Taken King brings new subclasses and a touch of horror to Destiny

I’ve finished the Gamescom demo of The Taken King six times. Once as each class, trying out various combinations of weapons, subclass abilities, and tactics. Admittedly, it’s short - a reduced version of the first mission in Taken King’s story campaign - and I suspect the difficulty is tailored towards people who haven’t already sunk hundreds of hours into the game. But it’s dripping with potential, and will feel like something genuinely new for Destiny devotees.

The stage is called The Coming War, and it’s set on Phobos - one of the moons of Mars. You arrive to find a Cabal base torn apart. In your ear, Commander Zimbala and Eris Morne try to make sense of what’s happening. And there’s no action for about 3-4 minutes… you’re exploring the base, checking out the corpses of the former occupants, and marveling at the strange, glittering tears in the fabric of space and time. It’s almost creepy, which is definitely new for Destiny.

When you finally arrive at the source of the devastation it all kicks off properly. Oryx is pissed about you murdering Crota, and he spawns a shadow of himself along with a bunch of Taken Psions. These guys can split in half, but finishing them is damn easy if you aim for the head and thin their numbers straight away. The shadow itself sprays fire at you, but doesn’t have the health or rate of fire to cause much bother.

The first time I play, I’m carrying the new SUROS Pulse Rifle, which emphasises power and accuracy over reload and range. It comes with a couple of new perks, which allow greater customisation of the actual weapon - you can make up for its shortcomings by bumping down its healthier stats. There’s a SUROS rocket launcher too, which is all about the blast radius.

Between these two weapons, and a fairly nondescript shotgun, I make quick work of this first encounter. And by now, my Sunbreaker special ability is charged. The Titan’s new super is a monster - she whips out a blazing hammer, which you throw like a grenade, wiping out enemies (Taken Phalanxes and Taken Knights) with one hit. It’s a massacre. After another few easy kills, I’m done. Oryx’s dreadnought looms into view and the mission ends. A note on that Dreadnought, which is Destiny’s new playable area along with Phobos and Mercury - is that it’s far larger than the game’s original planet areas, and very differently built.

I play through this lone mission again as the Hunter and Warlock builds, experimenting with different loadouts. Most of the weapons are more blunt instruments than anything and, sadly, I’m not given access to any of the game’s new Exotics. There’s a scout, which feels like a more powerful, less precise version of the MIDA Multitool, and an Autorifle that behaves more like Monte Carlo. The other subclasses are… fine. Stormcaller is a corrosive electrical attack that does massive damage directed squarely at a target, while the Hunter’s Nightstalker bow binds enemies to the ground. It’s practically useless in solo play, especially against the slow moving targets I’m given to play with.

These new subclasses weren’t fully unlocked either, so there’s no extra news on supplementary abilities. One interesting thing is that the Hunter build I have carries two different grenades instead of a knife / grenade combo. One blinds foes, the other creates a wall of void energy to burn them. Bungie is making tweaks to the existing sub-classes too, introducing new abilities, so watch out for that.

Oh, and the new leveling system everyone is talking about? All the character builds have the new system implemented - now equipped Ghosts and your cloak / mark / wristband all contribute to your overall level too. Again, though, I can’t dig as deep as I wanted because the play session is only 30 minutes. It’s a cruel, teaser of a tease for such a vast game, but as a long-time Destiny fan it’s definitely got my attention. Now, I wonder if I can sneak in a seventh play before anyone tries to kick me out.