What is happening?
[WARNING: This review contains light campaign spoilers]
Since the release of Destiny 2, many questions in the space shooter’s lore history have been answered, but many more have been equally opened. Unfortunately, it seems that Bungie has struggled to adjust to its “new” release schedule, with Lightfall intended initially to be the closing chapter of the “Light and Dark saga” — a narrative which has been ongoing since the release of the original Destiny in 2014.
As it now stands, this saga is expected to end sometime in 2024 with the release of the closing expansion The Final Shape concluding the story’s 10-year span of content. With so many questions left to answer, does this negatively impact our experience of Lightfall? In short yes, but also no.
Destiny 2: Lightfall (PC [reviewed], PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Released: February 28, 2023
MSRP: $49.99 / $99.99 for Lightfall + Annual Pass
Destiny 2: Lightfall is the seventh expansion of Destiny 2 and the eleventh expansion in the Destiny franchise. It follows the story of “The Witness” who is threatening the solar system, or Sol, the Last City, which is the only remaining safe space for humanity, and “The Traveler”, which is a mysterious giant sphere associated with the Light. Assisted by its newest Disciple, Emperor Calus, The Witness hopes to cause a second collapse and destroy humanity for good. But first, it must find a mysterious object called the Veil.
Lightfall opens with a chaotic cutscene that sees some of the Vanguard such as Saint-14, Amanda Holliday, and others racing through the sky in ships, trying to fight off the Witness’ fleet of pyramids that surrounds the Traveler. With a mere flick of its wrist, the Witness decimated a Guardian and their Ghost, as well as sending out a shockwave to destroy multiple ships dotted through the sky. Seeing the carnage, the Traveler fired a huge beam of Light at the pyramid ships and the Witness.
This terraformed all surfaces it touched but did not affect the Witness who floated through the beam untouched. The Witness then connects mentally with the Traveler and unveils its secrets including the planet of Neptune and the hidden city of Neomuna, which houses the Veil. The Witness calls upon its newest disciple, Calus, for aid and Osiris begins to understand what the Witness has seen. He orders the Vanguard to Neptune to defend Neomuna and work with its leaders, the Cloud Striders, to protect the Veil.
Dealing with history
Your first duty as a Guardian is to hijack an enemy ship and set it to self-destruct before rapidly exiting with Osiris. During this mission, we find ourselves face to face with a terrifying new enemy, a Tormentor. As it grabs me, restricting my movement and applying a suppressing effect to all my abilities I am genuinely fearful of this new creature. I spend the rest of the campaign on edge, waiting for more to appear, and they do. Bungie has balanced the Tormentor appearances so well that I’m never quite sure when one will turn up, and when they do, it’s always horrific. Learning their exposed weakness areas and dealing with them efficiently as a fireteam is paramount to survival, and they are one of the best new additions to Destiny 2.
As we progress through the events of Lightfall we can’t help but think that this must feel very alienating to new players. There’s a lot of lore, some explained and some not. What is the Veil? Well, no one seems to know exactly. Destiny has always focused on storytelling, worldbuilding, history, and intricate relationships, all of which are difficult to keep up with even for die-hard fans of the game. It turns out that the Veil, an object of paracausal power, has been hidden in Neomuna since the first Collapse, and Savathun, The Witch Queen‘s protagonist, is responsible for hiding it. The Witness sends Calus to Neptune to find it and set up a link between it and the Traveler.
The Witness and Calus originally intended to use something called the Radial Mast to connect with the Veil, although nothing about what this actually is or how it came to exist is explained which is more than a little frustrating. Regardless, we soon find ourselves in a room fighting off giant tanks, Calus’ Shadow Legion forces, and trying to destroy the Radial Mast to prevent the Witness from making this connection.
Wielding new powers of Darkness
Throughout the campaign, which is available at either normal or legendary difficulty, we’re introduced to Strand, the new Darkness subclass. Using Strand, Guardians can grapple through the air, hooking onto enemies before slamming down on them causing them to explode. Strand gifts Guardians with extreme mobility and whilst the new subclass can take some time to get to grips with, when it clicks it’s incredibly satisfying. Osiris is your teacher as you learn how to wield Strand and a difficult exercise in learning how to best utilize Strand in the campaign is repurposed in the activities available after its completion in the form of a time trial.
The build crafting overhaul featured in Destiny 2: Lightfall means that it’s simpler than ever to find something that works exceptionally well, and by day two I had already created a Strand Hunter build that could almost infinitely suspend groups of enemies, rendering them helpless to my relentless bullet fire. Defeating these suspended enemies spawns Tangles which can be shot to cause a blast radius of damage or thrown for a similar effect. Strand is not built to rely on one or two abilities to cause huge damage, but rather to wield the battlefield to your advantage, stringing a series of effects together to devastating effects. When you realize this, it becomes one of the strongest subclasses in the game.
Neomuna, the lifeless city
Landing on Neomuna for the first time is awe-inspiring. Its neon-draped streets are the most modern Destiny has ever looked but it’s deathly quiet. As the Cloud Strider Nimbus explains, all of its citizens have uploaded themselves to a metaverse of sorts. In their place are some fragmented yellow figures — at first I thought this was some sort of weird futuristic grass, but no, they’re supposed to represent Neomuna’s population.
Nimbus is a bright, sometimes clumsy, often goofy new character. They begin the campaign as Rohan’s protege and end it as the protector of Neomuna. Nimbus could be used to provide context and story around the Veil and Neomuna but they just… don’t. Having said that, their voice actor is both fantastic and engaging and I have nothing but praise for them.
I’m an avid Destiny 2 fan, I play almost daily with my clan, and I am struggling to see how this expansion would bring in new players. And even then, will said newcomers stay beyond the campaign to discover what the Veil is, what the Witness does next, and how this decade-long saga will come to an end in 2024? I wouldn’t blame anyone that doesn’t. Personally, however, I definitely need to see the end of this saga.
Prior to Lightfall, I felt Destiny was at its strongest point ever. The narrative was exceptional, the character development was unrivaled by any other FPS, and the future seemed both terrifying and wildly exciting. After Lightfall, I am still intrigued to see what happens next, but I think that lies solely with my thousands of logged hours and personal emotional investment that may not exist for new players. There is so much potential in Destiny for newcomers, but it isn’t easy to find, and Bungie often doesn’t help them along the way.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]