Review – Should you buy Destiny: The Taken King?

By Patrick Garratt, Friday, 25 September 2015 11:10 GMT

Take a wild guess.

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You will find glory, fear, endless thrill and true camaraderie here if you choose to seek it. Dust yourself off and get back to the future, Guardian. The war against the Darkness has never been more exciting.

The Taken King has broken me. I’ve played for more than 70 hours since the release of Patch 2.0, and our group is raiding almost every night. I have a 296 Warlock and blow-dried eyeballs. I have the King’s Fall Raid machine gun, but not the fusion rifle, sniper or rocket launcher. I have no Raid armour. We can’t kill Golgoroth. I don’t have Jade Rabbit. I don’t have Touch of Malice. There’s so much I don’t have. I finish every night alone in my house with my family asleep around me having not said two words to my wife all day and my PS4’s fan clattering to a standstill to leave nothing but silence and blackness and the Oryx kill unseen.

And I don’t care. I should get this out of the way right now. The Taken King is brilliant. It’s ruining my life, and I honestly don’t mind. It’s right. Some of it doesn’t work very well, but Destiny’s systems have always been partly broken, and still are, and will always be, so whining about the various exploits available to such a huge game is missing the point of the exploits available to such a huge game. It has been forever thus with Destiny. Guardians will always find a way. The loot cave has always been part of the Destiny experience for those who care enough about progression to farm, but what matters here is intent. Bungie’s goal with The Taken King was to move Destiny forward into its second year in a meaningful way, to bring in new players and serve the old. That goal has met with unqualified success.

The Taken King is both a fawning missive to the hardcore and a balanced entry to the noob. It’s almost too good. We now have a free pass to level 25, allowing anyone to get straight into the new story missions, but the challenge soars effortlessly, seamlessly, to the sort of difficulty dedicated players require within the sort of time-frames dedicated players are prepared to endure. Balancing this expansion must have been excruciatingly difficult, but Bungie’s done it. It works for everyone, with the committed playing endlessly and the legions of lapsed account holders returning after hearing the news that Destiny’s been fixed. This ability to cater for all levels is The Taken King’s primary triumph.

Take the Strikes. We have four new ones in The Taken King, all of which have been universally lauded. The Shield Brothers mission, for example, is genuinely great content. The Strikes are introduced to players throughout the initial story quest, a chain of missions designed to lay-out the fundamentals of the Dreadnaught, set up the plot for the Raid and bring you up to the level 40 cap, but they’re able to scale away over Light level 260 for the Heroic play-list and up to 280 for the Nightfall without even blinking. The NF is still rock-hard, requiring full concentration from even long-term players, and there’s no guarantee of success. You barely even realise it’s happening (until the entire fireteam’s dead). The Taken King reset Destiny without abandoning its roots or shortchanging its player-base. If you’re a brand new player and you’re dedicated enough, you can be in the same realm as the year-one hardcore within a few weeks, but if you’re pushing the envelope you can gather riches beyond the dreams of any thousand-hour devotee. No one begrudges either group. It’s fair now. You get what you earn. Destiny, now levelled, has never felt fresher.

The revitalisation spreads across Destiny’s many systems, and most importantly over its gear. Bungie has learned its lessons. The new rocket launchers don’t have tracking (yes, I know, Truth blah-de-blah), and there are no recharging snipers. There are the right tools for the right situations, and there’s no wild card. People are running around with different load-outs, trying different options, the antithesis of the boredom engendered by the late-game OP weapons of vanilla Destiny, by Gjallahorn and the rest. Whether or not equivalents exist in The Taken King remains to be seen, but the Raid gear we’re all collecting now is just better, more powerful. Not all-powerful. The Raid’s Hard Mode will no doubt bring the elemental primaries, but Bungie’s insistence that the best gear be reward for genuine skill and accomplishment means they’re miles away. Hours away. Hundreds of them. As anyone who’s been hitting King’s Fall this week will attest, the prospect of carrying a lower player through an HM run for a cheap drop is unthinkable. You’ll get the guns when you earn them.

The weapons matter now. You don’t see lowly players running around with the more powerful hardware because winning them means completing stern challenges, usually with similarly dedicated clan-mates. Players are sharing images of guns like medals. They’re badges of honour, not just something you buy from Xur.

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I am significantly prettier than you.

Bungie’s paid so much attention to gear, and not just in relation to acquisition systems. The weapons balancing we saw in patch 2.0 really does make sense now. Auto-rifles are ubiquitous thanks to the 30% anti-AI buff, and fusion rifles have become a staple over shotguns in PvE. People are happy to experiment, because the classes and perks now tessellate correctly. At the end of Destiny’s first year, everyone was carrying the same guns. Every time you dropped into any PvE, you’d hear the Fatebringer thunk. No longer. Scout rifles abound, but there’s no real preference. Any purple can shine thanks to the Infusion system, and you don’t just junk yellow dupes anymore because their perks vary. The Raid gear is fixed and unique, but Bungie’s managed the seemingly impossible task of allowing customisation options within a framework rigid enough for gear to maintain character. We saw the beginnings of this with perk re-rolling in House of Wolves, but it was botched. The kit became bland. People do want unique guns, but the nature of the game demands that they need options.

