It's hard not to see "The Taken King" — the massive expansion that marks the beginning of year two of Bungie's divisive shooter "Destiny" — as a hangdog ex.
When it first came out last September, "Destiny" wasn't the most giving game. Its boilerplate story of the Light and the Darkness and all those other initial-capped Common Nouns landed with a thud. Its billion-to-one bullets-to-progress ratio kept only the most patient, masochistic players on the hook past level 25. Its friends-only rule on some PVE modes meant many players didn't even get to experience the best, most inventive part of the game: its raids.
"The Taken King," then, is "Destiny" cleaning up its act. It extends a warm, remorseful hand to you, the jilted player, and says, "Please give me another chance." And it deserves one.
You want an interesting story? "Destiny" has never before sniffed the kind of drama and stakes it delivers in just "The Taken King's" opening cinematic, when the Hive king Oryx arrives in the solar system seeking vengeance for the death of his son Crota in December expansion "The Dark Below." And Nathan Fillion's Cayde-6 hits the game with a one-robot booster shot of humanity, guiding your assault on Oryx's labyrinthine Dreadnaught with swashbuckling sass that feels almost alien in the same game Peter Dinklage sleepwalked through.
You want good mission design? The main quests of "The Taken King" — now signposted by a new menu interface — chain together tense shootouts with Oryx's minions, the Taken, which reanimate the Fallen, Hive, Vex and Cabal as inky, teleporting mobs. The level cap's rise to 40 carves out the space for the kind of difficulty that drumrolls your pulse when you're down to a sliver of health, but doesn't claim that sliver an unfair chunk of the time. The new strikes are only a bit more harrowing, and weave the outside-the-box mechanics of the raids into the same old bullet sponge waiting game.
You want reasonable progression? Where do I start? Desirable weapons and armor drop more frequently, upgrade materials can be gotten with less grinding, vendor currency accrues more steadily. You can also contract more bounties at a time — and the new mayhem modes in the PVP Crucible, where special abilities recharge 10 times as fast, make the multiplayer ones much easier to complete. However, there's still no matchmaking for raids, and realizing your Guardian's peak form still takes hours upon hours, even if hitting the technical level cap no longer does.
The raid rule (which I understand) and the grind for Light level 300 gear are both integral to the endgame of "The Taken King," and as such they trace the edges of the expansion's effect on "Destiny." It's not an altogether new experience, but an expressway to the same one — one every bit as defined by fun, but fatigable shooting.
For me, Light level 285 felt like the exact same point of no return that level 27 did a year ago: A point where I could push myself to give the game more hours, to joylessly kill my way through the Daily Heroic Story and the Vanguard Heroic Playlist ad infinitum in the name of "progress" — or to play only when it's fun, and make peace with getting little back.
I chose the latter. "The Taken King" may make "Destiny" much more generous, but it's still you, the player, who feels like you're giving more than you're getting.
Some things just are what they are, no matter how much they try to woo you. That's just "Destiny."