Destiny 2: Lightfall Review in Progress

On the chitin-covered heels of the impressive Witch Queen expansion and a relatively strong year of live-service support overall, it seemed like Destiny 2 was finally gaining momentum as it headed toward the conclusion of its epic saga. Sadly, my optimism for a game I’ve spent thousands of hours playing has come crashing down like a Cabal drop pod after just a couple dozen with Destiny’s latest expansion, Lightfall. The story is so shockingly incoherent that even someone who has spent countless hours reading Destiny’s lore like I have couldn’t understand its nonsense, the new destination on Neptune feels as lifeless as the real planet, and the endgame/seasonal activities have so few surprises to offer (at least so far) that they give me deja vu in the worst possible way. Thankfully, a number of Lightfall’s activities are challenging enough to warrant me leaning forward in my seat, the new Strand subclass is a nice addition to Destiny’s sandbox, and the most recent batch of quality-of-life improvements largely succeed at making my time shooting space rhinos in the face a less bumpy ride. I still have a little more to do and the eventual raid ahead of me, but so far even Lightfall’s best parts haven’t been able to wash the overwhelming taste of disappointment out of my mouth.

The opening moments of Lightfall are some of its best, as Destiny’s long-awaited final villain, The Witness, arrives in our solar system to deal a blow against humanity and our allies. But any excitement is quickly swept into the vacuum of space as you’re bizarrely and inexplicably redirected from the action to take part in a seemingly unrelated sidequest in the Neptunian city of Neomuna. Not only is the story a decidedly low stakes diversion that draws you away from the real conflict happening on Earth, but it flatout does not make sense. That’s not just me saying that, either; some of the Destiny community’s greatest lore minds have been completely stumped by the utter nonsense of Lightfalls’s story.

Season of Defiance

Lightfall also launches alongside some seasonal content for the Season of Defiance, which takes place in the aftermath of the events of Lightfall as humanity defends Earth from the ongoing invasion and has you running around with Mara Sav doing chores for her. Season of Defiance isn’t a part of Lightfall, but is being bundled with most versions of the expansion and so warrants limited consideration for this review. From what I’ve seen so far, this content is very much in line with what we’ve seen before and won’t likely move the needle for me either way. We’ve got a weekly ritual, a 3-person activity to grind out, and some new weapons and armor to play with, but no major surprises beyond that. As this season will take place over the course of the next few months, it remains to be seen if any curveballs will be thrown our way, but I certainly wouldn’t hold my breath.

The events on Neomuna surround a macguffin called The Veil, a mysterious artifact that you’re told is super important, but nobody ever, ever tells you what it is or its purpose, even a little bit – ever. Your enemy is Calus, a stack of pancakes cosplaying as an air fryer, who serves as the least intimidating antagonist in Destiny’s history. As you wage war against an incompetent moron for control of an artifact you know nothing about, you’ll also discover the dark powers of Strand, a green elemental subclass our heroes spend half of the campaign trying to figure out how to use in a process so dull they literally skip over some of it by giving you a Rocky-style training montage at one point. Yikes.

Along the way, you also meet the Cloud Striders, Nimbus and Rohan, who are 12-foot tall cybernetically infused humanoids with personalities that were apparently drawn randomly from a basket of cliches. Rohan is an elderly Cloud Strider who all-but stares directly into the camera to tell you he’s a day away from retirement (I wonder what will happen to him), while Nimbus is a young surfer dude who makes cringey jokes as humanity’s holocaust unfolds. Staying on brand with the rest of the campaign, the writing for these two is so extraordinarily bad it makes interacting with them a painful chore, especially Nimbus, who manages to make the low stakes of Lightfall’s story feel even more laughable with their irritating adolescent hijinks.

This story slams the brakes on any momentum from The Witch Queen.

Just as quickly as it began, the story wraps up a mere 8 hours later while resolving none of its greater questions and kicking the can down the road for any actual story developments to be dealt with at a later date, neatly putting all the pieces back exactly where they were at the beginning. The storytelling is so dreadful it makes me nostalgic for the days of the infamous “I don’t have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain” line uttered in vanilla Destiny – but worse than that, it undermines the approaching finale by trivializing the arrival of The Witness and slamming the brakes on any momentum or goodwill Destiny gained from The Witch Queen’s excellent writing. As a longtime Destiny fan, I was utterly heartbroken by both the disappointing whiplash in quality and all the wasted story potential by the time I finished Lightfall’s campaign.

It’s not just the plot that disappoints, either. The levels themselves feel decidedly less unique or memorable than The Witch Queen. The interesting puzzles and diet raid mechanics featured in last year’s campaign have been replaced with irritating battles taking place in an arena where you’re often running in circles to survive, stopping to take shots here and there while you can. Instead of fighting interesting new enemies like the light-bearing Hive, Lightfall has you mostly fighting the same burly Cabal that we’ve been at war with for nine years, which have always been one of Destiny’s less engaging adversaries.

