“Our end begins…”
Following last year’s colossal expansion: The Witch Queen, Destiny 2 is back with it’s offering for 2023 in the form of the long-awaited and hyped: Lightfall, which is Destiny 2’s second to last expansion for the Light and Darkness Saga, which began with Destiny back in 2014. Featuring a new campaign, the new Strand subclass, a new raid, multiple exotics and a plethora of QoL changes across the board, Lightfall definitely brings a lot to the table, but does it live up to the expectations laid out by it’s predecessor? The expansion dropped on the 28th February 2023 for all major platforms, and now two weeks on from launch and following the release of the new Root of Nightmares raid, I’ll be giving my opinions on my time spend with the game; deconstructing the bad, detailing the good and ultimately discussing whether it’s worth your time and money at the £39.99 asking price/£79.99 with the annual pass (UK PSN Store).
If there is one franchise that people love to hate, it’s Destiny. The tedious, monotonous grind season after season has been well documented online, yet something keeps compelling players to come back from their vacation outside touching grass. For myself, it’s a matter of time invested into the franchise that keeps me going back, as is the way with live service games, you’ll always end up going back to the one that you’ve sunk the most time into. In addition to this is the franchise’s overarching lore, which is arguably some of the most intriguing and mysterious writing ever concocted for a video game, which makes one actively want to play, to see what dangers and stories can be uncovered throughout the universe. The highs and lows of the Destiny franchise are usually marked by its various expansions; The Taken King was arguably the breath of fresh air that OG Destiny needed to save its stagnating player base, and the Forsaken expansion for Destiny 2 is its spiritual equivalent. Last years’ The Witch Queen is regarded by many as an all time high for the franchise, bringing in a stellar campaign and its signature weapon crafting mechanic, which would become a gameplay staple through seasons 16 to 19. From around mid-way through Season of Pluder (Season 18) the hype-train began for the next expansion: Lightfall, which takes us to the shores of Neptune, within the neon-soaked metropolis called Neomuna (which has been hidden away since before the collapse) for the start of the final showdown with the Darkness.
Straight out of the gate, there was a lot riding on Lightfall to begin connecting the dots for what should have been the penultimate chapter in a decade long story, doubly so as the final cutscene from the last expansion finally revealed the face behind the darkness: an mysterious entity known as the Witness. Following the death of the former disciple: Rhulk during the Vow of the Disciple raid from The Witch Queen expansion, the Witness has been working behind the scenes to anoint yet another disciple, in the form of none other than long-time franchise villain and former emperor of the Cabal: Calus, who has been breeding a cloned army of Cabal known as the Shadow Legion (no matter how many times we destroyed the cloning facility during the Vox Obscura mission from last year) to spearhead the attack on the Traveller by tracking down a mysterious force known as the veil on Neomuna. Unfortunately, that’s all the development that we get in relation to the overarching threat of the series, as while the campaign certainly has it’s moments, it ultimately pales in comparison to last years’ offerings, both from the writing as well as the overall mission structure. For what takes place between the first cutscene and the last (they’re both part of the same overall cutscene, albeit split in half to fit the Lightfall narrative in) you arguably don’t miss anything whatsoever if you gloss over it, and are left with more questions than answers, which is extremely disappointing given the amount of hype Bungie had generated up to the release of this expansion.
