Month: October 2015

REVIEW: Destiny: The Taken King – Questiny

Developer: Bungie

Publisher: Activision
Format: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4.

Released: September 15, 2015.
Copy purchased on the PlayStation Network

Bungie’s ambitious online first person shooter Destiny has been the most polarizing game of this current console generation. It’s solid game design showed promise of a great experience that was sadly, buried underneath behind the scenes development struggles. The fun abilities and stellar gunplay couldn’t cover up the lack of context for what you’re doing. The beautiful graphics and lush sound design didn’t alleviate the boredom of replaying the same story missions in bereft hub worlds. The “Light Leveling” system left many causal players out in the cold while the hardcore crowd (which yes, I’m a part of) had to tediously grind their way to Destiny’s incredible end game content. The two $20 expansion passes (The Dark Below & House of Wolves) truly expanded the core game with new spaces and events but they didn’t truly shake up the foundation set a year ago. Coming in at $40, The Taken King expansion is poised to fundamentally shake up everything that made Destiny so frustrating. But is it enough for veterans and newbies to warrant reentry into this console MMO?

NPC’s are given a new lease on life with well written dialogue and fitting quest rewards.

1: Yes, there is a story…
The Taken King’s story focuses on the titular Oryx who many Year One Destiny players will recall as the father of Crota. Oryx isn’t happy that you killed his son with his own sword in the Crota’s End Raid and he’s come to out solar system with his mighty starship known as the“The Dreadnaught”. After a brutal assault by the Reef Queen’s forces and the emergence of Oryx’s dark army of “Taken” soldiers, it’s up to the Vanguard (i.e. YOU) to mount a counter offensive against Oryx. It’s a simple revenge story and it’s well told through breathtaking cutscenes and sharp in-game dialogue to keep the player’s interest.  Story Missions have more variety than the “shoot first, ask later” ones that made up the bulk of the base game. One mission has involves fleeing from Oryx’s wrath while the next has a stealth section. The level design continues to be well thought out as each mission accommodates one to three players as well as a brisk pace to keep things from being tiresome.

Several non playable characters (NPC’s) who’ve spent all of Year One standing around the Tower, are now active participants in the Taken War which gives each mission proper context. Nathan Fillion’s wisecracking antics as Vanguard Hunter Cayde-6 and Moria Gorrondona’s creepy performance of Hive Expert Eris Morn are both standouts as their characters clashing banter brings levity to the main story missions. Nolan North replaces Peter Dinklage as Ghost in The Taken King and he does a better job of explaining things (and opening doors) for the player.  Ghost has a renewed sense of charm and intrigue in everything you do making him the ideal companion in your alien killing sprees. While the Taken King himself doesn’t have a lot to say, Oryx’s intimidating presence throughout the main campaign via shadowy apparitions help to emphasize a sense of impending dread in your trek across the stars which makes him the most interesting villain in Destiny by default

2: Yes, people still play this game…

Several changes have already taken place from the massive 18 GB 2.0 update prior to the launch of the new expansion. The most notable change returning players will pick up on is that Light is no longer tied to your character’s experience level. In the previous year of Destiny, causal players hit a wall when they reached Level 20 as getting stronger raid armor in order to rank up took weeks and even months to acquire due to the frustrating random number generators that governed loot drops. Players can now reach the new level cap of 40 through experience point while Light Levels now represent the average value of your gear’s attack and defense stats. Legendary Marks, a new currency replacing Vanguard and Crucible Marks, can be used to purchase Legendary Gear, buy upgraded versions of previous Year One Exotics from the new Tower Kiosks, or to infuse stronger loot into your equipped gear. This Infusion mechanic is a much welcome improvement to the previous methods of upgrading your loot as it puts greater emphasis on constantly searching for the best gear. With LOADS of new armor, guns, class specific marks, and artifacts all randomized with unique perks, the never ending grind to get score stuff is more accessible for all. Further adding to this is that any new piece of Exotic gear you collect will already have their signature perk unlocked.

They named an Exotic gun after an Episode of 30 Rock.
They named an Exotic gun after an Episode of 30 Rock.

