Destiny: The Taken King makes Shakespeare into a liar, because this erstwhile rose of a game—now going by another name, or at least a subtitle—is finally starting to smell sweet. There are still plenty of thorns, most notably in the laughable matchmaking (or lack thereof, when it comes to end-game raids), but The Taken King manages to address and improve just about every aspect of the original 1.0 release.
To begin with, Destiny now has a story, or at the very least, a clearer presentation. Objectives are no longer simply the filler provided as a mission loads, or presented by the player’s robotic companion, Ghost (now voiced with a bit more indignation by Nolan North), as a palate cleanser between shooting things. Instead, they’re organized and tracked in individual “Quest” chains that turn individual missions into actual middles of the plot instead of repetitive muddles. While this unfortunately makes it ever more apparent that Destiny’s first two expansions, The Dark Below and House of Wolves, were critical components of the main campaign, excised for time or profit, it enables The Taken King to build on a firmer foundation. It’s still not Shakespeare (the monstrous Oryx leads an armada of space-time-defying Taken to avenge the death of his son, Crota), but it doesn’t have to be. After all, Shakespeare doesn’t have rocket launchers.
The more confident plotting also allows Bungie to shake up their traditional mechanics without compromising the fluid and frenetic gunplay they’ve already perfected. Missions, particularly those aboard the new environments of Mars’s Phobos Station and Oryx’s ghostly Dreadnaught, now have exploratory components in which players must use Ghost to scan (or reveal) hidden areas. There are also stealth- and jump-based puzzle sequences; one particularly clever level even fakes players out with a false Mission Complete screen before generating an entirely new victory condition. Additionally, and perhaps as a nod to those players who haven’t been able to access the multiplayer-required raids, some solo missions now revisit and recycle mechanics from the Vault of Glass. Moreover, the possessed, spectral Taken are more than shadowy reskins of other enemy types (Vex, Cabal, Hive, and Fallen); each has a unique and challenging ability, from the Captain’s ability to temporary blind players to the Psion’s ability to replicate itself and Goblin’s ability to bestow immunity to any other unit. Thrown together, it’s akin to DmC’s remixed difficulty modes, and yields richer, more complicated, and ultimately interesting encounters.
This shift toward clear storytelling and varied gameplay also helps to alleviate the otherwise unyielding grind of Destiny’s end-game. Players are still going to have to farm Patrol missions and ally with others for chaotic Public events, but the so-called Rare (blue) items now drop far more frequently, and it’s easier to grind one’s overall “light” level so as to remain competitive in high-tier events. Likewise, there are more paths to earning Exotic (yellow) gear, from luck-increasing items (bought with in-game currency; no real money accepted) to well-defined Quest chains, most of which can be powered up with a new infusion system.
In turn, the new weapon perks from those Exotics and the three new subclasses (the Hunter, Warlock, and Titan each get one) have shaken up the fundamentals of the PvP Crucible mode. There are far more paths to victory than ever before, especially in new modes like Spark—a steal-the-bacon type game—or on new maps like Vertigo, which is bookended by a giant warp-gate. There’s a mode for every type of player, with variants like Mayhem, which double-down on special moves by increasing their refresh rate, and Zone Control, in which points are awarded only for dominating a certain area of the map, and kills are worthless.
The Taken King isn’t a perfect game, and what players get out of it depends entirely on how much time they’re willing to sink into both the game and the online community that’s sprouted up around it. But whereas one’s mindset previously defined Destiny as either a half-filled or half-empty glass, it’s now got twice as much content, especially if you throw in the Year 1 Expansions, included gratis with the Legendary Edition that’s designed to introduce brand-new players to the series, or draw back those who bowed out on 1.0 alone. For those on the fence, there’s never been a better time to join in—not for nothing is a “taken king” also referred to as “checkmate.”