For most of last year, Destiny players have been spurred by hope and riled by impatience. We held out hope that this flawed but promising game would draw closer to its potential, despite our impatience with the sluggish pace of improvements.
“Why do you even play Destiny?” a friend or acquaintance might ask, setting down his beer and giving us an eyebrow. “Isn’t it repetitive and grindy? Isn’t the story bad? Isn’t it all just kind of a mess?”
Yes, yes, we would reply. Yes, it is repetitive, and yes, it can be dull. Yes, the story is nonsense. Yes, we would admit, it is all just kind of a mess. Nobody knows that more than the people who play it.
And then we would launch into an explanation of all the things Destiny got right—the perfect controls, the nifty guns, the way alien heads pop like plastic bubble-wrap. We’d talk about the friends we’d made over the last year, and the virtual adventures we’d had alongside them. We’d talk about the crazy cheeses and the crowdsourced cheats and the long, arduous road to Mercury and how somewhere along the line, playing this maddening, joyful, problem-riddled game started to feel like being part of something. And we’d add, ostensibly as a declaration to our friend but really as an assurance to ourselves, that we had faith things would get better.
“Okay, that all sounds good,” our unconvinced friend would say, eyebrow still cocked. “I guess maybe it’s just not for me.”
After that, we’d usually just let it lie. We’d had this conversation enough times to know that our friend was probably right. It hasn’t always been easy to love Destiny.
With the new Taken King expansion, that conversation has changed. The developers at Bungie have improved and expanded Destiny on every front.
I’ve spent the last two weeks obsessively playing and have yet to run out of things to do: I’ve defeated dozens of other players in the competitive Crucible arena; I’ve braved tremendous hidden challenges and earned mysterious secret guns; I’ve fallen asleep while farming crafting materials in Russia. I’ve defeated the final boss twice: Once on the first day I started playing, and once after spending five long nights conquering the tremendous new King’s Fall Raid. (Hope you don’t think you really killed him the first time around.)
Throughout all of that, my Destiny friends and I kept repeating the same thing, out loud, over and over again: “I can’t believe how much better this is.” Destiny has been following a steady upward trajectory for a while now, but given what a mess the game was at various points during the last 12 months, most of us didn’t expect that a single expansion could improve things as thoroughly as The Taken King has.While I have always recommended people play Destiny, my recommendation now comes with significantly fewer caveats.
Where does one even begin to describe a game like Destiny? We could say it takes place in our own solar system, some time in the future. We could describe the game’s basic narrative premise as this: After making contact with a moon-shaped, otherworldly intelligence known as the Traveler, humankind ushered in a great age of peace, prosperity, and scientific progress. Humans terraformed and colonized the other planets in our galaxy, life expectancy went through the roof, and everything was pretty much awesome. Then a vague evil force known as the Darkness attacked and the Traveler (apparently?) died, leading to an apocalyptic event known as The Fall.
The good guys lost everything and nearly everyone, and survivors sought shelter under the shadow of the now-dead Traveler in a place on Earth called the Last City. The player, inhabiting the body of a powerful, supernaturally enhanced warrior called a Guardian, is tasked with going out and fighting the Darkness by shooting a bunch of things and gradually earning better and better pants.
The Taken King is the third expansion for Destiny, following The Dark Below last December and House of Wolves last May. It marks the start of Destiny’s second year, and arrives just in time to spritz the brow of a game that desperately needed a little freshening up.
Here are some of the notable additions:
• A new, non-bad story campaign that tells the tale of your fight with a big-horned growl factory named Oryx. The story spans eight initial chapters and then sprawls outward into the game’s open “patrol” zones, periodically doling out another ten or so missions before reaching its conclusion in the new six-player “King’s Fall” raid.
• A bunch of new endgame challenges to tackle after the story is complete: There are three new three-player strikes (four for PlayStation owners) along with remixed versions of several old strikes. There’s the aforementioned raid. There are also a variety of challenging quests that reward players with unique exotic items. Some of these have proven too difficult for most players to complete; others have still not been discovered.
