“Destiny: The Taken King” is an expansion to the Bungie action game. Credit: Activision Publishing, Inc.

Review by Pete Schwab, Special to the American-Statesman

“Destiny” is a game that will hopefully serve as a bellwether for how developers plan and execute console games from now on. The gameplay itself is nothing revolutionary; Bungie took a similar approach developing this game as the one they took to creating their previous mega-franchise “Halo.” They took elements of a video-game genre that wasn’t traditionally suited to consoles (first-person shooters in the case of “Halo” and massively multiplayer online games in the case of “Destiny”) and distilled them into something fun, addictive and accessible. With “Destiny,” one of the lessons they learned from the online game world was that very few elements of the game as it exists on any given day are sacred. When I log into “Destiny” today, I am playing a very different game than the one that was released over a year ago.

A lot of the changes, tweaks and adjustments to the game come about on the occasion of the third and largest expansion to the game which came out last week, titled “The Taken King.” In fact, many of the updates to the game were released as a massive download to “Destiny” players a week before the expansion was released. Even players who decided not to purchase the $40 expansion pack saw the entire game go through some major changes. One of the largest and most obvious is a complete re-recording of one of the main voices in the game.

When “Destiny” was released last year, it sold in huge numbers but critics gave it a lukewarm reception. The original Playstation 4 release of the game sits at a 76/100 on the review aggregation site metacritic.com today. One of the major bones that many critics had was that the single player portion of the game had a thin storyline, and that the player’s main guide through the story missions, voiced by “Game of Thrones” actor Peter Dinklage, was stiff and did a poor job of creating a game worth getting invested in. In this latest update, Bungie threw out all of the audio recorded by Mr. Dinklage and replaced it with an entirely new audio track recorded by veteran video game actor Nolan North.

Think about that: all the time and care that was invested in hiring a well-regarded actor, setting up studio time, hiring engineers and directors and production personnel, all of that was thrown away. Players who buy the game today will be playing through a completely different experience than those who bought the game last year. Even more interesting is that, barring Bungie enabling the old audio through a setting, no one will ever play through the game again listening to Peter Dinklage intone his famously corny line, “That wizard came from the moon!”

That willingness to revisit every facet of the game and not rest until the best possible experience possible is created is what makes “Destiny” so unique in the world of console video games. The voice acting is the most remarkable change, but really the entire way that players engage with the story and the various personalities within the game have been refined and updated for the latest expansion. That’s a good thing, too, because “The Taken King” takes the thin, atmospheric, somewhat abstract and melancholic storyline of the original release and ups the ante with an action-packed, personality laden romp of a single-player first-person shooter.

The heart of the single-player story added to the game by “The Taken King” is on the short side, but it feels like a concise prologue which provides a smoother entry into the myriad late-game activities available to “Destiny” players once they have played through the story content (which, given the original game and three expansion packs probably works out to 12-15 hours of gameplay). Bungie does a fantastic job of integrating the quirky characters from the Tower, who had very brief parts in the original game, and bringing them to life with verve and humanity. Clever and rogue-ish robot Cayde-6 (voiced by geek fave actor Nathan Fillion) and serious, stick-in-the-mud Eris Morn (voiced by Morla Gorrondona) spar verbally while the player has to run, jump, shoot and sneak past some of the most thrilling and cinematic set pieces created for the “Destiny” universe.

The people working at Bungie are no strangers to creating a game which engenders a sense of community that surpasses the boundaries of the game itself. In the case of “Destiny: The Taken King,” they have fully demonstrated that they are listening to the feedback they receive and will go to extreme lengths to create a game that people will keep playing (and, of course, buying expansion packs for) for a long time to come.

“Destiny: The Taken King”
Rated T for Teen.
$40-$80 for upgrade, retail Legendary Edition or Digital Collector’s Editions
For PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3