Destiny: The Taken King Review

By Brandon Fusco,
Destiny's initial release was nothing if not contentious. While it survived fairly well with critics, it was clear that the final product was flawed and didn't meet the expectations of gamers, particularly those that were fans of Bungie's previous franchise, Halo. As unquestionably solid as the quality of the gun play was, the encounter design, story elements, and progression system were undoubtedly questionable. In the year since then, there have been updates both large and small to the core game, but their largest update yet has landed with The Taken King, so it is finally time to see what Bungie has learned.

TTK Logo

"The Taken King" is not a small change for Destiny. From redone voice work on old content to new enemies, missions, improved story content, and a whole new soundtrack being layered with the original, this new expansion revamps almost every aspect of the core game. Some of these changes are pretty basic things that make a huge improvement, such as simplifying the progression system, but others really get down into the moment-to-moment gameplay to dramatic effect. While many of these changes simply make for a good gaming experience, returning players will appreciate these changes the most because the game gleefully toys with a year's worth of expectations that players have built.

As soon as players jump into the new content, there's a rather obvious and immediate difference: the presence of story. Many veterans will say that cutscenes are nothing new to the game, but they have been pretty vapid and simple affairs, dragging on with almost no action at all, only the most basic of information, and no way to skip them. By contrast, "The Taken King" opens on an intense space battle with important consequences for the world of Destiny. There are several of these sprinkled throughout the relatively short main campaign and each of them is full of character, background information and story, which can all be skipped if you so choose.

The Taken King really amps things up!"The Taken King" really amps things up!

Cutscenes aren't the only way that the plot unfolds in this new expansion, however, and the story runs throughout the main campaign as well as the vast amount of additional missions found in the new Quest system. This system allows Bungie to link missions together in a cohesive story thread without necessarily tying them to the overarching campaigns, and these go a long way to making the world deeper and more realized. The quests will sometimes be as simple as providing a series of challenges to prove yourself a powerful warrior, but they will frequently provide background into the motivations of the characters doling out these missions or lead up to their own climactic boss battle.

This is only part of what really makes "The Taken King" special, however. Traditionally, the game sends players into some dark recess of a planet, guns blazing, to defeat some evil boss creature before heading back to orbit. Much of the game still follows this system, but it isn't shy about pulling the rug out from under you by requiring players to find their way out of the hole into which they just fought their way, or having you try to sneak through an area rather than fight. Perhaps you've thoroughly explored an area only to find that there is now something significant that was never there before.

The Dreadnought earns its name.The Dreadnought earns its name.

Tripping up players and forcing them to rely on their wit and skill extends to the new playable area as well. The Dreadnought is a huge flying fortress packed with enemies and dark secrets. It's potentially the smallest area in the game when compared to the locations of the core game, but it's also easily the densest. Paths and tunnels crisscross all over the ship, leading to mysterious locations. Even during core missions on the Dreadnought, very little is spelled out for you. Unfortunately, some of these secrets only lead to collectibles that are a little underwhelming overall, but in other instances you are led to difficult and interesting boss fights that require dynamic problem solving. For instance, one particular boss fight requires the team to corral two Hive Knights into close proximity to each other for their shields to drop because they are otherwise immune to damage.

Lower enemies are also equally diverse now. Almost every humanoid enemy in the game now comes in a corrupted Taken version as well. The diversity of enemies that make up the Taken is astounding when compared to those of the core game. Each type of enemy has a new or augmented ability, such as creating defense bubble shields, shooting giant bolts of blinding energy, or even splitting in two to rapidly expand the enemy ranks. Many of these abilities are designed to force you to be more aggressive and take risks to keep a battle from getting out of control. These enemies are certainly more powerful than the originals and they finally convey the power of the ultimate Darkness that you're fighting, something that never came across during Destiny's main campaign.

Thrall used to be predictable. Now? Not so much.Thrall used to be predictable. Now? Not so much.

