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Destiny 2 Lightfall review: Swing and a miss
Lightfall feels like it's stringing you along when it should be tying things up.
The Witch Queen was always going to be a tough act to follow, but it’s a shame that Lightfall loses the plot in the specific ways that it does. This year’s major expansion pack for Destiny 2 is the penultimate pit stop before the popular looter-shooter reaches a narrative endgame that’s been a decade in the making.
At the very least, you’d hope that Lightfall could live up to the significance of that occasion. Unfortunately, the final product fumbles in its attempts to do so. What’s more, it falls victim to foibles that the series seemed to have outgrown in recent years.
If last year’s Witch Queen showcased Destiny at its best, the slip-ups in Lightfall pull the series in the exact opposite direction.
Destiny 2: Lightfall review
Usually, a new expansion for Bungie's looter shooter arrives with a familiar caveat. You know what you're getting, and it's more Destiny. As good (or bad) as any given expansion for the game might be, none of them have done much to depart from the series’ core gameplay.
The version of Destiny 2 that exists today might be a better version of what it was at launch, but it’s rarely a radically different one. That small print very much holds true for Lightfall, the seventh major expansion pack for the game. Unfortunately, in this case, the promise of more Destiny comes welded to the series’ worst impulses and bad habits.
Picking up on plot threads explored over the past year of season content, Lightfall kicks things off with a bombastic mission that takes you to the previously-unseen city of Neomuna. Located on the surface of Neptune, the neon-lit metropolis is its biggest addition to the formula here. Unfortunately, it also quickly ends up feeling like the expansion's biggest missed opportunity.
To date, the storyline of Destiny has been one where you’re fighting to protect the last bastion of human life in the solar system. The revelation that the Guardians of The Last City aren’t as alone as they believed feels like it should be cataclysmic, but it’s not really given much weight in Lightfall.
It doesn’t help that Neomuna itself is a bit of a letdown of a locale. The inhabitants of the city have all uploaded their consciousnesses to the metaverse, so the streets are every bit as empty as those of the European Dead Zone. The alleyways and avenues in Neomuna all seem bigger than they need to be, but that sense of scale doesn't add up to much.
Even if Bungie were going for a ghost town vibe (which I don’t think they are), the environments introduced by Lightfall don't feel nearly lived-in enough to deliver on that pitch. Most of the time, the parts of Neomura you're exploring feel like flimsy set dressing for a set of rote combat arenas.
On a purely functional level, that description could easily be applied to many of the other locations in Destiny 2. However, the ones in Beyond Light or Forsaken are generally much better at feeling like real places than the streets in Lightfall are. With The Witch Queen just twelve months in the rear-view mirror, it’s painfully evident that what’s here falls short of being Bungie’s best.
Still, one element that did work for me is the new music in Lightfall. It’s atmospheric and evocative in all the right ways. While it couldn’t turn me around when it comes to how I felt about the expansion writ large, it was definitely something I appreciated during the nights I spent exploring Neomuna.
Lengthwise, Lightfall ends up slightly shorter than last year's The Witch Queen was. That said, the new expansion is hardly a deviation from the typical length of most Destiny add-ons. What’s here should last you a solid weekend of dedicated play, with further content expected to arrive in the seasons to come.
The story missions here aren’t as satisfying as those in last year’s expansion, partially because of just how frequently they fall back on old bad habits. There's more tedious platforming than usual, your progress through the story is often halted until you grind to the appropriate level and the central MacGuffin in Lightfall is repeatedly mentioned but rarely explained.
These irritations have been seen in past expansions for the game, but rarely have they been as annoying as they are here. The muddled execution of Neomuna as a location is one possible cause of this. The inescapable sense that the main narrative in Lightfall spends too much time spinning its wheels is another.
Aside from the action-packed set pieces that bookend it, the bulk of Lightfall is spent learning the secrets of Destiny 2’s fifth subclass: Strand.
Courtesy of the grappling hook that replaces your usual grenade, Strand unlocks a ton of new movement and combat possibilities throughout both the streets of Neomuna and older content.
