Time has not been kind to my thoughts on Destiny. What was once one of my most anticipated games turned out to be a disappointment, with a repetitive campaign and a lack of engaging post-campaign content. I tried to keep up, to increase my Light rating, but it all just felt like a slog. Having stepped away, I decided this was simply a game that wasn't for me, and I was content leaving it that way. All of that is to point out that when I say The Taken King might win me back, it would have to do some serious work.
Granted, I only had the smallest of tastes at a hands-on, and it was with a character who was almost certainly vastly overpowered for the mission. But in all my exhaustion and resentment, I had forgotten just how good the moment-to-moment combat feels in Destiny.
My problems have always stemmed from wanting a more cohesive package to house that combat. It was a structural problem, but not an unsolvable one. The glimpse I saw of The Taken King showed promise that this time, or perhaps throughout iterations while I've been absent, Bungie has sorted out how to complement its stellar combat with all the pieces that make it whole.
For starters, the story. I won't pretend to understand the interweaving mythology and factions that make up its fiction, but the mythos isn't as important as the interpersonal conflict. Destiny spent barely any time explaining its story, but the time it did spend was all about world-building. You and those around you were still faceless ciphers without much personality. You were the very-nearly-silent protagonist to Peter Dinklage's chatterbox.
The Taken King, by contrast, gives us two speaking characters right away. They talk to you, and to each other, and the increased number of actors in the scene makes it much easier for Bungie to produce dialogue that actually goes somewhere. There's conflict and differing priorities and backgrounds. That's the heart of good storytelling, and it's much better here than in anything from the base game.
Those story beats lead to better pacing. Rather than a melange of random enemy encounters with no particular rhyme or reason, the dialogue ramps up the tension at the same time that the enemy encounters grow more intense. It feels like it's leading toward a climax, and when that moment does come, it's hits that much harder. We can recognize on a dispassionate level that it's just a boss encounter, like the dozens of other boss encounters in Destiny--but since it has been properly teased and built up, it feels significant.
Because of that, completing the difficult boss encounter, and then barely escaping from a vanguard of enemies that close in, feels more satisfying. The combat hadn't changed much, but the context had, and the one impacted the other. I cared more.
The Taken King may not resolve all of my problems with the original Destiny. Honestly, I'm still wary that I may have to grind through levels to even qualify to play through it. As a showpiece of Bungie's lessons learned, though, it made me much more open to the idea of jumping back in. As someone who had given up on the world altogether, that's quite a feat.