Destiny 2 Lightfall review: "The golden age of Destiny is here"
When you have dedicated a decent chunk of your life to a single game, or a single hobby, it is hard not to feel a mixture of cynicism and optimism about it. You want it to be great, you know it can be, but you understand it better than most and have experienced all of the highs and the lows.
About ten years ago, Bungie introduced the world to their new story, one that they projected would carry them at least a decade into the future. The scope of the game that they were proposing was massive, an ambition that only a studio with a history like Bungie could hope to live up to.
Since then, Destiny has been ours for nearly a decade. We have watched it grow and iterate, we have seen the ups and the downs. The last year of Destiny 2 has been quite the upswing, the Witch Queen expansion and the following year of seasonal content hit a new stride for the game that had never been achieved before.
This leads us to Lightfall, the penultimate annual chapter of Destiny as we know it. We know there is more to come, yet somehow it felt like everything has been leading to this. Lightfall was going to be huge - because it had to be.
A long journey
To get everyone up to speed, Destiny and Destiny 2 have been building toward a conflict since the very beginning. The short version is that many years ago, something came to Earth and nearly ended everything. We knew that thing to be the Darkness, and that the Traveller sacrificed much of itself to fight it back. Now, hundreds of years later, round two has finally begun.
Destiny is a work of deep science fiction that began quite simply and has been peeling away layers, one by one, for years. Bungie has a history of playing with certain sci-fi concepts again and again. Marathon and Halo both begin as tales of humans fighting against an unknown alien force, only to later learn the nuances of these alien beings. As time moves on, alliances change and what was once an unknowable enemy is now a close friend.
Halo fans playing Destiny for the first time in 2014 would have found the various alien races to shoot at familiar, not at all unlike the Covenant. In the nearly 9 years since, the boundaries have shifted considerably. Coming into Lightfall, the Cabal is split into the Empire under Empress Caiatl, an ally of ours, and the Shadow Legion, under the deposed Emperor, now Disciple of the Witness, Callus.
A collective of alien beings we once referred to as the Fallen are split between the various houses, many are still opposed to us, but some have become our closest allies. So much has changed that we have begun to use their proper name, the Eliksni, instead.
Ambitious and unashamed
The unadulterated science fiction of Destiny has always been there, but much of it was buried or pushed aside in the name of mass appeal. Destiny, and Bungie, have gone through a dramatic shift in the last decade. A shift for the better if the current state of Destiny is anything to go off of. In recent years, it feels like Bungie has become free to make the Destiny it always wanted.
The last number of years has been an upward trajectory for Destiny 2. As mentioned, Witch Queen was one of the most well-regarded additions the game has seen, and it has continued to evolve in the year since. It may seem odd or wrong to some that a franchise nearing a decade in age is now reaching its potential, but those of us who have been along for the ride have seen the work it took to get here.
So much so, that it is hard to imagine a Destiny 2 this good without the bad times. If it weren't for the missteps, misfires, and blatant punts into the aether, we wouldn't have the game we have now. This is why it feels so strange to come to Lightfall, which simultaneously feels like an ending and a beginning.
Lightfall does indeed have its own ending - but the fact that the big bad, the Witness, the bringer of the Collapse of humanity, is quite literally on our doorstep feels like this must be the climax. However, we know going in that this story does not end yet. Next year's expansion, The Final Shape, has long been known to be the end of this story. Like watching Infinity War a year before Endgame, you know going in that the story does not end here. So, where does it go?
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It goes to Neomuna
An accepted fact in Destiny's story for years has been that the Last City is the last city. All of humanity, huddled under a space rock for warmth and safety. Now we learn that, hidden way out there on Neptune, a colony of humans survived the end and thrived. A glimpse of a future for humanity that never happened, like Superman's bottle city of Kandor but full-sized and in all its glory.
Neomuna is where the story of Lightfall takes place. Entirely away from the war at home and the imminent threat at our doorstep, our Guardians must fight the war from another angle. Calus has come to Neptune because something the Witness needs is hidden there. The Veil - another mysterious relic beyond our comprehension, another layer for Bungie to peel back.
