Expanding & Leaving the Old Behind

Published on: Aug 4, 2015 @ 14:46

“When it rains, it pours” goes the old saying. And how true it is. Gameinformer startled us this morning with the introduction of their cover story, featuring The Taken King. With a massive influx of news, most of which is covered in part in our summary article, we have a lot to think on over the next month or so.

We’re here to give you our take, and outline what we think sounds promising, and what raises some red flags. Thankfully, for the most part it’s positive!

Nolan North replacing Peter Dinklage

Desmond, David, Drake – the consummate voice actor Nolan North will be lending his mammoth talent to the smallest of allies in Ghost, replacing Peter Dinklage. Not only will North be Ghost from here on out, but Dinklage’s old lines are being re-recorded, with a special emphasis on emotion and building an atmosphere. North himself seems excited to lend his own flavor to the role, and likewise seems to understand the importance of Ghost in the context of the Destiny universe. You can read his thoughts on the Gameinformer article.

We personally find this change inspired. To be frank, casting Peter Dinklage had all the makings of a marketing move early on. He’s an excellent actor, sure, but it was a calculated move on Bungie’s part to include as many professional & known celebrities to give their game some early selling power. Peter Stormare, Bill Nighy, and others lend their reputation to the product simply by virtue of being in the game – even if they were just thrown in to build hype.

Nolan North, while recognizable by virtue of his voice alone, is not a household name, so this casting already defies any accusations to that effect.

taken king mars story mission

As far as the story goes, the response to Dinklage’s vocal performance could be said to have been “mixed” at best. When the script, plot, and VO delivery are not on the same page, the result is a predictably jumbled and non-resonant storyline and dialogue. Bungie seems to have their feet planted firmly back on the ground, and in selecting a known and tested pure Voice Actor, they have shown that they have a vision that they want to execute with a specific voice in mind.

The real nice touch is that North will be going back to re-record all of Ghost’s lines, to preserve continuity from those playing from the start. The Bungie of Vanilla Destiny or even The Dark Below days might have cut corners and shoe-horned in some technobabble about why his voice changed, but for The Taken King, they’re sparing no expense. We think Nolan North will be an excellent and meaningful addition to the Destiny cast.

Flipping the Script for Leveling

Those of us who have been here since the beginning might remember the memetic lament of being “Forever 29”, running VoG HM after VoG HM in the hopes to get that final piece of armor so that…we could run VoG HM at level 30. It really was a grind, wasn’t it?

Well, no more. Leveling will no longer be tied specifically to gear, as Gameinformer notes in their interview with Bungie. We explain the basics of this in our own quick recap, so we’ll focus more on how we feel this will impact the gameplay and Destiny experience here.

taken king faction armor

“Leveling up” has always been a central component of gaming as a whole. The satisfying validation of seeing your character’s power, attributes, and skill increase with time invested is sacred ground in gaming. When Bungie made the decision to invert this by having your Armor dictate your level, the collective reaction was understandably uneasy. Though they have made it easier than ever in the House of Wolves to reach max level, with Etheric Light and several sets of max level gear that could be had for accomplishing specific goals, it always has seemed like they were trying to work around their own mechanic. With the return to the 1-20 style of leveling, Bungie scraps the whole system and gets MMO on us. We’ll once again be able to enjoy the thrill of our experience being funneled directly into our progression toward the new light level max of 40. However, with this return to basics, comes a whole new set of worries…

One of the interesting and somewhat clever ideas of Bungie’s current system of leveling is that it kills two birds with one stone. In most MMOs, the first and foremost goal is to reach the maximum level through whatever means necessary. This doesn’t always involve having the best gear along the way, with the knowledge that it will soon be outdated and obsolete as you progress. However, when you reach the max level, your next goal is always to amass the best possible gear.

With Destiny, Bungie said “Hey, if you grind for the best gear, you’ll have the top level.” While this removed a considerable amount of variety, it also ostensibly removed a lot of the hassle. Of course, vanilla Destiny and even The Dark Below were so grind-intensive that for all intents and purposes they could have kept the traditional system without anyone noticing a difference.

taken king new subclasses

With the Taken King, Bungie is charting into previously mapped territory, having tested out something imperfect – if creative – and finding it too much of a bother. As Luke Smith sagely notes, “The conflation of gear and character level led to this place where your identity was determined by things outside of your control. We don’t want that.” Of course, this means we’ll be struggling together to earn the best quality gear for maximum stats, damage reduction, and perk quality. A level 40 Guardian in common armor and a level 40 Guardian in Exotic and Legendary gear will certainly not be on an even playing field. It will be interesting to see how these gear choices affect current activities tied to the old system. Iron Banner and the Trials of Osiris have “level advantages enabled”, but how will this play with gear quality? The Crucible’s standard gametypes even the playing field, so will level or armor matter at all? We’re looking forward to hearing the answers to these questions and more as August progresses.

