Destiny 2 Lightfall feels like a reset, not an ending
“You are the grenade” a Bungie developer working on Destiny 2’s latest expansion, Lightfall, tells us as part of a developer roundtable discussion. It’s a throwaway joke, but it’s also emblematic of Bungie’s approach to Lightfall – nothing is off the table with 2023’s major update.
The grenade button has been a core part of the Destiny experience dating right back to 2014 when the first game launched. In fact, it predates Destiny entirely, forming a core pillar of Halo’s gameplay loop, too. To shift how it works would require some considerable rewiring - but that’s exactly what Destiny 2 Lightfall’s new Strand subclass offers.
Do I make you Strandy, baby?
Bungie is discussing the grenade button in the context of the new green-hued power we’ll be wielding as part of Lightfall when it drops later this month, specifically how the new grapple function will replace the grenade if players choose to. It’s a tantalising prospect, too, made all the sweeter by the inclusion of a new follow-up melee attack that’ll see our Guardians become the grenade as mentioned earlier.
Much was made of Bungie’s reluctance to add a new subclass as part of 2022’s (excellent) Witch Queen expansion, but it allowed for the team to revamp the three base subclasses (Arc, Solar, and Void) to allow for more build crafting options.
The good news is that this work is still ongoing, even with the addition of Strand, with Bungie adding new elements including Firesprites and Void Breaches to the mix. It’s a complex web, but it can be a daunting one.
Thankfully, Bungie is working on making your dream monster-killing machine much easier. For one, new Guardian Ranks will help ease new players into the Destiny 2 experience. The idea is to lead players through increasingly aspirational content, building them to tackle raids or Trials of Osiris in time.
At that point, newer Guardians can team up with more experienced players, denoted by new in-game metrics based on helpfulness and expertise. Bungie has noted in a recent blog post that a more full-featured in-game Looking For Group (LFG) system is slated for later in 2023, but for now, it’s a step in the right direction for a game where all too often the “best” content requires a crack team of PvP experts of six players with knowledge of seemingly impenetrable mechanics.
Still, at present there’s nothing planned to make it easier to bring new players in as far as purchases go; barring a late twist, you’ll still need to ask your non-Destiny playing friends to invest in a variety of expansions and a quartet of season passes for the year ahead.
Trimming the fat
Lightfall exists in an interesting position, then – it’s ambitious, but Bungie is using this opportunity to revitalise Destiny by not just rebuilding the house, but looking at the creaking foundations beneath. In a recent series of “games as a service” casualties, Bungie is working to help remove player friction.
The team is overhauling seasonal content, removing the tedium of constant vendor updates, and updating the in-game economy. These are meaningful tweaks, but the biggest update in Lightfall comes in the form of loadouts.
The former, requested by players for years, will (perhaps rightfully) extend past what’s possible through existing third-party solutions like DIM (Destiny Item Manager). According to Design lead Xavier Durand-Hollis, players can create custom loadouts, theme them for the required content type, and use it to encompass subclass abilities, weapons, armour, mods, and plenty more. The best part is that these loadouts can be switched between from anywhere in the game, including within PvP and PvE content, removing much of the hassle of returning to the Tower.
Since loadouts can track items stored in your vault, there’s even the option to instantly bring items you’d have otherwise spent literal minutes retrieving straight into matches – as long as you have the amount of space required on your character. Sadly, the system won't put items back in your vault, Durand-Hollis explained, but that functionality could come in the future.
Get to the good bit
Ok, we’ve spent plenty of this preview of Lightfall waxing lyrical about underlying systems that are seeing a refresh, but what about the new stuff? Our hands-off demo of Lightfall’s gameplay debut shows Neomuna, a previously hidden city on Neptune, under siege.
It’s not quite the bombast of Halo 2’s New Mombasa opening, but it’s breathtaking for different reasons – the neon skybox, with Calus' monolithic ship lying in wait, is another of Bungie’s best, and the Destiny art team just doesn’t miss.
There are citizens of Neomuna, displayed as holograms, but unlike the majority of Destiny’s locations, the city of Neomuna isn’t in ruin. Instead, it’s entering a war that’s only just begun, making it a fascinating alternative to the traditional Destiny settings. There are faint hints of Strand’s influence throughout, too, with literal strands hovering in place as you explore the city.
If you were worried that beauty may translate into a smaller area to explore (we’re looking at you, Curse of Osiris), we’ve got good news – Joe Blackburn, Destiny 2 Game Director tells us the slice of the city players can explore is a similar size to Savathun’s Throne World and Europa from Witch Queen and Beyond Light respectively.
It’s comprised of a trio of main areas, as has become standard, and Bungie is promising a new combat encounter public event type that Blackburn refers to as “Escalation Protocol 2.0” but we didn’t get any further information during our session.
We did meet some new cast members, however, with the Cloudstriders making their debut in this expansion. These protectors of Neomuna are equipped with cutting-edge technology and power, but are condemned to a truncated lifespan as a result.
The new master and padawan duo aren’t Lightbearers, though, so Osiris will take on the role of mentor when it comes to handling Strand. Bungie says that we’ll gradually learn about Strand through the campaign, seemingly hinting it’ll be a little more personal than Beyond Light occasionally letting players rip through enemies with Stasis before taking it away. The team also intimated that it won’t take quite as long to earn post-game additions to your Strand arsenal, too, which is a welcome change.
That’s not the only new tool we’ll have at our disposal, and Bungie has already highlighted some wild new weapons in its latest ViDoc.
Above all else, with The Final Shape looming as Destiny 2’s culmination of the “Light and Dark saga”, I entered the preview expecting to hear how the developer was beginning to wrap things up, seemingly to move on to new projects.
And yet, as a fan of the franchise, I came away feeling as though there’s plenty of life in the MMO/loot shooter/beautiful mess of a game Destiny has become. Lightfall’s tagline is “Outrun our end”, but I’m not sure I want to when it promises so much.
For more on Destiny 2 Lightfall, be sure to check out our guide to Destiny 2 Season of Defiance, which launches alongside the expansion on February 28, 2023.