Destiny: The Taken King puts meat on the 2.0 update’s bones. Bare your canines and sharpen your steak knives.
By the time you read this I will be in Tokyo, and not smashing Oryx’s face in. But that’s okay; earlier this month Activision flew me out to Bellevue, put me up in a hotel, and let me spend about 15 hours playing Destiny: The Taken King with a group of European games press in Bungie’s user research lab. I smashed Oryx’s face then.
If this were any other sort of game, we’d call this a “review event” and the resulting copy would be considered some sort of critical assessment of the finished product. But of course that’s not the case with Destiny; Destiny, like a traditional MMO, is impossible to “review” before it’s live in the wild. Additionally, Destiny isn’t the content that gets slapped down on the table at launch; it’s the evolving experience of playing it for weeks and months.
Well, that’s the argument, isn’t it? But vanilla Destiny didn’t much live up to that, running out of steam and devolving into a loot cycle slot machine within weeks. The Dark Below and House of Wolves kept things going for a while, but didn’t quite live up to their promises – Prison of Elders wasn’t the endless new experience generator we had been led to expect, for example.
So it’s impossible for me now to say yes, I have played 15 hours of Destiny: The Taken King and it achieves everything we hoped for and everything Bungie promises it will.
What I can say is: it shows willing. It very much shows willing.
Destiny had several major problems throughout year one. The general gunplay was fun, but content was repetitive, and rewards were slim enough that there was little motivation to persevere beyond collecting Exotics. For many players, especially those without solid social groups, the slim hope of a Crux of Crota or Gjallarhorn drop wasn’t enough to keep them interested in doing the same things over and over again.
Bungie wants to change that, and to build Destiny into something more akin to what I think many of us were expecting – a game that offers us a compelling reason to shoot faces together if not every day then at least on a regular basis.
You know a lot of the ways the developer hopes to achieve that already, thanks to the torrent of pre-launch information and the release of the Destiny 2.0 update. Hopefully you can already see how Arms Day – putting in an order for a present once a week – will keep you coming back regularly, and how Infusion and a more rewarding loot system make getting stronger every day feel like a real possibility.
There are other things coming none of us know anything about; Bungie’s Luke Smith told us, briefly, that Bungie wants to do limited time events (say, 48 hours) that won’t be repeated, so players must log in or miss out forever. Who knows what shape these events will take?
The Taken King offers a great deal more longevity than its precursors. A greater emphasis on characters and storytelling brings the world to life much more vividly, which will go a long way towards drawing people in to a setting that has been grievously undersold and under-utilised.
But right now, The Taken King already offers a great deal more longevity than its precursors, for two major reasons. The first is that a greater emphasis on characters and storytelling brings the world to life much more vividly, which will go a long way towards drawing people in to a setting that has been grievously undersold and under-utilised.
There’s still a great deal of Destiny story and lore buried away in text descriptions and the Grimoire instead of in-game, but the core campaign of The Taken King is head and shoulders above earlier content. I don’t just mean that it’s easier to follow what’s going on, although it is; the missions and set pieces are constructed in such a way that they feel dramatic, and as if you were – I don’t know, somehow more like you’re taking part in and witnessing events rather than just following a waypoint. Think of that first trek through the Breach at the opening of Destiny, or the better House of Wolves missions, and you’re on the right track. The final confrontation with Oryx is challenging and satisfying, and many of the locations and events you encounter on the way to punching his face in turn out to be story hooks for later quests.
Which brings us right to the second major improvement: the quest system. Quests have been in the works since vanilla Destiny launched a year ago, and you could see Bungie developing the system through The Dark Below and House of Wolves. What makes quests so great is that they provide guidance on what to do with your time each day, taking you on a tour of all the different kinds of experience Destiny offers.
Here’s an example: a couple of the quests will ask you to defeat Taken Champions in various Destinations – let’s say we the Divide, in the Cosmodrome. You head there and there are no Taken to be seen. You fool about for a bit, and eventually the Taken arrive, in a manner reminiscent of the Blades of Crota or prowling packs of Wolves. Kill a few and you may be notified that a lieutenant has appeared. Kill it, and then a second one, and a giant god damned Taken Knight plops down in the middle of the field and everything immediately goes to hell in a hand basket.
This is a new kind of a public event, and it’s a great deal of fun. You can solo one of these if you’re very good and have top gear, but most of the time you’ll want friends with you – but any strangers in the vicinity will be interested, believe me. It’s hard to ignore a colossus stalking about an otherwise quiet zone, you know?
If it weren’t for quests, you might not ever have experienced this phenomenon. Following quests will take you on a tour of each of the Champions, which have different abilities, offering you the chance to battle it out against a stack of bosses with the might of your fellow Guardians on side.
Quests unlock new missions, too. Storyx – the core campaign of The Taken King, in which you face off against Oyrx – is really just the beginning of the content that’s available. You don’t need to hunt for this content; the game guides you to it, luring you with XP and other rewards, as you dutifully check out the new Strike playlist, investigate public events, master new Patrol missions, battle new kinds of enemy, and gradually equip yourself both with the gear and skills needed for end game and whatever events Bungie plans to throw at us over the coming months.
The meat of what’s changed in Destiny, in terms of player experience of the whole package, arrived last week in the 2.0 update.
There’s a joke going around that Destiny 2.0 should be called 1.0, as it marks the end of a full year of beta, and now the “real” game has arrived. I don’t think that’s accurate; the changes the patch brought are significant enough that we’ll need at least a few months to see how well they stick. Congratulations! We’re back in testing.
From major systemic changes that gently unhook us from RNG dependency to little touches like the return of the XP progression bar (it hangs about to show you Mote of Light progress after 40, by the way), everything Destiny 2.0 does seems designed to make the user experience more rewarding and enjoyable. You’ve seen all that.
The Taken King itself should be judged separately from those major experiential changes; what The Taken King delivers is content – story, missions, Strikes, maps, new subclasses, a raid. They seem pretty good. They’re more Destiny, with the benefit of a year of lessons learnt. No complaints.