Love it or hate it, you have to admit that Bungie’s shared-world-shooter Destiny is an incredibly ambitious project. As if it wasn’t enough to make just a single game combining FPS gunplay, MMO-aspiring social elements, and an infuriating-yet-addicting loot system, Destiny is set to last ten years. Ten years! That’s a task that only World of Warcraft has really been able to pull it off. And just like with WoW, the longevity of Destiny will be at the mercy of its major expansions (significant additions of content that could be considered sequels, as opposed to smaller downloadable content like Destiny’s The Dark Bellow and House of Wolves). The first major expansion for Destiny, called The Taken King, will drop on September 15, 2015, an exact year after the release of the base game. And I believe the entire future of Destiny rests on this expansion’s exotic-armor-plated shoulders.
See, I remember how I felt in Destiny way back in last December. I was feeling proud with my hard-earned level 30 raid armor, my maxed damage legendary handcannon, and my overpowered exotic rocket launcher. Then Destiny’s first dlc, The Dark Below, was released. My raid armor became instantly so outdated that I could purchase better armor in the social hub from the vendors, who previously sold armor just strong enough that it could help you attempt the raid. My handcannon had to be stored away because its damage numbers weren’t as high as the next batch of legendary guns. While the exotic rocket launcher could be upgraded, my progress was set to square one, and I had to level it all the way up again just so that I could continue to blast baddies apart with the same efficiency as I had done a week before.
The reasons for these changes made sense on paper: there had to be some incentive to go out and experience the new content. However, there didn’t turn out to actually be any real new content. There were new missions, strikes, and a new raid, but the actual moment-to-moment gameplay had no innovation. All firefights still consisted of gunning down waves and waves of the same types of enemies, only to top it off by chugging endless bullets into one that had five times more health than the others. It boiled down to the same experience as the base game, and that got repetitive and boring, and repetitive and boring is not an acceptable result of resetting the player’s progress.
I’m worried that this is what’s going to happen on an even bigger level with The Taken King. With a series of articles with Gameinformer, Bungie has revealed quite a bit of info. Not only are they raising the level cap from its current 34 to 40, they’re also entirely throwing out the level-up-through-armor system in favor of a more traditional level-up via experience earned from all activities. So where players used to have to claw their way through raids or high-end multiplayer events to earn the best gear, in theory, now they could do it by shooting the same level 2 Dreg over and over.
It doesn’t end there, either; the guns are getting a similar treatment. In addition to upcoming patches significantly reducing the power of existing player favorites (removing the Black Hammer sniper rifle’s infinite ammo to reward consecutive headshots, weakening the additional firepower of the most-sought-after Gjallarhorn rocket launcher, to name a few), with the exception of exotics, all year-one top-tier weapons will be swiftly outclassed by the most basic weapons you can find in The Taken King. It all really has to make you wonder if the grind for those prizes was really worth it.
Now once again, on paper, all of these things are for a good reason. The Light level system was confusing and made player progress contingent on randomly dropped gear—arguably a system that should have never been implemented in the first place. The gun-meta as it was resulted in only a handful of guns being favored, if not unofficially required, for most parts in the game. Plus, for all we know, the new guns coming out with the expansion could very well be more fun to play with, thus mollifying any irritation of shelving the old ones.
But just like with The Dark Below, my biggest concern is with putting the new gear into practice — the one thing that hasn’t been too elaborated in Bungie’s reveals. The new type of enemies, The Taken, don’t look like too much more than pre-existing enemies given a neon–blue paint job and altered damage types. The new raid has had nothing revealed about it, and I wouldn’t put it past Bungie to once again have a “relic item” be integral in defeating the raid boss, just like in the past two. Most egregious and concerning was with regards to strike missions. In one of the Gameinformer articles, they describe one of the new strike bosses, The Restorative Mind, as “a giant Vex machine surrounded by a rotating shield,” which is a literal, word-for-word description of not one, but two current strike bosses: The Nexus and The Undying Mind. Those aren’t new experiences, these are the old and tired Destiny experiences given a facelift.
If that’s all The Taken King ends up being — a $40 player reset under the promise of experiencing something new, only to face the same tired mechanics — it’s going to set a nasty pretense. It will look like Bungie just wants to keep us on the grind for ten years, not experience an expanding sci-fi epic—that instead of dangling new carrots for us to chase, they will just rip out the same chewed-up carrot from our mouths and dangle it from an ever-lengthening stick. Bungie needs The Taken King to show that the Destiny experience can be truly expanded, not just reset and repackaged, if they have any hope of the game lasting ten years. Either way, when The Taken King drops in a month, it’ll have lasting implications. We’ll have to keep a close watch in the coming weeks. Eyes up, Guardians.