Bye-bye, Year 1

We saved the most bittersweet bit of info for last. Yes, it appears our Legendary Weapons and Armor will not be joining us in Year 2. This doesn’t mean they’ll suddenly disappear, but Bungie does confirm that their ATK and Light values will be frozen at 365 and 42, respectively, forever. Instead, we will find, level, and play with new toys as we progress through the new storyline. This means trying out common and rare guns, as we experience the “meaningful distinction” Bungie has in store for the Taken King’s new guns. Of course, our Exotics will be with us always. So fear not, your No Land Beyond is safe – wink.

taken king dreadnaught ship

It’s very easy to openly praise or condemn this decision by Bungie, but the reality is that it’s a lot more complicated. Bungie has a tricky tightrope to walk these days. As their PvE challenges begin to grow a little stale, hardcore players shift their efforts to collectionist ventures. This means tracking down, reforging, and leveling the best and most rare weapons in the game. The emotion and toil that went into playing the expansion is diverted, but not diminished, and the real reward slowly shifts from the experience to the outcome. Whereas many players in the nascent days of House of Wolves would have claimed their greatest moment to be having felled Skolas in the Prison of Elders, nowadays you’re more likely to see someone boasting about their flawlessly rolled Hopscotch Pilgrim, or rare Solar Adept Jewel of Osiris. Gear is progression, in Destiny. And progression is purpose.

When Bungie actively chooses to negate this progression, players are going to be understandably put-off. Since The Dark Below, the unease that comes with any prolonged period of radio silence from Bungie has been difficult to shake.. It’s almost always broken with revolutionary news, and this news is not always well-received. At E3, Bungie kept the rhetoric wall up, confusing us with hazy mission statements about not being “married” to our old gear, and it’s pretty clear to see why now. We know a lot of you are going to be incensed about this decision, but before you grab the pitchforks, we’re going to offer an explanation from the other side.

Consider how you play the game. Do you always have your ear to the wall, desperate to hear the news that tells you how everything you’ve done is going to change? Does change excite or annoy you? Do you have a friend who feels differently than you? If you can answer one way, and a different player can answer another, then you already see Bungie’s dilemma. Being open about changes is one thing, but constantly telling us what’s down the road is another. We don’t always want to be playing Destiny for the game it’s going to be. As it stands, we have an imperfect, but incredibly fun ride on our hands. Yes, Black Hammer is going to be nerf’d in a little over a month, but does that mean it’s any less fun in the meantime?

We see arguments to the effect of “Well, if I had known they were gonna nerf ___ in a couple of months, I never would have even got it!” This reasoning, while sound enough at a macro scale, is a recipe for dissatisfaction. We keep arbitrary timetables that decide whether or not news of a change came “too late”, but when it comes early enough, we bemoan our “time wasted” on something that was always going to be ephemeral. Where’s the sweet spot? Ask 12 players and you’ll get 12 different answers. This is what Bungie has to deal with.

taken king cabal boss

Players of old MMOs have become well-adjusted to the whiplash of a new expansion pressing “reset” on all of their progress. It’s a sacrifice to keep the game fresh. As we’ve seen with the confusing palette of balances, polishing Destiny is no easy task. Bungie could continue to fine-tune perks and worry and fret over whether or not a pebble in the pond here is going to create unforeseen ripples over there, but the easiest way of solving the overall “problem” is to build it again from the ground-up.

taken king cabal

From what we’ve heard from Gameinformer, this very well may be what The Taken King is poised to do. Many of us have been whining about how Destiny is the same game with every expansion, and that if Bungie did X, or Bungie did Y, then Destiny would be infinitely better. Well, our bluff is about to be called. Your Fatebringer isn’t going anywhere, but it’s not coming with you into the future, either.

These are the two sides to the story. Our fears and worries are well-founded, and the sense of loss that comes from being unable to take your favorite gun viably into Year 2 is valid and real, but Bungie may be offering the closest thing to a panacea that we will ever see. Of course, if The Taken King doesn’t do balance right, then Bungie has burned its only bridge. Bullet sponges and the overpowered weapons that handle them need to go. If the Taken King can trim the fat and excess, we might be left with a slim product that invites variety. When this is the case, players will be all too happy to put down the Gjallarhorn and play with something they truly enjoy.

Looking Ahead

Well, Gameinformer has put the ball in play. We’re keeping an eye on the forums and your reactions, and we’d love to hear them in the comment section here. As always, we ask that you keep it respectful, as anything controversial is bound to stir up some emotions. We’re happy to address any concerns you have, and will try to respond to direct questions promptly!

Joel
I'm aWrySharK, your resident Exotic guru and lover of all things min/max. At PlanetDestiny, my perfectionism is no longer simply a matter of form over function.