If you haven’t played Destiny, you’ve probably heard someone rave about it. Or bitch about it with irritated intensity. Or both. Bungie’s massively multiplayer online shooter has been getting mixed reviews from the moment it came out a year ago. The game itself is a huge hit, by any measure. It made half a billion dollars in sales when it was released in September, 2014. There’s big-league movies that would kill for that kind of take. As of January this year, the game hit 16 million registered players. Bungie (the originator of the Halo franchise) and Activision have a ten-year plan for Destiny, so this thing is gonna be a big deal in the gaming world for a long time. The Taken King is the first major expansion for Destiny, following on two DLCs earlier this year, The Darkness Below and The House of Wolves. This time around, do they get it right? Your TL/DR is hell yes buy this game! If you want, like, reasons and stuff, join me starside!
First off, the best thing about vanilla Destiny (its first year incarnation) is it is hands-down the most awesome, fluid first-person shooter to come around in years. There’s easily a hundred or more different weapons, and every one feels unique. The game physics is incredible, and the combination of sounds and controller vibrations make it feel like you’re moving through a tangible world. Rumbling ship corridors, the splash as you run through a puddle in a dilapidated building, the subtle jolts as you jump and jet from one landing to another, this stuff feels great. And it has from day one.
What’s absolutely sucked is Destiny’s story. It’s not that it doesn’t have one. It’s there, but it’s largely been buried by Bungie’s obscure choice to carve up all of the backstory into a series of grimoire cards you earn in the game but can only read on their website or through the game’s mobile app. Even if you do comb through all these cards, and there’s a lot, several hundred, you still have to put it all together, with a lot of obscure references to people and creatures you don’t encounter in the game. They wanted to create a breathing history of several future centuries, I’m sure, but it’s too hard and confusing to piece it all together. The gist is that in our space-faring future, a giant orb called the Traveller came upon us, on the run from an all-encompassing evil called The Darkness. There was a huge battle, and the Traveller was nearly destroyed. It now rests dormant hanging in the sky above Earth. In its dying breath, it created Ghosts, little floating robots, to revive the dead souls of fighters and reanimate them as Guardians. (Originally voiced with a much-mocked deadpan delivery by Peter Dinklage, the Ghost has now been redone by voice acting veteran Nolan North—he’s great, but if you’ve spent a lot of time with the Dinklebot’s monotone, it takes some getting used to). You’re the Guardian, part of a small, fierce fighting force, dedicated to preserving the Light and humanity. Which means fighting off the minions of the Darkness, who are various alien races inhabiting the planets of our solar system. And boy do they hate the hell out of us.
At the end of The Dark Below expansion, you kill Crota in that DLC’s raid. He’s a Hive demigod, a nasty electrified badass who wields a vicious sword. Thing is, that might not have been the best idea. Crota’s got a dad, Oryx, and that guy is pissed. He’s flown into the solar system on his fearsome dreadnought starship, and he’s out for blood. Your blood, Guardian. The opening sequence of The Taken King shows Oryx wiping out the Awoken, a space-faring friendly race living out on the fringes of Saturn’s rings. The dogfight in space is very reminiscent of Battlestar Galactica, and sets the stakes immediately. You’ll have to stop this terrifying beast and his hordes, before they get to Earth. All the characters from the original game help you along your way. Numerous cut-scenes bring the formerly static sellers and advisors of the Tower social hub to life, a good tactic to throw you into the story. Best by far are your many humourous interactions with the boss of the Hunters, Cayde-6, played with typical swagger by Nathan Fillion. You feel just like Firefly‘s Captain Mal is ordering you into battle, and that’s a pretty cool feeling.
There’s new subclasses for Destiny‘s three Guardian classes. Hunters get the Nightstalker, who fires a cool void bow that anchors enemies in place and does damage over time. Warlocks get the Stormcaller so they can Emperor Palpatine their way through scores of enemies, firing chain lightning from their hands. And Titans get the Sunbreaker, enabling them to wield a wicked solar hammer and hurl it at enemies Mjolnir-style, engulfing them in flames. Seriously, if you ever wanted to be Thor, this is your chance. There’s new enemies, too. Oryx is an equal-opportunity enslaver, and the Fallen, Hive and Cabal races have all been transformed by his dark power into incredibly cool alternate versions, blinking white and black like they’re filled with negative space. Encounters with the Taken are weird and intense, as their bodies twitch and they come at you with a huge array of new powers and tactics.
