Another year, another expansion of the game that takes after its protagonists and constantly refuses to die despite a wide variety of environmental conditions. Just under a month ago, Bungie released the penultimate chapter to Destiny 2’s Light and Dark Saga. After the universal fan and critical praise from Witch Queen and a mostly solid year of revamping subclasses and having a range of seasonal narratives highs and lows, the anticipation was palpable. Hyped up to the start of the end and a tribute to 80’s action movies, Lightfall also promised a complete overhaul of the mod system, new quality of life improvements, and a whole new subclass to completely upend the sandbox.
Now at this point in the franchise, I already bought into the game. Ever since 2014, Destiny and Destiny 2 have been the one game I play constantly. It’s a perfect blend of fantasy and sci-fi and is the best feeling shooter I’ve ever played by far. I have loved this game throughout all of its highs and lows, and it would take truly extraordinary circumstances from me not to log in every day and play. With that said, we’re going to take a look at all the things going on in the world of Destiny and provide some insight and context for anyone curious about what’s going on after working hours.
A Weird Intermission to Begin the End
Last year, we learned that Savathun hated the subjugation under the Witness and became a massive spanner in the works. This tossed several wrenches in an eon long plan from the Witness, and now the Black Fleet is at our door and we gotta hitch an express route to Neptune to deal with new Calus and the Veil.
After doing a lot of theoretical build crafting, I started the legendary campaign. Credit to Bungie, the opening mission did in fact feel like an action movie.
Gameplay wise, the campaign felt significantly shorter than Witch Queen. Perhaps it was because the dramatic increase in power over the last few seasons or perhaps the campaign was simply easier. Either way, I was able to complete the majority of the legendary campaign in about 8 hours, and then decided to take on the final boss fresh on Wednesday rather than try to brute force my way through serial trial and error.
However, while it was abstractly easier there were still a couple of truly frustrating moments as a solo player the first time around, namely:
- Downfall’s final room with infinitely spawning adds
- Mission’s 6 final room with infinitely spawning adds and two tanks
- Mission 7’s final room with an instant kill death wall
- The final fight with Calus
Not so incidentally, all of these encounters also heavily suggested the use of the base kit of Strand and the base kit of Strand was almost certainly not tuned for the legendary campaign. Strand, at base, has absolutely no sustain and awkward survivability and that close quarters combat, when the enemies are tankier and can hit harder, regulates the grapple as a pure movement, leaving you with on less tool to actively deal with threats. With the titan specifically, I found the melee to have the worst possible tracking, kept getting distracted by my super resembling an Excadrill, and while the class ability having innate crowd control was nice, I also ended several runs because the grapple just gently careened me into a pit.
However, none of that compares to the $#!? that was Calus. A brutally unfair fight with random projectiles, two tormentors, enemies that can fling you across the map, and a boss that can randomly OHKO for a wide variety of angles that you seemingly have little recourse. Subsequent attempts proved equally frustrating on legend and comically easy on normal.
From the opening sequence where we snuck on board a Shadow Legion ship hitching a ride to Neptune to randomly finding green string in the streets to the predictable sacrifice of the older Cloudstrider to barely making in time to disrupt the big bad’s plans, narratively, the promise of 80’s action movie was fulfilled (for better and for worse). After the thrilling mystery that was Witch Queen, the Lightfall campaign was a paint by the numbers stop the villain from doing something. At the center of the campaign was “The Veil,” a mysterious artifact we knew nothing about at the start of the campaign and know nothing about after the end of the campaign. Outside of it being an interest to the Witness, there is little understanding of what it is, what it does, and why it’s so critical to everyone. It’s hard to put stock in anything going on within the story, because there’s a whole litany of questions that the game only half answers.
- Why are there only two Cloudstriders? (It is implied to be a resource issue, but that’s never fully expounded on in the narrative)
- Why are we protecting an actual city if all of the citizen’s exist as a virtual consciousness? (There’s an argument to be made that this was an evacuation protocol)
- Why does the Witness not directly involve itself in the business since it’s very capable of destroying us?
Our Neomuna residents of Rohan and Nimbus were a fun call to the typical buddy cop dynamic, but the nonsensical non-linearity of reasoning offset any emotional investment.
As both a standalone expansion, the follow to one of the best campaign experiences, and the prelude to the final chapter of a 10-year saga, Lightfall rings hollow which is disappointing as it is the point of entry and reentry. But the campaign is really only gonna be played once or thrice, and there’s so much else to feast on with DLC.