• An overhauled quest interface that makes it much easier to keep track of a greater number of tasks and bounties at once. You can track major quests and check your progress on various missions by pulling up your Ghost buddy. Some of these quests are much better than others—more on that in a bit—but in general the system is a big improvement.
• A way better loot and leveling system that makes it easier for players to advance by simply playing the game. It’s sort of like the old system in that your character’s real progress is determined by gear rather then experience level, but now, just about any weapon or armor piece can help you out in some way. The new light system, combined with the clever new system for upgrading your gear, makes it possible for anyone to get to a high enough level to check out everything the game has to offer.
• Three new subclasses, one for each of the game’s three base classes. Each one substantially affects strategy in both Player vs. Environment (PvE) missions and Player vs. Player (PvP) matches.
• Three new PvP modes and eight new maps, along with a significant weapon rebalancing. Most year-one weapons and armor have been “left behind” and cannot be leveled like year-two stuff, with only a handful of exotic-tier items making the jump to year two. That means players have to essentially start their collection over from scratch, but it also means that the woefully stale “meta”—video game slang for the game behind the game, in this case referring to the strongest and most ubiquitous gear—has been given a nice firm shake-up.
• A simplified and more player-friendly economy. Not that it’s “simple” by any means.
If you’d asked a Destiny player last July what Bungie needed to change or fix about Destiny, they would’ve probably compiled an obvious list: The story needs to be better; the leveling system needs to be more accessible; players should feel more rewarded for playing; Crucible weapon balance needs an overhaul. And while Bungie has certainly addressed all of those problems, The Taken King is just as defined by the dozens of small changes that we didn’t ask for.
Consider this, for example: Daily story missions and Crucible challenges can now only be completed once per account. At first this feels like an omission—one of the best ways to get cool gear in the past was to do those things three times a day, once per character—but in practice, it’s a huge improvement that has reduced the built-in Destiny grind and left us freer to focus on other, more enjoyable activities.
Many of the game’s other small tweaks, like the streamlining of “marks” to a single account-wide currency, seemed questionable at first but have led to a significantly less grindy game. In the past, the hardcore Destiny player would need to juggle three characters to optimize loot gains—today, that’s not necessary. With The Taken King, players will find themselves switching between characters not so they can min-max rewards but because the new subclasses are a lot of fun.
The weekly Nightfall challenge no longer grants a temporary XP bonus, which removes the built-in pressure we once had to complete it on all three of our characters before doing anything else in a given week. Weapon reforging is gone, and with that, a great burden has been lifted—no longer will every gun be accompanied by the niggling feeling that if you just went back to the slot machine, you might get a more perfect combination of stats and perks.
Given how much crap we’ve given Bungie over the last year for their various poor decisions, it’s reassuring to see them come up with solutions for things we didn’t even realize were problems. Turns out these guys know what they’re doing, after all. It’s almost like they made this game.
When asked by Game Informer magazine whether The Taken King would feature some sort of dramatic narrative twist, director Luke Smith smiled and replied, “The twist is that there’s a story. We’re trying something different.” He was joking, but he wasn’t kidding: One of the most significant improvements The Taken King offers over year-one Destiny is the fact that it has a story in the first place.
The Taken King picks up just after the events of the expansions, each of which had their own rudimentary narratives. In the first expansion, The Dark Below, we all killed a Hive demigod named Crota. Now we get to fight his dad, Oryx, another god-ish-type being whose signature move is “taking” other sentient beings and converting them into self-replicating soldiers in his own zombie army. They then become Taken. He’s their king. Get it?
Oryx and his moon-sized ship, The H.M.S. Dreadnaught, materialize near Saturn and commence a full-scale invasion of our solar system. This aggression will not stand, and your character becomes the tip of the spear in a desperate counteroffensive.
You’re guided on your adventure by a small cadre of commanders who sound eerily like beloved TV personalities, including Lance Reddick as a stern military tactician, Gina Torres as an introspective warrior-scholar, and Nathan Fillion as a scenery chewing robo-man who’s spent the last twelve months rewatching Firefly and working on his Malcolm Reynolds impression.
