Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

There’s no doubt that Destiny is one of the most polarizing games to be released within the past year. For as many people that criticize the game for its story, lack of matchmaking, leveling system, and expansion prices, millions more love all of those aspects of the game and have played it almost daily since its release. 

With Destiny: The Taken King, the game’s third and biggest expansion, Bungie is hoping to address some of those criticisms as well as reward the players who have been supporting the game all year long. And of course, bring in new players too.

Storytelling revised

One of the biggest criticisms (including in my original review) Destiny had last year was the story. While there was a story that existed, it wasn’t told very well in the game. Players who wanted to find out what was actually going on and who and what they were fighting for had to read their Grimoire cards they earned in the game either on the website or Destiny app. With The Taken King, Destiny keeps the story simple, but still fun and engaging.

The Taken King’s name is Oryx, who is the father of Crota. Crota was the prince of the Hive, an alien race that took over the Moon, and in the Destiny raid titled Crota’s End (from The Dark Below Expansion), he was the final boss. As with any parent, Oryx is pretty upset that you, Guardian, killed his son and is now seeking vengeance (I personally killed Crota at least three times).

When the game begins, we get a quick update on Oryx’s background and the Awoken’s attempt to kill him in a pretty cool CGI space battle. After a brief visit to the Tower where all the merchants had a variety of gifts and quests for me, I was taken to the first new Destiny location, Phobos, one of Mars’ moons. Here, Oryx is wreaking havoc on the Cabal’s military base (another alien race that took over Mars), and possessing them and making fight on his behalf. These newly possessed enemies are labeled as “Taken” and have the ability to move quickly or split into two characters or have a different way of attacking. While I was leery in having to battle yet another race of enemies, this was a unique and welcomed approach that keeps the enemies you know, but with a different flavor and new abilities. Most of the story revolves around you getting prepared to battle Oryx in a final meeting on his ship, The Dreadnaught (the other new location), and Bungie does a solid job of building up the anticipation.

Another welcomed change with The Taken King expansion story is Cayde-6. While the headlines focused on actor Nolan North replacing Peter Dinklage as Ghost in the game, it’s Nathan Fillion’s voice work as Cayde-6 that’s really the standout performance here. Sure, he’s been in the game from the beginning, but in The Taken King he has a larger role. Cayde-6 guides you through a number of missions in the game and provides a humorous yet pragmatic point of view to the circumstances as opposed to the dread and melodrama that Eris Morn is consistently spouting.

Leveling the gameplay

The biggest change that comes with The Taken King is the leveling system. Prior to The Taken King, your character’s level was first determined by experience points up until level 20, where the rest of the way to level 34, your character’s level was determined by the “light” level in the armor you wore. How’d you get that armor? Grind, baby, grind. You’d play in Raids, Strikes, multiplayer, collect bounties, and replay missions with hopes of getting lucky loot drops or earning enough of one of the in-game currencies to go shopping.

In The Taken King, the leveling system has been altered to where it’s strictly experience points that determine your character level and that character level determines what kind of armor you wear and weapons you wield. I started The Taken King with a 34 level Warlock. Within a few hours I was already at level 39 (the cap is level 40 at the moment) after completing most of the story and turning in bounties. One of my Xbox Live friends (shout out to Darksyde32), was able to level up to 40 in a matter of minutes after he saved up bounties and Public Event rewards from the previous week and waited to turn them in on launch day. Once you get to level 40, you can wield any of the weapons and wear any of the armor offered in the game.

The Light level is now a separate entity and is an average of your attack and defense levels across all of your equipped gear. To raise your Light level, you need to equip your characters with weapons and armor that have high attack/defense levels. Once again, this gear is earned by loot drops, which are a lot more valuable this time around, and purchasing from vendors. When I began The Taken King, I was at Light level 169. By the time I finished the story missions and a few Strike runs, I got to Light level 209 strictly on loot drops and rewards. I had yet to purchase any gear getting to 209. Some of the Heroic Strikes in The Taken King recommend light levels of 240 and above and the just released King's Fall Raid recommends a 280 light level. So there's plenty of work to do if you want to participate in those activities and not die within the first 30 seconds.

Speaking of the gear, The Taken King offers a ton of new gear that pretty much renders a lot the previous year’s weapons and armor useless. I spent a lot of time getting the materials to upgrade my Up for Anything auto rifle and Her Majesty shotgun to its highest levels (170), but one of the first drops I got in the new expansion was an auto rifle at level 177, and it was one of the lower end auto rifles (I’m now rocking with the An Answering Chord auto rifle at level 259). To be honest, I felt some attachment to those weapons and a bit disappointed that I had to let them go. But then I thought about when I finally defeated Skolas in the Prison of Elders on hard mode and being happy about never having to do that again. With these new weapons that have more attack power though? I might reconsider taking on Skolas again. Luckily, some of our favorite exotic weapons will be upgradeable to keep up with the new weapons.

Finally, all Guardians in The Taken King get a third subclass. Each Guardian class takes on a solo mission where they earn that third subclass and acquire new abilities. The Warlock’s Stormcaller super ability is amazing. With the launch of my Warlock's super ability, I can float around a map shocking enemies to death. I felt like Emperor Palpatine in Return of the Jedi when he was electrocuting Luke, “So be it, Jedi.” The Titans will be able to act like Thor as they’ll have the ability summon a flaming hammer they can either throw or beat someone down with, while the Hunters can mimic Hawkeye with a bow and arrow dripping with gravitational void energy.

A Taken King worth the taking

After finishing the story missions, the game is far from over. There are continuous missions and challenges that have you traversing the galaxy to clean up the remnants of Oryx and his followers. Three new strikes (four if you’re on PlayStation 4), Shield Brothers, Sunless Cell, Fallen S.A.B.E.R., and Echo Chamber (PS4-only), has you taking on unique bosses not seen in the story missions and offers more to The Taken King story and offer great rewards in leveling up your character.

There's also three new competitive modes, Rift, Zone Control, and Mayhem. Rift is sort of like a capture-the-flag type of game where you wait for a "spark" to charge, grab it, and run it to the opposing team's "rift" to detonate it. Zone Control is similar to the game's original Control, where points are awarded for taking and holding a control point. But my favorite new mode is probably Mayhem, a team deathmatch mode where super abilities and grenades recharge at a faster rate and the result is ultimate... mayhem. The new modes, along with the original modes, are played over eight new competitive maps plus the the original maps. With the new bounties and challenges (the Court of Oryx rocks!), a new questing system, and a reworking of the in-game currency and how to earn them, there's so much stuff to do in The Taken King that, it invites you to keep on playing.

If you’ve been playing consistently for the past year and already have the past two expansions, The Taken King ($39.99) is a must-have. Bungie made this for you. For those of you who never got down with Destiny last year, now is the perfect time to drop in. The $59.99 Destiny: The Taken King bundle is a steal. It not only includes the original Destiny with The Taken King expansion, but also the previous two expansions, The Dark Below and House of Wolves. That is a lot of content and definitely worth it.