Amid all the noise and squabbling and braying of the internet, there's been many a legitimate complaint lobbed at Destiny over the last year. The lack of content at launch meant it wasn't long before players began to feel the rinse-repeat cycle.; the two DLCs in year one didn't quite refresh the game like many hoped; the Light system felt unfair as players desperately clung to the hope the lottery would shine favourably upon them in the latest loot drop. The Taken King takes many steps to addressing these issues, with a new experience system and consistent item rewards that thankfully make the player feel like they're no longer beholden to lady luck to progress. While the core campaign may end all too soon, there's enough postgame content to remove a large chunk of the grind that hampered the original Destiny experience. This is a significant step forward for Destiny, and leaves players with hope for what the game could become.
From the moment you boot The Taken King it's clear Bungie recognises Year One's flaws. Well, most of them, anyway. A bombastic opening cutscene immediately sets out a clear narrative drive for the player - Oryx is very bad, and you must kill him. It's simple, but already a much better plot than anything in Destiny. Rather than bury everything in a deck of Top Trumps, Bungie offers new cutscenes and dialogue which present a clear directive for the player. It helps that we're aided by a much more welcome companion: gone is the more-wooden-than-Oak-Furnitureland Dinklebot, with Nolan North now in his place as Ghost. While skewing a bit too much towards C-3PO-style delivery, North does an admirable job of presenting us with information about the task at hand. Other NPCs we've come to know over our time in the Tower have also become much more engaging, too. Cayde-6, voiced by Nathan Fillion, steals the show with a performance that genuinely makes you chuckle. His consistent presence, as an entertaining quest-giver, is a welcome one.
Once the NPCs are done nattering in your ear, it's time to start shooting. While the nuts and bolts remain untouched, a new enemy type has spiced things up a little. The Taken, Oryx's army, are re-skinned versions of old foes, but also have new abilities which keep fights interesting. Some enemies can clone themselves, forcing the player to come out of hiding and into potentially dangerous spots in order to destroy a unit before it grows out of control. Others shoot balls of darkness which, if they hit, will blind you, which can be pretty scary in the heat of a shoot-out. All of the enemies can teleport too, making it trickier to track targets. It's a nice addition to a line-up which had started to feel stale. While at first it may be disappointing to not see brand new enemies, the new toys they possess are enough to keep you busy.
While on the subject of toys, the new guns and armour are far and away the biggest reason to make the jump from Year One to Year Two. While the gameplay remains largely the same, it's the metagame that has received an enormous overhaul. All Year One weapons and armour have had their stats reverted to their original figures, and many Exotic weapons cannot be converted to Year Two standard. A series of terminals littered throughout the Tower will display schematics of exotic items which can be repurchased should players dismantle equipment, and those from Year One eligible for the upgrade to the latest figures will be listed with their new attack or defence numbers. This means that The Taken King players will quickly be dismantling treasured rare items accrued over the past 12 months in lieu of more common, yet far superior gear earned within the first hour of playing the latest expansion.
The new guns not only perform better than their older counterparts, but are also nicer to look at. More vibrant colour palettes decorate the gear and, particularly in the early hours, players will be cycling through weapons so fast it'll be a good time for Guardians to learn their preferred play style. While Year One felt like a continuous grind towards a few select goods, in The Taken King every item gets a fair crack of the whip.
On top of the new guns and armour is the addition of sub-classes, with each Guardian class now having three to choose from. As a Hunter, the new Void-based Nightstalker proved a much-needed breath of fresh air. Armed with a bow and arrow, it took a while before I learned its proper uses. It's clear that, for Hunters at least, the Nightstalker is the setup for other players to knock enemies out of the game. By shooting an arrow at a group of foes, they become tethered to a ball of void energy, substantially weakening them. For the most part, I just enjoyed having a new class to earn XP toward.
When it comes said XP, the new progression system is much steadier, thanks to Light's new role in the game. Rather than have a soft cap at level 20, with the rest of character levelling earned through Light attributes attached to every piece of equipment in the game, everything is now accrued through experience. Light takes a back seat in the form of a three-digit number which calculates an average of all of your equipped items, providing a boost to your attack and defence. While Light may be a larger number (it can now go up to 300), the difference between levels is now much more gradual. Previously, the difference between level 29 and 30 characters was vast, whereas now the boost from level 129 to 130 isn't anywhere near as noticeable.
This change takes out a significant amount of early grinding which clearly put a large number of Year One Destiny players off, while still giving Light a role to play, though its impact isn't truly felt until you reach the endgame content.
In terms of the other content, The Taken King offers some of the best missions seen in Destiny to date: it's just such a shame that the core narrative is so short-lived. I finished the main campaign in around five hours, which left a sour taste. Considering the amount of hype leading to its launch, I expected it to take at least more than half a day to kill Oryx. But, with that said, the missions included in that time were more memorable than Destiny, The Dark Below and House of Wolves combined. The consistent presence of Oryx throughout, giving a constant drive towards an end goal, coupled with the ever-challenging enemy types and new mission formats (including one sneaking mission) meant that what is on offer is entertaining.
But with it ending so abruptly and so easily, with Oryx putting up less of a fight than his bastard son, the concluding emotion was one of disappointment. While many will praise Bungie for the inclusion of a sneaking mission, my mind immediately jumps to the fact that the developer only teased us with a glimpse at the concept. Why not push this further? Why not challenge us more? Why not add other mission formats like a sniping challenge or the Sparrow races we've craved for so long? Where the hell are the space battles?
The disappointment was alleviated somewhat by the realisation that The Taken King includes far more endgame content for players, with loads of quests to play which offer substantial exposition. A consistent stream of missions continues long after Oryx is in the ground, and they are not throwaway inclusions. They feel as clearly structured as any mission in the main campaign, cushioning the blow of the brief narrative experience.The new Strikes offer the best action seen in the game. One in particular, where the end boss battle occurs completely in darkness, delivered a more intense and fun fight than Oryx himself.
I'm still yet to see everything on offer in The Taken King, and won't be able to give a full assessment until the raid launches next week, but while the main mission content is short-lived, there's no arguing that it makes significant strides in improving the core user experience. A streamlined menu system, with quests now receiving a dedicated tab coupled with the ability to track bounties and quests via the Ghost's UI, better storytelling with engaging characters and a more consistent drip-feed of genuine rewards for the player means Destiny 2.0 feels like the opportunity taken that Year One badly missed. While there are still many things Bungie can do to improve things, there's now a sense of optimism for players, as this content proves that the developer is listening. Let's hope the team keeps their ears pricked for a good while longer, as I'm sure the community will remain very vocal over the next year.