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Destiny The Taken King Review: Aiming For The FPS Crown

Destiny’s first year out in the wild, much like the core game itself, was full of ups and downs. But no matter what you think about the game that launched in September of 2014, it’s impossible to deny that Bungie’s phenomenon of a shooter has grown and improved over the past 12 months. It’s fitting, then, that Destiny’s year two kicks off with a massive DLC pack called The Taken King, as it’s easily the game’s crowning achievement to date.

It’s impossible to talk about The Taken King without also bringing up the massive (and free to all) Update 2.0. Released just a week before the latest DLC, this update did a complete overhaul to many of Destiny’s core systems, taking player feedback into account to craft a better game. I’ve already highlighted many of the biggest changes brought about through 2.0, and you’re welcome to dive into a refresher if that catches your fancy.

Put briefly, Destiny is now a far better game in terms of player interaction. Currencies have been cleaned up, as has the confusing leveling systems of old. There are more reasons than ever to visit the Tower, as vendors have been given some new features. The Gunsmith, for instance, now lets you try out new weapons for fun and experience and offers a nifty way to order some useful weapons on a weekly basis.

Player storage has been given a dramatic increase, and the inclusion of helpful kiosks spread throughout the Tower now make it easier than ever to keep track of and access your various pieces of gear.

The biggest improvement to come via 2.0, though, is the inclusion of Quests. Put simply, you can now take on more Bounties and missions than ever before and, even better, you can tell at a glimpse what your objective is, what kind of progress you’ve made and what your reward will be upon completion. You can even track up to four tasks at a time, allowing you to check their status on the fly without having to dive into your menu. And for those of you who don’t mind doing a bit of reading, each step within these missions is given a bit of flavor text that not only builds on the world of Destiny, but also bolsters less interesting missions from year one content by making them feel more relevant.

While none of those improvements listed above were technically part of the Taken King DLC launched on Sept. 15, I think it would be unfair not to include them in an assessment of that content. Update 2.0 was launched to pave the way to The Taken King, and those changes improved Destiny by leaps and bounds a week before Bungie poured on all of that new DLC.

Thankfully, The Taken King maintained that positive momentum, easily establishing itself as being the best thing to happen to Destiny since launch. To be clear, I’ve enjoyed Destiny since day one. I wholeheartedly agree with many of the complaints leveled against the game at launch and even following both The Dark Below and House of Wolves, but a paper-thin plot, arguably lackluster voice acting and repetitive reward loops never really bothered me as much as it seemed to bother others.

For those who had extremely lofty (and possibly unfair) expectations in the beginning, however, I think The Taken King finally completes the package and offers the experience many were expecting from the start. I’ve been playing Destiny for 12 months, so The Taken King’s abundance of content has been a welcome, but not too overwhelming addition to the game. For folks who have waited until now to dive in, I can’t help but wonder what they will think of everything Bungie’s shooter has to offer. I suspect that it’ll be a bit overwhelming at this point.

And what, exactly, does The Taken King add to the mix? A little bit of everything, actually. As with previous DLC, TTK piles on more of the things that players can’t seem to get enough of. There’s loads of new guns and gear for all three Guardian classes, as well as a new sub-class for each to work through. I can’t speak for the Warlock or Titan at this point, but I’ve had an absolute blast playing as a Hunter Nightstalker this past week. The class finally has a support ability that makes them more useful in a team setting, as well as several additional tools and tricks that make them into the crafty warriors they were always meant to be.

On the competitive side of things, The Taken King introduces seven new multiplayer maps and a pair of new modes for folks to dive into. The maps are just as varied and interesting as you would expect from a seasoned shooter developer like Bungie, and the modes help shake things up a bit with Destiny’s take on capture the flag, Rift, and a mode that charges your abilities at a breakneck speed, Mayhem. While one is perfect for folks who enjoy a tug-of-war brand of competition, the other is a nice change of pace that makes your KDR pointless and encourages just having fun as everybody unleashes explosions after explosions.

Alongside all of that is a new campaign that pushes Destiny forward in terms of both narrative and storytelling. In case that’s a little confusing, what I mean is that, yes, you’re getting a nice new chunk of lore that will take you half a dozen hours to work through if you aren’t just sprinting through. On top of that, Bungie seems to have remembered that they’re allowed to spend more time actually telling that story, leading to the best and most well-defined missions the game has to offer.

The plot is pretty simple: You killed Crota and now his daddy, Oryx, wants revenge. To do that, the dude is using space magic to take control of familiar enemies, granting them abilities that will have you completely rethinking the tactics that have gotten you through missions up until this point. A couple of interesting new mechanics are introduced to change up the pace along the way, with the whole shebang capped off by an extremely rewarding final showdown.

That’s all well and good, but what really sets these missions apart are the script and the cutscenes, areas that have been unfortunately neglected through much of Destiny’s first year. Much like the new Quest system, Bungie has taken the time to make sure players know what’s going on, what they’ll be doing and why they’re doing it. That’s all complemented by a cast of characters that finally get to be more than a collection of talking heads, led in no small part by fantastic performances by Nathan Fillion’s Cayde-6 and Nolan North’s Ghost. Fillion gets to go full Browncoat throughout the Taken King quest, injecting the role with a healthy dose of humor and swagger. And while Destiny vets might take some time getting used to North’s take on Ghost, his experience in the field makes for a far more lively and involved version of the companion. All of that combines in a way that makes Destiny feel more like a Sci-Fi Spaghetti Western than a dramatic space opera, which is exactly what Destiny should have been in the first place.

When the credits roll on The Taken King, you’re actually only just now getting into the meat of all of this new content. More and more missions will begin to pop up, each one progressing the story even further, connecting what I originally assumed were dangling threads and, if my suspicions are correct, setting up whatever comes next for the universe. While you’re in the midst of all of that, you’ll also unlock a trio (or a quartet, if you’re gaming on PlayStation) of new Strikes that, like the new campaign missions themselves, are the best and most varied cooperative events to date, with the epic King’s Fall Raid waiting to challenge even the most grizzled of Guardians.

Finally, you can’t talk about The Taken King without talking about the new map, a Hive ship known as the Dreadnaught. Home to Oryx and his Taken minions, the Dreadnaught may not be quite as big as some of Destiny’s other open maps, but it certainly offers the most character. More of a puzzle box crawling with baddies than a location, there are dozens of secrets to uncover here, all of which make exploring the Dreadnaught far more entertaining and rewarding than any other destination in the solar system.

If you couldn’t tell by now, I’m a bit smitten with The Taken King. It makes an already good shooter even better, and it shows legitimate growth on the part of the developers. I’m sure that the grind will once again resurface as I complete more and more objectives, but I don’t expect that point in time to arrive until I’ve spent another couple dozen hours with the game. There’s just so much new stuff to do, and it’s all rekindled my love of this game.

If you weren’t picking up what Destiny was putting down in year one, nothing here is likely to change your mind. If, however, you felt Destiny was a solid shooter with a handful of problems holding it back from greatness, then The Taken King is a very big step toward reaching that status.

This review based on a PS4 download provided by the publisher.

Players: 1-12

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360

Developer: Bungie

Publisher: Activision

ESRB: Teen


Staff Writer for CinemaBlend.