The philosophy of these Taken enemy types comes through in other parts of the game as well. Many of the older Strikes have been revamped with new Taken versions as well, but this isn't the only variety. Many of the older Strikes have been remade with multiple variations. A single Strike could be designed with three or four new variations, as well as the base legacy variation. While the path you follow is generally the same, as is the final boss fight, the encounters along the way can comprise any number of enemy combinations. Similarly, opening doors and progressing to new areas sometimes require you to defeat certain strong enemies in an area, or to clear out a particularly dense side room. A normally safe cut through may now have a flame trap or a conflict might be escalated by allowing you to place a useable turret during the fight.

Newer Strikes currently have less variety across attempts, but the base designs have improved significantly. Getting through these areas forces teamwork. One particular Strike starts off with the team trying to hold down a crashed Warsat, then destroying an air vent to open doors, all while trying to protect a player as they carry an object to a terminal. It culminates in a boss battle where the layout of the arena changes as do the weak points on the boss itself. Each of the bosses is more complex than any other Strike before, with multiple boss enemies with differing abilities or even the ability to become invisible in a dark pit. More than ever, these Strikes act as a Raid-Lite to prepare for the tougher mechanics to come.

Trust me, <i>he</i> can see <i>you</i> just fine.Trust me, he can see you just fine.

All of this coalesces into the new King's Fall raid, which is Bungie's toughest, longest, and best to date. The previous two raids, Vault of Glass and Crota's End, were both enjoyable but they both also suffered from an odd responsibility flow. Many of the most compelling parts of these raids were played by only one or two players out of your six person fireteam, and they were responsible for executing a particularly crucial function while the rest of the team took pot shots at enemies. King's Fall keeps every player busy doing something. Communicating with your team and executing things with proper timing is an absolute necessity, but proper execution leads to an elegant dance where every player has a part.

Combatting this new evil requires new tools. Each class gets a new subclass, all of which fills a gap in the class' repertoire. Where the Hunter has historically been a selfish class focused on dealing big damage, their new Nightstalker subclass has some great crowd control abilities. Warlocks by contrast finally get a subclass that does great damage output to multiple enemies, and Titans have a new set of abilities that don't put them right in the middle of the fight. There's an entirely new suite of top tier weapons and armor as well as some revamped older gear that are scattered around to find. Whereas many times this equipment was only found through random chance, players can now expect to find some of this equipment directly as drops from enemies hidden throughout various missions. All of these changes are welcome and should provide some freshness for returning players.

He is here!He is here!

"The Taken King" is not without flaws, but compared to its successes, they are minor. The story is good in many respects and the inclusion of Nolan North, especially in the new content, is appreciated, but it comes at the cost of the main character's voice. Despite all of the story, your character is suddenly mute and the Ghost stands in for your voice. This game is also still Destiny, which means that once the story runs through its course, players are faced with the same grindy end game. This is doubly true when the end game content that requires a team lacks almost any kind of proper method for forming a group in game. With no matchmaking for this content and no in-game clan functionality, many players still have to turn to external websites to find groups of strangers, despite many of these players already being part of a clan. While this is an issue that is inherent to the infrastructure of the core game, and not the expansion that requires that infrastructure, it still has a negative impact on some of the most rewarding and exciting content in "The Taken King".

Summary

Almost every aspect of the game has been touched, and nearly all of it is an improvement. The quality put into this new expansion makes it feel like the story of Destiny has begun in earnest and that the first year was merely a prologue. While it's hard to expect more of an expansion and "The Taken King" is certainly an example of how to do an expansion right, the excellent end game content is still hindered by Destiny's lacking social functions. Regardless, the majority of the content has enough depth and variety to be worth the investment on its own.
4.5 / 5
The Taken King in Destiny
Positives
  • Story
  • Strikes and Raid
  • Quests
  • Variety of content
  • Surprises
Negatives
  • Mute player characters
  • Lack of proper social functions
Ethics
This DLC pack and core game were purchased by the reviewer and played on the Playstation 4. The reviewer played the new content for a whopping 50+ hours and achieved only half of the 10 trophies.
Brandon Fusco
Written by Brandon Fusco
Brandon is an Editor and TGN's Host with the Most. The most what? The most opinions, the most understanding wife, and the most *funny cat videos. Previously Host of the Trophy Talk Podcast. (*Not Verified)