My favourite part of the narrative this time around is by far the new patrol location: Neomuna where the bulk of the expansion takes place. The neon-soaked streets are reminiscent of some of Sci-Fi’s best (think Blade Runner or Cyberpunk 2077 as a reference guide) with a splash of Synthwave thrown in (Carpenter Brut is the distinguished gentleman’s choice). Alongside the city are the Cloudstriders, technologically enhanced cyborgs with near-superhuman abilities who are remnants of the colony left behind by the Ishtar Collective, who defend the city and it denizens. Despite their excellent design, the story doesn’t give them enough screen-time to really have any meaningful impact, with the younger of the two: Nimbus, taking up most of it with nothing more than MCU level humour and cringey one liners that has resulted in an overwhelmingly negative reception towards the character as a whole (of which I can’t say I disagree). With a bit too much of a focus on the new subclass: Strand (which was originally meant to be part of the The Witch Queen expansion) nothing else really gets resolved or explored aside from the asinine conflict with Calus, that ends before it even begins, leaving us with less exposition and more questions as to what the Witness’ endgame is. Overall, the story and its mission structure feel somewhat rushed, which feels like the whole purpose of the narrative this time around was to drip-feed story beats through Seasons 21, 22 and 23 giving Bungie (I sincerely hope) the time to make sure The Final Shape (the final expansion of the Light and Dark Saga) is one that will turn the franchise on its head with one hell of a closer.
Despite the campaign being somewhat lacklustre (play it on legendary to get the challenge from it) the core gameplay loop is arguably better than it’s ever been, despite some annoying bugs that have accompanied the launch, but more on that later. The new subclass 3.0 system that was introduced originally with Stasis shines with Strand, allowing for varied and complex build offerings depending on the type of content you want to play. Swinging about Neomuna with the new grapple ability (which takes up your grenade slot) is definitely fun when you get to use it during the campaign (the subclass unlocks following the completion of the campaigns’ eight missions) but gets overshadowed very fast by other grenades and fragments, most notably by those that take advantage of the new ‘suspend’ affect, which immobilizes targets in mid-air for several seconds, offering unapparelled ad control which is going to be invaluable in raids, and close to being broken in Grandmaster Nightfalls given that it stops champions and their regen abilities dead in their tracks. Alongside strand is the new Armor 3.0 and Loadout systems, which has simplified build-crafting (a bit too much in my opinion) to make it a bit more accessible and easy to understand for the more casual player out there, alongside saving loadouts that you can switch out in-game opposed to third party apps like DIM. Whilst I prefer the older style of build-crafting, I’m a massive fan (when it works) of the new Loadout system, as it allows you to save your favourite gear/subclass combinations on the fly with very little effort (at the time of writing this review, there are currently some bugs that are making some mods work incorrectly, and mods moving about if you switch loadouts too quickly). Weapon crafting has been streamlined to a degree with the removal of the material requirements from Deepsight weapons and are now instead using regular materials such as glimmer and enhancement cores. The new exotics are also worth a mention, as Winterbite, a new statis glaive is currently (whether intentional or not) the king of boss DPS, making it a must have for any end-game content going forward; Deterministic Chaos is a void machinegun which has a solid quest and is great if you’re spec’d into a volatile rounds/void build for general gameplay (Gyrfalcon’s Hauberk for the win baby) it also slaps in Gambit for the three people that still play the game mode. In addition is the new Strand sidearm: Final Warning which is able to fire bullets that track marked targets and is damn near busted in PVP, as well a new ‘hidden’ exotic that can be unearthed by exploring the Gulch are within the EDZ (I say hidden just in case you like a surprise and are one of the few guardians who isn’t glued to YouTube and/or the r/DestinyTheGame subreddit).
