Originally published at: Destiny 2: Lightfall | Review in Progress - XboxEra
Reviewed on PC via Steam. Code provided by Bungie.
Last year I said my biggest concern going into the future of Destiny 2 was whether Lightfall could live up to what the team at Bungie was able to accomplish with The Witch Queen. Bungie came out swinging with another killer year of marketing, promising that Lightfall would be akin to that of an over-the-top 80’s action movie, both in tone and gravitas. While it doesn’t quite manage to reach the same stratospheric heights as its predecessor, Destiny 2: Lightfall is still an excellent expansion for Bungie’s titanic Action-MMOFPS, so far. Here’s our Review-in-Progress.
Get Down With The Witness
Lightfall kicks off with a bang; The Witness and its Black Fleet have arrived at our doorstep immediately following the conclusion of the Season of the Seraph. They’re here to take out the Traveler once and for all as they once tried back in the Collapse, the seminal moment responsible for the creation of the Destiny universe as we know it today. While we lose the fight, we follow the fleet to its new destination: Neomuna. The enemy has learned that a mysterious artifact known as the Veil is hidden there, and we’re going to have to get to it before they do.
This launches into Lightfall’s roughly 8-hour-long campaign, depending again on the difficulty you choose with which to play it. After a fantastic 11-hour ride with one of my friends through the Legendary campaign, I was left feeling… conflicted. The narrative of the Lightfall campaign feels like a filler arc in a serialized television show. This is meant to be the penultimate expansion for the Light and Darkness Saga, but nothing really happens outside of a single loose thread being hastily tied off just as it feels like it’s getting good while a dozen new things are introduced. Who are the Cloud Striders? What did the Vanguard do while we were sidetracked on Neptune? What is the Veil? None of these questions are answered in the campaign, despite many characters acting like they know the exact answers to these specific questions.
That said, things like the Cloud Striders and Neomuna’s origins do see more of the limelight as you progress through the game’s post-campaign quests and content. Questions about the Veil, the origins and intentions of the Witness, and more are all said to be answered throughout the year’s seasons according to Bungie. However, once this year’s seasonal content is Vaulted, all that will remain is this confusing, though entertaining, narrative. I’d love to see Bungie select missions from this year’s seasonal content to keep around as a part of Lightfall and its expanded story so that the expansion stays at least somewhat cohesive after The Final Shape arrives next year.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of the Lightfall campaign is that it’s an entire campaign built around realizing what the Darkness is in relation to the Light, drilling home that it’s not good and evil, but instead the physical and metaphysical powers of the universe and how they interact with one another. That’s all well and good, and a concept that I’m completely on board for, but this is another case of focusing so keenly on the Darkness powers that come with the expansion in Strand, that it leaves me feeling more like Lightfall is just Beyond Light 2.0, rather than something more like The Taken King.
In the latter, players are given a third subclass (2015 was so long ago) in the span of a short, class-specific, 10-minute sidequest during the playthrough of the campaign. This is how I’d prefer Bungie to introduce new powers again in the future, rather than spending an entire campaign restricting access to the cool new toys that Guardians want to get their hands on. Players learned how to use the third subclasses in The Taken King by getting them early on and using them throughout the rest of the campaign. It shouldn’t take 10+ hours to tell players what these new powers are.
Lightfall It Up
While the narrative for the core campaign is lacking in some major ways, the Campaign’s level design team has done an incredible job yet again. Lightfall manages to at least meet the Witch Queen bar of quality for Lightfall’s dedicated level design in terms of encounter spaces, enemy density, variety, and boss battles. There are some amazing set pieces and watercooler moments in the Lightfall campaign that rival or even surpass those of the Witch Queen campaign. Whether you’re watching a Cloud Strider blast through a wall to create the opening you and your fireteam need to continue or defending the entrance to an industrial complex against hordes of Shadow Legion, there are plenty of amazing moments and great encounters to play.
The new Tormentor enemies, which I will admit I wasn’t sold on after encountering at first due to some issues with their AI, quickly became a new favorite enemy type for me. When their AI works as intended, they’re fun to fight and truly just as terrifying as Bungie sold them to be. However, this is tarnished a bit by the fear-inducing Tormentor’s proclivity to walk into a wall and then just not know what to do, seemingly getting stuck on geometry if left to their own devices. Getting close to one if it does get stuck seems to set it right, as it will begin unleashing its devastating scythe attacks, ability/super suppression, as well as its grab and drain attack that sucks away your health and leaves you staggering away, praying they won’t attack again. Tormentors are a great addition to Destiny’s rogues’ gallery and I genuinely hope their potential isn’t squandered like the Lucent Hive Guardians from last year’s The Witch Queen expansion, which only saw them appear in the campaign and the first season of the year.
The Shadow Legion, Calus’ new Darkness-infused Cabal units, don’t bring much in the form of new mechanics outside of their new shielding backpacks. Similar to the Lucent Moths last year, these are dropped when specific enemies who are wearing them, denoted by the Darkness’ yellow aura and teal shield bar, are killed. If the player is fast enough, they can destroy them before they touch the ground, preventing them from providing shields to other Cabal units in their area of effect. Either way, when they are destroyed they create a small explosion that will damage enemies who are too close. This “reskin” might not be as extreme as the Taken enemies and how they compare to their un-Taken counterparts, but it is a welcome change and one that adds the slightest shift in challenge and strategy to most fights you’ll find yourself in.
