Unless you count a hard reset with the launch of Destiny 2, Beyond Light is the first release in the Destiny series to remove content as well as add it.
Several beautiful planets have been cut from the live game and moved to the Destiny Content Vault, along with all their associated activities, triumphs, and loot, the pursuit of which is fundamental to players’ engagement. Most of the gear that we’ve already obtained is being ‘sunsetted’, as hard caps on its power are overtaken by new content. The Taken King and Forsaken – Destiny’s best expansions so far – had to rescue Destiny 1 and Destiny 2 after their terrible first years, but in some ways Beyond Light has even more to prove: can it add enough to make up for what it’s taking away?
The campaign was never going to be the answer to that question in itself – it’s only four or five hours long – but it represents a huge leap for Destiny’s universe. The issue at hand is the reappearance of the Darkness, the eternal enemy of the Traveler – that’s the big white ball that gives you your space magic and once lifted humanity into an interplanetary Golden Age until the Darkness came along and ruined everything. This time, though, the Darkness appears to come in peace. It even offers magic of its own in the form of Stasis, the first new damage type in Destiny’s six-year history.
But we’re not the only object of its attention. Under a new leader, Eramis, a hostile alien race named the Fallen are rallying on Europa. They are so named because the Traveler abandoned them long ago and chose to empower us instead. Driven by rage at this betrayal and years of us kicking their insectoid arses, Eramis has chosen to embrace the Darkness as a means to fight back.
Much fuss is made about how we can’t possibly resist their terrifying new power to conjure icy crystals – which feels a bit daft, but ok – so we have to fight fire with fire (or rather, ice with ice) and adopt the Darkness ourselves. It’s a radical decision which we take too readily, but matters improve once you accept the premise. The campaign, then, is about learning to wield Stasis as we kill off Eramis’s lieutenants.
As soon as Star Wars lost its core of relatable, well-written characters, like Luke, Leia, and Han, it sucked
As with Forsaken and Shadowkeep, these ‘hunts’ are recycled later as repeatable quests, and they’re a mixed bag. Phariks, the Technocrat, is a decent fight by Destiny standards, while Kridis, the Dark Priestess, is as boring a bullet sponge as any in its worst and most stubborn traditions. But after six years, I trust Destiny players have learned not to expect anything too exciting from solo PvE content. Less typically for a Destiny campaign, the uphill climb in gear power requirements for each mission has a couple of steep cliffs. Rather than create a satisfying challenge, this turns your gun into a limp pea-shooter, and simply shoves you out of the story to grind other content until you’re powerful enough to return.
Having done so, there’s still a lot of fun to be had in flexing your splendidly realised arsenal of over-the-top guns and powers, and with Stasis, Bungie has once again excelled in delivering the power fantasy. As I pop the new Shadebinder Warlock’s Super, I wreathe myself in dark ice, reaching into the air for a phantasmal staff and floating over the battle dropping insta-freeze bombs. Enemies creak like old wooden ships as they’re flash-frozen and then shatter like glass, sometimes in a deliciously rewarding chain reaction as the shrapnel damage from exploding ice cascades.
Stasis is merely a toy in the campaign, but in high-end content, its crowd control abilities can offer a meaningful new tool. I wouldn’t call it essential, however: I didn’t use Stasis even once in the raid, nor have I found any puzzles that required me to jump on platforms made of ice, as I inferred from certain trailers.
That’s not to say the raid is disappointing – far from it. Deep Stone Crypt is one of the best in the series. Its hallmark is the three roles that can be swapped through your team, which makes them more controllable than the randomly applied or hastily juggled buffs of past raids, yet still enables some superb encounter designs – the final boss is one of the most thrilling fights in any shooter anywhere. DSC is also a far more palatable length than the likes of the Last Wish (as long as you’re not trying to figure it out for the first time in contest mode), and that counts for a lot.
Aesthetically, the DSC would be a bit of a footnote if not for a breathtaking space-walk halfway through, in which you dance between spinning solar panels to a soaring violin score as a sassy AI insults you. We’ve come a long way from the returning Exo Stranger’s infamous “no time to explain” line, which became an emblem of Destiny 1’s bizarre script; the writing is excellent across the board, and delivers true drama with less of the prefix ‘melo-‘ in which Destiny has often overindulged. Yes, I’m aware this is a big silly space opera, but so is Star Wars, and as soon as Star Wars lost its core of relatable, well-written characters like Luke, Leia, and Han, it sucked.
As I pick apart Eramis’s empire, her desperation – stoked by the Darkness – drives her to trade blows on my comms feed with Variks, the fan-favourite conflicted Fallen who seeks to restore his people’s dignity. Commander Zavala’s scepticism of the Darkness sets him against mavericks like Eris Morn and the Drifter, who believe it can be used for good just as the Traveler’s power has been used for evil. Even your most important relationship – that with your Ghost, the friendly helper drone who resurrects you – is strained, because he’s made by the Light. It’s honestly a little heartbreaking to see him watch, helpless for the first time, as you wield the powers of his enemy.
