The jewel in Bungie's crown, or are we being asked to pay a king's ransom?
Destiny is getting an expansion in September. A rather large one in fact. We played it last week in LA during the E3 festivities, and this is what we thought of our first meeting with The Taken King.
First of all we played an abridged version of a new story mission. It was the first from the new campaign and it's set on Phobos, the moon above Mars. It looks like Mars at night; it doesn't have the same red glow, it's darker, moodier. We began with a mountain descent, during which we came across our new adversary for the first time, although these Taken enemies are somewhat lightweight and were only there to fall over and die.
We like the new enemy, encounters are more interesting; you never quite know what to expect from these adversaries. It felt a little like the Nightfall missions with the burn modifiers you get. These are the same enemies we know, but they do different things, and it'll no doubt keep us on our toes more and more as the difficulty ramps. Bungie didn't go into the backstory any more than is already publicly known, but we got a definite zombie vibe. They looked almost like ghosts, they're very pale and this visual finish makes entering their base feel like stepping into a haunted house. During the demo all we saw were the Cabal enemy variants, but there's more coming.
Back to the first mission. We mopped up the first barrage of enemies, and then ran into a base, and inside there were these black rifts all over the place - we're not exactly sure what they are but they made an impression and we're intrigued. There was a mini-boss fight, a huge enemy in the middle of the room, and around him there were Taken enemies, the new-look Psions that in this instance split in two if you don't take them down fast enough.
We played the mission three times. There was plenty of VO at the beginning; it felt like there was more story than before. During the second run we wanted to use our super on the boss, but the Psions rushed us as we charged our ability; they'd multiplied so many times that we were instantly on the back foot. The rest of the mission was more of the same. Corridors, more Psions, Cabal Centurions, new Legendary weapons. (We saw one new exotic, new gauntlets that look like the Arc version of Sunbreakers, with lightning running down the glove. The rest of the gear we saw was Legendary, including the new solar powered silenced pistol, a weapon that players will definitely covet.)
During our hands-on we tried all three of the new subclasses, with each class getting a new build based on the element they've previously been missing.
Hunters will be getting to grips with the Nightstalker. We experimented with the new Slash grenade; after it explodes it forms a wall of sorts. Not only can you damage enemies with the initial blast, you're then given a wall to defend, which makes it great for crowd control. Previous Hunter classes have very much been the tip of the sword, but this new offering feels more support orientated. The new bow, for example, when you hit an enemy with it it slows them and all those around them, as wires spring forth and hold them down. Like the grenade it's really good for managing large groups of enemies, and in particular it worked well on the self-replicating Psions. The melee for this new class isn't actually melee, it's now a smoke grenade which slows down and disorientates your enemies (with the option to add toxins or leave behind a sticky, explosive residue).
Of the new classes, the Titan Sunbreaker is probably the coolest. The Match grenade unleashes huge waves of fire. The new super, Hammer of Sol, gives the player flaming hammers that, once activated, can be thrown at an opponent for Golden Gun-like one-hit-kills. There's different bonuses, one being Suncharge which lets you charge over your opponents, crushing them with massive damage. Continuing with the flame-grilled theme, there's a new melee attack called Sunstrike, and like all abilities, it gets more powerful and additional effects are unlocked as you level up.
Stormcaller was the third and final new subclass, this one being for all the Warlocks out there. Bungie described it to us as like getting to be the Emperor from Star Wars, with Force lightning raining down on your enemies. The new Deluge grenade isn't intermittent like the Lightning grenade before it, instead it calls in a localised lightning attack that strikes upon detonation and hits in one long burst. There's also an electric melee attack. When you activate Stormtrance you float around the battlefield, firing lightning at your enemies. The best thing about it is that the lightning will chain together when multiple enemies advance in a pack. This makes it great when dealing with crowds, and it'd work well with the Hunter's new bow.
We didn't just play PvE, we also got a chance to check out the new PvP modes. Mayhem is a variant that can be applied to multiple gametypes. Everything is turned up to max, everything charges faster - supers, grenades, heavy ammo - they all become available more often. Imagine everyone running around with Golden Guns; that's how it feels. Everyone is dropping orbs, people are throwing supers left and right. The turnover is so quick, which makes for total chaos. The mode looks fun, a way of blowing off steam, but perhaps not balanced enough to warrant a lot of play.
Rift is a new Crucible mode, Bungie's so-called variation of CTF, but to us it felt more like Call of Duty's Uplink. You start on opposite sides, each team has a base, and the enemy has to score in your team's base. In the middle there's a zone with an orb - or spark - that must be collected and taken to the enemy base (there's a 20-second cooldown at the beginning and after a team has picked up the orb/spark). When scoring you can run into the enemy base straight and true, and this will get you some points (games are first to 20k), however if you walk into the enemy base backwards you'll do a backflip and get more points. You get points for kills, points for picking up the orb, points for scoring, and there's invisible markers between the central area and each team's base, and you get points for passing each marker. The weird thing is that you don't need to score to win, you can just out-kill your opponents, and the objective didn't feel as important as a result. Still, it's nice to get a new objective mode, especially one that's reminiscent of Bungie's Assault modes as seen in the Halo games of yesteryear.
We only played on one of the new multiplayer maps, but there's several coming with the expansion. The one we tried will no doubt get players excited, as it has Guardians squaring off against each other in the Tower (or a version of it). We're not sure about the lore surrounding this map, and there's some differences between this and the social hub we all know so well, but it was very cool nonetheless. Bungie also mentioned the new Raid; it's going to be set on Oryx's dreadnought, and it's going to be more puzzle focused. That's all we know for now, but we're hoping for a return to form that'll give us something that's more Vault of Glass than Crota's End.
To sum up: the sub classes are really fun, and will inject some much needed variety for players, especially those who are still playing enough to support characters across all three classes. From what we've seen so far it's hard to judge the story mission, although the setup for the Taken means that there's going to be more moment to moment variety. The Taken King story felt like it might be more VO-driven, but not obtrusively so; we don't play Destiny for story time, and it feels like Bungie are on the right track as far as delivering new narrative goes. We like that they're building on the Crota story, turning the tables - where once we were avenging fallen Guardians, now our enemy is out for our blood by way of reciprocity.
We've come to the end of the preview and the only question that's left to ask is in relation to value; is The Taken King going to be worth the investment? Well, in a sense that depends on where you live in the world. It's priced at £39.99 and $39.99 (and €39,99, we think). For North American gamers that means an outlay of roughly £25, significantly less than players based in the UK. To further rub salt in the wounds, there's Bungie's much publicised defence of their collector's edition (more on that here), with the studio suggesting that players who want exclusive emotes should fork out and buy content they already own.
The deal gets even worse for Xbox players, as once again the PlayStation exclusivity deal returns. While last year's platform exclusives will be heading to the Xbox versions of the game in due course, it'll no doubt frustrate Bungie's loyal player base on Microsoft's consoles to once again be treated like second-class citizens.
It's sad that we're left with a slightly sour taste in the mouth, because everything we've seen so far from The Taken King points to another much needed injection of content for Bungie's superb online shooter. There's still time for the studio to revise both their pricing and their reward policy for veteran players (indeed, it has been suggested by Bungie that veterans will be treated to some exciting stuff, what exactly that'll be remains shrouded in mystery) and make sure that their loyal fans the world over feel like they're being given value for money, because at the moment the studio's current stance is the only thing that's stopping us from getting really excited about Destiny's next expansion.
Bungie has apologised about the way they handled the Collector's Edition content, and will release the desired emotes as a separate download. More details on that here.