Alongside loadouts and the new mod system are a number of other QoL changes, some of which have been added in aid of streamlining the in-game LFG system that is due to come out later this year. Firstly is Guardian Ranks, which aims to both revamp the new light experience for fresh players, whilst also providing account-wide milestones for veterans; at least this is how it’s meant to work on paper. Most veteran players will find themselves at Rank 6, with a number of challenges aimed at reaching the power cap, stunning champions, soloing Lost Sectors etc. in order to reach rank 7, however there are two problems with this system. Firstly, the requirements for the first 6 ranks are a complete joke, and represent most people’s first week or two in the game; the fact that someone can play for around twenty hours and be considered a ‘Veteran’ alongside someone who has sunk thousands of hours into the game since Beta Destiny (without sounding elitist) is a bit of a slap in the face to those that have invested time into the franchise; the second issue is that it’s yet another seasonal grind that gets reset every 3 months with a fresh set of challenges (albeit only seasonal) which makes the whole system even more pointless. Alongside Guardian Ranks is Commendations, which are like mini-player rewards that incentivise cooperative play and allow others to recognise other players for their achievements within the activity (leading the charge in PVP for example), again, this is how it’s meant to work on paper. Unfortunately Bungie thought it would be a good idea to tie some Guardian Rank challenges into getting your commendation score to a specific level (albeit they have lowered these recently in regard to player feedback) which has devolved what is meant to be a simple feature into yet another mindless grind that also gets reset seasonally. Coupled with players ‘farming’ score, the fact that the Commendations screen crashes the PS5 (still not fixed after last weeks’ hotfix) and that you only get a few seconds after the activity (usually before it has a chance to load anyone’s characters, so you end up giving/receiving random rewards) the whole system has devolved into a bit of a clusterfuck; but with that said, Bungie are pretty good at churning out updates quick in response to player feedback, so it shouldn’t be an issue for too long (hopefully).
A big point of contestation within the community at the moment also is that the game has become significantly harder on the various playlist difficulties, with power caps being introduced (akin to heists from season 19) to the majority of the activities in the game in aid of bringing the ‘challenge’ back to Destiny. Whilst I can appreciate that the game has become somewhat less sweaty in recent years, the current state of play definitely needs to be fine-tuned as something as simple as Hero Nightfalls (even when you’re at the recommended level) feel like more of a slog than ever before; not only because of the difficulty increase, but because the rewards are largely the same as before which just flat our disrepects the player’s time. On a total flipside to this however is the new Root of Nightmares raid (which is the pinnacle of PVE activities in this humble writers’ opinion) that is ridiculously easy, and whilst I appreciate that it’s a comparatively simpler and more fun raid in comparison to last year’s Vow of the Disciple (learning all those symbols was pure pain during the first few weeks), the fact that more people (somewhere in the region of 270k) were able to clear the contest mode raid with ease, with the world’s first coming in at just over 2 hours is a bit of a meme when compared to previous years where it was a minimum 8-12 hour grind to even complete, let alone gain world’s first. Whilst I don’t have an issue that more people were able to get it done in the 48 hour allotment, I can also respect that contest mode raids represent a crowning activity for the small portion of the community that min/max everything in order for obtain perfect runs, and with the lack of DPS checks on bosses and relatively simple mechanics, it feels like it’s been watered down somewhat for the sake of making it more accessible, which I’m not sure is the right direction to have taken.
Overall, Lightfall is an experience that is reminiscent of Destiny’s past; ever since Forsaken (the games’ best expansion in my opinion) the story has been getting progressively stronger (for the most part, gloss over Shadowkeep if you want) with more and more lore being explored in preparation for the final showdown with the Witness, only to be slammed flat with the narrative in Lightfall (hopefully for The Final Shape to be an absolute blowout) which compares to the likes of the narrative dark ages with the likes of Curse of Osiris (that Radiolarian Culture grind was pure torture). The number of bugs that are present currently and the ever-increasing downtime for maintenance showcases that the Blam! Engine is showing its age somewhat, and is in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint for whatever Bungie has planned after The Final Shape. Despite this and the lacklustre campaign, the gameplay loop is classic Destiny and is arguably better than ever (if you like classic Destiny that is) despite some questionable changes to the game’s difficulty that definitely need to be looked at. Season of Defiance is the game’s focus now until next season, and with changes to the seasonal model planned for Season of the Deep (please take us back to Titan and let us finally unravel the Leviathan Bungie, please) and beyond, the year ahead definitely looks interesting for Destiny 2, hopefully with break-neck pacing towards The Final Shape.
A PlayStation 5 review code was provided by Premier Comms.