With a campaign that is fun and exciting and a narrative that could have maybe used another look over, the new destination this year in Neomuna meets a similar fate. The individual areas are bustling with enemies to fight and challenging public events similar to the Escalation Protocol, random encounters, and the best Lost Sectors that Bungie has ever developed. However, if you were looking for a lively city, rooftop running, window-shattering adventure that Bungie showed us in some of Lightfall’s earliest marketing material, you won’t find it here.
Neomuna is a lost-to-humanity city built on Neptune hundreds of years ago, just after the cataclysmic Collapse. The lore tells us that this was one of the colony ships that escaped earth just before the Pyramid Ships arrived way back when and did battle with the Traveler, setting off the events that would lead up to the events of the original Destiny game. Neomuna has managed to remain hidden, both because humanity’s records of its existence were kept secret by the Warmind Rasputin and because Neomuna’s citizens wanted it that way. Now, all of these hundreds of years later, both Humanity and its enemies have found it.
This cyberpunk/blade-runner-inspired vaporwave city looks incredible and the environments are fun to play in, but the city itself is dead; completely devoid of any and all human life. While you’re playing, you will run into many holograms of virtual citizens and even interact with them on Patrols, but the Neomuni people chose to upload their collective consciousness to the HyperNet on Neomuna a while before we ever find it due to an ongoing war with the Vex. While this might seem counter-intuitive if you know anything about the time-traveling hivemind robots, this is an adequate, if pretty lame, excuse for the lack of people in the sprawling metropolis. I was hoping to see people hanging out at the bars downtown, not Cabal and Vex fighting endlessly while yellow holograms stand still in the distance.
I Strand Alone
Strand is the newest Darkness power suite introduced in Lightfall. Billed as the movement subclass, Strand comes well-equipped with Destiny’s first-ever traversal ability, the Grapple, in place of your grenade slot. While it might sound like a lot to ask players to give up their grenade for a movement option, the Grapple comes with the ability to perform a Grapple Melee. Pressing the melee button at the end of a grapple performs a dedicated melee charge attack that creates a small area of effect, knocking back enemies and dealing Strand damage. This can create a Tangle, one of the new Subclass features, which can be shot to deal yet another area of effect explosion, or thrown and grappled onto. When it lands, it will create a small AOE blast, but this gives players the ability to create a high number of actions per minute.
After spending more than 40 hours playing the game, I’ve gotten to a place with Strand and its APM where I feel like I’m missing out if I’m playing on any other subclass right now. I’m constantly chaining my melee abilities, into a grapple, into throwing a Tangle, and then rinsing and repeating until I’ve wiped the battlefield clean of opponents. I was worried that Strand would feel more like Beyond Light’s Stasis in being simultaneously overpowered in PVP and underutilized in PVE, but Bungie has learned so much from Stasis and the Light Subclass revamps that happened over the last year, that Strand lands without a hitch. It’s just fun, and after you’ve unlocked all of the Aspects and Fragments, it opens up even more. My current Strand build has my ability uptime through the roof and I never feel like I’m missing out on some cool hero moments because I’m not running Solar, Void, or Arc. Strand has found its place in the Destiny sandbox and I absolutely love it.
Appeal To Season
Lightfall is the first Destiny expansion to release with the first season of the year, in this case, Season of Defiance, included and the reasons are obvious. The narrative ties directly into the expansion as the “War on the Homefront” juxtaposed against the conflict going on over on Neptune. Here, Calus’ forces have been kidnapping human survivors and taking them prisoner. Your Guardian is tasked with teaming up with old, familiar faces in Mara Sov, Mithrax, and even Devrim Kay, the longstanding Sniper from the EDZ’s Watchtower, to save the remnants of humanity and bring a stop to the ongoing invasion.
The Narrative of the Season of Defiance alone has been outstanding thus far. Getting to work with an old favorite who hasn’t been utilized since Vanilla Destiny 2 back in 2017, seeing the relationship between Amanda Holliday and Crow bubble over as she deals with his past life as Uldren Sov, the man responsible for killing her only real friend, and seeing Mithrax getting to interact with the world around us are all amazing aspects to this well-told story. Whether it will keep this momentum will need to be seen, but after the first two weeks of narrative content, I think this season has real potential.
Beyond the narrative hooks, this season’s Battleground activities have already proven to be some of Destiny’s best. These enemy-dense mini-strike missions have become a staple of the seasonal model for a while now, but every season, Bungie seems to get better and better at building them and Season of Defiance is no different. I cannot recommend jumping into the seasonal content and experiencing the continuing tales of some of our favorite characters.
In The End
Destiny 2: Lightfall has been a great experience thus far. The gameplay additions, the Quality of Life improvements, and the music and sound design are all best in class. The Lightfall campaign is going to be divisive for a long time to come and I think that’s okay. Its storytelling doesn’t live up to the Witch Queen’s standards, but the level design is top-notch. I loved the characters we met along the way, the post-campaign content, and Neomuna itself. I’m looking forward to the day-one raid coming up very soon and to see what else might happen in this world after it has been beaten by whichever team might be the World’s First. I still have some things I’d like to wrap up in Destiny 2: Lightfall before I deliver my final verdict, but right now, I’m having just as much fun as I ever have in Destiny.