Taking a look at Destiny: The Taken King (from a single player perspective)

Oryx will haunt the player through the new expansion's campaign.

Oryx will haunt the player through the new expansion’s campaign.

I stopped playing Destiny late last year after I had my fill of the “do-it-yourself” sociology experiment that third-party apps by hardcore fans attempt to fix and missed out on the two expansions since then. I’d occasionally check in from time to time to see what rare items Xur, the weekly Tooth Fairy of Destiny, had on offer in exchange for teeth, er, Strange Coins. But I was pretty much done with its light leveling, uninspiring drops, and as a shooter with weak RPG elements and the sameness of its areas.

Then the Taken King came up and the buzz was that it would fix a lot of what Destiny had tried to do a year ago such as include a coherent story. Despite how I felt about it then, it did have a few things going for it such as the shooting mechanics which were really good and some of the concepts that its bare bones narrative grasped at straws to try and explain. If it only could have nudged itself a bit further, it could have been more than a shoot ‘n loot and the Taken King seemed to be the solution.

The disastrous interview with Luke Smith, the creative director behind Destiny, with Eurogamer initially turned me off of buying the expansion. Then I realized I had a rebate coupon that I could use to knock the price down and an insatiable curiosity to know if it actually could be better. After some of the criticism that it had gotten, it seemed like this was going to help make or break Destiny’s future. The rest is installation history.

For me, Destiny always seemed weirdly late to the party in the face of other systems in the gaming space that used the same elements albeit more successfully. Gearbox’s Borderlands is one example. Whether it was a bold attempt to try something new and not getting it, I have no idea. Just that Destiny seemed to want to do things its own way leading to some strange decisions such as forcing everyone to visit a website to check on whatever lore they had uncovered via its card system in-game. Games such as Xenosaga in 2002 had the gall to include an in-game encyclopedia for its lore. What was Destiny’s excuse?

Buying the retail version of Destiny was pretty straightforward and I’m not going to get into the pricing/emote debate here between its versions that sparked a divisive outcry loud enough for Bungie to respond to. Suffice it to say, there’s no standalone TTK expansion version to help knock the price down — you need to buy one of the packages that includes any of the missing content such as the two expansions (House of Wolves, the Dark Below) that I skipped.

I picked up the “Legendary” edition (the cheapest option at $60 USD) which also included a few extras for veterans (a special shader, bike, and a weapons package via download code). The TTK expansion was a DLC code. A disc containing a vanilla copy of Destiny was also included. The codes worked just fine for those with a Digital Only version (like me).

TTK addresses a lot of why I abandoned Destiny in the first place. There’s actually a solid campaign story to follow, new quests that pop up after achieving certain in-game milestones, new mobs of freaky enemies, and of course, new “Season Two” loot to round things off. This look will only focus on Destiny from a Single Player (SP) perspective. I had no love of its MP/PVP stuff but there’s no shortage of reviews out there that cover that side of the game. This is just me plugging through the campaign stuff with the occasional matchmaking for campaign strike missions.

The Taken, upon dying, are sucked into some nether void and can be a lot deadlier than the cannon fodder they're based on.

The Taken, upon dying, are sucked into some nether void and can be a lot deadlier than the cannon fodder they’re based on.

The biggest change is the inclusion of a storyline centering on the arrival of Oryx, the Hive leader hinted at as early as the vanilla version of Destiny through references to the “Shrine of Oryx”. Apparently, he didn’t take the death of his son well (Crota from The Dark Below expansion) and has parked a titanic ship in the rings of Saturn to let everyone know that he’s coming with his army of Taken. He’s also, er, “taken” out the Queen of the Reef and her fleet when they came knocking, so he’s already made waves in the neighborhood.

The Taken are these bizarre shadow creatures with a glowing, singular “eye” hole where their face should be with weird powers not the least is appearing out of thin air. They’re creatures from the game world “altered” by Oryx’s power, so those Cabal Psions are now these shadowy things that can split in two like amoeba to make even more of a nuisance of themselves. Cabal soldiers with shields in this form can use their shields to emit a repulsion field hurling you yards away or off buildings. Vex transformed by Oryx are even more deadly as some can shield others from all damage or send projectiles your way in death.

This has also transformed the already existing areas of Destiny. Taken “corrupt” the land with occasional incursions that can potentially ramp up until a “zealot” appears with a bag of hit points and enough firepower to answer all of that violence you and others may have been bothering their minions with. Vandals, Vex, and Cabal that may be in the area will also be fighting these things if they’re not already shooting at you. It’s utter chaos out there now and it’s a neat change shaking things up for players.

