Lightfall is a deeply uneven experience that makes a terrible first impression. An excellent new subclass and raid can only carry it so far, especially when new and exacerbated issues run this deep.
The Strand subclass is incredible
Fabulous Exotic weapons
Loadouts are a game-changer
An immensely disappointing story
Excess difficulty spike hurts gunplay
Half-baked social systems
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- A campaign that falls flat
- Strand leads the list of successes
- A lot of little problems add up to a big one
Destiny 2: Lightfall has been a new experience for me. I usually get overloaded at the start of an expansion and ride the hype for a good long while, slowly calming down as the cycle inevitably becomes repetitive. I can't remember another expansion that started so weakly, improved so dramatically, and then slowly pummeled me into apathy as Destiny 2: Lightfall has done. I've moved past the disappointing story and found the true strengths of the expansion – the Strand subclass, some incredible Exotics, fabulous side missions – but systemic problems are sapping my enthusiasm. I'm invariably going to put a lot more time into Destiny 2 and have plenty of fun playing with friends, but it's looking increasingly like I'll do so despite Lightfall, not because of it.
A campaign that falls flat
FAST FACTS: Destiny 2 Lightfall
Release date: February 28, 2023
Platform(s): PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One
The best and worst of Destiny 2: Lightfall are reflected in its campaign. Finally, the Darkness-wielding Witness clashes with the Light-giving Traveler. This may be a narrative climax five years in the making, but the campaign is an uninspiring six-hour romp chasing poorly explained MacGuffins across the new Neptunian city of Neomuna. Story elements and even some characters are introduced and abandoned so quickly that it's hard to get invested in what Bungie is trying to tell us. We have to find the Veil, multiple characters insist, never saying why. We have to destroy the Radial Mast – again, I don't know what it is. The Witness wants to do something to the Traveler. But what? No one seems to know, not because we don't fully understand this entropic cosmic threat, but because the events and characters of the campaign too often don't engage with it. Many of those same characters, especially the Cloudstrider warriors Nimbus and Rohan, also distract from the purpose of the campaign and muddy its tone with out-of-place banter.
With Destiny 2: The Witch Queen, Bungie transformed Destiny's wealth of amazing lore into a clear and gripping storyline – the series finally had something lasting to say. Threats and motivations were clear, and everything felt connected. I wanted more, and had anticipated that the next expansion would deliver exactly that. But Destiny 2: Lightfall devolves, returning to the days of vague gestures toward the Light and the Darkness. Nine years in, it's time for the broader narrative to provide answers rather than dredging up old questions and fruitlessly asking new ones. Bungie says future seasonal developments will shed some light on events, but Year 6 should be building on Lightfall, not bailing it out. The campaign is such a misstep that I'm growing increasingly concerned whether Destiny 2 will be able to deliver a worthy finale in The Final Shape, the one remaining entry of this saga, which is due to land in 2024.
As disappointing as the story is, the campaign is at least enjoyable moment-to-moment when you play it on Legend difficulty. Bungie is getting better at enemy density and campaign reward tracks, and Lightfall delivers a strong series of shootouts and cutscenes. However, the pacing of this adventure is undercut by the slow introduction of the new Strand subclass, with tutorials and staging areas causing further disruptions through to the final mission. I wish I could have either played the campaign using my Strand subclass the entire time, or without the story constantly detouring to mention it.
Strand leads the list of successes
Destiny 2: Lightfall finds room to breathe once you get through the campaign. Now that all the Fragments have been unlocked, Strand has proven itself a potent maelstrom of crowd control. The subclass excels at chaining kills and abilities together, turning a single defeat into a room-clearing reaction of Threadlings and Tangles and lethal wires that hum and snap and coil with stunning effects. Even if I am thoroughly disappointed in the much-vaunted grappling hook – it's exhilarating to use, but the cooldown is so unbearably long that it's impossible to experiment with, and the damage the grapple melee deals doesn't offset how vulnerable it makes you. Some cooldowns need adjusting, but Strand is exactly what Lightfall needed it to be: different, powerful, and fun, plus a compelling reason to play all three classes.
Buildcrafting with Strand has been much easier thanks to Destiny 2's new loadout system, which I desperately wish we'd gotten, I don't know, four years ago. It's that good. It just works. Save your transmogs, your mods, your boss DPS setups, your AoE builds, your PvP loadouts, and swap between them in seconds. It's magic. My only complaint is that some builds all but require you to reset your Artifact mods, and I want to see this functionality added to loadouts. But this feature is a massive quality of life win.
Slightly less magical is the pruned armor mod system, which revolves around generating and spending Charges of Light. This would be a fine framework if it didn't boil down to constantly picking up orbs that drop from enemies. I am sick to death of picking stuff up in Destiny 2. Grabbing ammo is fine because it's infrequent, but this orb thing is tedious and disruptive in combat, and it's totally impractical in hard content. But if we can get ways of generating Charges that don't involve vacuuming orbs all over the place, I think mods will be in a good spot.
