They say that you never forget how to ride a bike. I wish the same could be said for MMOs. Maybe it's just me, but I tend to quickly forget the ins and outs of a game if I don't play it for a while - and such was the case with Destiny when I fired it up for its new expansion, The Taken King.
The only aspect I've really played of it since its launch a year ago is the PvP side of things, as my exceptionally poorly geared level 24 hunter attests. Well, I'm very poorly geared for PvE, but actually quite well geared for PvP.
Fortunately, The Taken King gives you a complete set of new gear to start with – and a one-time boost to level 25 for one character via an item delivered to you in the mail called a Spark of Light. I didn't use it on my hunter, and instead simply went ahead and played a few PvP games to tip her over the mark to 25. I used my precious Spark of Light on my level 4 warlock – might as well not waste it, right?
Playing a few rounds of PvP was a good way to ease my way back into the game, and once I'd hit level 25, I had a good feel for the controls and cadence of the game once again. Then it was a case of returning to the Tower and seeing what was new.
And what's new is a Taken King quest line that has a much more robust storyline than last year's release. It's a simple enough premise: a story of revenge. Oryx, the eponymous Taken King has taken it upon himself to avenge the death of his son, and has assembled an army created from the Darkness to that end. Following a failed attack by The Queen and her troops on his Dreadnaught ship, he is poised to launch a devastating attack on the Vanguard and Earth. That's where you come in as the hero of the day, on a series of missions to track down tech that will put an end to the Taken King's ambitions.
Almost the moment you begin the new missions, the difference between Destiny 1.0 and 2.0 becomes apparent in terms of the quality of its story, dialog and voice acting. This time out, the on-mission exposition is far more interesting, and engagingly voiced. Nolan North does an excellent job as the ghost, imbuing your robotic sidekick with a certain sense of charm and wit. This isn't just better voice acting – the dialog is tighter and makes more sense than last year's hum-drum ramblings.
Early missions feel very much like Destiny 1.0, and my initial reaction was one of concern. One of the complaints that I had with last year's release was that while there were open areas to explore, they had nothing in them. Just empty spaces connecting the areas where you engage the enemy. In those zones, the action could feel somewhat relentless: corridors full of enemies connecting spaces usually filled with a boss-type character, with little respite in between. It was pure first-person shooter fare, and missions often felt like levels from a regular FPS game. Of course, that makes sense because Destiny is an FPS – but it's also an MMORPG, and in that sense last year's game felt like it was missing something: there wasn't much in the way of mystery, and exploration was largely an unrewarding and indeed even pointless exercise. It looked and felt like an epic game, but ultimately didn't deliver on that.
The Taken King's storyline begins with a couple of missions that continue that tradition. Once again, it presents corridors filled with enemies, and not much else to see. However, as you begin to make progress into the story missions, the action becomes a little more spread out, and there are moments of quiet exploration between combat set pieces – and it works really well. It gives you time to breathe and take in where you are. A chance to marvel at some of the game's fantastic scenery and mission settings, and to also wonder what might be around the next corner. It might sound like a minor issue, but I feel these sorts of moments are what help make a game great. While action is, of course, all-important, you don’t want to necessarily see an entire game down the barrel of a gun. Being able to explore a little, and feel like you're adventuring as well as giving your trigger finger a good workout helps make the game feel more balanced and more interesting. Especially when there are areas that are actually worth exploring, unlike last year's wide open empty spaces that had nothing much worth seeing.
There's even a bit of platforming to do, as in one early mission where you're climbing up a rickety old tower. It took me a few moments to figure out what to do, because my immediate reaction was to look for something to shoot at. Not so in this case: I had to make my way up to an item that was right on top of said tower, and activate a piece of machinery. Again, it's a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but it helps give the game variety and your character a sense of place, and articulate that the challenges he or she faces aren't just solved by squeezing a trigger. There's a little more to the game than just that – which to me is a welcome change over vanilla Destiny.
