Review: THE TAKEN KING Actually Makes Destiny Fun Again

It’s been over a week now since the release of The Taken King, the newest expansion for Bungie’s golden boy, or problem child depending on your experience over the last year with the game over the last year, Destiny.  I walked into my game room on September 15th with high hopes, but low expectations.  I wanted Destiny to be the game that haunted our dreams, but in a good way.  The way unicorns and waterfalls overflowing with beer haunt mine.  After three disappointing releases with the initial game and the first two expansions however, I kept my expectations low and hoped for the best.

My first impressions of the game were great!  Destiny has always been an extremely polished first person shooter with gorgeous graphics, and this new content didn't disappoint in those areas.  The graphic and lighting effects are colorful, detailed, and will regularly make you stop to take in the beautiful (and sometimes creepy) scenery.  The game play mechanics are also excellent and the controls are tight and accurate. The Taken King would need a lot more than that to win me over though.  After all, the base game and first two expansions had boasted the same shiny features and well-executed controls.

In the first year of Destiny's release the story was practically non-existent unless you spent hours on a computer looking at Grimoire Cards.  Even if you actively sought the story out though, it was often vague and felt like a convenient shortcut for developers to avoid telling players what the hell was actually going on in the game.  The character development was even worse.  I knew there was a Speaker who spoke to the traveler. Or used to? Or still does but it’s a dead sphere thingy now?  Shit.  I don’t remember. It's a convoluted mess, and that's only the one character. There’s also the three Vanguard big wigs downstairs in the tower, one for each class.  The only reason I remember Ikora’s name was because of that damn exotic shotgun bounty I completed so many times.  I knew I loathed the Cryptarch, but that's it.  Then finally, there was Squid Face/Zoidberg/Xur and nobody knows where he came from or why he’s the only one who wants the strange coins. But we didn’t ask questions.  We just took our exotics and ran.  

In playing The Taken King, I immediately noticed more character development with Zavala, Cayde-6, Ikora (the Vanguard “big wigs”) and Eris.  As the story progressed, so did the feeling that I was getting at least a slight sense of who these characters are.  Eris seems like an overly dramatic person with an eye shadow problem and who is in desperate need of a straitjacket.  Zavala comes across as a pretentious douche who always needs to be in control, a fact which seriously made me want to pull pranks on him like Jim would do to Dwight in The Office.  And Cayde-6…well, if you didn’t have a crush on Nathan Fillion before, you definitely will now.  He’s the frosting on the cake that I’ve waited for and which Destiny so sorely needed!  I digress.  My point is that I now know their names and I have an opinion about them.  Even if my opinion is that I think  Eris needs psychiatric help and that I want to paint a dick on the side of Zavala’s helmet.  Sure, he storytelling and character development doesn't come close to games like The Last of Us or Bioshock,  but it’s more than we’ve had thus far and it’s a refreshing change.  

The first two expansions only required a few days to complete their additional stories.  I took time off of work to play the first expansion, The Dark Below, when it released and was shocked by how quickly the excitement ended.  Your current weapons and armor, which were only obtainable from the Raid, became obsolete.  It made all the time and effort you spent in those raids feel pointless.  Moreover, you were forced you to play the new raid/multiplayer event if you wanted to stay on top. In fact, without completing the raid/multiplayer events it became difficult to even complete the weekly missions.  With both of the first two expansions, you needed to have the best armor and weapons to compete in their new activities.  But to get the new armor and weapons you had to play the new activities.  So around and around you went like a hamster in a wheel. The only way to escape the cycle was to either find a group nice enough to drag you along until you could get to the new light level max or give up and play a different game.  

The main story line for The Taken King is, unsurprisingly, short.  Longer than The Dark Below mind you, but before you know it you’re dancing inappropriately on Oryx’s grave. Unlike the previous expansions though, this wasn’t the end of the story.  In addition to the strikes, raids, and PvP, you now also complete story missions for all three of the Vanguard.  Some are better than others, but they’re not rehashes of what you’ve already played. These are actual new missions. On top of that, there are quests and missions to complete for the gunsmith, Eris (still annoying and crazy), the Crucible Handler and others.  That’s more new content than we’ve ever had previously.  I’m not saying it’s a lot, but it’s certainly more than we're used to.  So, surprisingly, after week one I still have plenty to do.

This brings me to the inevitable question of grinding.  As of right now I don't feel like I’m stuck grinding away, trying to get the best gear just to be able to compete. The game doesn’t feel like a chore. If it did I wouldn’t still be playing now and this would be a far bitterer article.  There are a few things I feel have contributed to the diminished grind.  First, there isn’t one all powerful max-level piece of armor that only drops in one particular section that will ONLY drop if you are able to dance, bow, jump, shoot a rocket,  switch your dance routine to something more tasteful, and then repeat that whole process mid-air while… I'm getting side-tracked, sorry. What I mean to say is that there isn't just one armor piece or one weapon to rule them all.  There are multiple weapons at different levels that are fun to try out and to level up.  At least for now I haven’t found that Highlander of weapons. 

Secondly, the drops seem to be better for the people I’ve been playing with.  This could be because it’s ALL new gear to us and we’re just excited to try something new, but I feel like I am getting better drops and it’s exciting.  The Cryptarch is still a dick, sometimes giving you the exact item you have equipped when decoding an engram.  But at least now he’s a predictable dick and you know a legendary engram means that you'll get legendary gear.

Is Destiny: The Taken King the next best thing in video games? Will it leave you thinking that no game in the future could hope to reach its unique level of perfection?  Not in my opinion. However, it is a fun, competitive, beautiful, and highly polished first person shooter that's a blast to play with friends…for now.  They have made changes to year two, changes that we could all argue shouldn’t have taken a year to implement, but they're changes that are here now and which have made Destiny fun again.  I can’t be sure how long it will last, but for now, I’m going to have my fun and enjoy the game with friends.

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