Lightfall does have some great activities and toys. I am obsessed with Verglas Curve and Winterbite, Exotic weapons so good that they're making me play Stasis. The new Nezarec Strike is a welcome addition to the Vanguard playlist, even if that playlist is still laughably unrewarding. The Exotic mission for the Vexcalibur glaive is a delight. I love Neptune's Titanfall-style time trial and sparrow racing side missions. The Battlegrounds mode for the Season of Defiance is fun and full of loot, and the seasonal upgrade model has been refreshingly streamlined. Compared to the campaign, I'm also way more interested in the season's more character-driven storyline. It is always, always the stories about memorable individuals, not Nebulous Things In Space, that truly hit.
The new raid is also fabulous despite some frustrating bugs and slightly ugly, but powerful, weapons. Root of Nightmares is an exercise in momentum and crowd control, and a nice change of pace after Destiny 2's long history of puzzles followed by strict DPS checks. It pulls you through an otherworldly, iridescent landscape born from a collision of Light and Darkness, cashing in one of the more interesting subplots lurking just beneath the surface of Lightfall's story. I love that the final boss is a genuine threat which can, and should, be properly tanked by somebody, bringing another corner of the classic MMO triangle – DPS, tank, heal – into Destiny's gun-first universe. If I have a complaint, it's that for a studio which frequently comments on making Well of Radiance and Divinity feel less necessary, Bungie sure does make nothing but DPS phases where standing in a Well and shooting a Divinity cage is optimal, if not mandatory. But as a devout Divinity devotee and Warlock main, I can only complain so much.
A lot of little problems add up to a big one
While Destiny 2: Lightfall certainly has its moments, it's hard to escape the fact that the underlying game is a bit of a mess right now. I'd hoped Year 6 would clean up the exceedingly buggy events we experienced throughout Year 5, but here we are. So many Exotics and mods have been disabled. Too many important mods do not work as intended. My friends randomly can't join me in activities (yes, I checked my fireteam settings). Players and guns are randomly invisible. Neomuna is filled with Cabal Thresher ships that one-shot you at any level. Garbage loot from years ago is cluttering up the pool of new gear. There's no telling how many raid runs my team has lost purely to bugs. Worse, two of Lightfall's biggest additions, Guardian Ranks and Commendations, are utterly vestigial.
Why do Guardian Ranks, a measure of progression, reset every season? We already have titles to gild seasonally; we don't need another form of impermanent prestige. I am so tired of this kind of redundancy. And the progression curve is so flat that unless you started playing Destiny 2 10 minutes ago, you're indistinguishable from rank six players who've put in thousands of hours. I hope Guardian Ranks are at least giving new players some semblance of direction, because they are pointless otherwise – especially when the biggest bottleneck to ranking up is getting enough Commendations from people you don't know.
I've cleared all of the Rank 7 challenges, but I have less than one third of the Commendations necessary, and there's nothing I can do about that besides chucking random badges at people hoping they do the same for me. Just as resetting Guardian Ranks totally undermines them, requiring Commendations ruins the spirit of the system. It should be fun to commend a random player who I really clicked with or who saved my ass in an activity. It should be spontaneous, not mandatory. It is impossible to have fun with this system, and it just feels so tacked-on and buried. Why can I only give out two commendations in a four-player activity? Why can I only choose from as few as two descriptors? Why is there no equivalent to Final Fantasy 14's Mentor status for highly-commended players? Why does Bungie think people immediately resorted to cheesing Commendations? We are almost six years into Destiny 2, and these are not the questions I should be asking about social features.
But through all of this, the most damaging aspect of Lightfall may be its hasty shift in difficulty. I was thrilled to see Bungie trying to "bring challenge back to Destiny 2." I wanted, and still want, the "five Power under" tuning of the previous seasonal mode to be the baseline for the game. Combat is more engaging, and buildcrafting is more rewarding, when enemies put up a fight. But Lightfall has egregiously over-corrected. I wanted to be five Power under, not 20 or 30, at least not all the time. There are now just three difficulty tiers with lopsided Power gaps of 60 and 10, just to show how asinine Power really is as a system. The day-one raid was easier than most Lost Sectors, let alone the new Exotic mission. The majority of activities, including patrol on Neomuna, are over-tuned to the point that most primary weapons feel terrible. Sure, these guns control the same, but they feel weaker, and often not worth using at all. Destiny's biggest strength has always been its gunplay, and that has been seriously harmed here.
At the end of the Season of the Seraph, I logged in every day wanting to play Destiny 2. The Lightfall expansion has been out for two weeks and I now find myself wanting to want to play Destiny 2. The raid will keep me logging in each week, and I always enjoy running the new Battlegrounds, but the central destination is unappealing and other core activities are a slog. Lightfall feels like an expansion from several years ago, not the penultimate chapter of the Light and Darkness saga. It just makes too many well-worn mistakes to hold my attention in the long run.
Destiny 2: Lightfall was reviewed on PC with code provided by the publisher.
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Austin freelanced for the likes of PC Gamer, Eurogamer, IGN, Sports Illustrated, and more while finishing his journalism degree, and he's been with GamesRadar+ since 2019. They've yet to realize that his position as a staff writer is just a cover up for his career-spanning Destiny column, and he's kept the ruse going with a focus on news and the occasional feature.