If you’d asked me how I felt about Destiny’s latest expansion, Lightfall, prior to release, I probably would’ve insinuated it was a homerun waiting to happen. It felt like the writing was on the wall – high stakes, a swanky new subclass in Strand, a new city to explore, and so much more. It’s these hopes and expectations that set a bar for Lightfall that it simply couldn’t meet.
Does that mean Lightfall is a bad expansion? No, I don’t think so, at least. Where Lightfall crashes and burns with its character writing and narrative, it excels in its new gameplay additions and changes. Where difficulty has been adjusted to be more in-line with the ever-looming threat of power creep, Neomuna can feel disparate and empty. For every step in the right direction, there’s also a step backwards that feels more tangible than ever given The Witch Queen’s myriad successes.
If you equivalize Destiny’s decade spanning saga to that of the MCU, Lightfall is essentially the Infinity War of this narrative. The threat we’ve all been waiting for is here – the Witness, alongside a transformed Calus as its newest disciple. After attacking Earth and taking the Traveler captive, the Witness sends Calus to Neptune in search of a mysterious paracausal object known as the Veil.
Lightfall’s opening is firing on all cylinders, properly establishing the threat of the Witness and a sense of urgency about the whole campaign as our guardians hitch a ride to the hidden city of Neomuna. There’s a sense of rivalry between ourselves and Calus as years of conflict have built up to this moment. It’s unfortunate then, that after the first two missions, the campaign comes to a screeching halt on all fronts.
There’s a few key offenders, the most glaring of which is the general lack of explanation and characterization. Despite it being mentioned multiple times over the years in the lore, the Veil is never fully explained or explored here in Lightfall. Jargon and technical terms are thrown around in similar fashion to that of Destiny’s original campaign – only there’s no external lore to properly support it. Not only does Lightfall leave you with more questions than it does answers, it does so in an unsatisfying manner.
It’s clear that Lightfall’s seasons are going to delve into these subject matters deeper. I’m sure we’ll eventually learn what the Veil actually is, what the Witness wants with it, what the Radial Mast was meant to do, and more. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s hard not to feel short-changed when we’re essentially back where we started before the expansion dropped. As we move into the final year of this saga, it’s a time to provide answers, not shroud players in more mystery.
The Cloud Striders in concept are a great idea – defenders of a city separated from Guardians and the Traveler’s protection. Rohan in particular is quite engaging as he nears the end of his tenure as Cloud Strider and mentor to Nimbus. There’s a lot of parallels to be drawn between him and Osiris, and there was great opportunity for real growth between them. Unfortunately, Rohan just doesn’t get enough screentime to become the fan favourite character he had the potential for.
Nimbus is similarly misspent, largely in the way that their dialogue betrays the tone and atmosphere Lightfall is trying to establish. They’re constantly quipping, even after traumatic events, often resulting in cringe inducing moments. A lot of their writing does fare better in the post-campaign quests, but it feels like too little too late for it to have any long-term impact on players.
Arguably the biggest problem with the Cloud Striders, is that time spent with them is time that could’ve been spent with established characters. Osiris and Caiatl, who should’ve been pivotal to the plot of Lightfall, have very little to do, filling minor roles at best. Caiatl feels especially wasted given the conflict with her father should’ve taken centre stage here. Calus also feels unexplored given how often he’s served as our adversary over the years. One character that undeniably delivers, though, is the Witness, who commands every single scene they’re in. It’s in brief and fleeting moments that we see them, but it’s clear Bungie has a handle on this character and its otherworldly nature.
One of the most lauded inclusions in The Witch Queen was a new approach to campaign design and difficulty. Lightfall continues the trend with a new Legendary campaign, bringing eight tightly-paced missions to surmount on Neomuna. I don’t think the quality is quite at the same level as The Witch Queen’s campaign, but still offers an enjoyable romp from start to finish. It feels more coherent with the 80’s action movie inspiration Bungie was going for. Tormentors also accomplish what they set out to do remarkably well, serving as a terrifying yet engaging enemy unit that feels distinct from any other.