The actors—Fillion in particular—deserve heaps of credit for making the new story missions far more fun than anything we’ve seen in Destiny up to now, but the improved script deserves recognition as well. Year-one Destiny featured the same murderer’s row of vocal talent, but somehow managed to squander it. (When you’ve got an actor as appealing as Nathan Fillion and you’ve buried him so deeply that most people don’t even realize he’s in the game, you’ve done something wrong.)
The other standout performance comes from veteran voice actor Nolan North in the role of your companion Ghost. North is stepping in to pinch-hit after Bungie recast and subsequently deleted Peter Dinklage’s famously mediocre performance from year one. North’s chatty, deliberately nervous take on Ghost gets better as The Taken King progresses, but in truth, he won me over from the very first moments of the game:
It’s after the “final boss” that The Taken King gets interesting. With Oryx vanquished, you’re given a number of quests that you can tackle at your leisure. Destiny’s familiar patrol zones on Earth, the Moon, Mars, and Venus have been overrun by the Taken invasion, and you’ll have to dispatch to those planets to lend a hand. Most of these quests amount to “go to X place and kill X monsters,” but experienced together they paint a convincing enough picture of a star system under siege.
It is also at this point that, for better or worse, The Taken King begins to lean heavily on co-operative play. The patrol subquests can be a real chore to complete solo, and generally seem designed for teams of two or three players to complete. Sometimes you’ll have to scour a region for elusive commanders before you’ll trigger the boss you need to fight; fail to kill them quickly enough and you’ll have to wait fifteen minutes for the event to start again.
After completing a patrol step or two, you’ll find yourself going off on additional missions, most of which remix locations from The Taken King and the rest of year-one Destiny. These missions are terrific—if difficult enough that they essentially require you to bring backup—and include some of the most interesting single-serving challenges in all of Destiny. Highlights include a horror-tinged spelunking expedition through the basements of the Russian Cosmodrome, a death defying plunge into the depths of the Vault of Glass, and a tangential but no less welcome epilogue for the story and characters featured in House of Wolves.
Destiny’s fundamentals remain as solid as ever. The control scheme is still immaculate, with double-taps and button-holds linking up under your fingers like eighth notes and dotted quarters. The high-jumps are still pleasingly acrobatic, carefully calibrated to help players bob and weave between arcing, colorful blasts of incoming enemy fire. The Hunter’s backhanded knife-thrust remains one of the best melee attacks in any video game. (The Titan’s sad T-Rex flail remains one of the worst.)
The impact and rhythm of combat continues to be significantly enhanced by Bungie’s world-class sound design. A punch sounds like a frickin’ punch and a gunshot sounds like a frickin’ gunshot. The rending shriek as a batch of Taken pours through a wormhole sits comfortably beside the multiphonic battle-screams of a Cabal centurion; the retro power-pulse of a Hereafter sniper rifle plays counterpoint to Hawkmoon’s exclamatory pop and Telesto’s firework crackle.
New additions to the arsenal are, so far, welcome. Destiny’s second year has a newfound focus on in-game gun manufacturers, meaning that once you know the make of a given weapon, you can assume a fair bit about it. Suros™ scopes look a certain way and Omolon™ scopes another; Hakke™ pulse rifles kick left and fire four bullets per burst; and so on.
Forget all that shit, though—players can also craft and equip swords. “Swords?” you may have just sputtered, dotting your computer monitor with flecks of spittle. “Who would use a sword in a gun game like Destiny?”
The answer is: Pretty much everyone, because Destiny’s swords are great. What could have been a stunt weapon is instead deadly and versatile enough to play a crucial role in high-level strikes and raids. There are few things as satisfying as closing with a pissed-off alien and finishing it off by whipping out a friggin’ lightning sword.
In addition to all that new gear, there are three new subclasses to play around with. Titans have the new Sunbreaker class, which gives them a collection of hilariously overpowered explosive fire abilities. Warlocks get the new Stormcaller class, a well-rounded offensive setup best suited to cleaning up mobs of numerous but lower-level foes. Hunters can now become Nightstalkers, a class that comes with a fascinating collection of fresh abilities including an enhanced radar, a purple bow-and-arrow that suppresses and slows down enemies, and a “Ninja vanish!” smoke bomb that lets players Batman their way out of hairy situations.