The immediate offers for the post-campaign revolve around the various activities of Neomuna. After chilling with some poukas (who have some sort of nebulous connection with strand), you are prompted to explore the Cloud City with a variety of objectives. As is tradition, you’re asked to complete patrols, public events, and lost sectors (an honest to the Traveler slog as we’ve done on Europa and the Throne World) before eventually delving into slightly more interesting objectives.
The majority of Neomuna revolves around Vex Incursion Zones, where Strand subclasses get empowered and the closest thing to world boss events occur which rotate weekly, and the Terminal Overload, an open world event like the Sorrows of Horror that rotate daily. The three exotic quests that are a part of Lightfall are as straightforward as they come, but they do end up being slightly more impactful.
Acquiring Deterministic Chaos delved more into the complicated nature of grief with Nimbus and culminated with a backwards trek through the Garden of Salvation, continuing Bungie’s trend of trying to repurpose the one-of raid content for more players to see the gorgeous set pieces they created. It also tried to provide some additional insight into the Veil by calling it the Light’s Black Heart, which is an incredibly unmeaningful sentence since we barely have a conception of the Black heart from D1. Winterbite provided critical context on Neomuna while also supplying one of the most enjoyable pieces of armament with the Big Frigid Glaive, Winterbite. The quest for Final Strand was more or a less a quick rundown of “hey, look a time trial” which has resulted in some incredible clips, but it didn’t really speak to me personally.
The typical weekly mission with the three variety of Partitions and the pseudo-matchmade Terminal Overload provide nice distractions to the cadence, and it helps that the Neomuna weapons are worth grinding for, although I am a little partial to the traditional 6-person Wellspring activity. It certainly helps the neon cyberpunk aesthetics were much more my preference than the high fantasy of the Throne World, but as I’ll discuss in the sandbox, the mere existence of Winterbite was a game changer for however it long it was allowed to exist in its original state.
On the Other Side of the Sol System
Even though the campaign is the hallmark of any expansion, the seasonal content is equally important to the taste of the first expansion. And Season of Defiance has managed to be a solid, if not still exceedingly predictable, affair.
Back on Earth, we continue to fight the Shadow Legion kidnapping humans and Elkinsi for… reasons, and we work alongside Queen Mara. The battlegrounds in the EDZ, Cosmodrome, and Orbital Prison are fun jaunts that let you enjoy the sandbox to the fullest. Over the past month, we have also gotten to experience a new secret mission (a much welcome return), and a couple narrative beats that have hurt hurt.
The revised seasonal model has been nothing but a resounding success in my eyes. The return to a key system for red-borders and high stat armor has been great as someone who plays a lot, and the game has been fairly generous with rewards. The Defiance Battleground is perhaps the most diverse of the battlegrounds so far and feels appropriately challenging to the point of actually necessitating buildcraft rather than just steamrolling through.
The Avalon exotic mission was another venture into the Vex Network, where we got to reunite with Asher Mir and go through a whole plot reference journey through Arthurian legend and the Pyramidion culminating in the acquisition of the exotic Vexcaliber. The mission on normal is a fun combat challenge with a series of puzzles. The mission on Legend is one of the more harrowing experiences as the Vex continue to have some of the most frustrating team compositions out there.
However, this is one of the rare instances where a game’s perceptions become inextricably linked to a real-world event, because this past month we also saw the passing of Lance Reddick. Among being a phenomenal actor and human being in general, Reddick was the voice of Commander Zavala and a fellow Destiny player himself. And days later, we saw the in-game death of the fan-favorite Amanda Holiday who Zavala grieved for. You couldn’t have possibly timed any series of events quite worse: the sadness compounds, the heart weeps, and the future becomes even more uncertain.
Fresh Coats of Paint
With most of the new activities out of the way, it’s time to pivot over to some more of the general gameplay changes that have occurred. Lightfall made a concerted effort to improve on-boarding, buildcraft, and general direction.
The three central components involve Guardian Ranks, Commendations, and the new Loadout system.
Loadouts need no introduction, as it has a been recurring feature since the game’s inception. Having it in game is much more of a boon than I imagine, as now I can’t go back to the olden days of Ishtar Commander and DIM to manage all of my gear needs (although as inventory management tools, they are still unparalleled). Being able to save mods, weapons, and cosmetics and switch with a button press has made transition from activity a breeze.
Guardian Ranks are exactly what they sound like, a numeric designation that roughly corresponds to a player’s experience. The system is a little undercut since the majority of players who have touched the game in any capacity are retroactively granted Rank 6 as a Veteran and that progressing through 1-5 requires exceedingly basic objectives, but at the very least it’s more direction than the previous model for new players. Progressing through the higher echelons does require completing some reasonably arduous tasks which makes it higher ranks more respectable as you’re able to look and go “oh, so you’ve seen some $#!%.” Although, with Guardian Ranks comes the Commendation system.