Strand does at least help ease the monotony of the campaign’s action, representing the biggest shakeup to Destiny’s sandbox in a long while. The powers themselves aren’t revolutionary to Destiny: you get a new melee ability, new supers for each class that deal huge DPS, and some new buffs and debuffs to play with – like Suspend, which lifts enemies off the ground and entangles them briefly, or Sever, which causes the enemy’s damage output to become significantly reduced. Admittedly, these additions aren’t hugely different from what we’ve seen in Destiny over the years. For example, Suspend effectively does the same thing as the freezing powers of Stasis that we got with Beyond Light. And casting Strand supers to take out large groups of enemies works more-or-less identically to other subclasses but with a different color.

But that’s not to say Strand has nothing unique to offer! The main reason to pick it over other classes is in its unmatched mobility, since the subclass replaces your Guardian’s grenade with a grapple hook that allows you to swing around the environment and pull yourself towards enemies to follow up with a devastating melee hit – both of which are a lot of fun. It’s definitely an interesting tradeoff since gaining access to a grapple hook is rarely worth losing a grenade over, but it still adds some much-needed diversity to the sandbox and is a great option to help navigate the vertical nature of Neomuna’s skyscrapers.

The neon-soaked streets of Neomuna feel barren and lifeless.

You’ll be spending most of your time on the neon-soaked streets of Neomuna, a city that’s been peculiarly hidden from the rest of the galaxy until now, yet houses massive buildings and technology that surpasses even that of Guardians during the golden age. Unfortunately, this setting is as flimsy as its lore, and is barren and lifeless despite supposedly thriving up until the recent Cabal invasion. Each area of Neomuna contains a handful of featureless buildings and plenty of Cabal and Vex enemies to battle, but little else to engage with aside from the standard fare of patrols and public events that we’ve seen in every Destiny location since 2014.

You might be thinking: “but shouldn’t this thriving city on Neptune be full of people to talk to?” Of course it should, right? It’d be crazy to make the whole thing look like a derelict corporate park with no intelligent life in sight. Well, as you’re conveniently told early in your visit, all of Neomuna’s citizens have been uploaded to a virtual network to achieve immortality, so they only appear around the city as blurry, ghostlike outlines. The only physical beings occupying the meat space of Neomuna are our duo of Cloud Striders, who apparently follow the Sith’s rule of two so there’s no chance of you meeting a third, maybe more interesting character even by accident.

Luckily there’s at least one exciting new enemy for you to fight along the way, as Lightfall introduces the Tormentor, a warrior of the darkness who chases you around with a scythe, takes away your abilities with suppression powers, and can nearly one-shot you with his terrifying grapple attack. As the first true footsoldier of the darkness we’ve faced after years of speculation that their pyramid ships would be filled with new horrors for us to confront, the Tormentor serves as a glimmer of hope for what I imagine will be a fully realized enemy faction once we finally face The Witness head-on. But for now they’re one of the only things to occasionally inject some desperately needed freshness into Lightfall’s otherwise stale sandbox. They may be a bit overused in the campaign for that reason, but they are at least a genuinely fun new obstacle to overcome.

Quality of life tweaks have at least made Destiny 2 a smoother ride.

A less thrilling addition is that Cabal enemies, now infused with the wicked powers of darkness, will frequently drop a shard upon death that grants an overshield to their allies for a long time unless it’s destroyed. While it’s at least a new challenge to contend with, it mostly just causes the flow of combat to grind to a halt every couple of seconds as you’re forced to remove overshields from the enemy before proceeding, only for another shard to drop the next time you kill something.

A Stale Recipe

Much of Destiny’s moment-to-moment gameplay remains unchanged with Lightfall, and five years into this sequel that’s a growing problem. If you look at some of my older reviews of Destiny 2’s expansions like Shadowkeep, you might be confused why I called that underwhelming expansion “Good,” while being much more critical about this one. The main reason is that games (and my reviews of them) don’t exist without context – not only are many video games getting more impressive, Destiny specifically has raised the bar on itself over the years, especially with The Witch Queen. What was novel in 2019 has become tiresome four years on, and at this point Destiny’s predictable formula feels worse by its refusal to evolve (or in Lightfall’s case: its insistence on regressing). So while an expansion that’s probably worse than Lightfall by today’s standards genuinely felt good to me several years ago, an expansion that’s similarly disappointing feels downright gut-wrenching in 2023.

Once you’ve completed Lightfall’s campaign, you’ll be greeted by the usual post-game quests and busywork that have followed all of Destiny’s recent campaigns. There’s nothing bad about the postgame stuff I’ve played so far, but there’s also nothing super exciting about it. You’ll learn a little more about Neomuna and go on an odyssey to obtain a new exotic weapon, or maybe even grind out some more customization options for the Strand subclass, but nothing I’ve played has made me particularly motivated about continuing to traipse around Neptune.

I still have some quests to check off my list before finalizing this review, and am hopeful the raid that debuts on March 10 will prove more entertaining than the rest of my adventure so far. But as of right now, things are looking pretty dire for a game that’s been close to my heart for many years. No doubt Lightfall’s shortcomings are made more painful by immediately following The Witch Queen and its strong post-launch updates, which felt like Destiny 2 had finally overcome its storytelling woes and charted out a strong future for itself. After playing Lightfall, perhaps too fittingly given its name, that future doesn’t look quite as bright.

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