Our Destiny 2 Lightfall review assesses the penultimate chapter in a story that’s been developing for nearly a decade. It promised to be groundbreaking. But as it turns out, not every expansion can change the game like Forsaken, or tell such a strong, twisty story as The Witch Queen.
Despite being all about ‘Strand’, Lightfall’s story is a significant step back from the interwoven threads that once led an entire community to grieve the death of Cayde-6, gasp at the rug-pull that our enemies could be granted the Light legitimately, or shed a tear at Rasputin’s sacrifice. It’s enough to make me wonder if there’s some confusion among the developers as to what Destiny 2 means to players. The campaign takes us to a futuristic neon city and introduces Strand – a Darkness subclass that’s ironically bright – and does both with little explanation. It’s another poorly explained chase-the-Maguffin quest when The Witch Queen had led us all to believe the FPS game had outgrown those days, and when the arrival of The Witness – the game’s ultimate antagonist – seemed to finally herald some answers.
The Maguffin in question is called The Veil, and though characters like the wise Warlock Osiris discuss it as if we should know its importance, no one, not even the community’s lore experts, knows what The Veil is. Maybe it’s intentional that a DLC dubbed Lightfall would leave players in the dark. But in what should be some of the game’s most pivotal moments, we’re instead left scratching our heads about what’s going on. Bungie has said that The Veil will be explained over the course of the next few seasons, but its sudden introduction and mystery leaves the Lightfall story with a gaping hole.
That story takes place largely in the city of Neomuna, which is conveniently deserted of its actual citizens to spare all our computers (and Bungie’s servers) from an impossible load. Here we meet the Cloud Striders Rohan and Nimbus. The latter is a friendly-but-goofy ally who reminds me of a character in a classic episode of The Simpsons, in which the Itchy and Scratchy cartoon introduces a dog named Poochie to bolster ratings. While Nimbus adds a playful voice to the game, they feel doomed to join the many others who don’t really feature beyond their first apperance, and it’s hard to invest much in them.
When it’s time to start shooting, the campaign is uneven. It feels manageable even on Legendary difficulty until the difficulty suddenly spikes — after sailing through the first two missions in the Destiny 2 Lightfall mission list, Downfall felt like a chore. Even my most powerful builds couldn’t withstand the arena that seems to be lacking cover, and even with a Destiny 2 Downfall mission guide, it still felt tedious.
After years of power creep in a game that was already criticised for being too easy in its core activities, Bungie said that it wanted to crank up the difficulty for Lightfall. That raises the question: who is this game for? At its core, it’s a free game supported by microtransactions and DLC, and designed to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. But if the higher-difficulty Legendary campaign awards Exotics that people of all skills have paid to be able to access, then doesn’t it feel like a slight to less-skilled players? Further, the recently released Destiny 2 Vexcalibur Exotic glaive is hidden behind a mission that even seasoned players find difficult on its normal difficulty, and players can only obtain the catalysts by completing it on Legendary difficulty, which has a power cap that means less-skilled Guardians can’t simply grind for pinnacles to make it manageable for them.
Perhaps the idea is to force people to invite friends and play as fireteams. And that might be okay, if the game’s promised Looking For Group features were introduced with Lightfall. But there are thousands of Destiny 2 players who simply prefer the solo experience, and not all of them are die-hard players. Shouldn’t it be possible for them to obtain catalysts without putting themselves through torture? And further, isn’t there an argument that weaker players are the ones who need these catalysts the most?
Ultimately, this is simply a question of balance as the normal campaign difficulty felt easier than most low-level, pre-Lightfall Vanguard strikes. Maybe Bungie could devise better signifiers for things such as overall damage increase when combining certain mods and Fragments, or some indicator to let players know why they’re getting one-shot by the new Tormenter enemies, or for why weapons we’ve relied on for years seem suddenly nerfed out of existence.
There are some highlights. The Destiny 2 Strand subclass is fun to use, and stands out for its mobility. For what Bungie fails to deliver in story this time around, it appears to have balanced in its own way with a unique subclass that introduces an entirely new playstyle into the game.
