Destiny: The Taken King review – Take me now, don’t be gentle

Destiny The Taken King wallpaperAs we have not yet got an official review for Destiny this will count as both a review for Destiny and it’s DLC: The Taken King. Version played: PS4.

Destiny is a game which has impressed me, I think that’s safe to say. Released during the Dark Days of 2014, the first full year following the release of the new generation of consoles. It was released during a time when games were being released to try and make use of all the improved hardware of the new generation and everything went badly wrong for everyone, we had the horror of always-online Titanfall (does anyone still play Titanfall incidentally?), we had video gaming’s mostly highly anticipated 7/10 Watch_Dogs and this isn’t even mentioning the shambles of exclusives for the consoles that year Sunset Overdrive (lulsorandum) and Knack (wow, has THAT got shitty reviews). It was during these days of strife and turmoil that Bungie, developers of Halo, said that they were making what was essentially an “FPSMMO” that looked, well, quite a lot like Halo. I will admit right now, I thought it would get reasonable reviews, people would reach max level and then everyone would be over it in a few months.

So, Destiny impressed me right off the bat by actually NOT dying in the first few months of its life. So, y’know, that’s a pretty good start. Admittedly this was also during a time when pretty much all the reviews complained that it was a pretty merciless grind and that Bungie tried to excuse themselves by insisting that the real game started once you reached level 20 (the level cap at the time) because of all of the end-game content they had provided. As I recall this was actually fairly true to the extent that I recall at least one or two sites saying that the end-game content of Destiny WAS quite good, but all of this only made me scoff harder.

Then Tim bought the game and said it was really, really good. So, naturally I had to do a double-take, re-evaluate my position, and then decide that because I didn’t have a new-gen console, I still didn’t care…

Since its release, however, Destiny has done more than just impress Tim and actually seems to have been going from strength to strength. Already there have been three fairly major expansions: The Dark Below, The House of Wolves and now the brand new The Taken King. Each has been rather favourably received and because of this constant influx of new content it would appear that Bungie are doing well to keep their previously existing player-base. Better than that too, they expand upon it by offering each new expansion at around market price, with everything else prior to it absolutely dirt cheap. For me, I finally gave in to the insistence of several of my friends and requested the game for Christmas, surprised at just how cheap it actually was.

In Destiny you take on the role of an unknown Guardian who is raised from the dead by a tiny robot called a Ghost (with, in theory, many hundreds of Guardians all raised by different Ghosts) who also acts as your guide. Apparently you are now one of the last defenders of the human city called… The City… Which is situated underneath a gigantic floating metal sphere called The Traveller. The City is the social hub of the game. Or at least, the area you can travel to is. Called “The Tower”, just one part of “The City”, it is located on a place called “The Country” which is a smaller part of “The Continent” on “The Planet”. Yea, it’s a stupid fucking name…

The Traveler is also a giant fuck-off orb. I mean, it looks cool and all, but forgive me if I don't immediately put a lot of faith in its ability to protect me.
The Traveler is also a giant fuck-off orb. I mean, it looks cool and all, but forgive me if I don’t immediately put a lot of faith in its ability to protect me.

Supposedly the Traveler is what raised humanity to the state of interstellar travel and is a being of “light”, however, in escaping to Earth it also drew a malevolent force called The Darkness which has resulted in a gigantic war at some point in the distant past, ending humanity’s “Golden Age” and confining them to this one city still protected by the dormant Traveler. Now the peoples of the City are clinging on to survival by their very fingernails as the Darkness gets ever closer with the Traveller dormant and so the Guardians must set out to fight back the Darkness and protect the City.

Now, this is pretty much all explained at the start of the game, more or less anyway, and then you are sent out from the City to various different locales including Earth, Mars, Venus and the Moon, in order to fight various different species of enemies whilst trying to aid the Traveler. Then in the various expansions you also fight notable enemies of these species leading up to The Taken King (which is the largest of the expansions thus far) in which you are directed to fight Oryx, the King of the Taken.

Story-wise, Destiny is an absolute mess. While you are eventually told that you have been resurrected to fight for the Traveler, there is never any real clear motivation behind your actions other than “that is what you are being told to do”. This leads to an incredible detachment from pretty much everyone involved in the game because you barely know why you are there and who you are, let alone who everyone else is. Combine this with the fact that Destiny primarily uses MMO-style quest text for most of its missions and it’s really very easy to make your way through the entire game without knowing who the hell any of the “major” characters are and why you should care about them. Equally you barely know anything about yourself or why are so willing to just constantly throw yourself into danger for people you do not know.

Your enemy is likewise hardly characterised beyond names. You are told at the start that the enemy is “the Darkness” and then you quickly end up fighting The Fallen. With rather thematically similar names I quickly assumed that the Fallen were foot-soldiers of the Darkness, but apparently this isn’t exactly the case. In fact all of the races you fight, the robot Vex, the hulking Cabal, the “necessary” zombies of the Hive and the eventual wraith-like Taken all will spend as much time fighting each other, when in close proximity, as they will fighting you. So without any actual physical presence, The Darkness itself never really seems like an antagonist in the game. It never threatens or looms or even does anything, and instead you spend all your time fighting what I still assume (but could be wrong in doing so) are its minions.

On the bright side, each enemy seems to have a fairly distinct personality, which is pretty cool.
On the bright side, each enemy seems to have a fairly distinct personality, which is pretty cool.

