On September 15th 2015 software developer Bungie released the long awaited Destiny expansion, The Taken King, for the Playstation 4 and Xbox One systems. Technically the third expansion after the The Dark Below and House of Wolves, this was listed as the first “major” expansion with promises of a new area to explore, missions, strikes, weapons, armor, and changes to the infamous level/light level system that had made the end game confusing and sometimes boring the first year of release.

Why review it now, more than a month after release? Well, a lot of the best content wasn’t even released on day one of TTK. The raid dropped three days after and the hard mode of the raid just released this past Friday. In previous games, the raid was the pinnacle of what was offered. You beat that, you’ve seen all the game has to offer. The rules have changed a bit with TTK; new content is still being discovered. We’ve seen secrets hidden within daily missions, story missions that pop up after you’ve completed the main quest and others unlocking after achieving certain reputation ranks with different factions.

We now have a much clearer picture of what TTK is, and it’s a nice picture indeed.

Key Improvements

For those that have never tried Destiny, it’s a first-person shooter MMO by the original developers of Halo, Bungie. The Destiny release saw a shooter with tight controls and tons of loot to acquire via story missions, strikes and raids. The classes, weapons, armor and graphics were great; the problem was everything else. The story was chopped up and heavily edited to almost the point of nonexistence. Players would spend hours waiting for a rare or exotic engram to drop (think colored Dungeon and Dragon dice that contained weapons or armor) only to have it decode into a planetary material used for crafting. Even if you enjoyed the grind of vanilla Destiny and the raid, you’d have to have tunnel vision to argue that it was a game for everyone when it was released. Either it hooked you and you overlooked the faults, or you gave it a once over and moved on.

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The next two expansions did little to change that. There was more content, but still not enough. And most of the problems from the first release persisted. Now we enter year two with TTK. The first change is the leveling. You now can hit max character level entirely by experience from missions and kills. Previously you hit the level cap at 20 then continued to level up by obtaining better pieces of gear with higher light stats. When your light totaled high enough you hit the next level. That meant when you were missing a single high level piece of equipment in any slot, your character wouldn’t reach the highest level.

Now your light is averaged from ten pieces of equipment, with your three weapons being weighted slightly higher in the equation. This determines offense and defense for your guardian. It’s a great overhaul. Now having one piece of equipment slightly under leveled won’t completely put the brakes on your progress.

Your light level also determines what kind of loot you’ll get. The higher your character’s light, the greater the chance for items with even higher light to drop. Legendary drops become more frequent too. It’s pretty smart to have offense/defense and drop rate to be affected by the same stat and marks a departure from year one. In practice, the system works. Once I hit 40 it was much less grindy, and I was constantly coming back to the Tower with 15-20 new engrams to decode without ever really farming. That chance for something good to drop every time you go off planet on a mission keeps you coming back. The loot famine is definitely over, though the closer you get to 300 light the harder it is to get higher level gear outside the raid.

The loot famine is definitely over

If you’re fresh to the Destiny party, you can walk through the beginning story missions and earlier expansions and level like intended or you can use the consumable “Spark of Light” to instantly jump your character up to level 25. You can only use this once per account so make sure you’re certain before pulling the trigger. (gun pun…..I apologize.) Nathan Fillon’s voice work as the laid back and sarcastic Cayde-6 makes the campaign enjoyable and gives personality to the world you’re exploring, something that was direly lacking in year one Destiny. The big draw here is that once you finish the main campaign, you’re still not done with new missions. You’ll immediately notice quest markers lighting up all over the Tower after its completion.

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Questing

Making its debut in TTK is the new quest tracker. It keeps a log of all your current quests, and gives you the ability to quickly toggle on and off up to four that you can actively track. You’ll find you quickly fill it up, with many chaining into long quest lines. What really stands out are the rewards. Bungie made a conscious decision in this expansion to make the best exotic weapons available through quest lines rather than random luck.

Some quests, like the gunsmith, will reward you with a unique class specific legendary weapon when you get his faction rank to two. Getting to level three will net you an easy quest for an exotic you can get no other way. These are all great weapons. The warlock’s Tlaloc scout rifle is a monster when your super is full. The hunter’s Ace of Spades hand cannon has great range and reload perks along with the firefly ability that make your targets explode upon precision kills. The Titan’s Fabian Strategy auto rifle is also terrific with the revamped life support perk. Others, like the exotic sword quest (a new weapon type that absolutely destroys), ramp up the difficulty, but seem fair considering the reward you get.