A large part of this success is thanks to Strand, our second Darkness-based subclass. Learnt over the course of the campaign, Strand is all about tapping into an ethereal weave that connects everything. This core concept gives way to some truly whacky ideas like a grapple hook, suspending enemies with threads, and unleashing sentient Strand constructs called Threadlings. Each Strand subclass feels incredibly distinct and immediately powerful with proper buildcrafting. You can really get into a flow with high actions per minute and flexible gameplay loops with each ability at your disposal.
From the mobile and powerful Hunter Threadrunner to the minion master Warlock Broodweaver, Strand has much to offer in countless facets of Destiny 2. It also helps that there’s a decent selection of Strand weapons to pair with these subclasses, offering new Strand-based perks and abilities that really freshen up the sandbox. The grapple is a particular standout, offering unparalleled movement and interactions that weren’t possible before. It feels truly distinct in the broader scope of Destiny’s subclasses, which isn’t such an easy feat nowadays given the complexity of the pre-existing four.
Destiny has often struggled with recent destinations being empty and lacking in things to do. They’re visually stunning and offer some degree of exploration, but don’t have the same enemy density as other aspects of the game. Neomuna is an improvement in this regard but there’s still work to do be done. General exploration can often feel quite barren and lifeless, with all of Neomuna’s citizens residing in a state of digital consciousness. It means you’ll only ever come across enemies, digital constructs, and other Guardians.
Terminal Overload and the Vex Incursion Zone do quite a bit to alleviate how empty it can feel at times, providing activities with loads of enemy density and worthwhile rewards. The city itself is gorgeous, offering neon-soaked skylines and high-rise buildings that feel distinct in Destiny’s slew of locations. It’s a shame it isn’t more vertically inclined given Strand’s inclusion, but swinging around the city is still a blast nonetheless.
There are few things that players look forward to more in new expansions than the introduction of a brand-new raid. Lightfall’s comes in the form of Root of Nightmares, set in a pyramid ship belonging to the Witness, only terraformed by the Traveler. It’s a truly gorgeous raid, with some of the best visuals we’ve seen in a raid to date – which is no small feat.
Unfortunately, I don’t think Root of Nightmares sticks the landing in terms of gameplay and design. It’s a combat focused raid, which there’s nothing wrong with, but it comes at the cost of mechanics. While there’s something to be said for simpler raids, I’d argue that RoN is overly straightforward. Three of the four encounters feel as if they could be Dungeon encounters, requiring little to no communication and collaboration between players. There’s nothing wrong with a short and sweet raid ala Wrath of the Machine, but the limited mechanical complexity means a lot of time is spent dealing with combatants as opposed to engaging with mechanics and puzzles. Where Vow of Disciple maybe leaned a little too hard into mechanical depth, Root of Nightmares is skewed too far in the other direction.
While the seasons that launch alongside major expansions are typically lighter in content, they’re also some of the most consistent. It’s still early days for Season of Defiance, but what’s been released so far has been quite enjoyable. It offers a pretty standard Battlegrounds activity that’s made more engaging through difficulty and high enemy density. The new exotic mission, Avalon, is also a hit for many of the same reasons. The writing here is also leagues above that of the main narrative, and I look forward to tuning in every week to see how the battle on Earth unfolds now that Neptune is (relatively) safe, even if the seasonal model is feeling tired.
Power creep is a concept that frequently rears its head in live-service games, and Destiny 2 is no stranger to it. Our power has grown exponentially over the last few years, and Bungie have decided to reel it in a bit by raising the game’s overall difficulty floor. The changes mostly land, making general playlist content more engaging than usual, incentivizing players to make use of buildcrafting and loadouts.
Not all of it works, though. There’re a few kinks to be ironed out within certain difficulty tiers, Nightfalls, and even Root of Nightmares. A flat increase in difficulty doesn’t work for all aspects of the game, though I suspect it’ll take some more extensive playtesting and feedback to get these activities to where they need to be. As a veteran player, I appreciate the overall increase in challenge, but can also see how it’s alienated some of the casual player-base, and can feel inconsistent.
