Review: ‘Destiny 2: Lightfall’ takes a leap forward in gameplay, and a step back in storytelling

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Since its launch, there’s been an argument floating around that Destiny 2: Lightfall is a “filler” expansion. If you’re referring to the narrative, then sure – you may be on the money. If you’re talking about the complete package, it’s anything but. Like preceding expansions, it brings a new destination to explore (which is refreshingly colorful), new and revamped activities, and a bigger-than-ever box of toys to play with. Add to that an extensive list of quality of life upgrades, and Bungie’s thoroughly satisfying first-person shooter RPG has never felt better.

While the storytelling in Lightfall’s core campaign doesn’t hit the highs of The Witch Queen, it also doesn’t hit the lows of Shadowkeep and Beyond Light with their respective open-world filler tasks. The Witness has finally arrived in the Sol system and is ready for its big showdown with the Traveler. On this narrative front, there’s certainly disappointment in store for players who thought they would finally get some answers about the cosmic conflict that has been bubbling under the surface for close to a decade.

However, taking Lightfall’s story for what it is, and without prerequisite knowledge, I found it to be a pleasantly enjoyable time, and true to the “80s action film” Bungie pitched leading up to its release. Players will spend 5 to 8 hours discovering and mastering new paracausal powers in a bid to overcome insurmountable odds as war breaks out in the Neptunian city of Neomuna. The key players in the campaign are Osiris, Nimbus, Rohan, and Empress Caiatl – all of whom constantly find themselves on the back foot alongside the player, rather than finding success after success in a push-and-pull conflict with Cabal forces in the Witnesses thrall.

Image via Bungie

The campaign’s focus on Strand and the immediate threat of Calus and his Shadow Legion will certainly bum lore bugs out, and it’s a shame we got so few answers about the Witness and its plans involving the Veil. That said, there are some truly bombastic set pieces, musical highs, and jaw-dropping (but often predictable) plot developments. We would argue that some moments even managed to allow Bungie’s in-game storytelling prowess from the Halo days of old to bleed through, if only for a select few moments. 

As is tradition, with a new Destiny expansion comes a new raid, this year in the form of Root of Nightmares. The pinnacle endgame challenge isn’t as extremely mechanically intensive (or lengthy) as Forsaken’s infamous Last Wish, so players looking for high levels of complexity may be met with disappointment. That said, it does contain a series of four gratifying encounters with fun (if slightly janky at times) mechanics which get the collaborative juices flowing, against one of the most aesthetically gorgeous backdrops in the game’s raids to date. It also makes an effort to add a few nuggets of follow-up context to the events of Lightfall’s vague campaign.

What I do question is Root of Nightmares’ longevity as an engaging and adequately challenging raid, given that it was cleared in a blisteringly quick two and a half hours, with a day one power deficit to boot. Granted, these are top-tier players in question, but given a historical average world’s first clear time of around six hours, Root of Nightmares may well be one of Bungie’s quicker and easier raid offerings post-launch weekend.

The addition of the Strand subclass is the standout gameplay change to arrive with Lightfall, and getting to play with it in an overpowered capacity during the campaign is an absolute delight. The grappling hook on offer (which sits in the grenade slot) is a breeze to use and is a thoroughly satisfying and devastating gap closer when followed up with a melee. 

Image via Bungie

However, once the subclass is unlocked for players to use freely at the end of the campaign, we have to admit it feels very neutered, particularly after getting to go ballistic with it and freely swinging through the streets of Neomuna for the better part of eight hours. Cooldowns come into play, and they hurt – at least until you unlock some timer-reducing aspects (upgrades) in your Strand skill tree. 

It’s not until players get their hands dirty with endgame Strand builds (which involves grinding for some high-stat gear and specific exotic armor pieces) that the new toolkit once again becomes a ludicrous combat option. Even then, the fancy new grappling hook sadly isn’t the optimal choice. More often than not, the alternative Strand grenades which can split off into powerful ‘hatchling’ projectiles, suspend combatants in mid-air, or inflict area-of-effect damage, are the go-to choices for maximum damage output. Of course, you can leave those by the wayside and create your own fun – grappling hook cooldowns can eventually be reduced to a point where you’re more or less back to living your space Spider-Man fantasy.

Beyond the introduction of Strand, Destiny feels as fantastic as ever to play, even more so than before. The introduction of new methods to stun Champion units, and a refreshingly simplified armor mod system are a huge boon. The expansion shipped with a suite of new Neomuna-themed weapons for guardians to tinker with, many of which output Strand damage, creating some titillating ways to synergize with the new subclass.

Image via Bungie

All of the usual carrots are there to chase in the form of a handful of shiny new exotic weapons and armor, expansion-specific titles, and a new power level cap to reach. A new incentive in Lightfall comes in the form of your Guardian Rank, which sits next to your in-world name tag to flex your experience level with the game. 

With 11 levels to churn through (returning players are likely to start at rank 6), perhaps one of the most important functions of Guardian Ranks is to provide new players with a concrete roadmap to Destiny’s endgame, something which was lacking at the completion of the New Light campaign. 

To reach the upper echelons of Guardian Ranks, players will need to rack up a sizable number of commendations (another new system in Lightfall) from other players to prove themselves as an authority in the game. A sound system in theory, but at the time of writing, players are farming an exploit to rack up a big commendation score and not actually use the in-game kudos in the way it’s intended. Leave it to MMO players to optimize everything.

Screenshot via Bungie / We Got This Covered

Beyond the battlefield, Lightfall has taken great strides in improving the player experience, leading to a reduction in the amount of time spent in front of vendors and managing your inventory. Including in-game loadouts that lessen the time spent in third-party inventory apps like Destiny Item Manager, though the necessity hasn’t been entirely eliminated yet. Bungie aims to further simplify endgame accessibility by introducing a “Fireteam Finder” into the game later this year, which will negate the painstaking process of perusing “Looking for Group” Discord servers and copying and pasting join codes.

The number of in-game currencies has been cut down to streamline upgrade grinds, and your inventory can now store a seemingly infinite amount of engrams, rather than just eight. Again – this means less time spent in the Tower and the H.E.L.M. and more time battling the various threats to humanity. It also means more opportunities for extended dopamine hits as you turn in all of your rewards in one bulk engram dump.

Up until recently, I would hesitate when asked if Destiny 2 is a newbie-friendly experience. The New Light campaign was a good start, but it wasn’t enough. The introduction of Guardian Ranks in particular helps put my mind at ease when pondering this question, which will help get “kinderguardians” up to speed and into Destiny 2’s most fun and challenging activities sooner. As has always been the case, though, nothing beats the helping hand of a friend.  If you’re looking for some satisfying looter shooter fun, there’s never been a better time to dive in. 

This review is based on the PC version of the game.

Destiny 2: Lightfall
Great

Bungie’s latest expansion elevates Destiny 2's power fantasy to a new high and carves a more clear and concise path to its endgame than ever before. Despite a campaign that lets down fans of a narrative nearly a decade in the making, it still reigns as one of the best looter shooters out there.