The most talked about events in TTK are the hidden exotic quests that have popped up since launch. One was hidden within a daily heroic mission when someone noticed a certain door was open if the mission was done fast enough which lead to an entirely new quest for one of the best weapons in the game. Hours were also spent trying to decipher clues for the new heavy weapon “Sleeper Stimulant”. When the quest was finally discovered, it was found to have been behind a time lock that kept the quest from showing up until a certain date. Another followed last week, also on a time lock and Destiny players are debating what else Bungie could be holding back and just how much content is in the new expansion.

This is a fantastic turnaround from vanilla Destiny, which, while visually and mechanically sound, often felt lifeless and repetitive. There was so much potential for a decent game to be great, but it just wasn’t realized. Now they’ve not only extended the life of the game, they’ve tapped into what makes an MMO like WoW or Guild Wars flourish and attract others: the constant drip of new content.

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New Content

TTK includes four new strikes (one is Playstation exclusive for now). Strikes are three man missions with matchmaking that culminates in a boss fight. The new strikes are the best in game. Many have raid-lite mechanics, such as opening doors with orbs you carry while jumping across moving platforms, to fighting a boss in the pitch black of a Hive prison cell. I’m actually excited for the new strikes when they come up on the playlist (except you Echo Chamber, you suck) and any of the old strikes that have been moved up to year two have been given a make over with different encounters and the chance for the new Taken enemies to appear in lieu of the regular Vex, Cabal, Fallen or Hive.

Destiny’s PVP component, the Crucible, returns with eight new maps and promises of better matchmaking. It’s a needed change, especially since some quests have PVE focused players entering the mix to knock out steps on exotic quest lines. It’s nice to know you will be matched with equally hapless fighters more often and not always god-tier PVP professionals. The new classes are fun to take a spin with in the Crucible too, though some like the Titan Sunbreaker seem almost unstoppable.

All of the new subclasses come via quests you’ll start as soon as you do the first Taken King story mission. The Hunter Nightstalker lets you go full ninja with smoke that makes you disappear and a somersault maneuver that lets you spring out of harm’s way. The Warlock Stormcaller has one of the best grenades in the game and an Emperor Palpatine-like lightening super attack that chains to any enemies nearby. The Sunbreaker is a fiery juggernaut, slinging flaming hammers around the screen that explode and leave columns of nuclear death where they land, all while healing the player (overpowered, maybe?). I’ve tried them all at max level and while Sunbreaker and Stormcaller shine in PVP, Nightstalker with its super void-bow is great for PVE and sure to be a staple for the raids with its ability to tether and share damage between enemies.

Raiding

Speaking of the raid, King’s Fall, it’s a thing of beauty. I would argue this is the best raid in Destiny, even outclassing the much loved Vault of Glass from the initial release. Both raids’ design was guided by Bungie’s Luke Smith, an avid World of Warcraft player and raider and you can feel the connection. The penultimate experience in Destiny, King’s Fall allows six players to form a fireteam and tackle a massive dungeon full of new mechanics, hidden treasure chests and raid-specific loot that drops at the highest light level in the game (up to 310 for normal mode, 320 for hard). At a recommended 280 light level to take on the King’s Fall raid normal mode, the content is challenging, but not just because of the high level enemies.

My hand was actually shaking from all the adrenaline—I’ve never experienced something like that in gaming before.

More than either of the previous two raids, King’s Fall has put a focus on team coordination. There are very few times any player on the team isn’t actively doing something—waiting for a returning player to trade off a buff, standing on plates to open doors for teammates, jumping from platform to platform above a boss fight as the players below battle and hold open the the ledges you are standing on. I’ll admit there are times when I was carried in both Vault of Glass and Crota’s End by more experienced players. A few good players with good weapons could make up for the inexperience of new players on the team. Now, you really count on everyone on the fireteam to know the mechanics of each of the four boss fights as well as the layout of jumping puzzles if you don’t want to spend hours trying and retrying each section.

That may seem daunting to first time raiders and I’ll admit it did to me too. No one wants to be the weak link and for someone like myself who solos 90% of the game, the idea of having so much of the raid’s success or failure rest on my ability to learn the mechanics initially turned me off to it. I’m glad it didn’t keep me out though, as once I did experience the raid I was blown away by how engaging it was. When I first faced Oryx my hand was actually shaking from all the adrenaline. I’ve never experienced something like that in gaming before. The presentation and build up to the end of the fight is second to none and needs to be experienced.

