At this time last year, I sang the praises of The Witch Queen, Destiny 2’s 2022 expansion, for raising the long-running game’s narrative stakes and delivery. I claimed, “the whole game has had a couple of subtle adjustments that add up to a profound difference.”
Now in the afterglow of Destiny 2: Lightfall’s campaign, I feel the tables have been turned—the new expansion makes some profound strides forward, but to somewhat diminished effect.
As the latest expansion in Bungie’s flagship series, Destiny 2: Lightfall is effectively setting the stage for the next year or so of ongoing content. Its arrival coincides with the game’s 20th season (dubbed the “Season of Defiance”), and it will envelop the next two seasons as well. The Lightfall era will culminate in the release of The Final Shape sometime next year, which brings the overarching “Light & Darkness Saga” to a close.
(If you’re familiar with Final Fantasy XIV, Lightfall is the Shadowbringers to The Final Shape’s Endwalker. All of the game’s story to date, at least since the jump from OG Destiny to Destiny 2, has been leading to it.)
Thus, to this end, Destiny 2: Lightfall has a lot riding on its shoulders. The Witch Queen and its era of seasons was a huge hit, culminating a few weeks ago with one of the game’s biggest plot developments in years—which, admittedly, you might have missed if you aren’t a regular player or tapped into the community.
“Destiny 2: Lightfall has a lot riding on its shoulders.”
The fallout of Season 19’s finale kicks off Lightfall’s narrative, where the Guardian races to a heretofore unknown bastion of pre-Collapse human society on Neptune, Neomuna. While Earth fell, and while we’ve been fighting off countless invasions, Neomuna has continued to thrive in isolation, becoming a neon daydream for cyberpunk fans.
The Witness, the architect of humanity’s woes, is seeking an unknown force hidden on Neomuna called the Veil, and it’s up to the Guardian to reach it first—pitting Neomuna’s two lone defenders and us against a recharged Emperor Calus and his Shadow Legion of Cabal. (Ever notice how a series’ use of Proper Nouns grows exponentially the longer it goes on?)
Destiny 2: Lightfall’s campaign hits the ground running, literally hurling the player into the conflict with an exhilarating mission aboard the Shadow Legion fleet. A little sabotage, a space walk, and a terrifying introduction to a new foe later, we arrive on Neomuna.
Neomuna’s untarnished neon facade is an invigorating addition for a game set in a broken future vision of our solar system, but outside of missions, exploring Lightfall’s new sandbox did not seem worth prioritizing until the campaign was over. The power level is high in general areas, and despite supposedly being one of the biggest bastions of humanity left, it’s remarkably underpopulated with non-player friends or foes.
“Destiny 2: Lightfall’s campaign hits the ground running, literally hurling the player into the conflict with an exhilarating mission aboard the Shadow Legion fleet.”
Narratively, on paper, Lightfall has everything going for it. The actual Witch Queen campaign and its supplementary seasons put Destiny 2’s pedal to the metal, and we know a finish line is looming on the horizon. Before we get there next year, we have two goals in front of us—master the new Darkness subclass, Strand, and reach the Veil before Calus and the Witness—but regrettably, the pacing suffers on both counts, feeling samey and withholding.
Most of the middle missions have us training with Strand, using an enhanced but temporary version of it to overcome essential trials while seeking the Veil. Like Neomuna, it’s unique in practical and aesthetic terms and the most original skillset Destiny has produced to date. Repeated, patient tutorial situations were helpful in mastering its unique traits.
Having Strand yanked away from us over and over again like Charlie Brown’s football, however, got tiring. The same goes for the persistent pursuit of the nigh McGuffin-like Veil and other objectives associated with it. While the missions were fun in their own right, and the new environments a refreshing change of pace, I felt the story’s goalposts moving ever backward until the third act.
“That third act ended more abruptly than expected, but Destiny 2: Lightfall brought the heat for it.”
That third act ended more abruptly than expected, but Destiny 2: Lightfall brought the heat for it. By its culmination, my understanding of the Destiny 2 world was drastically changed, my concerns had multiplied dramatically, and my hand was a little numb from the constant controller vibrations after a prolonged and exhilarating slugfest of a final mission. Any second-act doldrums were paid off, albeit replaced with as strong of a cliffhanger as a live-service game can muster.
Now, all of that said, the actual campaign of a Destiny 2 expansion is no longer its main attraction. The larger measure of these expansions is its seasons, and the Season of Defiance is off to a promising start. Bungie wisely framed its pair of campaigns, the expansion and the ongoing seasonal story, as a “war on two fronts”—the former focused on Neomuna and the farther reaches of our solar system, and the latter on the Witness’ assault on Earth. This front will see us working closely with the ever-enigmatic Queen of the Awoken, Mara Sov, over the next few months.
One thing that’s going to compel me to keep coming back as the Destiny 2: Lightfall era continues is a bevy of quality-of-life updates. At long last, Guardians can customize Loadouts of a subclass, gear, and mods and easily swap between them, while a new Journey tab in the menu lays a course of progression out before them via handy checklists.
From a gameplay perspective, I think this round of updates might have made Destiny 2 more approachable for new players than it has been in years. As someone who’s played on and off since before the first expansion for the original game, I also appreciate having the Journey tab to nudge me toward things I’ve been putting off, and Loadouts might be just what I need to experiment beyond my comfort zone gear.
However, as good as the overall product is these days, it might be as impenetrable as trying to figure out what content you need to buy from the game’s convoluted PlayStation Store page. The longer the game goes on, the more I wonder how bizarre it could look to a fresh pair of eyes. In some ways, the franchise still suffers from the original game’s insistence on shoving its intricate, well-written lore into data logs instead of weaving it naturally into cutscenes, and raining Proper Noun terms at new or casual players isn’t much help.
To boil it all down, Destiny 2: Lightfall (the campaign) feels spread a little thin, thanks to that samey, fulfillment-deferring middle act. Simultaneously, the bevy of mechanical updates, a thrilling new subclass, and some earth-shattering revelations should easily cover for that and deliver Bungie’s epic to its final showdown next year with a full head of steam. For the moment, Destiny 2: Lightfall is keeping The Witch Queen’s crown aloft.