DAY THREE (Morning)
One thing I should mention is that I've been playing The Taken King solo. I've enjoyed it greatly, but there have definitely been situations where I'd like to have been part of a fire team to tackle some of the tougher encounters. Not because they're that hard, but more for the fun of playing co-operatively.
Still, despite the challenge of playing solo, I think the difficulty is gauged about right for single players. I've definitely gone up against a few boss-type characters that have soaked up a large amount of bullets and quite a few lives before I've been able to best them, but nothing that I've felt was unfair or overly difficult. Indeed, I've enjoyed finding creative solutions to beat some of the more challenging boss fights, using cover and hit-and-run tactics to work through some of the tougher situations.
In that sense, I think The Taken King is pretty well designed. Most encounters work largely the same as the original Destiny, but they're just a little more refined and have more variety. Sure, there are plenty of familiar elements, and some of the bosses still feel like bullet sponges, but for the most part they're less so than Destiny 1.0.
I think Bungie has found a good balance between giving existing players more of what they want – after all, despite some criticism about the original release, Destiny has been a huge success – while listening to some of that feedback and acting upon it to bring in new elements to mix up the gameplay and broaden its appeal. The Taken King definitely looks, plays and feels like classic Destiny, but its fundamentals have been fettled to make the game more appealing to players like me, who tried it out last year, but never stuck with it. Those tweaks are largely quite subtle, but they're certainly enough for me to look upon the game far more favorably, as I'm sure you can tell by my review so far.
A case in point: something I criticized vanilla Destiny for last year was that many of its encounters often felt like attrition – largely created by unimaginative enemy AI. You'd encounter situations where you'd essentially dig in, and use just a few safe-ish spots to fire endless rounds at the enemy until you'd finally killed everything. This time out, the enemy AI seems to be a lot more varied and intelligent. It's still not absolutely outstanding, but in making the Taken more interesting to fight, and giving them different kinds of behavior patterns, you end up having to be a little more mobile and improvisational than the last time out. Sure, there are still one or two boss fights where I've pretty much cheesed the AI, but I've generally had to be far more creative in my efforts to down monsters than last year. At least, that certainly feels the case.
Because of that, I've enjoyed encounters a lot more. They've felt more dynamic and have tested me in a more rounded way than last year, which often felt more like battles of endurance. I've had a few runs that have been quite tense and (literally) gripping. One (without giving away any spoilers) involved working my way into a heavily-defended enemy emplacement to find an item, and then escaping from it by running out. Well, I tried running out, but it turned out to not be a particularly good idea, and after dying, I ended up strategically running and gunning through the alerted enemy defenses. It was pretty tough and hectic, but had just the right pacing to feel stressful in a good way. I noticed that by the end of the run – which involved a rather tricky boss that kept spawning minor critters that I had to deal with – my hands were aching from holding the controller so tightly. I consider that a mark of a good game: it sucked me into the action so well that I wasn't thinking about anything else other than the immediate task in hand. Very good stuff!
Another series of encounters involved working through three rooms of increasing difficulty. Many of the enemies I encountered had pretty devastating long-range capabilities, so there was a lot of maneuvering to get rid of the lower-level threats that were charging at me, while dealing with the longer-range menace. Again, I had to be very strategic and methodical in terms of what I was doing, using cover and the occasional hit-and-run tactics to pick up ammo to prevent myself from running out.
Speaking of which, limited-supply ammo has always been a particular bugbear of mine. I'm generally not particularly enamored with the mechanic of running out of ammo, but The Taken King seems to be reasonably well balanced in that sense. I've had situations where it's been touch-and-go with low ammo supplies, but for the most part drops are frequent enough that as long as you're not spraying bullets everywhere, you're supplied with sufficient ammo to get the job done, even if you occasionally have to run into the thick of things to go pick it up.
DAY THREE (Early Afternoon)
I took a bit of a break just now to try some PvP, and, as I knew I would, I had a huge amount of fun. As I mentioned at the start of this review, this is the only aspect of the game that kept me coming back during its first year, and after my session just now, regardless of how I end up feeling about the PvE endgame, I'm certain I'll be returning regularly to engage in some PvP.
The game remains very fast and slightly unforgiving. Having put a lot of time into Call of Duty: Black Ops III beta recently, I do miss the death cam, which is a great way of learning how an enemy killed you – and teaches you how you might avoid a similar death in the future. I wish The Taken King had something similar. Sometimes you just get on the end of an insto-WTF death, and I'd love to know what weapon the person is wielding, or how they exactly managed to what seems like one-shot you.
I played the new Rift mode, which is a capture the flag style scenario where instead of a flag, you're carrying a spark taken from a single central location that takes time to charge up. It's straightforward enough, and if you've played capture the flag games before, you'll feel right at home. What works here is that because there's essentially just one flag, it focuses the fight in one area, and that makes games particularly exciting, since you're essentially fighting over a resource.
It’s funny. Yesterday, I was musing about the new specials and the fact that I didn't really know how good the Warlock and Titan's were, but after my quick PvP session, now I know. The Warlock's is pretty powerful, but the Titan's new hammer melee/ranged attack seems a little overpowered. I got nailed several times without being able to do much about it. Perhaps I was just up against decent players, but it definitely seems like the hammer is a bit more of a "win" button than my bow in clutch shootout situations.
Still, apart from that minor complaint, PvP remains solid, and in many respects, feels like business as usual. This is an area of the game I had few complaints about before, and it seems that Bungie has taken the approach that it wasn't broken and so it didn't need fixing. All the team has essentially done is add new maps and modes and let the players have at it. A good move as far as I'm concerned.