Destiny has always had a problem communicating its story to the players.
There were things going on, of course, and if you wanted to dig into the Grimoire Cards and lore of the game it even began to make a little bit of sense. But it felt hidden and obscure, and very little ever seemed to be at stake other than the thought you may not win a match in the Crucible or unlock the gear you were looking for. The world was cold, sterile and opaque for most players.
The Taken King changes that, and it happens in the first moments of the game.
Things are happening
The intro cinematics of The Taken King do an effective job at more or less hand-waving almost all of the story to this point and explaining what comes next. Crota is dead. His father is pissed. There is an imposing new force in the solar system and no one seems to know what to do with it.
Destiny: Teaser trailer for The Taken King
The story isn't just told to you, as the initial story missions show you what's going on as existing enemies are seen slaughtered by some mysterious force.
It doesn't take long for you to meet the Taken, and these scenes are well-paced and even unsettling. The sense of mystery and danger is palpable. No one knows what's going on, although everyone knows it's serious. You're introduced to the Dreadnaught, the huge ship that has brought this new threat to the existing world.
The once quiet and static quest givers and NPCs come to life. They talk and argue, and they all have thoughts on what's going on and what to do about it. Nathan Fillion's Cayde-6 is the standout of the pack, and the early missions find him chattering and joking with your Ghost while you kill wave after wave of the Taken.
The Dreadnaught itself almost feels like a new character
None of this is groundbreaking stuff, and if you're interested in story only and want to solo most of the content, there are better games on the market or soon to be released that will scratch that itch. I would never suggest anyone buy The Taken King just for the story, but it's an impressive addition to a game that's now completely stuffed with content.
What you're doing in the game isn't just a series of missions to gain more Light and better gear; the writing, acting and ambient storytelling all make it clear that you're in a new, terrifying situation. Your third subclass is even introduced through a playable, tense mission that gives you a sense of both power and progression. The threat is more pressing, so you have to become more powerful.
The Dreadnaght itself almost feels like a new character, and you'll quickly trip over secrets and mysteries that will likely take days, if not weeks, for players to figure out. It's a huge, gothic space in which it's easy to get lost, filled with tricky jumps and hidden nooks. You are made to feel like a trespasser the first time you arrive and begin to look around.
While Destiny could often feel like a grind, The Taken King seems to reward taking it slow and exploring the world. It's unclear what rewards exist for players who solve the mysteries hidden in the Dreadnaught, but it's just another way to play the game.
Bungie is finally learning what kind of game Destiny should be, and the entire package has been elevated by raising the stakes of the game's world and making the player feel like an integral part of the story.
"Everyone loves a bad idea when it works out," Cayde-6 tells you after a particular mission, and that almost feels like a note on the first year of Destiny itself. It has taken 12 months, and a rather expensive and extensive add-on to get here, but it finally feels like Destiny is beginning to live up to its own potential.