You could also argue that Lightfall’s best inclusions come in the form of its quality-of-life changes, which are plentiful and vastly improve the overall experience. The mod system has been streamlined to demystify buildcrafting, with many mods being rolled into the new Armor Charge system. While I was initially hesitant at how simplified it seemed to be, I’ve come around to the system quite a bit. Buildcrafting is much less convoluted and you spend less time in menus as a result, while also cutting down on the overall messiness of the inventory. Loadouts and the new mod screen similarly streamline the process of managing armour and mods, making for a much more seamless experience overall.
Another long-standing point of pain, Champions, have also been addressed via using built-in subclass verbs and abilities to stun them. This seemingly insignificant change allows for much more freedom in terms of loadout and weapon choice, and adds a much needed fluidity to the combat loop when dealing with Champions. Artifact Mods have also been reworked to always be active, with the caveat of only being able to unlock 12. You’re free to reset the Artifact whenever you’d like, but its once again another example of cutting down on monotony while still placing buildcrafting at the forefront of Destiny 2’s RPG systems.
Destiny has long had an issue of bringing new and returning players into the fold. Its lack of tutorials and seemingly convoluted systems were alienating to those looking to get into the game. Bungie have made many attempts to address this issue, the latest of which comes in the new Guardian Ranks system. Guardian Ranks acts as an account rank that is meant to display how experienced a Guardian is, while also pointing new players in the direction of what to do next. While I can’t speak for the new player experience (which still doesn’t seem all too great), Guardian Ranks are a nice way to signify a player’s experience with the game, though it has some problems.
Because Guardian Rank unlocks are retroactive, its as if every single player is rank six – the highest you can be when a season begins. This already poses some issues, as someone with 3000 hours versus someone with a few hundred will start a season with the same rank. Unlocking Advanced Ranks allows you to grow further, but they reset at the start of every season, bringing everyone back down to six.
The biggest problem with this is that the system doesn’t really function as intended, and going to all the effort to earn Advanced Ranks feels wrong knowing it’s going to reset. The decision to tie achieving a certain Commendation Score to Guardian Ranks is also a baffling decision, completely undermining their purpose as people hand them out left, right, and centre to bolster their own scores.
If there’s one thing you can always count on with Destiny, it’s that the art team is going to deliver – and deliver they did. Neomuna is positively brimming with detail and architecture that feels almost alien and out of place – the way that a hidden city should be. Root of Nightmares is a visual feast as previously mentioned, and the few forays we’ve had into the Vex Network have me yearning for more. The visual effects of Strand also really pop with neon green threads exploding in every direction as you unravel your foes.
In saying this, Lightfall does continue the trend of buggy expansion launches. While the actual day one experience was remarkably smooth, numerous issues have reared their heads since launch, some of which have yet to be fixed. Aside from the usual weapon and armour bugs that have them doing ludicrous amounts of damage, there’s also an issue with character and weapon models turning invisible during long play sessions, which is seemingly linked to the commendations system. There’s also countless enemy attacks and environmental hazards tied to framerate, which actively punishes players for playing at higher frames. I think its fair to expect bugs on launch, but it’s disappointing that these nagging issues have yet to be fixed.
Expressing my opinion on Lightfall has been tricky. I don’t think this expansion is nearly as bad as some are making it out to be, there’s plenty of good on offer here. Strand, loadouts, mod changes, the post campaign activities, and more are reason enough to argue that Destiny 2 is the best it’s ever been from a gameplay standpoint. Narratively, though, Lightfall objectively fumbles what should have been a homerun at a time where Bungie really can’t afford to do so.
I sincerely hope that the stuff that’s come after the campaign is a signifier of what’s we can expect with future seasons as we build up towards The Final Shape. Despite the disappointing narrative, I’ll keep coming back to Destiny 2 because the other inclusions are just that good, and if you can move past the shortcomings, you might just have a similar experience.
Destiny 2: Lightfall is far from Destiny's worst expansion, but just as far from its best. For every step forward, there's another step back, and what you get out of it ultimately comes down to what you prioritize. It simply isn't as well rounded as The Witch Queen, but still offers many excellent gameplay additions and quality-of-life improvements that elevate the whole experience.
Post-campaign and seasonal writing is great
Strand is one of the best additions to the sandbox ever made
Invaluable quality-of-life changes
Art direction and design is still incredible
Shocking writing and characterization
Neomuna can feel empty
Guardian Ranks and difficulty changes feel undercooked