Let’s start out with a public service announcement: stop pre-ordering games! Seriously, cut it out. You might miss out on some trinkets and baubles, but eventually pre-order culture will fail and those trinkets and baubles will end up back in every copy of their respective games where they belong. When you pre-order you end up showing up at a game store at midnight, waiting in line with a bunch of sleepless nerds only to walk out with disappointing experiences like the original release of the original Destiny.
Wait for a year or so after launch instead and maybe you’ll end up with something like Destiny: The Taken King, an expansion pack that takes the mediocre original game and turns it into a rewarding experience on par with any other action-RPG.
The most significant change Taken King brings to Destiny is the addition of solid, rewarding content. The lack of same is really what was bringing the base game down for the past year, and the difference is night and day. There are new Strikes and a new Raid, of course, but the real change is to the basic DNA of the Destiny experience. For example, no longer will you spend twenty minutes fighting your way through a Strike dungeon only to defeat the boss and have it drop nothing, then receive nothing at the after-mission briefing. Instead, bosses explode in a Diablo-esque shower of items, ensuring that while you might not necessarily get something valuable, you won’t walk away empty-handed.
It’s not just that, of course. Public event bosses are more common while patrolling, giving you a reason to stop what you’re doing and blast away. Ghost shells and class cosmetic items now have statistics, ensuring that they aren’t just a disappointment when you get them as loot. There’s a new slot for Artifact items which offer element-based stat boosts. There are multiple ways of tracking down the previously-aggravating hidden chests and crafting materials that litter the various environments. You can scan objects, a bit like Metroid Prime, to learn more about them, adding some meat to Destiny’s drastically barren lore. Taken King, more than any expansion I’ve played (that isn’t Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls), suggests that Bungie has actually been listening to the complaints about how sparse and lightweight Destiny felt at launch.
Also like Reaper of Souls, the expansion’s story content is actually fairly short and sparse. Your Guardian will work the Vanguard of the Tower to defeat the monstrous Taken King, Oryx. While you’ll have him defeated in only about three hours, the content on offer here is better-produced than the entirety of story content in Destiny so far. You’ll be primarily working with Cayde-6, the Hunter Vanguard voiced by Nathan Fillion, and he’s actually charming and interesting throughout. Yes, a character in Destiny is charming and interesting – I could hardly believe it myself! While the specifics of what exactly you’re doing are still hidden by layers of ephemeral malarkey about Light and Darkness, the game’s just a little more cinematic, just a little more endearing and tries just a little harder to get you to care.
Standing against you is Oryx’s army of the Taken, a new enemy faction consisting of variants on previous enemies. This might sound like a cop-out – and I guess it is, if you’re being cynical – but the presence of the Taken offers even more variety of the game, as they each possess their own new abilities to spice things up; Taken Cabal carry shields that absorb your shots and fire back as well as duplicating themselves, Taken Fallen put up defensive shields and summon friends, Taken Vex can make other Taken invincible and so on. The Taken aren’t just restricted to the new content. Instead, they can show up pretty much anywhere, including previous Strikes. Finding Taken while you’re patrolling an open area is reason for celebration, as waging war on them will result in a lucrative boss battle for all players in the vicinity.
Oh, and they got rid of Peter Dinklage both in the expansion content and the base game. The Ghost is voiced by Nolan North now, a name you might recognize from loads and loads of other games. This merits its own paragraph because Dinklage was terrible, and North should probably take the next step and replace him on Game of Thrones as well. The wizard still comes from the moon – he just sounds a little different now.
If I continued, I’d basically just be going on in the same vein for another few paragraphs. Destiny: The Taken King takes a giant step toward making Destiny the game it should have been at launch – and by now, we all know that it should have been much, much better. Rather than offering a stubbornly limited experience designed to keep players out, Destiny is now taking the Diablo route and letting you in the hopes that you’ll forget about other games, your family, your job, eating and sleeping…and really, that’s what this kind of game needs to do. $40 might seem like a lot for DLC, especially given the $20 price tag on previous releases, but for an expansion that takes a meh game and makes it a must-play experience it’s just about right.