Worse of all, the only reason it has become clear to me that these are all really just varying factions and servants of the Darkness was that I looked it up on the Destiny wiki. This is actually one of my core complaints with the game, it has a real problem with any form of exposition or actual story-telling beyond the occasional direction from your Ghost. It does not tell you who you are fighting, why, who you are fighting for, or indeed who YOU are. As well as this there is an exceptionally poor level of progression through the story to the extent that while I remember what you are after in the main campaign, I don’t remember how you achieve it even slightly.

Just to prove how much it hates characters of any actual substance, you are often tailed by another mysterious Guardian who appears in the distance a couple of times, only for her to appear at the end of the game, tell you that the battle is not over and then vanish. Perhaps she will be used in some future expansion, but as it is, I could not tell you why she was in the game at all…

Bizarrely the exact opposite is true of The Taken King. Interspersed by a few swift cut-scenes and information from a few key sources and suddenly it is very clear exactly who you are fighting and why. You are fighting Oryx and his army of Taken who will consume the Galaxy if you don’t, because you killed his son, Crota, in a previous expansion. As well as this, every step of the short story follows up from the previous one and just seems to make sense. It’s quick, clear and concise, and is everything the main game is not.

On the other hand, Destiny does have some other things going for it. First off, as a “next-gen” title, it looks great. Admittedly there is something a little hollow about staring out across some of the magnificent skyboxes, knowing that you will traverse absolutely none of them. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s rather pretty. The maps also are rather well designed in that there seems to be tonnes of nooks and crannies to explore in every one, hiding the fact that each map is actually rather small and enclosed. It makes it seem larger than it is due to the clever design.

Oooo puurty graffics.
Oooo puurty graffics.

The real reason Destiny has continued to enjoy success, however, is that it is simply such great fun to play. Bungie learned a lot from practically exclusively making FPSes since their founding, and the years spent making Halo have honed them into a finely-tuned FPS-making weapon.

The combat is fast and aggressive, a little more reminiscent of Borderlands than Halo, but it still has that weight and sense of power that I sometimes felt was lacking in Borderlands. The Guardians feel somewhere in-between the mad dashing speeds of Borderlands and the more cumbersome and heavy run of the walking tanks that are Spartans. The powers also add a surprising amount of variety, despite only three classes with three skill trees each, they can all be modified to fit your specifications and so actually it feels like the simplicity of the class system is at least partly superficial. Guns feel like they pack a substantial punch and act in a way that is inherently pleasing, even if I can’t really formulate why exactly they feel quite so good.

Plus, on top of all of this, it naturally goes without saying that the inclusion of jet packs makes everything better, and it is no exception here. While the maps may be relatively small, the jet packs make them seem a lot bigger and lot more interesting to navigate. Plus, it gives you that extra sense of speed and agility.

Where the soul of Destiny truly lies though is in its end-game content. Bungie said this from day one and it appears that they are holding true to that. I would say though, the path to reaching level 40 was in no-way the merciless grind I thought it would be. In fact, simple progression through the main story and all of the major expansion quests is more than enough to get you most of the way there. However, that aside, the end game is still supposed to be all-important.

At level 40 you still have additional quests you can be getting on with on your own time, but it is at this point that it becomes much more like an MMO. You spend the early stages doing low level “Strikes”, 3-player missions which allow you to start getting loot to gradually gear up for the harder heroic versions of the Strikes. Then come Nightfalls, special hard-mode strikes, and finally the 6-man raids.

While you will spend much of your time playing the missions equivalent to your item level (or Light level) the use of item “engrams” which can drop from basically anyone is actually a surprisingly decent mechanic that means you can actually gear up simply by grinding quests or even doing the PVP Crucible (which, incidentally, is fantastic fun and is the most amusing time I’ve had in a multiplayer FPS since Halo).

The missions themselves, well, they can be fairly hit and miss. The Nightfalls seem really good, primarily because they are difficult even for extremely highly-geared players and so there is a real element of tension in playing them. Low level (level 36 strikes) are stunningly easy however, and some of them can be rather boring as well (fucking Omnigul, man). This means that the heroic versions of them just remove the simple easy-killing and make life just frustrating in playing them. In fact, grinding strikes feels a lot more of a grind than any of the levelling up did.

On the bright side though, the end-product is worth it. Unfortunately there is currently only one level 40 raid: King’s Fall (and this is the only one I’ve played), but it is actually remarkably good fun. Not only are the bosses the ideal mixture of difficult but achievable, but they are also interspersed with stretches of maze-like jumping puzzles. While I may be seeing this through the rose-tinted goggles of someone who has only played through it once, I have to say, that the jumping puzzles actually felt just about as amusing as the bosses, and really made great use of Destiny’s maneuverable characters. I think it is no small compliment that I have not enjoyed raids as much since the highlight of my WotLK days.

I will say I did eventually defeat Oryx. And it. Was. AWESOME.
I will say I did eventually defeat Oryx.
And it. Was. AWESOME.

As it stands, Destiny really is an excellent game, easily worth your time in both playing through the lower levels all the way up to the top tier raids. As well as this it only has the promise to keep getting better and keep churning out content, so it is not only worth getting now but almost certainly will continue to be worth getting for some time to come.

Rating: B+

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