The Taken King’s encounters have gotten a substantial re-invigoration to match the new player abilities and arsenal. Story missions feature jumping challenges, locked door puzzles, and countdown timers, all of which make the first set of missions feel more like a “proper” story campaign and less like the repetitive fight-off-waves shindig that vanilla Destiny used so often.
The new three-player cooperative Strikes sit one level of complexity above the story missions, introducing yet more co-op mechanics. A couple of the new strikes require enough teamwork that they feel almost like mini-raids. Thanks to the strikes’ built-in matchmaking, it is technically possible to play them with strangers. Most of them, however—in particular the terrific but complicated PlayStation-exclusive Echo Chamber—flirt a bit too saucily with requiring players to get on the mic and talk things through.
Players have already begun to balk at the prospect of playing these missions with “randoms,” and it can be hard to get through the more challenging heroic strikes without your teammates deciding to bail and go do something else. It sucks when it happens, but given how frustrating some of the bosses can be for groups of strangers, it’s understandable.
The new open-ended patrol zone on Oryx’s Dreadnaught also features its share of complex mechanics and hidden secrets. Just yesterday—after two weeks of non-stop Destiny exploration and play—I learned of a new trick that involves simultaneously scanning two different terminals, opening a door and summoning a unique boss to fight. Beat the boss, and you get a unique emblem to wear around. That emblem tells a little story: “Check me out, I know about the thing with the panels.”
In another part of the ship, I found a locked chest that shared only the prompt “A scent is the key.” I learned that if I went and sat in a small room nearby, I would eventually be granted a short-term buff called “Scent of the Worm.” (Ew.) If I could sprint back to the locked chest before the timer expired, I’d be able to open it.
At the center of the Dreadnaught lies a small arena called the Court of Oryx, where visitors will often see players congregating and fighting. In this court, players can use consumable runes to summon bosses, who wander through a portal just so you can kill them. Seems like a raw deal for the monsters in question, but it’s pretty great for Destiny players.
Each boss has some sort of distinct mechanic that you have to get around in order to deal damage—one guy is only vulnerable if you clear out his minions, a pair of knights can only be damaged if you get them close to one another, etc. For the most part, these fights work well with strangers, but there are some top-tier boss battles that require coordination among four or more players, which makes it particularly frustrating that your fireteam is capped at three.
The most challenging Court of Oryx encounter so far has been a redux of the climactic fight at the end of the Crota’s End raid from The Dark Below. The original incarnation of that fight was designed with six players in mind, so the new version does a good job of underlining how beneficial six-person fireteams would be. It also encapsulates how thoroughly The Taken King eclipses Destiny’s preceding expansions: The Dark Below’s climactic showdown is reduced to a mere cameo.
All of the new abilities, weapons, items, combat arenas, boss mechanics, and secret challenges collide in the new King’s Fall raid, and oh, what a collision it is. Stringently designed to be conquered only by a team of six players working in close communication, King’s Fall represents the current pinnacle of Bungie’s co-op design ethos. It’s a hell of an accomplishment.
Destiny’s previous two raids—the terrific Vault of Glass and the flawed-but-sometimes-super-fun Crota’s End—ranked among the most challenging and rewarding things I’d ever undertaken in a video game. King’s Fall absorbs and obliterates them both. Its nine distinct challenges include a poison-room relay race, a boss fight that’s part rock concert and part deadly game of Simon, a twisting labyrinth with a mysterious secret, a tour of the Destiny equivalent of a TIE-Fighter manufacturing plant, and a jumping puzzle that recalls nothing so much as Super Mario Bros. It all culminates in a kick-ass boss fight that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling here. The King’s Fall raid is the new bar to which Destiny’s other endgame activities must aspire.
Destiny’s PvP got off to a slow start for me last year—at first, the most remarkable thing about the Crucible was how seamlessly it was folded in with the PvE elements of the game. It was enough for me to say, “Hmm, this could be cool,” before steadfastly ignoring it for seven months.
