By a Strand | One Month into Destiny 2: Lightfall

April 16, 2023

Written by Donald Duong

It’s said that people only remember the start and the finish of a story. As long as you manage to hook people in with a compelling introduction and leave them with a satisfactory conclusion, people will forget and forgive any flaws in between the two. Lightfall is the latest expansion to Destiny 2, and is the penultimate release in the ten-year Light and Darkness Saga. It seems to be putting this storytelling theory to the test.

Previous Destiny expansions have done a fantastic job setting up a primary antagonist for us to root against, particularly with the scheming and charismatic Savathûn in last year’s Witch Queen expansion. Lightfall literally starts with Earth being attacked by the Witness – the ultimate villain of the Light and Darkness Saga – which you would think would be where the action is in this expansion.

On the contrary, you’re shuffled off to Neptune and put into what is effectively a bottle episode seemingly isolated from the main plot until the very final moments. This would be fine if this self-contained story was good, but it is one of the shaggier expansion narratives in recent years. I could go into detail and throw lots of proper nouns at you – ones which nobody in the Destiny community have encountered until this expansion – but you effectively spend the Lightfall campaign chasing after a MacGuffin (the new Strand class, more on this later) to prevent a MacGuffin (Emperor Calus) from MacGuffing (activating the Radial Mast) the MacGuffin (finding the Veil). It prevents any opportunity to get emotionally invested in the narrative — at a time where engagement should be at its highest.

The narrative is further sabotaged by the moment-to-moment writing. One of the new allies you meet on Neomuna is Nimbus, one of the Cloud Striders defending the city. They’re very braggadocious and sarcastic, much like Cayde-6 in Destiny 2’s earlier days, and are jarring compared to Destiny’s otherwise earnest and self-serious tone; in one instance, during the aftermath of an emotional bossfight they immediately seek a fistbump. They are a very divisive character, but I would argue that they aren’t done the dirtiest by Lightfall’s faltered script. That ignominy goes to Osiris, your companion for this expansion who has recently lost his immortality and seemingly all characterisation; he maintains a singular tone for most of the campaign, curmudgeonly barking at you to get the MacGuffin.

Then again, not everyone reads Destiny for the articles. For those who are just here for the action, the pieces you expect from a bombastic campaign are all here – the tank mission, the Sparrow escape from the forces of the Darkness – but they feel rote, as if the campaign is crossing off items on a grocery list. It isn’t until the second half of the campaign that the missions start to become more original and enjoyable. There is a stand-off section, not unlike Horde modes from other games, which could easily be broken into its own activity. There is even a Rocky-style montage which is teeming with style and fun that was sorely missing in the rest of the campaign.

However, these moments are not enough to salvage a campaign that is idling, one that is too focussed putting the jigsaw pieces in place that it’s forgotten to print a design in the first place.

Once you’ve completed the campaign, the game of Destiny well and truly begins. That’s right, it’s Numbers Go Higher time.

Grind is a very familiar concept to Destiny players – one might even call its entire point – but the climb has become more of an ordeal. This is partly due to the Vanguard playlist requiring two additional strikes (or one additional Heroic Nightfall) to get the Pinnacle drop; this is a personal petty gripe but it’s my review and I’ll cry if I want. Lightfall also brought with it a difficulty rebalance which sought to make even the game’s ritual activities like Lost Sectors and even Public Events less of a walkover. Bungie succeeded at this objective…almost too well.

This is most evident in the Neomuna open world. By the time you’ve finished the campaign and are beginning to mop up the post-Lightfall quests, you’ll be at around 1750 power – however, enemies begin at 1780 power and only get more powerful. It means that even in Terminal Overload, the primary public event on Neomuna that the game keenly directs you towards post-campaign, you’ll be barely scratching the fodder enemies whilst they blast you in two-to-three hits.

As a result, it feels more essential than ever to have a proper character build, complete with synergistic use of fragments and armour mods, to survive and thrive in Destiny. Thankfully, armour mods are no longer tied to individual elements and all players have access to the non-seasonal suite of mods, making it easier than ever to experiment with builds…or, if you’re like me, to steal them from content creators. On top of this, you now have up to ten loadouts you can equip at any time, meaning that your fun solar build, your sweaty void raid construction, even your meme PvP deck are all a click away.

Lightfall’s other successful introduction is Strand, a character class focussed on mobility and area control. Its marquee ability is the grapple, which lets you sling yourself around the world; however, don’t go onto it expensing locomotion on the level of Spider-Man’s webslinging; the long cooldowns make it so you can only do it a handful of times at once, and even when active you still don’t have the spatial awareness required due to the first-person perspective; most of my deaths during the campaign were because I swung myself into a bottomless pit or under a platform.

Despite this, the other abilities – the slam to suspend your enemies, the threadlings to pester your opponents – promise to generate some interesting builds to take into the repeatable activities. I’m a Hunter main and you’ll have to pry my Arc Puncher build from my cold-jolted hands, but there are Titan Strand out there which have livened up what has up until this point been a stagnant class.

Alongside the main Lightfall campaign was the Season of Defiance. It’s to be expected that the seasonal campaign alongside an annual expansion would be lighter-on, but its contribution to the greater plot can literally be summarised in two words. Rather, its contribution is the smaller moments: The tension between Crow and Amanda Holiday, the moment when Mara Sov calls you Queensguard.

The seasonal activity that accompanies it, the Defiant Battlegrounds, is one of the better seasonal rituals to date. The maps are slightly more mechanically dense than previous seasonal activities, which has left me carrying more than one blueberry party, but with a knowledgeable fireteam they will be a solid addition to the weekly rotations and eventually to the Vanguard playlist.

Meanwhile, Bungie has doubled-down on the difficulty of Neomuna’s open world, stating in a recent blog post that “it should feel unsafe and oppressive”. In other words, Neomuna will continue to be a no-go zone. For those who do dare to step in to complete the Terminus Overload activity, they will have a tougher time as the player population in the area undergoes natural attrition.

One other persistent criticism among the Destiny community (though one I’ve yet to reckon with) relates to the increased difficulty of Legend and Master difficulty activities, as part of the aforementioned difficulty adjustments, and the apparent lack of increased reward as compensation. Bungie has started to address this by adjusting the drop rates for Exotics, but it remains to be seen whether this is enough to make the grindiest of grinds enough a drawcard to return to.

As we get the next three seasons of story and eventually the denouement in The Final Shape, we may forget the issues in Lightfall. But for the moment, we are left to linger in the campaign’s weak writing and the questionable balance decisions. Are these flaws going to detract me from playing Destiny and recommending Destiny as a whole? Of course not; I’m going to see this through to the end. But when The Final Shape comes out, my thought is no longer ‘How will this end’ but ‘Can they stick the landing.’

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