Themed around playing cards, the Commendation system is a good idea in theory. Give fellow players accolades for being particularly good in one way or another. In practice, the system falls flat as given commendation is not as optional as presentation. Reaching certain commendation scores are required for high ranks, and there are tangible rewards associated with giving the cards out. As such, rather than a way to reward exceptionalism, it becomes an administrative task to check boxes for you and your fireteam.
Still, for a first iteration of the system, it isn’t terrible but still cumbersome.
As I’ve been writing this article, the one thing I keep coming back to is that as rough around the edges every narrative, activity, and reworked system, the sandbox in the game has never had so many viable options with so many ways to buildcraft.
While the Armor Charge system is significantly streamlined from its predecessors of Charge with Light and Elemental Wells, the removal elemental affinities allow for more mix-matching of general skills and allow more diversity with weapon loadouts than before. Almost every single effect from yesteryear can be replicated, even if the ceiling isn’t quite as high. It’s a much more user friendly and explained, and the narrowing band definitely kept some of the inherent power creep in check.
That said, power creep still very much does exist as the innate Artificat Mods allow for some truly ridiculous potent effects that completely empower builds to a whole new level, and the new overcharge/surge system reward playing into the Bungie preferred meta.
All fifteen subclasses are viable to certain degrees. While I still find myself playing Striker and Behemoth more days than not, the Beserker subclasses off an impossible to ignore with its level of crowd control. Subclasses having innate anti-champion capabilities opens up a whole slew of options, and I find myself willingly changing loadouts at a while just to play around, at least from a PvE perspective. Most of the time in PvP is treating it like an arcade mode rather than anything remotely competitive.
There is a plethora of synergies and internal gameplay loops. There is a distinct reward for min-maxing and matching. While at the upper echelon of difficulty, only a handful of builds truly thrive, the fact remains that this sandbox feels like I have unique playstyles for each of my classes rather than different flavored explosions that result in the same loop.
Additionally, it’s also the first time where buildcraft consistently matters. The overhaul and normalization of difficulty across the majority of the boards means that a base level of buildcraft is required to efficiently clear things. It makes for a more consistent experience for the part, although there are still a number of jarring spikes in both easy and hard.
Plants & Pyramids
Before we close shop, the reason why this is a retrospective instead of a review is because there was a raid, and the raid is the pinnacle of Destiny 2. Raids are what hook end-game players and are some of the most satisfying activities to complete.
This year, my raid team finally managed to get a clear on contest which was a notable milestone I’d hoped to achieve. Fighting on contest mode was a grueling combat challenge. The mechanics definitely err’ed on the easier end as it was a return to older raid philosophies/new dungeon designs where only one or two people needed to handle the mechanics while everyone else was concerned with paving the way for runners. The set pieces were glorious, and the gear is some of the more alien that Bungie have curated.
But with contest mode over, Root of Nightmares is one of the easier raids to walk through and even though two weeks have passed, my crew already has it down to barely over an hour. It took months before we had the level of efficiency with King’s Fall and Vow of the Disciple. I’m not complaining per se, as the raid is still fun (physic shenanigans aside) and shorter runs means more run in the long run, but it doesn’t quite hit the same highs as the top tier raids on my list.
Root of Nightmares falls right in the middle for me. There are several raids I think are significantly better, and there are several raids I think are significantly worse (all of this being a relative scale, as my least favorite raid is still a fun experience that have made lots of memories), and Root of Nightmares is both marked up and marred by how non-threatening the normal version of the raid can be.
Master brings a little more parity back into the mix, although most of the challenge lies within re-calibrating.
‘Cause We’re in Too Deep
Multiple things can be true at the same time. Lightfall had a disappointing campaign that provided next to narrative involvement, was more of a slog than exciting than its immediate predecessor, and the pinnacle content across the board is widely, inconsistently tuned. Lightfall also provides one of the best sandboxes in the game’s history enabled by a vast improvement in quality of life. Right now, the streamlined Armor Charge system makes it easy to configure effects and tune even if it’s not to the same level of complexity as the previous Charge with Light and We’ll system. The in-game loadouts make it easy to switch between in a way that saves invaluable time in a way I didn’t actively realize until I had the one button option.
The game is fun. I feel more powerful than ever before. It’s not my favorite iteration of the game, but it remains an iteration of the game that I can’t wait to log into and figure out how to eek out just a bit more optimization.