New to Year Two are Quests which operate similar to Exotic Bounties from Year One. The “quest-ification” overhaul of all of Destiny’s existing content are welcome as they make Destiny feel more like a traditional MMO as each challenging task paves the way for some of the best rewards (EXOTIC SWORDS!) in the game. There’s a seemingly endless amount of quests to do, Vendors to please, and things to do so the added ability to track up to four bounties/quest via your Ghost eases the frustration of where to go and what to do next.

So many quests!
Eris Morn is still creepy but her quests led to one of the most unique weapons in the game.

The Taken hordes you’ll encounter in the game are not just mere redesigns of existing enemies. Each of the Taken has a unique function which throws a wrench into familiar strategies and need to be killed quickly or else they’ll multiply, teleport, and overwhelm the player. Fortunately, the three new subclasses that are unlocked after completing class specific quests are very useful against the Taken and are a blast to play with. The Hunter’s “Nightstalker” subclass is all about disappearing and using a void bow to shoot arrows to pin down enemies. The Warlock’s “Stormcaller” can summon storm clouds from grenades and shoot lightning from their hands. The Titan’s “Sunbreaker” subclass is all about range from tossing thermite grenades, to using the Hammer of Sol Super to fling flaming hammers across the screen.

All of the existing cooperative Strike Missions and competitive Crucible modes have been tweaked for the better. The new Vangaurd Heroic Playlist features 4 new Strike Missions (one of which is a PlayStation exclusive) and several remixed Strikes. These are all designed with veteran players in mind as they require coordination to take down bosses instead of just shooting at giant blowing bullet sponges. The Nightfall Strike no longer kicks player out for failure and instead uses the revive mechanics used in the Raids which makes playing them less frustrating but still challenging to undertake.

Eight new Crucible maps (one of which is a PlayStation exclusive) have been added to the games versus multiplayer suite with one new mode and several variants of existing modes. “Rift” is akin to Halo’s One Bomb Assault as two teams vie to take a Spark from the center of the map and score in into the other teams goal area. It’s very fun being the runner as the mode encourages movement and scores causes a huge explosion. But since the Spark can’t be picked up like the Bomb in Halo’s Assault mode, there’s very little incentive for teammates to defend the Spark Runner. “Mayhem” is a new Team Deathmatch variant that increases the recharge rate of Supers, abilities and Heavy Ammo spawns leading to utter chaos. “Zone Control” is a variant of Control that’s prioritizes capturing zones as opposing to killing opponents for points.

You may have won this round, former IGN Editor and current Communications Manager for Activision Scott Lowe but I had the higher score. Good game though.
You may have won this round, former IGN Editor and current Communications Manager for Activision Scott Lowe but I had the higher score. Good game though.

The Dreadnaught is the new playable patrol location in The Taken King and it’s home to some of Destiny’s hardest challenges. The “Court of Oryx” is a public event area in the center of the Dreadnaught where players use runes to summon powerful foes for more rewards. While the level one bosses are easier to kill and farm rare loot, the higher levels are much more difficult and require up to eight strangers to coordinate in order to get Legendary rewards. The “King’s Fall” Raid requires six friends with the recommended Light level of 290. Without spoiling any of it, I can say it’s the most diabolical Raid Bungie has ever crafted. It’s impossible to run this Raid solo as Bungie has designed every mechanic of this Raid with six players in mind. It’s a well crafted piece of game and level design but it may deter casual players due to time commitment, the difficulty and the lack of matchmaking for Raids.

This guy means business.
This guy means business.

3: Yes, there’s still problems…

Despite all the new additions to Destiny, the core gameplay is unchanged. With the exception of a couple of missions, the structure still relies on entering rooms, killing wave after wave of enemies, and killing the big boss at the end of the level. Unless you have friends and a headset to chat with them in parties, it can be a lonely experience as the game is still centered around playing with other people online. The Grimoire which features cards detailing the intricate backstory of the world of Destiny is still segregated to and the companion app with no option to view them in game.

Still beautiful as it is barren
Still beautiful as it is barren

While the launch of The Taken King was smooth for me, several of my friends kept experiencing network issues and were frequently ejected out of the game. In particular, Xbox 360 owners are still having issues with downloading and accessing The Taken King weeks past the games launch. Raids like the Vault of Glass still suffer from bugs and connection issues that haven’t been addressed in the new update. While Bungie has implemented a Mercy Rule for one sided Crucible matches, there’s still no dedicated matchmaking for the Crucible to match players with those of equal skill and to prevent game crippling lag in matches. Arguably the biggest problem is that players who don’t have all of the expansions passes and an Xbox Live/PlayStation Plus Online Subscription service are locked out of nearly half of the endgame content. This is a standard for massively multiplayer games and while the $60 Legendary Edition features all of the content at a reasonable price for newcomers, the $140 total for folks playing since Year One makes Destiny a rapidly expensive experience.

