Hammer of Sol projectile attack.
There are quest lines to attain each of the new classes, and in the case of the Warlock Stormcaller, it becomes apparent that Bungie missed an opportunity in building up the subclasses that came before it. The Sunsinger can defy death, surely that would’ve made for a more interesting quest line than inFamous In Space. In any case, reports from fellow players indicate that the new digs are just as enjoyable for the other classes.

Sportsball

Each of the new classes seem built for use in the Crucible, Destiny’s PvP component, and the new Rift mode is the perfect playground for Hammers, Bows, and Palpatines. What other competitive multiplayer mode allows you to slam dunk a futuristic basketball while dodging gunfire? No takers? I thought not. The previously near-invisible Salvage mode has also risen to prominence, and is a great fit for the new maps.
PvP is still very much a tale of corridors, but I actually enjoy Rift and Salvage, as opposed to the Call of Duty with Superpowers that was Control (Domination) and Clash (TDM). Here’s hoping that the next time the Iron Banner flies, we’ll be offered the chance to dunk instead of corner camping.

Hill of content

As a veteran player, The Taken King offers everything I was looking for: hours worth of fetch quests, new playgrounds to explore alone and with friends/randos, and thousands of opportunities to pray to RNGesus. Best of all, strikes like Sunless Cell, and the King’s Fall raid have me feeling that the best is yet to come.
The price to confront Oryx is steep, but the additions to the weekly set of rituals that isDestiny are worthwhile and, for the most part, enjoyable. The return to experience levelling and the new quest system may appear to be geared towards recruiting new players, but there are plenty of challenges available to experienced guardians as well. If you love the grind, it’s time to crash the Dreadnaught.
The author purchased Destiny: The Taken King at their own expense.

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