Few people would say that Destiny was a bad game when it was released in 2014, but it didn’t quite live up to its potential. The story didn’t make any sense, and the grinding for light and better gear just became too time-consuming after Level 20. But the shooting mechanics were a rock solid extension of everything Bungie learned from developing the first four Halo games, and the missions were interesting enough keep most players entertained until the end of whatever story there was. The Taken King then is sort of an apology for most of what didn’t work in the first year of Destiny, and those fixes now make it one of the best shooters on the Xbox One.
Shooting hasn’t really changed in The Taken King. If you enjoyed the gunplay in the original Destiny, you’ll like what you find here. Most of the changes are in the enemies that you face and how some of the other systems in the game operate.
The Taken King begins with the arrival of the aforementioned taken king, Oryx, arriving in the solar system and promptly crushing an army of Awoken. This is all told in an absolutely beautiful opening cutscene that also tells more of a story than pretty much everything in the original Destiny combined. So right from the get-go it’s obvious that Bungie listened to the complaints from fans.
Oryx’s army is made up of the enemies you fought in the original Destiny, but now they’ve been “taken,” meaning they’re covered blue and black energy and have a few new new abilities. These changes to the enemies either don’t have a huge impact on the game or make it more fun with the exception of Taken Fallen Captains, who far too often will hit you with a blinding bubble of black energy. It’s a cheap move that seems out of place with how other enemies in the game operate, and I dreaded fighting them after awhile.
Under the hood, Destiny’s loot system has been completely revamped so that rare, legendary, and even exotic gear now drops much more frequently. You won’t be stuck with the same gun for five hours because better weapons are always dropping from enemies. It’s also much easier to collect strange coins to purchase exotic gear from Xur on the weekends, and it’s not nearly as difficult as before to find materials to upgrade these weapons. More often than not, The Taken King is a joy to play rather than a grind.
The new gear drops work in tandem with the new light system. In the first year of Destiny, you could only gain levels past 20 by boosting your light, and light only came from better gear that dropped at an incredibly slow rate. It sounded fun in theory, but in reality it just made leveling take way too long. In The Taken King, the level cap has increased to 40, and once you hit that cap, the light in your gear continues to increase your attack and defense stats. I found the new light system to be a lot more interesting and addictive than the old system.
Finally, The Taken King adds new subclasses based on elements found in the game. Titans can now access the solar powered “Sunbreaker” subclass, Hunters can also be void-based “Nightstalkers,” and Warlocks have new lightning based powers thanks to the “Stormcaller” sublcass. I played through The Taken King with the Sunbreaker subclass, and after a few hours of throwing flaming hammers at taken, I don’t think I could play Destiny any other way.
But for all of the welcome improvements Bungie has made to Destiny, one glaring problem still exists. The developer still refuses to add matchmaking for six-player Raids, supposedly because these missions can only be tackled by an experienced group of players working together. That may be so, but it seems unfair that Bungie is making this decision for players without even giving them the option to try Raids with a random group.
Many of The Taken King’s new missions take place on The Dreadnaught, Oryx’s sprawling ship. The Dreadnaught features massive rocky hallways bathed in an eerie green light. It’s not necessarily the most original level design, but it’s unlike anything else that was previously in Destiny, which is a plus. The Taken themselves are something of a mixed bag. It’s disappointing to see Bungie again recycle so many enemies with color swaps, but the blue and black energy that covers them is pretty cool looking, and it isn’t an effect that other games have used previously.
Still, The Taken King doesn’t look quite as good as many other shooters on the Xbox One, and that’s likely because Bungie also developed versions for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 that held back the next-gen versions. Hopefully the true sequel of Destiny is only on next-gen systems so the graphics can be on par with other games on the Xbox One.
The music of The Taken King hasn’t changed much from the initial release. Even though he’s left Bungie, Martin O’Donnell’s symphonic score is still present through many missions and moments. O’Donnell is a real talent in the world of video game music, and it’s a shame he’s split from Bungie.
The biggest change to The Taken King’s soundtrack that has received the most attention is that the Ghost AI companion who accompanies you throughout the game is now voiced by veteran video game voice actor Nolan North. Previously, Ghosts were voiced by Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage, but all of his old lines have been re-recorded by North. Really, it’s not a huge difference. North makes more of an effort to sound like a robot, while Dinklage just sounded bored. North’s performance is maybe a little bit better, but Ghost voice overs were not a huge part of the game to begin with.
Beating all of the Taken King’s story missions takes 8-10 hours. After that, there are heroic versions of those missions to take on, plus daily and weekly strikes. Bungie has already launched a couple short-term events like the Halloween-themed Festival of the Lost which added new quests and weapons. And Bungie is promising plenty more minor updates throughout 2016. Gamers are also discovering tons of extremely obscure hidden missions that require specific actions or must be done on certain days to obtain certain exotic weapons. This is not a game where you’re going to see everything right away.
Beyond that, there’s the multiplayer Crucible mode which has been slightly rebalanced in The Taken King to be more fair. Winning Crucible matches gets you better gear with higher light so you can tackle the most difficult strikes and raids. There’s really no end to what you can do in The Taken King, and if you really get into it, there’s at least a couple hundred hours of gameplay here.
Reviewed by Chris Freiberg