That's not how you use a shotgun.
That’s not how you use a shotgun.

4: But yes, this expansion is worth it.
Destiny 2.0 still suffers from a lot of the same problems that plagued 1.0 but now it’s potential is finally being realized. The Taken King’s succinct six hour campaign and grand sweeping changes to the every single system help make Destiny feel more like a role playing game than victory through attrition. The vast amounts of maps, modes, missions, and events won’t shake off the feeling of deja-vu but they’re fun to play with friends and the quests are very addictive to sink time into. A lot of effort has been put into place by Bungie to make the player care about what goes on in the world of Destiny. Current players who’ve blazed through all of the Year One content will really appreciate the callbacks to previous missions and events. New players won’t be able to experience the events in Year One but Year Two is far more accessible thanks to the $60 Legendary Edition and simplified mechanics. If you’ve dropped Destiny or didn’t buy it, nothing here is likely to change your mind. Destiny will never be finished as new content keeps getting added in and new secrets are being discovered by players. But The Taken King is how DLC can truly expand on a game and at $40, its value is completely justified by all of the new additions. If you’ve ever wanted to check out why millions of people still play Destiny, now’s the time to jump in.

UPDATE: Yes, there’s more.

With Year Three of Destiny coming to a head with the Rise of Iron expansion pack, I thought it would be best to talk about the following activities in Year Two after Bungie released The Taken King.

A month after The Taken King launched, Bungie introduced the Eververse Trading Company, a mircotransaction service, into the world of Destiny (I’ve updated this review to reflect this change). Players can use real world money to purchase in-game silver coins in exchange for emotes and other cosmetic items. While I have no qualms with players purchasing items that have no impact on gameplay, the addition of Microtransactions highlights a fundamental problem with Destiny. Destiny NEEDS as casual and hardcore Destiny players alike can easily burn through all of the content within a couple of weeks. Having “optional” microtranstions tied to limited events means that Destiny players can spend more money outside of the paid expansion, but they don’t need to in order to experience everything Year Two has to offer. The Festival of the Lost, Sparrow Racing League (SRL), and Crimson Days seasonal events are fun, yet they felt more like distractions from the base game. It’s cool that those events are free and are coming back in Rise of Iron but they need to be more impactful in the world of Destiny.

Aside from various balance changes, user interface upgrades, and Challenge Mode for the King’s Fall raid, the most substantial amount of content in Year Two came in the April Update (Patch version 2.2.0). The April Update brought back the Prison of Elders and with it, a new score attack mode called the Challenge of the Elders. A new mission, a new Strike, a revamped Strike, and a new quest line were also added that dealt with the aftermath of Oryx’s death. Bungie raised the light level from 310 to 335 but also implemented a better random loot generator to all Engram drops. Instead of getting a weapon with a random light level, you’re guaranteed a loot drop closer to or higher than your Guardians current light level. This change meant that you didn’t need to do the weekly grind in the raid to get the best gear as all activities led to the higher light level. Last but not least is the addition of Chroma, consumable items that changed the color of “SPEKTAR” gear and weapons. They’re found in Sterling Chests that can be bought for money are earned three times a week by logging in and playing weekly activities. Like all the other microtransactions added to Destiny, Chroma doesn’t impact the gameplay and can be simply ignored.

Overall, the shift from multiple paid expansions in Year One of Destiny into “free” event based activities in Year Two has been a mixed bag. While it’s more reasonable to have microtransactions pave the way for new content drops than expensive expansion packs, there’s just no excuse to integrate them together. Especially since seasonal events lack the impact and longevity previous Destiny expansions offered in Year One. I stand by everything I said in my original review (typos and all), but I do feel weary about the future of what is by default, my favorite game of this console generation. Still, with Rise of Iron coming out next month (as of this writing) and Destiny 2 on the horizon, I have hope for the future of this massive FPS/RPG hybrid.