Long-running living games are complicated beasts to wrangle and expand in new directions. After so many years, game modes, prior changes, and unique audience groups, a game like Destiny 2 must cater to many masters. That challenge is keenly felt with Destiny 2’s latest expansion. Lightfall is the penultimate chapter in the storytelling arc that has been underway since the original game’s launch in 2014. It misses the mark as a narrative and in a few other key ways. But as a gradual evolution of what has come before, it brings a lot of important additions to the table.
Lightfall’s meandering and poorly explained plot does not offer a solid first impression. Attempts to nod tonally to ‘80s action flicks mostly fall flat, trying and failing to muster a playful vibe at odds with the impending apocalypse. A new core character and vendor, whose dialogue is even more irritating than the combined lot of early Destiny 2 leads, dramatically exacerbates that tonal misstep. After several missions that tease big revelations, the story closes with little payoff, putting players right back where it started in the opening cinematic.
The city of Neomuna on Neptune is colorful, but vacant and void of life. It lacks the sense of discovery and exploration that characterizes the best destinations in the game. However, the distant planet houses some enjoyable combat locales and activities, including invigorating public combat spaces, new enemy configurations, and the most dangerous non-boss enemies the game has yet introduced, in the form of the Tormentors – a great challenge, whenever they show up.
The poor taste left behind by Lightfall’s struggling campaign is gradually alleviated by much of what the rest of the expansion offers. The new Strand subclasses take a while to wrap one’s head around but eventually emerge as incredibly rewarding and powerful. Strand abilities lead to a more mobile and controllable battlefield, dramatically expanding the available playstyles in the best of ways.
Major quality-of-life improvements also make a big difference, even if some systems still need tweaking. The long-awaited approach to loadouts is excellent, letting you set up numerous builds to flip between on the fly – both for function and cosmetics. A new approach to mods is easier to grasp for newcomers to build-crafting. Alongside adjustments to how artifact unlocks provide new abilities, and continual additions to each subclass’ options, the capability to tweak and experiment is much more enjoyable than it has been previously.
New commendation and guardian rank systems are good additions, but both feel too prescriptive and limited to be meaningful. Guardian ranks demand too-specific tasks that don’t represent what they purport to do – express a given player’s experience and expertise. And commendations are a fun idea supporting improved community expression, but in practice, players are mostly just spamming them out without consideration.
Other endgame and investment-oriented activities fare much better than the campaign. Stellar extra missions offer new challenges and locales, like the thrilling hidden quest for the Vexcalibur exotic. On that note, several new exotics add much to the sandbox experience, making me eager to chase them down. 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 final defense against invasion and destruction, is engaging and fun.
I may have found the campaign uninspired and its legendary difficulty a slog characterized by bullet-spongey foes. But an expansion to a game this big is more than just its opening story. Lightfall sets up some strong possibilities – narratively and in the gameplay sphere – for a rewarding year of adventure ahead. Despite some frustrations, Destiny 2 continues to make strides in catering to a diverse player base characterized by disparate desires. Lightfall is hit and miss, but any stumbles shouldn’t be enough to derail players’ enthusiasm for continued adventure or the excitement of seeing the epic conclude over the next year.