Despite the scale of the peril, the story of the Lightfall campaign is quite contained. We need to stop Calus from getting what he wants. Along the way, we learn a new power that is beyond our foes to give us an edge, and we learn more about our distant cousins on Neptune.
Had Lightfall launched four or five years ago, much of this information would likely be confined to lore tabs and secondary sources. Destiny 2 finally wears its story on its sleeve, and it is so much better for it. Lightfall does leave some questions on the table, perhaps more than we would want, but it sets those questions firmly in our sight in a way Destiny has never achieved before.
We ally ourselves with the Cloud Striders, Neomuna's technologically enhanced protectors. The parallels to Guardians are clear, and the contrast in our near immortality to the shortened lifespan of the Cloud Striders defines much of how we relate. Through Nimbus, the young, brave, and boisterous rookie Cloud Strider, Destiny's light-hearted sense of adventure is maintained through this world-ending conflict.
Nimbus is a wonderful addition to the cast of Destiny 2, a game that has finally embraced the characters it has. They see us for what we are, god-killers with pure intentions, beings of immense power and unstoppable plot armour, and remind us how cool that is. From just this introduction, Nimbus and the Cloud Striders are one of the most fascinating parts of the Destiny story and I hope they will be with us for many years to come.
Despite the levity, there is a sense of foreboding throughout Lightfall. Being the second-to-last part of the story, we know we can neither win nor lose here. A proper conflict with the Witness in Lightfall was always unlikely with The Final Shape still to come. As such, this is a fight we can feasibly lose, something we are reminded of constantly throughout the campaign.
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Light, and dark
The Lightfall campaign is eight missions with a new Strike along the way for good measure. The structure that Witch Queen brought to campaigns is retained, an excellent improvement both in retention of content and in simplifying for a newer audience. Having expansion campaigns be a clearly defined list of missions is the way to go, a feature I hope Bungie can keep going forward.
Throughout the campaign, we encounter Strand as a mysterious force permeating Neomuna. Where Stasis was a pre-existing power of the Darkness that we took, Strand is something new, something to be studied. Osiris is our companion in this journey of discovery, and together with him, we gain a better understanding of the true nature of the Darkness.
In the last few years, Bungie has been telling us what the Darkness isn't, it isn't a conscious being or a malevolent force. There are a lot of questions Lightfall does not answer, and some new ones it poses. However, this is one it answers - and it is an intriguing one.
Questions that are answered in Lightfall include how Calus came to be the Witness' Disciple, and how a pocket of humanity has existed on Neptune for so long. Other questions do not get definitive answers, like the intentions or goals of the Witness, or the true nature of the Veil. Some may find that disappointing, that we are at the second last step of the story and much is still left unanswered, but I don't feel that way.
The reason is, after the last year of Destiny 2 content, I have more faith in Bungie's storytelling. Lightfall was a big step forward in the story, but we still have an entire year of seasonal story content between now and The Final Shape. That is plenty of time to tell more stories, fill in some blanks, and prepare for the end. Personally, I prefer that approach. Instead of finishing Lightfall and being left to wait a whole year, I am excited for the entire year of storytelling ahead of us.
Not everything about Lightfall feels as forward-thinking, though. While a lot of the changes in this expansion are total positives, like the new loadout system, the overhaul of armour mods, and the revamp of Champions, there are moments that feel like we should have moved past. Purely anecdotal, but as an example, I tore into the campaign straight off the bat. I knew I needed to get through it for the purpose of writing this review (I have gone back and completed it on Legendary since, don't worry), so I went straight in on the regular difficulty.
A few missions in, my power level was falling further and further behind. On the second last mission of the campaign, I had to back out and go do some grinding to catch up. After spending some time bouncing around the usual sources of loot, I noticed something.
Mousing over the Lightfall quest brought up a little message, telling me I was under-levelled and that I should complete the "From Zero To Hero" quests from Nimbus in order to level up. I stumbled across this by pure accident, it was not very well signposted. As much progress has been made, Destiny 2's reputation as a game that does not tell you what to do has not fully gone away.