It wasn’t until the House of Wolves expansion that I finally took the PvP plunge. In the months since then, I’ve slowly morphed from curious newcomer to Crucible obsessive, able to talk endlessly about the difference between Shot Package and Rangefinder and why you should always cap C on Blind Watch. My skill has risen accordingly: I’ve gone from Embarrassingly Bad to Just Sort Of Bad to I Have My Moments.
Above: I will take literally any opportunity to put this gif in a Kotaku article.
The Taken King expands and refines on Destiny’s PvP in a number of welcome ways while unfortunately failing to manage the two or three improvements that would elevate the game to multiplayer greatness. Specifically, weapon balance is still a bit off, there are still no custom private matches, and far too many contests are negatively affected by lag.
The new maps are a hoot, for the most part—the wide-open Crossroads map has you leaping into man-cannons that fling you across chasms, while Vertigo has you navigating floating platforms and narrow hallway killzones. Memento is a camp-fest of bombed out buildings and tight alleyways that seems like it will be either awful or fantastic when the intense Trials of Osiris tournament returns, and The Drifter mixes tight hallways with a wide-open central room, with dead Guardians floating around in zero-G.
The new competitive mode Zone Control is an interesting spin on Control that only gives points for held ground; it requires a significant recalibration after months and months of standard Control, where you get points for kills. I could see it becoming a great challenge for coordinated teams. Mayhem mode, meanwhile, gives everyone constant super abilities and grenades, which turns each match into an explosion-fest that is equal parts cathartic, entertaining, and stupid.
I’m not quite sold on the much vaunted new Rift mode, which has players fighting over a “ball” in the middle of the map and then attempting to bum’s rush it into the opponent’s base to score a goal. The idea sounds great on paper, but like a lot of the PvE additions to The Taken King, it seems designed for teams who actually communicate. Playing Rift with randoms can be frustrating—no one ever scores a goal, and each team’s score inches along as the match drags on, and on. That said, any time I’ve gone into a Rift match in a fireteam of three or more, we’ve had a great time.
Destiny’s Crucible has been given a few quests that are similar to the ones in PvE. The intent is to give PvP-focused players similar sorts of long-term goals to work toward. Unfortunately, the introductory Crucible questline woefully fails to live up to its PvE counterparts. In order to unlock weekly Crucible quests—which allegedly pay handsomely upon completion—players must first grind their way through an arduous series of challenges that would take even a skilled player more than a dozen hours to complete.
This introductory Crucible quest requires an appalling amount of repetition and far too many steps require a set number of team victories—as opposed to individual performance or participation—which incentivizes players to leave losing matches in order to save time. The quest further cuts itself off at the knees by requiring players to do each step in order—first you have to get two wins in Control, then Rift, then Skirmish, and so on. My friends and I are all on different steps, so we’re forced to go play separately rather than teaming up to get it done together. As a first step toward the Questification of Crucible, it’s a serious stumble.
The new 2.0 weapon rebalancing has been largely effective—at least for now, until some other crazy combo emerges—and as a result Crucible matches are more dynamic and exciting than they have been in ages. For the bulk of last summer, Destiny PvP risked being crushed under the weight of its suffocating metagame. Players figured out and equipped the most powerful weapons and re-rolled guns for the best perks, creating an army of identical fighters wielding identical (and identically annoying) guns.
That stale meta has been shattered, at least in the short term, particularly when it comes to primary guns. In particular, the much-hated gun Thorn, which notably did not get a year-two version, has all but vanished from the Crucible entirely.
There are still some problems to iron out—in particular, Shotguns are still overpowered, and I still see the same cocky motherfuckers rolling around each match with a shotty, sniping people at ridiculous range. But for the most part, each weapon feels appropriate for its stated role.
If you’re being outgunned, it’s likely because you’ve engaged with an opponent on terms that favor their weapon. A pulse rifle will beat an auto rifle at mid-range, but will lose to a scout rifle at anything longer. A hand cannon will destroy a scout rifle up close, but stands no chance at range. There is—as yet—no one gun for all occasions, meaning that you’ll have to adjust both your loadout and your tactics to be most effective on the battlefield. One can hope that Bungie will take a lesson from last summer and be quicker to address weapon balance in the future, but for the time being, the existing rebalance is a strong start.