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After years of slow and uneven progress, Destiny’s cast are finally acting like people. They take contrary positions and argue about them. They shout not just at unambiguously evil cosmic monsters, but at other people, much like them, who’ve arrived at different but understandable opinions. Even about something so apparently binary and absolute as ‘Light’ and ‘Dark’.
After the campaign you get a series of quests to further empower your Stasis subclass that are full of arbitrary busywork, like ‘kill 20 enemies with Stasis’. Destiny has been doing this for ages, but it still isn’t fun to be asked to waste another 30 minutes of my life running back and forth from the same places on Europa popping enemies that offer about as much resistance as cardboard mannequins. One notable exception to the tedium of this phase is a heist in which I steal a Stasis-firing grenade launcher from Eramis’s city, which features a duel with a towering mech and Ghost attempting an adorable and hilarious impression of the Drifter’s Cajun accent.
The PvP patch was like replacing a mammoth stampeding through a china shop with a slightly smaller mammoth
Elsewhere, Beyond Light adds two new strikes, but they’re pretty underwhelming. One is a rehash of the most annoying strike to ever exist in Destiny 1, albeit with a revised and much-improved boss room. The other, the Glassway, has a very cool section in which you drain Vex fluid from a lake in real time, revealing the path onward in its depths. Otherwise, it’s linear and very straightforward, with no new or interesting mechanics.
Destiny’s PvP mode, the Crucible, is in a rough spot with the introduction of Stasis. As fun as it is to use, it feels horrible to be on the receiving end – when frozen, you are immobile and take more damage. It’s annoying in PvE but a death sentence in PvP, and it happens a lot since all classes can freeze you quite easily, even while you’re in your Super. Thanks apparently to the reduced game size and prompted by an outcry, Bungie was able to apply a tuning patch in record time, but it’s like replacing a mammoth stampeding through a china shop with a very slightly smaller mammoth. Tuning freeze duration doesn’t change the fact that Stasis’s crowd control powers are a fundamental alteration to the formerly rapid, power-crazy pace of the Crucible.
Destiny has never compared to competitive thoroughbreds like Rainbow Six Siege or Counter-Strike, but there were moments, such as the introduction of Trials of Osiris to Destiny 1, when it looked like Bungie was getting ideas. When our space magic and crazy weapons were nerfed across the board with Destiny 2’s launch, a more balanced and competitive Crucible was theorised to be Bungie’s goal. Such times feel pretty distant right now.
Beyond Light's new planet is one of the prettiest in a very pretty game, and Bungie's wonderful eye for framing shows it at its best during the campaign. I turn a corner: one of the Darkness's black cruxes looms above a faraway mesa. The music stops. Europa's howling winds seem to die down. It's disorientating to have my focus so abruptly pulled by something so distant - it's like the appearance of the alien monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's beautiful and unsettling and, as with Shadowkeep's horror vibes, I imagine what Bungie could make in a genre better able than Destiny's to reinforce this sense of dread.
There’s another debate in the Destiny community even more heated than the state of the Crucible, and thus even more of an issue for Destiny’s long-term health: loot. Sunsetting is forcing obsolescence not just on overpowered weapons such as Mountaintop, but on gear that’s nowhere near so problematic from a balance perspective, including non-flashy workhorse weapons and, worst of all, armour. Sunsetting armour will disproportionately hurt those who don’t play enough to masterwork a new armour set every year, which is to say, less engaged players who already face enough barriers to high-end content. Perhaps armour could be excluded from sunsetting, or its lifespan extended.
It’s clear that weapons like Mountaintop simply can’t be allowed to remain in the meta for good, but sunsetting was always going to upset a lot of people. If it’s going to work, Bungie needs to replace the loot that’s going away, but not with anything too similar or people will complain, rightly, about being made to chase weapons they’ve already earned. It’s a tough needle to thread, and based on the loot pool from the current season, the jury is still out.
I’m less concerned about the vaulted planets. Mercury and Titan offered so little it’s debatable whether they were worth including in the first place. The only place I do miss is the Leviathan – the Tribute Hall, the Menagerie, and its many raids were some of the best and most replayable content in the game, and without them Destiny 2 does feel poorer.
To end on a more positive note, the streamlining of Destiny’s PvPvE mode, Gambit, is a big success, and I’m a huge fan of the UI and graphical redesigns. A subtle but effective retouch has been applied to graphics across the board, as if someone has turned the saturation and the contrast up, creating richer but starker colours. The dark theme in the menus makes everything pop, and triumphs have been sensibly and tidily reorganised.
What we’re missing: Destiny 2’s planets past and present, ranked
Though its impact on the game has been disruptive in places, Beyond Light is clearly in the upper tier of Destiny expansions. I’ve been enjoying it, but after a long stretch of intense play starting back in June, I’m ready for a bit of a break from Destiny. For Bungie’s sake I hope not too many others feel similarly. After vaulting, sunsetting, and the delay to Beyond Light, it’s more important than usual that Destiny keeps up its momentum.