When Destiny first came out last year there was quite a bit of confusion, and a lot of disappointment. Many didn't realise it was heavily focused on the loot and gear acquisition, instead hoping for a bombastic sci-fi story campaign like Bungie has made before. Even for those onboard with what Destiny turned out to be it had many problems. Gear did not come quickly enough, resulting in tedious grinds with little rewards. So much so that the community would rather stand still and shoot into a cave entrance for hours upon hours to grind for loot instead of play the actual game. The level system also confused many people, getting experience for killing enemies up to a point, then having the same number increase based on a light stat you find on armour was communicated poorly.
Destiny patch 2.0, released shortly before the real expansion arrived, changed many systems in the game. Characters now gain experience to level up all the way to the new maximum of 40. Light is still present, but is now a value determined from the attack and defense properties of all currently equipped gear. This gives a better representation of one's effectiveness, as before weapons were not taken into account. However this does mean that if you want to level up a weapon with a lower attack stat, your light level may drop. So if you're looking for a raid group, or handing in engrams, make sure to equip your best stuff. Infusing items has been added, which boils down to feeding gear to other pieces of gear. If you have a helmet you love the look of, or it has perks you can't live without, and you find a new helmet that has a better defense stat (which in turn will increase your light) you can feed the better helmet to your preferred piece and it will keep its other properties but increase in defense.
A quest log has also been implemented, and while this probably shouldn't have taken a year to happen it is a welcome addition. If you are a new player or start a new character the first year Destiny story is now done through these quests. If the story has already been finished on a character the quests can be started by using one of the wall mounted iPads in the tower, if you really want to go through all that again and get starter gear as a reward. The quests for The Taken King start strong with most steps being unique story missions, however as you progress eventually they may as well be several bounties strung together (which also happens with normal bounties now occasionally anyway), asking you to kill certain enemies while out on patrol, or use a specific weapon in the crucible and earn enough points with it equipped while death's remove points (this was my least favourite exotic bounty type before, and I still hate it now).
The missions in The Taken King themselves are a huge improvement over that of the base game. There is more story telling through the environment, with cinematic events happening as you go that make the world feel more realised. Your vanguard buddies back at the tower talk to you much more often, and to each other including your ghost. They all actually have character and personality now, the new ghost by Nolan North is a huge improvement, and Cayde-6 the robot voiced by Nathan Fillion is extremely charming. There are even jokes now, and this time they are intentionally written not like wizards coming from the moon. Sometimes there are even things to do other than shoot enemies, having you follow a computer's power cable to turn it back on, find and carry runes to locked doors in order to get them open etc. Not really a big deal but it's nice to have something else to do sometimes. New strikes are also included which have some pretty fun boss fights that require some understanding of what's going on before you can take them down.
The story campaign for The Taken King is eight missions. At the end of mission eight you confront Oryx, the big bad, and defeat him for now (until the raid). Surprisingly that is not the last story mission in the expansion, as more will unlock as you complete more quests. These include going back to the Vault of Glass and going through it in a different way in order to kill some Taken.
The new Taken enemy types can make combat much more hectic and dynamic. Taken Cabal, with their giant shields, can now force push you away once they build up charge. This is particularly dangerous around areas with bottomless pits, and there is one placed in a certain spot in an early story mission that everyone will remember. Taken Vex can now shield an allied target, similar to a medic in Team Fortress 2. You must kill whichever enemy is the source before you can hurt his buddy at all. Taken are now present in heroic missions and strikes that existed before their arrival, and the amount, makeup, and location of them seems to change. Hopefully that will aid in reducing the repetitiveness of running the strike playlist if you happen to get the same one twice.
A new subclass has been added for each class. Instead of something you can just switch to in your inventory it starts with a quest. These will be different for each class, and they can only be done solo. For my warlock I ended up on a crucible multiplayer map harnessing the power of lightning. It has a fun cutscene at the start saying why your class is the best, and another when you gain your new power. After gaining this new power they give you a full super meter, and if it runs out they recharge it immediately. Going hog wild with a new super on lots of enemies feels pretty good. Bungie thankfully give you the class already possessing the ability to double jump and perform the super, but you still have to level up the rest.
The Dreadnaught, Oryx's ship, is the new playable zone and patrol area. This is quite disappointing at first compared to what many were expecting, a new planet. The Dreadnaught does have a couple of open spaces, but you can't take out your sparrow at all on the ship and I miss being able to speed around on a bike. The aesthetic is also nothing very new, the ship is owned by the Hive, so it looks extremely similar to their bases on the Moon. Despite this the ship does have some fun things to discover. Dotted around are chests that require named keys, that can be obtained by doing certain things, for example one requires you to stand in a cave where worms nest for a time so that you reek of their scent. This lasts for a minute, so you must rush to the chest that requires that smell to open it. The chest isn't far from the cave, but is across a huge chasm. There are invisible platforms that will show up if you are very close, or if you pull out your ghost within a certain range they will get highlighted. This took me a good many tries before I could pull it off, as the time limit means you don't have time to pull out your ghost for every jump. You have to memorise at least part of the route, and there are six or seven jumps depending on if you're brave or not.
A key feature of the Dreadnaught is the Court of Oryx, an arena that anyone can wander up to and participate in. One player must offer up a rune as the entrance fee, and enemies will spawn along with a time limit. Finish off the one or many bosses and the player that used up their rune will be rewarded with some loot. Runes come in various tiers, spawning harder encounters the higher you go. The first tier is generally straightforward to do solo, assuming you're kitted out with decent gear. Above that and you will want other people to get involved. The idea of strangers coming together for public events like this is lovely. In reality I spent a long time doing the easier encounters waiting for others to show up so I could use my other type of rune, but nobody came. This has happened to me a few times, but nothing is stopping you from turning up with a fireteam full of friends.
I have yet to embark on the raid as I need to level up my gear, but it was created by the team that made the Vault of Glass. The buzz around it seems very positive, apart from the start which involves everyones favourite thing to do in a first person game, platforming. I should be ready to take it on this week, but who knows how long until a complete run.
The crucible multiplayer has some new modes and maps that have been added. Rift is effectively a single flag CTF. Grab the 'spark' and dunk it into the rift on the enemy side of the map. It can't be passed between players so you need to defend your carrier well. Mayhem is a very intense game mode where all cooldowns have been turned way down. Supers and grenades flying all over the place, special and heavy ammo dropping almost constantly. It's a fun mode. The new maps are also fun, with one having jump pads and teleporters making me yearn for the good old days of online multiplayer. Many people seem indifferent towards the crucible part of Destiny, and that's fine, but if you like it at all the additions in this expansion are solid.
Apparently many people gave up on Destiny in year one when they hit the soft level cap of 20, before any light on armour mattered or came into effect. With The Taken King everyone receives an item that will immediately level a character to 25, and give them some appropriate gear. This is great for people who might want to start a second character, or played some Destiny before but just want to get into the expansion content right away. If you have a character anywhere close to 25, don't waste the item. Only one per account is given, and levelling, especially if you have all the story missions ahead of you, will happen extremely quickly. Save it for another character, and try out a different class.
Year 1 Destiny was a tough sell, it could be fun but also tedious and frustrating. Year 2 and The Taken King has made improvements to how the loot drops, the story plays out, and general quality of life interactions. With these changes and additions I would feel good about recommending Destiny to someone now, without having to throw a huge amount information at them afterwards about how it can be good. Now I think it is good, but it could still be better.