Lag and connectivity problems continue to be the primary issues holding Destiny PvP back from greatness, and it’s disappointing that The Taken King hasn’t done more to improve things. I still regularly run into “red bar” players with (apparently) shitty connections teleporting around the map, and I still empty clips into lag-figments that are no longer standing where I’m shooting. If Bungie can truly address Destiny’s often disastrous lag—and add player-defined custom matches to the mix—they could have a genuine PvP classic on their hands. The game is already so close to that endpoint that it’s all the more frustrating seeing these same lingering problems holding it back.
I remain a steadfast proponent of playing Destiny for fun. That’s as opposed to playing the game for loot, which can quickly become a driving motivation in any game like this. When I’m teaming up with my friends and cracking jokes while shotgunning aliens in the face, I’m a happy camper. When I’m grimly farming the same three enemies over and over to finish out a bounty, it’s time to take a break.
The closer Bungie can get to making “playing for fun” and “playing for loot” indistinguishable from one another, the better a job they’ll have done realizing Destiny’s full potential. In this respect, The Taken King is a significant step forward. Not only does the game constantly rain new guns and armor on players, Bungie has doubled down on some of the most rewarding ideas in year-one Destiny with terrific results.
In Destiny’s first year, most of the best exotic-tier weapons could be obtained in one of two ways. You could either score them in a random drop from a chest, boss, or strike, or you could wait until the weekend vendor Xur turned up with the weapon in stock and buy it from him. Xur only sold one gun at a time, so when he turned up with a weapon he’d never offered before, there would always be some grumbling from the people who already had it. “Great,” they would say, “now everyone will have one.”
This stemmed from an irrational but no less prevalent feeling that the people who bought the gun from a store were somehow less deserving than the people who “earned” it in the wild, despite the fact that “earning” a rare gun in Destiny simply means being lucky enough to have it drop at the end of a mission.
It was a silly and contrary mindset, but nonetheless pervasive—I know that when Xur finally sold Gjallarhorn a few weeks after I finally got one, I felt a twinge of disappointment. I had been proud of owning the gun, despite having nothing to be proud of but my own dumb luck. It was a twisted-up and stupid way to feel, but there it was.
There were five exceptions to that status quo: a five-pack of exotic guns that could only be earned through long quest chains called exotic bounties. These guns could never drop from bosses or strikes, and instead had to be earned through often arduous, multi-step challenges. The toughest of these was the powerful pistol Thorn, which required players to play well in Crucible with specific weapons or else risk losing progress and resetting themselves back to zero. When I finally completed the Thorn bounty, I realized that against my initial expectations, it was actually brilliant—a toothy challenge that rewarded players with a cool weapon that doubled as a badge of honor for everyone to see. If you had a Thorn, you really did earn it. Every other player with it had earned theirs, too.
The Taken King expands on that concept by offering a number of challenging, multi-step quests that eventually reward players with the coolest, most distinctive guns in the game. I’ve already completed a number of these quests, and the weapons that you earn—actually earn—are a terrific reward for a job well done.
I earned the slug-throwing shotgun The Chaperone by consistently playing well in Crucible and beating an extremely difficult modified strike. I’m about to earn the electrified sword Bolt-Caster by defeating a number of increasingly difficult bosses with my puny ordinary sword. (And, okay, I’ve also earned it by slogging through a terrible penultimate step farming crafting materials.) I’m about to earn the ridiculous rifle Touch of Malice after hunting down a ton of hidden fragments on the Dreadnaught and beating an escalating series of PvE challenges. And I earned the sniper rifle Black Spindle by completing an immensely difficult limited-time event that many players were simply unable to get done. When I pull out the Spindle in the field, I feel a small burst of real pride—I really did earn this gun, and anyone who sees me using it knows what it means.
Each of these bounties ably demonstrates how much more rewarding Destiny has become, and there are more we haven’t even discovered yet. The new exotic questlines fit neatly in with the rest of Destiny’s juiced up loot system: You’re constantly getting new gear no matter what you do, so everything in the game becomes much more worth doing. Occasionally, you’ll get lucky and earn something rarer and better than you were expecting, and all the while you’re working through a number of simultaneous challenges that give you specific, explicit payouts.
