Available on Xbox One, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox 360, PS3
*Editor’s Note: Bungie provided a significant update last week to Destiny. What follows is impressions of how the April update affects the core game, with the original The Taken King review found underneath*
I have a confession: I love reading patch notes. Ever since I first bought Final Fantasy XI and checked the updates; reading about changes to content I would never play, learning about classes not unlocked and the most minute of tweaks to skills rarely used. I loved it.
I still read those updates to this day; though less thoroughly. It was the same story with World of Warcraft and, now, Destiny.
It wasn’t until The Taken King that the game really came into its own, Bungie’s vision fully realised. This was Destiny 2.0 for many; huge overhauls to many systems, with plenty of new content for all players. Since the launch in September there have been patches, but none as significant as April’s update. What follows is a breakdown of its most significant changes, and how they actually affect gameplay.
I dived into the new questline that the update offers; The Taken King is dead and a would-be Prince needs to be hunted down before he grows too powerful. It’s standard fare and altogether too short. After pursuing him through one mission you’ll then complete the obligatory “collect 20 things” part of any Destiny quest before you enter the new Blighted Chalice Strike.
It’s on the moon and doesn’t feature anything that will surprise fans of the game, re-using some of the old rooms you’ll have seen on your way to kill Phogoth. After traipsing through the strike you’ll confront and beat him. Easily. Too easily in fact. Yes you can play the strike on hard mode (along with the Winter’s Run Strike) but the storyline content ends with that boss fight. It’s short, but then I don’t know many people who are playing Destiny at this point for its strong narrative.
What Guardians are doing is farming harder strikes and the raids to get better loot, upgrading their light levels (the cap of which has been raised to 335), playing Prison of Elders (and the recently added Challenge of Elders, which I’ll come to) and playing PvP.
PvP was, and remains, my biggest gripe with the game. The reason is twofold; firstly I don’t think that the ‘Supers’ have ever been congruent with a good, competitive scene – but that’s a whole article in and of itself. The second issue, and one I see brought up constantly, is the way Bungie balances its game. Certain weapons rise to the top in PvP; players gravitate towards said arms until the entire community is exclusively using them. To combat this Bungie will alter the stats of these preferred guns until they fall in line with the rest. The problem here is that Bungie don’t balance PvE and PvP separately; those in PvE, happily using certain weapons, are constantly dismayed to find the stats have been changed because of a surge of popularity in a mode they have no interest in.
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My interest has waned significantly in PvP since first playing Destiny, and the new update has done little to change that.
Where this update does interest is PvE. One constant criticism of Destiny, or rather Bungie’s approach to it, is that most of the high end content the game offers is locked away from a number of people. It’s not that the raids and Prison of Elders are extremely difficult, but rather the lack of matchmaking on the higher level events makes accessing them tricky.
Bungie know this, they’ve accepted that, but the fact remains they’re encouraging people to make friends in the game and tackle the content that way. This update goes some way to alleviate this issue, bringing in matchmaking for some of the higher level PvE runs, allowing solo players to quickly group up and get gear that can push them up to the higher light levels.
In fact, in my time playing this update, I found the loot far more rewarding and my light level was growing faster than it had at any other stage. It’s a nice move and allows people who can’t gather the group or the time to play the raids to feel that they’re not locked out from being “top level” players.
Whenever I was reading about Final Fantasy XI, DOTA 2, WOW or any other game with extensive patch notes, I always asked “is this enough to make me play the game again?”
The Taken King was enough to bring me back and, as a more casual player, I didn’t burn through the content as quickly as some. Destiny, though, is facing an issue that MMO games have faced for years. When I first played Final Fantasy XI, or even World of Warcraft, I was just in awe of the world. I read quest logs, I spoke to NPCs and I got lost in an enormous, beautiful space. As players became more and more accustomed to how these games function they become adept at finding the path of least resistance. That is to say “how quickly can I reach my goal?”
Destiny is suffering from this too. People want to get to the top level in as little time as possible. If you’re the kind of player who enjoys ploughing through content then you may well find Destiny’s April Update lacking, especially for solo players. However, if you like to see all the content a game has to offer, slowly working your way through every nook and cranny of every new space then there might be enough to keep you going until some more concrete DLC plans arrive, or perhaps news of Destiny 2.
Original The Taken King Review (by Stuart Andrews) follows:
Well, this is more like it. Where two expansions have struggled to do more for Destiny than give the fans more material to grind through, The Taken King comes in with the 2.0 update and gives the game exactly what it needed.
You could argue that the free update does a lot of the heavy lifting, transforming the original Destiny endgame into something clearer, more accessible and more rewarding, but The Taken King builds on that by delivering content worth waiting for.
This time we can quit carping about missions that simple re-use the existing material or the over-reliance on strikes and raids. The Taken King has a campaign that counts.
It helps that Bungie seems to have rediscovered its storytelling mojo. It’s not that the plot is up to much. Oryx, the father of Crota, has heard what happened to his son in The Dark Below and has marshalled his forces – the Taken – to fly in and ravage the solar system. You, Ghost and your fellow Guardians have to stop him. That’s roughly it.
Basic stuff? Yes, and a lot still either goes under- or entirely unexplained. Yet Bungie makes it work, kicking off with a spectacular cinematic, then linking missions with more cut-scenes and quest-givers with character and humour.
Ghost, now voiced by Nolan North, is beginning to develop into something more than a MacGuffin to defend while wave after wave of enemies attack (a Destiny staple that The Taken King studiously ignores). Eris Morn remains The Tower’s resident doom-prophesying miseryguts, but is used in more interesting and sometimes humorous ways.
