Destiny 2: Lightfall Falls Short: On Destiny’s Disappointing New Direction

Games Features Destiny 2
Destiny 2: Lightfall Falls Short: On Destiny’s Disappointing New Direction

Much has been made of this moment in Destiny 2‘s history, and that makes sense. It’s almost been nine years since the first game came out and Destiny’s radically transformed in so many ways over the almost decade since I first booted up the Alpha and explored the caves of Old Russia. Some of the steps the series and Bungie have taken over the years have been mistakes and slip-ups, but both proved resilient and capable enough to turn any momentum into positive one. The Taken King, Forsaken, and Witch Queen expansions are all fine examples of Bungie taking the game I’ve loved and shaping it into something so much grander. At times it even felt magical. Lightfall, Destiny 2‘s latest expansion, seemed primed by its place in the series’ history—as the penultimate chapter in its first saga—to be similarly grand and magical. At the very least it could feel climactic. And then… well, then it became a victim of Destiny’s own history.

Lightfall, like Destiny’s past, is unbalanced, not to mention unsatisfyingly vague. At the eleventh hour, it adds a whole new set of powers for players to use, a supposedly bustling new human civilization we knew nothing about, and is supposed to bring our Guardians one step closer to the final act of the series’ main conflict. The expansion especially seemed positioned to answer some questions about the Witness, a villain who emerged from the Witch Queen’s campaign as the big bad that’d likely close out this chapter of Destiny. Putting a face and shape to “the Darkness” players fought for so long was exciting and the Witness remains a tantalizing mystery, but only because Lightfall hardly tries to uncover anything about them or their motivations. We certainly do things in this expansion, like protect the CloudArk (Neomuna’s kind-of metaverse everyone’s plugged into) and try to stop the Witness from interfacing with something called the Veil, but Lightfall can’t help but drop the ball on these beats, seemingly leaving them in the conceptual phase, like much of Destiny’s early storytelling did. Even this new society’s form of Guardians, these slick-looking Silver Surfer-type warriors called Cloudstriders who measure at least something like eight feet tall, fail to make a great impression across a campaign struggling to make its disparate needs and desires meet. Lightfall wants to be an ‘80s action movie, complete with cheesy montages, and this abrupt shift in tone is befuddling. And make no mistake, Destiny 2‘s writing can be the stuff of corny blockbusters, but at a time when the team might really want to make an impact on players, they confusingly start pulling their punches. And so Lightfall winds up easing off the gas when it should be stomping on the accelerator, giving us half-baked ideas and characters that could’ve been better-serviced by the plot and/or explained to the audience meant to connect with them.

What comes as a real slap in the face then is that when this campaign is over, and the post-game series of quests reveals itself, it actually communicates so much that the main story failed to. The quests for Exotic gear that begin unfurling the second Lightfall is “over” immediately show the promise the expansion held and I’m still having fun exploring what it has to show me. Nimbus, a young Cloudstrider with a surfer persona, gets particularly short-shrifted in the main story, which plays them for laughs and bits of an emotional arc that only pay off in this half of the campaign. And while I’m thankful for the story I’m now getting, I can’t help but wonder if this all can’t be handled better to make the whole expansion feel better across the board. I cannot think of a release that has more clearly shown that Destiny’s formula, from the cadence of ground-breaking expansions to middling ones, to the diffusion of quests in the campaigns, needs rethinking. A formula that only turns out a positive outcome half the time is obviously missing the mark.

What’s especially disappointing is that Lightfall‘s less-than-stellar start is now going to pave the way for a year of seasonal stories that will likely answer many of the lingering questions players have—at a price. The ongoing Season of Defiance is depicting how the conflict with the Witness impacts the characters we’ve come to love at home on Earth, and I’m sure the Season of the Deep after it, as well as the last two seasons before the next expansion, will also explore the ramifications of the events at the end of Lightfall. But then, as soon as the final expansion, The Final Shape, drops, all that seasonal story will probably be gutted from the game, and we’ll be left with the lackluster Lightfall campaign alone, and the impression of everything that followed it.

While I’m on the matter of the campaign, the Legendary difficulty, which felt like such a home run for Bungie with Witch Queen—a campaign that felt tailor-made for the difficulty—can’t help but feel unfair in Lightfall. Much has already been said by players far more knowledgeable on the ins and outs of Destiny 2 than me on this topic, but my rebuttal to calls to simply use certain builds, like Solar classes that prioritize healing, is this: For a game built on the philosophy of letting players enjoy subclasses with sometimes radically different techniques and approaches most of the time, clamping down so tightly that anyone feels forced to run a specific class with specific gear to not only make it through Legendary (and all its one hit kills) but enjoy it feels like a failure.

And yet despite these frustrations, I’m still playing. The post-game drip of quests has steadily kept me fed with bits of story and compelling enough missions that I keep picking away at them. A secret mission gave me a ridiculous-looking glaive that I pulled from a simulated reality inside the network of an enemy faction, simultaneously teasing a character’s return and paying off years-old lore. The newest season, which has launched concurrently with the expansion, is developing some characters who have long deserved a spotlight in this universe. And the gameplay is as good as ever, with the team at Bungie continually finding slightly new ways to make shooting most of the same enemies a blast. Strand, the newest subclass, is a good bit of fun to play with, and feels immediately better than Stasis did in Beyond Light. Swinging with my new grapple has saved me on more than one occasion already and immobilizing foes with aetheric webs is never not fun. While it’ll always be hard to situate new subclasses alongside the tried and true ones we’ve honed since day one, there’s a potential here that makes exploring Strand’s capabilities less of a chore, and loadouts, as well as a retooled approach to mods and buildcrafting, have simplified systems that have confused many and turned me off to the game countless times in the past. And this is all before the raid has even dropped, which will likely prompt a whole new wave of admiration and will likely showcase the absolute pinnacle of Bungie’s storytelling and design chops like countless of the raids and endgame activities always have. So much about Destiny 2 works and always has, which makes its whiffs hurt all the more.

So no, Lightfall is not in fact perfect, nor is it a complete disaster, as some folks catastrophizing about it online may make it out to be. It’s just flawed, perhaps more so than Destiny 2 ought to be as it approaches some kind of ending soon, and definitely in too familiar ways that feel like they should’ve been stamped out years ago. It’s unfortunate too, because the mess runs the risk of obscuring what Destiny 2, and even Lightfall specifically, do best. It always has, but here’s hoping that a new chapter on the horizon is an opportunity for Destiny 2 to get its house in order.

Moises Taveras is the assistant games editor for Paste Magazine. He was that one kid who was really excited about Google+ and is still sad about how that turned out.

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