The game’s action and graphics have always incredible, but bosses have had a deserved reputation for being bullet sponges that take forever to die. A lot of Destiny’s original strikes and story missions consisted of fighting through waves of enemies, finding a safe place to set up shop and pop out guns blazing and grind your foe down. One of the great new things about The Taken King is that Bungie has doubled down on making battles dynamic. There are hardly any safe spots, and what few there are don’t last long, as your foes flank you if you hunker down in one place. Encounters that would play the same way over and over have had new random elements built in, so that different races might be fighting each other when you stumble onto the scene. It gives every mission in the game the potential for repeated novelty, which is crucial in a game where you have to grind up your level to access the best, high level endgame content.
The Vault of Glass was arguably the highpoint of vanilla Destiny. A six-person raid with several distinct phases, extremely difficult enemies, puzzle mechanics and problem-solving, it was a breathtaking demo of high level cooperative play. It was also the most adrenaline-pounding experience I’ve ever had in a game. The first time I finished the Vault with five strangers I’d joined through a looking-for-group site (lfg.com), my heart was pounding for minutes afterward. And the yells of elation coming through my headphones were hilarious, but deserved. It took us three solid hours to get through, even with half the team being pretty experienced. It was gruelling, but great. I’ve run it a bunch of times since then, as well as the raid from The Darkness Below, Crota’s End. Some have been quick, some agonizingly hopeless. Communication is crucial in Destiny’s raids, which is why it’s best experienced in its social context. You can play it solo (I’ve even soloed the Crota Raid myself, which says how much of a gamer geek I’ve become, cuz that shit is hard), but you miss half the fun if you do.
Bungie’s learned a lot from the Vault of Glass. And they’ve taken player criticism to heart throughout the past year, making several significant updates to alter gameplay and improve the user experience. With The Taken King, all the knowledge they’ve gleaned brings the game to another level. The puzzle mechanics of the Vault of Glass are now present in subtle ways everywhere. Players have to find relics to unlock doors, and runes to unlock prized chests holding all kinds of wondrous loot. If it’s sounding a lot like an RPG, it kind of always was. Bungie’s just completely going for it now. The user interface has gotten a big makeover, too. It was good before, but now it’s gorgeous, with a revamped map, expanded vault and bounty systems, and fine-grain control for how you experience the game. They’ve also added a quest system to track your progress through key story missions. The quests make the game way more involving. The levelling system has been simplified which is a good thing, though you still need armour and weapons to boost your light level. The light level is now a statistical average of everything you’re carrying, and it gives you a bonus for offence and defence. Not enough light, forget about taking on the baddest of the bads. Trust me, you will die, fast and ugly, if you take on an overpowered enemy.
The Bungie team has even wised up and peppered the stories with little bits of that grimoire history. Obscure characters from the past come to life in specific missions, so that names like Toland and Praedyth actually take shape rather than being vague names associated with their weapons (Praedyth’s Revenge is a nifty sniper rifle you can earn in the Vault of Glass, for instance). The Strikes are varied and challenging, from simultaneously fighting two bosses with very different mechanics to a nifty one that goes down almost entirely in pitch blackness. Destiny‘s Public Events get a revamp too, allowing players to trigger them with runes they’ve earned from a special spot on Oryx’s dreadnought. Anyone can wander into that area and join the fray, making it a great hub for some exhilarating, and difficult, play.
The raid for The Taken King isn’t out yet. That drops tomorrow, Friday, September 18th. Bungie’s promised King’s Fall will be the biggest, most complicated raid yet. If that’s true, and based on everything I’ve seen so far it is, than that thing is going to be phenomenal and intense. I can’t wait to break out the defibrillator and get down to business. If you like your games with some seriously challenging fun, Bungie has really stepped up this time. You can get the entire game now with the Legendary Edition, including the revamped Destiny original game content, both DLCs and the new expansion. That, not to put too fine a point on it, is a giant fuckwad of gamerdom. I haven’t even touched on the superb mayhem of the player versus player matches in the Crucible, from the glorious marathon of Iron Banner to the punishing take-no-prisoners Trials of Osiris to the goofball quidditch-like fun of Rift. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of different ways to play Destiny. With the arrival of The Taken King, they’re finally all awesome.