If Destiny is the exact game the developers at Bungie have always wanted to make, then The Taken King represents the first time they've proven they may know how to make it.
The Taken King's designs are reversals of the mistakes made by Destiny and its first two expansions. Every facet of The Taken King — its expanded arsenal, its new mechanics, its mission design and even its character interactions — seems informed by criticism of Destiny and by the game's evolution over its first year of existence.
But The Taken King goes beyond mere correction: This expansion is clever in unexpected and forward-thinking new ways.
The Taken King is built upon the sturdier backbone of Destiny 2.0, with all its systems benefiting from that update's quality-of-life improvements. The changes came just in time: The content that comes with The Taken King isn't hampered by friction from unfair loot systems or punishing progression sinkholes. The Taken King makes it clear how lackluster much of Destiny has been up to this point — once you hit the new content, you see a jarring quality leap.
Bungie has also made significant strides with The Taken King's mission design. Destiny's repetitive, dull setup — go here, press a button, then kill waves of enemies while Ghost scans a thing — is almost completely gone. In fact, The Taken King's missions offer Destiny's best encounters yet, with Bungie continuing to spice up the typical alien shooting gameplay by throwing in platforming sequences, surprise boss fights and environmental puzzles. And the missions in which you unlock each of the new subclasses are especially terrific, both in how they introduce the new super attacks and in how they flesh out characters' backstories.
Missions are tracked in Destiny 2.0's helpful new quest log. Once you run through all of the expansion's new content, most of the quests merely offer tasks that push you to play the game in different ways. But these challenges give you something to do after completing the story, allowing you to make some headway even if you're not geared up for the high-level endgame content.
Many of the quest lines take you to Destiny's new territory, the Dreadnaught. This Hive spacecraft contains several memorable waypoints, like the Court of Oryx, which is a public boss arena, and a gigantic crashed Cabal ship. It feels much bigger than it is, in fact, because of how much is hidden in its every nook and cranny.
The Dreadnaught holds tons of tucked-away collectibles, chests that don't always have obvious ways to open them and dynamic quest lines that make you face off against entire platoons of enemies. Regardless of how much time you spend scouring it, it always feels like there's more to discover. Those secrets also make the Dreadnaught come alive in a way the other destinations don't. The realms of Destiny have always looked beautiful but felt hollow and static. The Dreadnaught makes the first decent argument to date in favor of Bungie's continued refusal to add an in-game map.
Exploring The Taken King is rewarding in meaningful ways, often distributing some of the best loot you'll find as you make your way toward the Light level necessary for the raid. Random drops are, on the whole, a bit more accommodating, but your best rewards — for a while, at least — will come at the end of long, challenging quest chains.
Destiny's new progression loop isn't completely unreliant on the ol' random number generator, though. The Taken King introduces a longer climb with a shallower curve toward the cap of Destiny's power ratings; Light level jumps slow dramatically toward the top. The better your gear is, the better your drops will be, but there are still some exasperating times where you're waiting for something to drop before you can try the endgame content you really want to do.
Destiny's myriad problems at launch were exacerbated by its promise: The game was that much more disappointing because Bungie's execution failed to follow through on the potential of the studio's purported dream project. Bungie took some moderate steps forward in The Dark Below and House of Wolves, but The Taken King feels like the first effort to make good on the hope that Destiny players have been holding onto for the past year and change. The Taken King finally makes Destiny not just fun, but great.