Lingering Problems

That being said, there are some negative aspects that I’d be remiss not to bring up in the new expansion. For a game that relies so heavily on communication and multiplayer, it’s still mind blowing that Bungie hasn’t presented a fix for some of the social issues that plague the game. There’s no chat in social areas like the Tower or Reef. No matchmaking for the Raid or Nightfall strikes. If you don’t have friends who play Destiny you will have to go to a third party site like Destinylfg.com or the100.io in order to find people to group with. There is no in-game solution, which seems crazy. Both sites are set up great and I’ve always had good experiences with them, but there are a multitude of LFG sites out there and it divides the player base by not having one centralized location to meet up with other lone guardians.

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Bungie has been “looking into” this problem since the game launched a year ago. I’ve also heard players say the mechanics of the raid would be too hard for people randomly thrown together via Destiny‘s in game matchmaking. I think these excuses have outlived their expiration date at this point. Another MMO, Guild Wars 2, has a simple group finding tool that’s little more than a window with dropdown menus that lets you pick the dungeon, state how experienced you are and what level of experience you’d like the people to be you are grouping with. This seems like a fairly simple solution that Destiny could copy, but nothing like this has been implemented yet by Bungie.

The cost was another complaint year one players had. $60 for the base game, plus a season pass of $30 for the next two expansions and another $40 for TTK. Yes, that’s $130. For a game that often sends you back to planets to cover the same geography that has been present since the first release, it’s over priced. New players have the benefit of buying the game plus all three expansions for only $60, but they too should be wary of how long Bungie can string out TTK content and whether they’ll see a repeat of last year’s pricing model.

For Bungie’s part, they say they won’t. They’ve introduced micro transactions that let you buy purely cosmetic emotes, none of which are essential (except maybe the “Carlton” dance). This is to fund their live team which will be responsible for more frequent updates without charging players for new content. What this means no one knows for sure, but if they’re smart they’ll follow their own lead from TTK. Quests like the Touch of Malice one had you running all over the ship, through missions and the raid looking for well hidden calcified fragments to ultimately receive one of the coolest looking weapons in the game. Since then The Sleeper Stimulant, Black Spindle and No Time to Explain exotic quests have all dropped and kept the player base engaged. If the live team can continue with quality content like this, TTK and Destiny will have some incredible legs.

Micro transactions are a slippery slope

I’ll give Bungie the benefit of the doubt on this one since I’ve seen the new direction they’re going with all the new TTK content. They seem to be embracing the MMO concept more in response to player feedback, rather than just the shooter aspect. Still, micro transactions are a slippery slope and as soon as they release anything other than cosmetic items for real money, they’re going to have a problem.

Other nitpicks: they would have been wise to do away with level entirely and stick with just light to make it less confusing. Having a level 40 enemy kill you and a screen pop up that tells you the enemy’s recommended light level is 230 is probably confusing for most new players. Reaching the highest level in the game but still not having access to daily missions, nightfall strikes and raids because of light level makes sense for returning veterans, but is convoluted when they simply could have used the light level since the beginning of the game in lieu of character levels.

The Crucible still needs work and Destiny suffers from the same problems all MMOs have when trying to balance high level gear between PVE and PVP content. Some players just want to fight other players and shouldn’t be forced to raid simply to get the highest level gear to compete in events like Iron Banner and Trial of Osiris that take handicapping off. By the same token, PVE players shouldn’t be shoehorned into PVP matches they don’t enjoy just to finish a particular part of a quest line (Exotic sword quest, ugh).

Wrap-Up

A word to those on the fence about trying Destiny because you don’t like FPSes: I’m not a huge fan of them either, aside from Bioshock—you can keep your Battlefield and Call of Duty. The MMO aspect brought me into Destiny and I think the new incarnation that’s come along with TTK has made it a game with a broader appeal that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to people who normally don’t gravitate to this type of game. If you like WoW, FFXIV, Guild Wars 2 or any other MMO I think I can finally say you should give this a shot.

Bungie has certainly gone all in with the latest expansion. It’s clear they’ve addressed some pressing needs and really listened to the community. Is it enough to win back those who tried the original vanilla version of Destiny and walked away because of lack of content? Can it convince new players that this is a world they would want to sink their money and time into? I would definitely say yes. A year ago, even as much as I personally enjoyed Destiny, I would have recommended it only with caveats. It wasn’t for everyone. Do you like loot based games like Diablo where the real reward is finding that new piece of powerful equipment? You better, because that’s all there is.

Now, Destiny finally feels like a complete game. The amount of quests are overwhelming in a good way, and I’m still unlocking more as my Crucible and Gunsmith rank go up. You’re never quite through; there’s always something else on the horizon and that feeling was absent from year one Destiny. The biggest compliment I can give to Bungie and Destiny is that even though year one had its share of problems, they listened to the players and tried to make the right changes. And they succeeded. Mostly. Destiny changed for the better and there’s no reason to think they won’t continue to do so.