The ability to characterise and customise finally works in The Taken King. Exotics change colour with shaders, and the ability to boost purples up to the higher levels of Attack and Defense means we’re now seeing a new Guardian in the Tower. Jumbling armour and shaders for aesthetic purposes is the best it’s ever been, and my pretend space doll is the loveliest. Bungie’s yellows can be silly on occasion but some of them are things are beauty, and being able to match frocks and hats with weapons is a pure delight.

But it isn’t just cosmetic changes that make The Taken King light up, and nor is it just new content and new gear systems. Adding in Strikes and fresh missions is all well and good, but the new Questing system finally brings the game out of the realm of just mechanically rinsing sections and forces players to engage in lengthy, coherent story-lines to get the best gear. You have to patrol the planets and understand their lay-outs and spawn areas to find Taken targets or farm the right resource. By harnessing the player’s lust for gear, Destiny’s universe has gelled. While Xur is still a primary source of yellows, he now either carries a weapon or an engram, meaning you can’t just sit it out and wait for that elusive gun. It may never happen. Instead, you’re encouraged to group against seriously tough encounters, to succeed and win, to master the game and its locations. We’ve seen glimpses of this before, but now it’s essential to progression. Players are exploring, and Destiny is infinitely less dull as a result.

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The new Infusion system allows any purple to shine.

A good example of the new kill-reward system post-Taken King is the Black Spindle. This year-two Exotic update to vanilla Raid sniper staple Black Hammer can only be won through deviating from a Daily Heroic into an insanely difficult Taken instance on the Shadow Thief ketch. The Destiny community rushed to grab the gun when this was discovered, dropping work, school and babies to conquer withering odds and profit. New Easter eggs and how-tos emerge every day, and Guardians are scouring the dailies and Raid for anything out of the ordinary rather than moaning about there being nothing to do. Destiny is alive again. The quests rattle on into the distance, mission after mission after mission sapping lunchtimes and evenings. Keep ticking the boxes and winning the gear. Keep smashing the bosses and high-fiving as they dissolve, howling in a rainbow of energy mist. Don’t ever stop. The game won’t allow it.

Not even the obvious mistakes can detract. That ridiculous Three of Coins thing you can buy from Xur every Friday, an item you can use before killing an Ultra to boost chances of it dropping a yellow engram, got farmed to buggery when everyone worked out it was essentially a guaranteed method of grabbing Exotic gear. I heard stories of players who crammed their Vault with so many weapons they had to take time-out on the realisation they’d essentially ruined the game. Everyone in our group grabbed a few guns and a couple of nice hats, but then we all got twitchy about the dwindling stack of Strange Coins and went back to playing. We’re still there. Bungie’s patched out the exploit now, but we’d already forgotten. It didn’t stop us.

I’m not sure anything will. Bungie’s sending us into every area of every map, is still dropping more content and has delivered a spell-binding Raid full of spell-binding gear. And let’s talk about the Raid, shall we? Good grief. A team may have finished it within seven hours of the unlock, but most “normal” players are going to be knocking their heads against it for the next year. I play Destiny a lot, and I still haven’t finished it. We haven’t even seen a Hard Mode yet, but I’ve no doubt we’re going to be hitting it for the guns endlessly when it drops. As a piece of design, and based on what I’ve seen, it’s up there with the Vault.

Crota’s End, while fun, was more an extended mission than a true Raid, although it’s arguable its shot at greatness was forever stymied by the ridiculously high bar set by the Vault of Glass. But King’s Fall is the real deal. We started on unlock day and failed on the Warpriest after over six hours’ play. I spent 30 minutes on Skype with Paul Davies, our main Destiny freelancer, the following day to discuss what had gone wrong, how to keep the bubble up and how to tweak role assignment. This was after four hours’ sleep, with my children hammering on my office door. I’ve rarely felt so driven by a game.

We returned two days later for the kill. We fucking dropped that guy. You have four rounds to beat him, after which the Raid wipes, and on the final DPS session we scraped it with seconds to go. I literally screamed as the purple engrams clattered to the floor and my earphones melted in a mess of joy. I have goosebumps writing these lines. It was so awesome. In terms of spectacle, difficulty and reward, Destiny stands alone when it works as it should.

I have so much more to say, but I think you probably get it. Destiny is now a game everyone should buy, and sniffing at it for being “bad” is just belligerent. The Taken King has glued year-one’s disparate elements into something to which no other console game can compare. You will find glory, fear, endless thrill and true camaraderie here if you choose to seek it. You will be bored, you will be hyper, you will be compelled and exasperated, and you will experience real reward for your efforts. You will have the chance to deliver killing blows to some of the greatest enemies in games. You can be Legend. Dust yourself off and get back to the future, Guardian. The war against the Darkness has never been more exciting.

Need play tips? Check out our Taken King guide.

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