The show is stolen, however, by Nathan Fillion’s Hunter-class Vanguard, Cayde-6. Smart-mouthed and fond of playing fast-and-loose with orders, he gives The Taken King a much-needed blast of fun. Like The Dark Below it’s a gloomy tale of good vs demonic evil, but it’s not nearly so po-faced about it.
And finally The Taken King introduces a whole new area: Oryx’s hulking Dreadnought, parked in orbit around Phobos and part-flagship, part creepy mobile Hades. It’s full of the grim, cyclopean, Lovecraft-meets-Giger architecture you’ll remember from The Hive’s cheerful hideouts on the Moon – the Crota apple didn’t fall far from the Oryx tree on interior design – but done on an even more spectacular scale. Significant portions of The Taken King’s campaign take place there, showcasing sections of its gargantuan layout but leaving plenty to be explored in subsequent strikes, patrols and, eventually, raids.
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The Taken, meanwhile, are more than just the remixed Hive you might expect. Each takes familiar enemies but gives them a weird, dark and eerie makeover, not to mention new attack patterns that turn vanilla Destiny thinking on its head.
Taken Captains fire out vast spheres of darkness that semi-blind you and leave you vulnerable to attack. Taken Thralls no longer rush but can teleport short distances, making them tougher melee opponents. Taken Psions split and multiply, while Taken Goblins have new enemy-buffing roles.
The Taken are challenging opponents, pushing even the most powerful Guardians hard.
While rediscovering its story-telling mojo, Bungie also seems to have relearned how to build great missions. Sure, The Taken King has its generic Destiny moments and its sections where it falls back on old Doom, Half-Life and Halo riffs, but there’s more imagination here and a real willingness to mix things up. There are sections that work like puzzles, stealth sequences, chase sequences and sections with an almost platform game feel, while some of the battles are now much less about how you tackle large numbers or find a sneaky place from which to grind a tougher enemy down, and more about keeping mobile and prioritising targets.
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Most importantly, what fans love most about Destiny – the combination of Diablo’s kill, loot and upgrade cycle and Halo’s polished combat – only gets better with The Taken King. Interesting weapons, class-specific special attacks and smart AI combine to make each firefight thrilling and different from the last, and even more so when you throw other players into the mix. If anything, loot drops are a little over-generous, bombarding you with such a constant stream of new weapons and new armour, not to mention upgrades, that you’ll find yourself regularly dismantling kit just to keep the selections clutter-free. Still, we’d rather have that than endless disappointments and useless engrams.
This works hand-in-hand with Destiny 2.0’s new progression system, which ups the level cap to 40 and splits the now straight experience-based levels, which control access to missions and gear, and your light count, which sets your attack and defence status. The overall effect is to make progression much clearer, but also make every activity more rewarding. While you’ll near the level cap by the campaign’s end, the fact that each kill made, each quest finished, each bounty completed and each upgrade made has a clear impact on your level and/or your light count means that you no longer feel like you’re grinding away for fractional improvements.
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Even when the campaign’s over, there’s still plenty of good stuff to crank your way through here. As in the previous expansions, characters continue to dish out quests which take you all around the solar system, but this time these feel less like busywork, and more like a natural continuation of the storyline. New strikes give you more assaults on the Dreadnought and on Vex, Taken and Fallen forces around the solar system, again showcasing Bungie’s developing confidence with boss and mini-boss battles and its willingness to mix things up on gameplay. As with the Hive in The Dark Below, the Taken and their flickery, poisonous sign start manifesting in existing areas, while Dreadnought patrols give you more scope to explore Oryx’s deeply creepy crib.
Each class also gets a new mini quest-line, unlocking a new sub-class with some great new abilities. Playing as a warlock, I’ve got a huge kick out of trying out the Stormcaller, a lightning-toting kick-ass machine with a fantastic floating, blasting supercharge. We’re still scratching the surface with this stuff at the moment, but trust us: you’ll need the new quest log screen just to keep track of your various commitments. And that’s without a brand new raid, expected to go live by the end of this week.
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Like your multiplayer more competitive? Well, there are plenty of goodies here for you as well. Along with seven new maps (with eight for PS4 gamers) we get two new Crucible modes – Rift and Mayhem – which give Crucible a sporty twist or turn the ability and supercharge ability dials way up past maximum.
All in all, The Taken King is exactly what Destiny needed. It’s always been a good game – millions wouldn’t play it so compulsively if it was as dull as the naysayers suggest – but it felt like it was drifting into its own niche, requiring a level of dedication and time that many players couldn’t live with, not to mention a certain willful blindness to the game’s shortcomings. With the update and The Taken King, Destiny has become more inclusive, more varied, more compelling and – most importantly of all – more fun.
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In fact, our only real quibble is the pricing. Arguably, Destiny newbies get the best deal, with a legendary edition that gives you the updated and improved original plus all three expansions for only a few quid more – and sometimes less – than you’ll pay for the expansion on its own. This seems a little rough on the existing player base, and were it a little cheaper the new expansion would be getting an even higher score.
The Taken King isn’t so much a Destiny expansion as a thorough reworking, building on the foundations laid by the version 2.0 update to make the endgame both more compelling and more accessible. The campaign itself is strong, varied and engaging, introducing a great new setting that should fuel quests and strikes for months to come. Come back Guardians, and bring your buddies with you – Bungie looks to have delivered the Destiny we’ve all been waiting for.