The only downside is that Oryx himself seems like a cardboard cutout of a villain, barking threats and gloating like so many other monsters with too much time and too large of an army on their hands. I honestly expected something…well…more bizarre given what we’ve already seen of the Hive. Not on the level of the Great Old Ones strange, or even Xur bizarre, but not so much something that I’ve already experienced in dozens of other games.

The new expansion also unlocks new subclasses, like the Stormcaller for Warlocks which can turn one into the Emperor from Star Wars with lightning blasting from your hands.

The new expansion also unlocks new subclasses, like the Stormcaller for Warlocks which can turn one into the Emperor from Star Wars with lightning blasting from your hands. That’s actually a lot of fun.

Fighting Oryx, on the other hand, was a lot of fun (and there’s a group raid for an even longer, and much more impressive, battle against him) as a shooter boss with a challenging finale for the non-raid crowd. Even after that event, there’s still more game to go through with cleanup quests (which mostly require more blasting away at enemies) and side jobs for a few of the main NPCs in the Tower HQ with a few nice rewards along the way.

Another of the big changes which players had gotten a preview of with a patch prior to the TTK’s release was dropping equipment light levels as a requirement to level up. Now, players can simply kill whatever is out there and perform daily quests to level up. Light level is now an average of your equipment which still determines your capabilities in surviving higher ranked quests and group strikes, though, so it’s still important despite being relegated to a side purpose.

And then there’s the Dreadnaught (Destiny’s spelling, not mine), the huge new “dungeon” that players can explore for new loot, secrets, challenges, and weekly treasure. It’s a playground of moving targets and potential loot especially if you participate in the Court of Oryx group events once your light level is high enough to reasonably survive it.

TTK still does that thing that the previous expansions and vanilla Destiny did where it retreads a lot of previously visited areas. Aside from the Dreadnought and its associated missions, it's still recycle-ville for a lot of other things.

TTK still does that thing that the previous expansions and vanilla Destiny did where it retreads a lot of previously visited areas. Aside from the Dreadnaught and its associated missions, it’s still recycle-ville for a lot of other things.

The climb through the light levels and the new gear in Destiny via TTK made the game feel like a newer version of itself — which it was in a way since it’s now season two — and the kind of title that it could have been a year ago. It didn’t feel like as much of a bland grind that it was then, though there’s still a lot of RNG (random number generator) grind to go through for the gear you need to graduate to higher and more rewarding challenges. For someone like me that decided to come back now, there were a lot of new things to try out from the weapon and armor boards that show which exotics you’ve picked up to thirsting after new loot all over again. There were also the two expansion I missed out on.

On the downside, a few of the old problems that Bungie stumbled through in the first season are still here. Raids and certain strikes are still very much “find your own group/form your own fireteam” experiences without matchmaking options. There’s also a ridiculous amount of ingredients flying around now. Although Bungie expanded the vault awhile ago, I found it was way easy to reach its own Bekenstein limit on how much I could stuff in there, especially in the tiny space afforded general stuff like shaders, extra ghost shells, and materials.

There’s also the very uncomfortable truth of where the new content slowly pushes out players of the vanilla version of Destiny. Because of the way certain events are set up in-game, players without the expansion will find their options more and more limited by content segregation.

Certain dailies, strikes, and even PvP events with a focus on The Taken King will further push away vanilla players that simply won’t have access to the same things when they monopolize the schedule. Those with the expansion will simply have unfettered access to more events than those without it. Even though Destiny doesn’t tout itself as an MMO as a study in semantics, MMOs that often have expansions don’t necessarily bias the base game by reducing the availability of its content at the same time. On a very technical level, one can argue that vanilla Destiny is still viable; but that only ignores the borrowed time that its options are living on.

Still, on the whole, TTK turned out to be a lot better than I thought it might be, but only just. A year later, loot can still be pretty bland outside of legendary/exotic ware with only numbers to distinguish major differences, the ship vendor still has a terrible selection, and 25k in glimmer is still the hard limit on cash. On the other, currencies like Crucible marks were merged into Legendary marks instead to simplify things, the cryptarch isn’t as broken as he was a year ago, and the lore actually provided a better reason to do things than just wander around to the voice of Peter Dinklage (who was replaced by Nolan North who brings a newish, more curious personality to your Ghost companion).

So is it worth it? If you’re a huge Destiny fan, you might already have it. For those like me that hoped it could’ve been a better experience, it actually makes the grade — but only just. Yet for Bungie, the changes represent a huge step in the right direction for a franchise, and a legend, that they want the world to experience over the next several years.

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