Destiny: The Taken King

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Ac­tivi­sion De­vel­oper Bungie For­mat 360, PS3, PS4 (ver­sion tested), Xbox One Re­lease Out now

360, PS3, PS4, Xbox One

One year ago, Destiny’s cam­paign ended not with a bang so much as a poorly sti­fled fart. It was ap­pro­pri­ate, in a way – the sto­ry­telling of the pre­vi­ous dozen or so hours had been largely guff. But it was a dis­ap­point­ment nonethe­less, the most hyped game of 2014 clos­ing out with a whim­per, watch­ing word­lessly as you stum­bled into its baf­fling endgame.

What a dif­fer­ence a year makes. The Taken King’s story arc ends with an ex­plo­sion; not of poly­gons and par­ti­cles, but of things to do. You re­turn to the Tower hub area and ev­ery­one wants a piece of you, of­fer­ing re­wards for a job well done and sug­ges­tions on what you might want to do next. Your quest log spreads to a sec­ond page, then a third. Af­ter 12 months spent run­ning and re-run­ning, week in and week out, the same mis­sions and raids, it’s a lit­tle over­whelm­ing. It is hard to even know where to start.

The beauty is it doesn’t mat­ter. Every­thing has its own re­ward, and a guar­an­teed one at that. The base game’s RNG sys­tems are still around, but that mat­ters far less when turn­ing in a quest so of­ten yields de­sir­able weapons and ar­mour. Ran­dom­ness usu­ally works in your favour now, with even the lowli­est rank of en­e­mies able to drop pow­er­ful gear when killed. Through­out Destiny’s first year, we could count the num­ber of times we saw a leg­endary en­gram in open play on our fin­gers. The Taken King had that licked within a day or two.

Even some ex­otics, Destiny’s rarest gear, have be­come fixed re­wards from cer­tain tasks. One of the more hum­drum quest lines ends with the sur­prise re­ward of a bril­liant scout ri­fle. Other ex­otic quests are more chal­leng­ing, de­mand­ing ex­treme pro­fi­ciency with cer­tain weapons, com­ple­tion of some of the game’s tough­est chal­lenges, or that you strip the vast Dread­naught ship be­long­ing to ti­tle vil­lain Oryx of its dozens of glim­mer­ing col­lectibles. Ex­otics can even be found more of­ten in open play, with a new item, Three Of Coins, boost­ing the chance of bosses drop­ping them in en­gram form. Destiny has changed a lot with The Taken King, but per­haps the most re­ward­ing tweak is the way loot vis­i­bly springs from bosses, rather than drops be­ing her­alded by a line of text or icon popup. See­ing a hulk­ing space de­mon ex­plode in a shower of blue (con­tain­ing rare gear), pur­ple (leg­endary) and gold (ex­otic) en­grams is a buzzy thrill that even now, with a hun­dred hours played across three in­tox­i­cat­ing weeks, has yet to lose even a frac­tion of its power.

The Taken King rains loot, then, as any good loot game should. Yet while the wider avail­abil­ity of top-tier items is one of this ex­pan­sion’s most re­fresh­ing tweaks, Bungie’s greater achieve­ment is its rein­ven­tion of sup­pos­edly lesser gear. Rare items are, as be­fore, the most com­mon kind of drop past the level cap, but are now vi­tal ad­di­tions to your load­out all the way through to the endgame. While leg­endary and ex­otic gear will have bet­ter perks, a rare drop’s at­tack or defence stat is based on your cur­rent power level. Mean­while, your Light rat­ing – the mea­sure of your over­all power – is now a three-digit av­er­age of the base at­tack or defence val­ues of every­thing you have equipped, not the sum of a stat tied to cer­tain pieces of ar­mour. You might be wear­ing a leg­endary helm with a defence of 280, then pick up a rare with 295. Early on, you’ll equip it to push up your Light, pow­er­ing you up to ac­cess tougher mis­sions. Later, you’ll use it as In­fu­sion fuel to boost the stats of gear that bet­ter com­ple­ments your playstyle.

It is a sim­ple change that has had a dra­matic ef­fect on both Destiny’s minute-to-minute ac­tion and its big­ger pic­ture. Ev­ery drop, no mat­ter the rar­ity, now has at least the po­ten­tial for mean­ing. Progress up the new, three-digit power curve is steady and al­most con­stant, a vi­tal change from the launch game, where it could take weeks to climb a sin­gle level. And In­fu­sion means a much greater level of con­trol over what your char­ac­ters look like and how they play. Twelve months ago, the sole way of hit­ting the level cap was by wear­ing ar­mour that was only avail­able from the Vault Of Glass raid. You can reach The Taken King’s Light cap of 310 while wear­ing, and shoot­ing, what­ever you like.

Th­ese changes only tell half the story; the old Destiny’s prob­lems ran far deeper than the way its con­tent was struc­tured and its gear doled out. Hap­pily, Bungie has ad­dressed th­ese is­sues too. Sto­ry­telling is vastly im­proved, the tone over­hauled to suit a game in which your sniper ri­fle reloads it­self while you throw flam­ing ham­mers at space wiz­ards. While Nolan North tak­ing Pe­ter Din­klage’s role as your Ghost com­pan­ion made head­lines when it was an­nounced, the real star is Nathan Fil­lion, whose tal­ents were so weirdly wasted last time out. Fil­lion’s Cayde-6 is wry, charm­ing and a key player through­out the cam­paign. He is Cap­tain Mal, quest giver and cutscene-quip­per, and a key fac­tor in aer­at­ing the stuffi­ness of the former Destiny. The mis­sions are bet­ter too, with stealth, es­cape and plat­form­ing sec­tions adding va­ri­ety to a game that was pre­vi­ously wary of ask­ing any more of you than sim­ply shoot­ing at things un­til they ex­plode.

