Long-running survival games are complex beasts prone to wrangling and expanding in new directions. After so many years, game modes, prior changes, and unique audience groups, a game like Destiny 2 should satisfy many masters. That challenge is keenly realized with Destiny 2’s latest expansion. Lightfall is the final chapter in the storytelling arc that has been ongoing since the original game’s launch in 2014. It misses the mark as a narrative and in a few other key ways. But as an evolution of what came before, it brings a number of important additions to the table.
Lightfall’s meandering and poorly explained plot doesn’t make a convincing first impression. The night’s attempt to nod to ’80s action movies mostly falls flat, trying and failing to conjure up a playful vibe with the impending apocalypse. A new main character and vendor, whose dialogue is even more jarring than a lot of the early Destiny 2 leads combined, dramatically exacerbates that tonal misstep. After several missions teasing the big revelation, the story kicks off with little payoff, taking players right back to where it began in the opening cinematic.
The city of Neomuna on Neptune is colourful, but empty and devoid of life. It lacks the spirit of discovery and exploration that characterizes the best destinations in the game. However, Distant Planet has some enjoyable combat locations and activities, including public battle locations, new enemy configurations, and the most dangerous non-boss enemies the game has yet to offer in the form of Tormentors – A big challenge, whenever they come.
The bad taste left by Lightfall’s struggling campaign is gradually mitigated by much of the rest of the expansion’s offerings. The new strand sub-sections take a while to wrap one’s head around but ultimately emerge as incredibly rewarding and powerful. Strand abilities lead to a more mobile and controllable battlefield, dramatically expanding the playstyles available in the best of ways.
Major improvements in quality of life also make a big difference, even though some systems still need improvement. The long-awaited approach to loadout is excellent, allowing you to set up multiple builds to flip on the fly – both for function and cosmetics. An easy to understand new approach to mods for newcomers to build-crafting. With adjustments to how artifact unlocks grant new abilities, and the continued addition of options for each subclass, the ability to tweak and experiment is more enjoyable than ever.
The new Appreciation and Guardian Rank systems are nice additions, but both feel too prescriptive and limited to be meaningful. Guardian ranks demand highly specialized tasks that are not representative of what they do – conveying the experience and expertise of a given player. And upvotes are a fun idea that supports better community expression, but in practice, players are mostly just spamming them without much thought.
Other endgames and investment-oriented activities are much better than the campaign. Stellar Extra missions offer new challenges and locations, such as the thrilling hidden quest for a Vexcalibur alien. On that note, the many new exotics add so much to the sandbox experience that it makes me eager to pursue them. The Latest Raid offers an intriguing core mechanic and a unique visual palette that blends organic and tech-infused looks into a cohesive style. And the new seasonal content focused on Earth’s last defense against invasion and destruction is engaging and fun.
Maybe I found the campaign uninspired and its legendary difficulty a slog featuring bullet-spawning enemies. But the expansion of such a big game is much more than its opening story. Lightfall sets up some strong potential – in the narrative and gameplay realms – for a rewarding year of adventures. Despite some frustrations, Destiny 2 continues to make progress in catering to a diverse player base characterized by disparate desires. Lightfall is hit and miss, but none of the stumbles should be enough to derail players’ enthusiasm to continue or see the epic next year.