Pure, distilled Bungie action
Aside from that one hitch, I had a fantastic time with the campaign. Bungie has brought to bear their many years of great campaign and level design in these last two expansions. Arriving in Neomuna took me back to exploring New Mombasa in Halo 3: ODST. Bungie is a master of mood, and this expansion is brimming with that.
The neon-soaked streets of Neomuna play well with the synth-infused, bombastic orchestral score that soundtracks the expansion. Bungie games are known for their music, and Lightfall may be one of the highest notes any of their games have hit. The music is so consistently awesome, and I mean that literally. From the smaller moments to the huge ones, and to the little twists here and there to really keep you hooked. Lightfall is the best that Destiny has ever sounded.
Lightfall looks and sounds well, and thankfully it also plays really well. With criticism of Stasis evidently in mind, Lightfall gives you access to Strand consistently throughout the story. You unlock it as a subclass at the end but along the way, you are given ample opportunity to try it out. Strand energy appears throughout Neomuna during the campaign, allowing you to try it before you buy into it.
A big feature of Strand is the new grapple hook ability. It lets you grapple anywhere, and to anything. It is brave of Bungie to put something so chaotic, so potentially disruptive in the game, and just let the players do what they will with it. It speaks to the ethos that has developed in Bungie, to let the players do what they will.
Strand is not without issues, it joins a roster of embedded and seriously powerful subclasses, so it has an uphill battle to enter the meta of the game. More specifically, it could definitely use some fine-tuning, that grapple is fun but if you only get to use it once every minute then we might have a problem.
Another significant new gameplay feature is the Tormentor enemy type. These enemies were shown off in pre-release trailers, purported as intimidating juggernauts, reapers who would come for us and drain us of our power and our lives. Like many Destiny 2 players I'm sure, I saw this and thought little of it. "Oh neat, a new enemy type." We Guardians have been massacring eldritch horrors for years, what does a Tormentor mean to us?
So when I tell you, dear reader, that the first time a Tormentor appeared in the game, my soul left my body and did not return until the Tormentor went away, I want you to understand that they actually did it. The Tormentors are a new enemy type that is genuinely terrifying, and truly challenging. You fight quite a few of them throughout the campaign, and not once did their presence ever fail to worry me.
Here's to another year
Reviewing something like Lightfall is tricky. On the one hand, I feel compelled to review this product in and of itself. On the other, I understand the context surrounding it, that Lightfall is part of a much bigger whole and I feel more inclined to review it in that light. After all, Lightfall isn't a singular video game, it is an expansion, so truly my job here is to review what it brings to Destiny 2 and what that means.
I say this because Lightfall also brings with it a new year of seasonal content. Directly alongside the launch of Lightfall is the launch of Season of Defiance, which brings the story back to the war on Earth. The season has only just begun, but it is off to a promising start. The last year has taught us that some Destiny 2 seasons are good, but some are truly phenomenal. Just the possibility of more seasons like that in the year of Lightfall has me excited.
In and of itself, Lightfall (which I would define as the campaign, Strand, Neomuna, and the upcoming raid) is already a fantastic package. It belongs in the conversation with Forsaken, Witch Queen, and The Taken King as one of the best expansions the series has seen.
However, this is in the context of the last year, with the knowledge of what Bungie can do through consistent, week-to-week content and storytelling, I cannot help but feel an overwhelming sense of positivity for the year of Destiny 2 we have just begun. Lightfall is an incredible jumping-off point for what comes next, a year that is sure to have highs and lows, but will be thoroughly exciting nonetheless.
Lightfall is exceptional, it is the culmination in a way of everything Destiny has been building toward. Many have said that, although Lightfall is gearing us toward the end, it feels like a new beginning. Both thematically and mechanically, Destiny 2 is the best it has ever been. A year ago, we saw a new Golden Age coming. This year, the Golden Age is here.
With Lightfall, and everything else happening in the game right now, Destiny 2 is reaching the scope of Bungie's ambition. I had a blast with Lightfall, I am continuing to have a blast with Lightfall, and I truly cannot wait to see where this story goes next.
Reviewed on PC. Code provided by the publisher.