The ex­cep­tion to that rule was the Vault Of Glass, the core of­fer­ing’s fan­tas­tic six-player raid, where fights were as much about puz­zle solv­ing as pre­ci­sion shoot­ing. The Vault’s lead de­signer is The Taken King’s cre­ative di­rec­tor, and the in­flu­ence of Luke Smith’s phi­los­o­phy can be felt all the way through the game. It’s es­pe­cially preva­lent on the Dread­naught, the colos­sal Hive ship that plays host to many new story mis­sions and strikes, and that’s un­locked for pa­trol once you fin­ish the cam­paign. Like Destiny’s plan­ets, it’s a se­ries of in­stanced ar­eas with respawn­ing waves of en­e­mies and chests full of up­grade ma­te­ri­als. Un­like the

Progress up the new three­digit power curve is steady and al­most con­stant, a vi­tal change from the launch game

oth­ers, it’s filled to burst­ing with se­crets – com­plex cave net­works, far­away ledges, mys­te­ri­ous ter­mi­nals and chests that can only be opened with spe­cific keys – and your in­ven­tory slowly fills with cu­ri­ous ob­jects that hint at their pur­pose with Souls- like de­scrip­tions.

And if mys­tery’s not your thing, there’s the Court Of Oryx, where you can sum­mon boss bat­tles and any pass­ing player can join in. Ac­ti­vated with a rune of one of three tiers – the first spawn­ing a sin­gle boss fight, the sec­ond com­bin­ing two of them, the third kick­ing off a bat­tle with a rec­om­mended Light level of 300 that changes ev­ery week – they’re a fine way of blow­ing off steam, and yet an­other path to a loot drop in a game that is now enor­mously gen­er­ous with its gear.

What of the gear it­self? In a way, The Taken King’s new ad­di­tions to the ar­moury are less ex­cit­ing than what came be­fore. We are yet to find any­thing so over­pow­ered as a Fate bringer or Gjal­larhorn, but given the new em­pha­sis on me­chan­ics over bul­let sponges, there’s no need for it. In­stead, weapons have sit­u­a­tional ben­e­fits. Since the game prac­ti­cally throws loot at you, it makes per­fect sense to have cer­tain tools be of use in spe­cific sit­u­a­tions. Raid weapons, for in­stance, au­to­mat­i­cally reload when stowed, prompt­ing a shrug of the shoul­ders at first and a Eureka mo­ment when you re­alise they’re al­most es­sen­tial in parts of the raid it­self. Ah, yes, the raid. The Taken King may have im­proved

Destiny in al­most ev­ery re­spect, but that was hardly the high­est of bars to clear. As such, King’s Fall was al­ways go­ing to be Bungie’s big­gest test – one it passes with a lengthy, var­ied se­quence of boss fights that re­quire pa­tient puz­zle solv­ing and near-per­fect co­or­di­na­tion to sur­mount, in­ter­spersed with en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges that lighten the mood a lit­tle with ev­ery slap­stick demise. Bet­ter than the Vault Of Glass? Per­haps. We’re post­pon­ing judge­ment un­til the other dif­fi­cul­ties launch, but it’s at least as good as the finest co-op ex­pe­ri­ence around, which seems like praise enough.

Bungie has done a re­mark­able job with The Taken King, but not a per­fect one. Some of its quests are too rem­i­nis­cent of the Destiny of old, mak­ing you hang around in pub­lic spa­ces wait­ing for events to ap­pear, killing time and the same old groups of en­e­mies spawn­ing from the same old places. Some waits are even more tor­tu­ous: we stayed up far too late one Thurs­day night to com­plete a frus­trat­ing part of an ex­otic quest, only to be told our han­dler was wait­ing on some parts and our re­ward wouldn’t be ready un­til the fol­low­ing Wed­nes­day. And while the new struc­ture has done won­ders for the PVE game, it has made a mess of the PVP Cru­cible. Quests de­mand wins, so play­ers are quit­ting at the hint of a loss; each day, one ga­me­type doles out valu­able Leg­endary Marks for com­plet­ing a match, mean­ing many aren’t even try­ing to com­pete.

All of this is fix­able, how­ever, and while six months ago there’d have been rea­son to doubt Bungie’s abil­ity to put right Destiny’s many lit­tle fail­ings, The Taken King is a game made of fixes. It uses pre­ex­ist­ing flaws as the foun­da­tions for some­thing that is bet­ter in just about ev­ery sin­gle way: big­ger, more co­her­ent and, best of all, im­mea­sur­ably more gen­er­ous. With that comes, ap­pro­pri­ately, a puz­zle for Bungie to solve. How do you con­tinue to build on a game that has so few chinks in its lus­trous, gleam­ing ex­otic ar­mour?

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Strikes are now among our favourite pas­times, thanks to a buff to drop rates the longer you stay in the playlist, and a piece of ar­mour ex­clu­sive to each one. This boss can drop a natty pair of War­lock gauntlets, for in­stance

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