The game’s quality-of-life improvements are also welcome. Features such as Loadouts are extremely useful, and while I don’t find Guardian Ranks particularly interesting or necessary, the UI that supports them is clean and readable, making it easy to complete their associated challenges. Commendations seem like an appealing way to recognize teammates for their contributions, but their long-term value as signifiers of such remains to be seen. I should note they’re not immune from being abused, even affectionately – on one occasion I loaded into an activity near its end and, after having done absolutely nothing, my teammates jokingly deemed me fun to play with.
However, the quality-of-life improvements seem to be at odds with a number of issues currently plaguing the game’s ecosystem. Some Destiny 2 mods aren’t working as intended. Players have reported increased crashing. A now-infamous Destiny 2 invisibility glitch meant I couldn’t even see my reticle while facing a Tormenter on a Legendary campaign mission. Destiny 2’s game architecture has felt strained in the past year or two, and anecdotally it feels like the cracks are widening as Lightfall adds even more stress, causing the types of glitches and bugs you’d usually find in early access games.
Naturally Lightfall adds a host of post-campaign missions and Exotic quests – which, being more contained than the main story, are generally much better – as well as a new raid, and heralds a new season of weekly story missions. PvP could still use new maps and Gambit remains entirely untouched, but Destiny 2 Iron Banner is scheduled to return three times this season. All of this is to say that Bungie is still giving players a ton of content for the game’s price tag.
And, when it comes to exotic weapons, Lightfall doesn’t disappoint. The Strand-based Destiny 2 Final Warning exotic sidearm and the Void-based Deterministic Chaos exotic machine gun are both fantastic weapons that are fun to use. While the questline to earn the Destiny 2 Winterbite Exotic glaive has some time-gating in terms of when you can complete a specific activity – an always-infuriating means of forcing players to log in on different days to complete objectives that shouldn’t be tied to daily resets – it still feels worth the chase.
Finally, there’s the Destiny 2 Root of Nightmares raid. It looks stunning, the score is excellent, and it gives us a bit more insight into Nezarec and his role in relation to the Witness, though those hoping it would answer any of the new and confusing questions posed by the campaign were left disappointed.
It’s also pretty straightforward. The mechanics are interesting, but not overly complicated – there are no symbols to figure out – and it’s shorter than the likes of King’s Fall or Vow of the Disciple; the world first completion was one of the fastest in the game’s history. Teams that work quickly enough can also completely bypass an important final boss mechanic.
A raid should feel like a big event, and if anything the newly extended Contest Mode, besides being a boon for approachability, feels like it adds to the occasion of the raid’s release. But approachability doesn’t mean ease, and doesn’t need to mean a shorter raid with simplified mechanics – things which undermine the grandeur of what should be the game’s prime PvE challenge. In places, Root of Nightmares feels more like a dungeon.
There’s plenty to like about Lightfall. It’s visually interesting – Bungie’s art team continues to knock it out of the park. Strand is a neat subclass. The variety of unique new Exotics is fantastic. The mod overhaul, once working as intended, will be fantastic, and loadouts and the UI updates are overall positive changes. The Root of Nightmares raid again looks great and has an incredible soundtrack.
But lore nerds will be disappointed by yet another low-stakes campaign that teaches us very little about what we’re chasing when the stakes are – or should be – higher than ever. New characters feel like throwaways and are hard to get invested in. The difficulty is all over the place.
Lightfall feels disjointed. Messy. It isn’t so disappointing that I’ll stop playing Destiny 2, as I have done consistently since launch. For now, there’s plenty to chase – I’ll enjoy using Strand, finish off the post-campaign missions, chase Destiny 2 Lightfall exotics, and wonder how to beat GM Nightfalls in this new difficulty sandbox when they return later in Destiny 2 season 20. But Lightfall’s initial drop of content is a let-down overall, and it doesn’t do as much as previous expansions to enhance the things I already like about the game. It’s certainly no Forsaken, no Witch Queen, no Taken King. And, for better or for worse, that’s the bar at which Guardians will continue to weigh expansions until the end of its run.
Destiny 2 Lightfall review
With quality-of-life overhauls, plenty to chase, and a fun new subclass, Lightfall adds enough to keep us playing, but it falls short of the potential inherent in this moment of its overarching saga with a disappointing campaign, scattergun difficulty, and a lacklustre raid.