There are times when the old Destiny returns, of course. Old habits die hard. On The Taken King’s first weekend players discovered that by abusing a new item called the Three of Coins, it was possible to kill a low-level boss over and over, earning a ton of powerful exotic-tier items without breaking much of a sweat. It was tedious and cheesy, but it got the job done.
I tested out the trick for an article I was writing, but found myself indulging in the exploit past the point of mere journalistic curiosity. I entered a trance-like state where I would methodically use the item, then kill the boss, then use the item, then kill the boss… over and over again.
Each time I took stock of my slowly growing haul of new exotics, I realized that I was getting more and more irritable about the whole thing. I’d been having so much fun playing Destiny all week, and this was the opposite of that. Here I was, back at that same slot machine, grinding a boss and hoping that the random number generator wouldn’t screw me over.
It was a sharp reminder of the worst ways I would play Destiny during year one. I was constantly disappointed by what the game gave me, and consequently, I was willing to do all manner of degenerate grinding in the hope of getting something better. With The Taken King, something has changed. For the first time since I can remember, I actually don’t want to exploit Destiny. That may change—we may yet again run out of things to do and resort to creatively breaking the game to get more out of it—but for now, I’m more content than ever to simply play.
Last January, I wrote that Destiny’s biggest flaw was that there simply wasn’t enough to do. Many of the game’s more exploitative and obviously time-wasting systems seemed designed to turn a nine-hour game into a ninety-hour one, and they accomplished their task with dispiriting effectiveness.
With The Taken King, that is no longer the case. There is now almost too much to do in Destiny, and after two weeks of worryingly dedicated play, I’ve only just begun to scrape the bottom.
In that same article, I said that Destiny’s greatest strength was the fact that that despite its problems, it remained essentially fun to play. Bungie had gambled that people wanted this sort of persistent, shared-world shooter, and thanks to their strong fundamental execution, their gamble had paid off. Enough of us were hungry for a game like Destiny that we were willing to overlook its flaws and stick with it.
There, too, my opinion has changed. The Taken King demonstrates that Destiny’s greatest strength is—and likely has always been—its passionate community of players.
Over the past month I’ve often seen people refer to year-one Destiny as a “paid beta.” The implication is that players like me were suckers enough to go along with a cynical ploy to milk us for as much money as possible, voluntarily playing a bad game in order to help Bungie and their publisher Activision re-sell us a better version a year later. The Taken King, this argument asserts, is what Destiny should have been all along.
While part of me understands where those people are coming from, another part of me bristles at their argument. The Taken King could never have sprung fully-formed into the world, and its bevy of small and large improvements could never have manifested without months of noisy feedback from the game’s most devoted players. It is an argument built on fantasy logic that does disservice both to the truth of how people play games and to the truth of how people make them.
Those year-one players were not rubes who went along with a clever marketing scheme; we were passionate fans who played the shit out of a game that we loved. Yes, we often loved it in spite of itself. But we did love it. Year-one Destiny was no beta—it was a fascinating, frustrating, often jubilant and regularly beautiful shared excursion into one of online gaming’s unexplored corners. Judging by the results of its first major overhaul, it was a more successful maiden voyage than we’d realized.
Destiny has largely been defined by the pointy, passionate, often adversarial relationship between its creators and its players. The push and pull between the two has never quite reached an equilibrium, and it likely never will. After a year of missteps and half-recoveries, Bungie has found their firmest footing since last September. The Taken King’s creators have looked their players in the eye and confidently laid down a convincing vision of what Destiny has and will continue to become.
This new status quo is temporary; things will almost certainly change. Bungie will screw up, players will revolt, and whatever precarious peace may have existed will tumble once more into disarray.
For now, though, a moment of relative calm. Destiny’s players and Destiny’s creators both have what they want: A better version of Destiny. Let us enjoy this moment while it lasts, and go forth once more unto the Cosmodrome. These aliens aren’t going to shoot themselves.
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