Unfortunately, those additional options come with one too many strings attached. For instance, the cooldown associated with Strand's grappling hook ability is long enough that it feels almost punishing to experiment with. Whatever you're trying to do, you wanna get it right first try or you're gonna be sitting there waiting for the power to recharge for a while.
It doesn't help that the physics involved with flinging yourself through the air are a little too unreliable and unpredictable. Every time I wasted my grapple on something that feels like it should but didn’t work the way I expected, I became less enthusiastic about using it. At one point, I even managed to swing myself onto a part of a level where I wasn't supposed to be and ended up trapped there to the degree that I had to reset the mission outright.
Besides Neomuna and Strand, Lightfall itself does little else to tinker with what’s actually in Destiny 2 right now. There aren't any older expansions being shunted into the content vault this time around (though most of the seasonal content from the last year is being retired).
That's not to say there aren't big under-the-hood changes arriving alongside the new expansion. There are. You just won't have to buy Lightfall to experience them. For example, there's now a Guardian rank system, which essentially replaces the game's old levelling system. This is designed to give structured goals to better onboard both new players and returning ones, though it comes with the caveat that your rank will reset and have to be regained through play each season.
As with The Witch Queen, the new campaign in Lightfall is only the beginning of a story that's due to unfold over the next twelve months. For each week of the Season of the Defiant (and the three seasons that'll follow it), you'll be able to log into Destiny 2 and see how the plot develops.
If you've enjoyed the approach to live service storytelling before, chances are you'll like what Bungie has going on here. It's hard to speculate too much on unreleased and unannounced content, but the developer has been getting better and better at this part of the equation with each passing season. For now, at least, it's probably safe to assume that the missteps in Lightfall are the exception to the trend.
That's the good news. The bad news is that Lightfall doesn't really have all that much for those who aren't into this drip-feed distribution of new lore, loot and activities.
There's a new strike (plus a raid due on the 10th of March), but it's forgettable enough that I actually found myself more engaged by the current seasonal activity. Likewise, Destiny 2's seventh expansion does almost nothing to cater to Crucible fans (though Bungie has indicated that some additional maps are on the cards for later in the year) and fans of the PVPVE mode Gambit have even less to get excited about with the arrival of Lightfall. Strand and some new seasonal weapons might shake up the meta for these competitive modes in the short term, but the lack of any new levels makes it hard to get too excited.
In some respects, it feels like Bungie is gearing up to leave these vestiges of Destiny’s past behind. Retiring any or all of this content would inevitably prove divisive but it might also help clear away a lot of the clutter and noise that otherwise distracts you from the social and season-centric title that Bungie now appears to want Destiny to be.
At this point, it's hard to slug Destiny 2 for not being something that it isn't. Still years of watching Bungie get better and better at live service gaming have done little to deter me from wishing for a version of this game that just had a regular Diablo-style campaign that I could play with my friends.
It's hard enough to keep up with a game like this over the long haul, let alone convince your friends to do the same. Right now, I like the idea of staying engaged with Destiny 2 over the next twelve months of season content. However, given how unfriendly the game continues to be to solo-play, I suspect I'll probably fall off it sometime between now and The Final Shape.
Is Destiny 2: Lightfall worth buying?
By the standards of the post-Activision era, Lightfall is Bungie’s weakest major expansion by far.
Thankfully, the fact that Lightfall is, even at its worst, more Destiny prevents the overall experience from going too off the rails. It's buggier than usual, but it's not a complete mess. The story is muddled, but the situation will probably improve as the next set of seasonal content unfolds.
At least Shadowkeep offered players who never had the chance to explore the series' haunted moon the first time around something worth getting excited about. If you’re a new player looking to check out Destiny 2 afresh, I’d much sooner recommend picking up The Witch Queen or Beyond Light over this.
If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that The Final Shape will almost certainly be an improvement. It’s just a shame that Destiny’s most diehard fans will have to settle for this lacklustre instalment in the meantime.
There are few slam dunks to be found when it comes to the story content, location and Strand powers that Lightfall brings with it.