DAY TWO (Morning)
Something I'm liking about The Taken King is that loot drops and leveling seem to have been seriously beefed up. I'm picking up plenty of interesting items in terms of loot, which is definitely what you want from an MMO, but, more importantly, the missions aren't outstripping my character's levels. I ran into situations a few times in Destiny 1.0 where the experience I was garnering from missions wasn't quite sufficient to level me up quickly enough to keep pace with the level of missions I needed to tackle next. Because of that, I ended up having to farm some of the early missions a few times so I could level up enough to move onto the next missions without too much difficulty. Rather than moving forward with the story, I was repeating levels, and it just made the game feel more like… a game. A rote series of missions that needed to be done, rather than some kind of continuous grand adventure where you're immersed in the story.
Fortunately, that's definitely not the case with The Taken King. So far, my level is keeping pace with the level of missions, so I'm not feeling like I'm going in under-leveled, or under-geared. It just feels like the game has been better balanced in this respect, and progress feels much less of a grind.
Another thing I like is my hunter's new super – a bow formed from gravitational void energy. It's not necessarily overpowered, but it just feels quite dynamic and fun to use in clutch situations. I don't know how other classes' new supers equate to the hunter's, since I haven't had a chance to use them yet, but they certainly sound interesting to use: the Warlock has a new electrical storm bolt, and the Titan has a flaming hammer that can be used at both range or as a melee weapon.
DAY TWO (Evening)
Gah! Sometimes online gaming can be very frustrating. You don't think about that oh-so-important persistent connection until you try to connect and nothing happens. That's been happening to me for the last hour or so as I've been trying to repeatedly log into The Taken King, and I've been getting nothing but a "cattle" error. This basically puts the blame on my connection and network settings, but I know that all things are good at my end, because I just used Bungie's very helpful resources and links (to Sony) to make sure that my router is set up in the way that it should be. After visiting the forums and seeing other people complaining about having the same issue that I'm having, I saw that a moderator posted that Bungie is looking into the situation and should have a fix shortly. And lo and behold, I was able to log on about 15 minutes later.
What's the point in me telling you this? Nothing, other than the fact that when it comes to assistance and staying on top of what's going on, it seems that Bungie is pretty responsive and has a decent suite of resources to help out. Your mileage may vary, of course, but it's good to know if you're buying into an MMO that there is some helpful and fast-moving infrastructure behind it should the worst happen. This is the only time I've experienced a glitch with connecting and running Destiny, and my down-time was a little over an hour, which, while frustrating because I want to be playing so I can continue to write this review, wasn't too bad, all things considered.
DAY TWO (Night)
Back online, and back into my adventures again, and I continue to be impressed with the way the storyline is being articulated. The cut scenes and dialog are like night-and-day compared to last year's game. Nathan Fillion as Cayde-6 delivers a spot-on performance as a wisecracking mercenary type that made me smile on more than a few occasions. Lance Reddick also puts in a typically stern-sounding turn as Commander Zavala, and he also sounds perfect in his role. It's a great reminder of how important dialog can be, turning cut scenes from something you want to skip into informative and entertaining set pieces that imbue a game with atmosphere.
In the case of The Taken King, it really helps bring the characters to life. Last year they unfortunately felt like staid puppets that did little other than sit in the tower doling out missions, and the occasional piece of advice. This time out they really have substance, and indeed even a bit of panache about them. As you can probably tell, I'm quite enthused about this aspect of the game, and for good reason. The Taken King now has a real personality about it – I feel like I'm going on missions for good reason, and I have better understanding about what I'm doing and why. They're definitely not just exercises, as they often felt last year.
So far, based on my experiences with the game, The Taken King has built on what Destiny 1.0 offered and has smoothed out many of its rough edges. The game now feels more expansive, varied and interesting. Its characters are deeper, have personality, and are generally more engaging. Its storyline feels like a grand adventure, rather than a series of encounters with an enemy that I don't necessarily understand, and for reasons I don't really care about.
What a difference a year makes.