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Destiny 2: Lightfall

Destiny 2: Lightfall

Written by Rob Larkin on 3/20/2023 for PS5  
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Destiny 2's latest expansion, Lightfall, dropped with a bang. The release shattered the record for concurrent players on PC, all eager to jump in to experience the next chapter in the looter-shooter's space epic. This was largely due to the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the previous year's content, the Witch Queen. I gave that DLC a 9.5 in my review and despite some ups and downs over the game's five-and-a-half years, stated that with the Witch Queen "Destiny 2 is quite simply at the best game state it has ever been." In many ways the way to look at expansions like the Witch Queen and Lightfall are not as standalone DLCs, but really as annual entry fee to enjoying the full game. There is the expansion itself which introduces some core new abilities and gameplay events, but also quarterly seasons within that unlock access to additional actives and rewards. A Deluxe Edition purchase gives access to it all, or seasons can be purchased separately under the banner of the Lightfall DLC itself. This is important to note because while Lightfall dropped with a bang, the narrative it presented quickly devolved into a whimper.

Lightfall's story is... well, it's terrible. There has been much already discussed on this topic across the forums and streams and channels of content creators already. One of the highlights of Witch Queen was the narrative, and with it came so much hope and optimism that Bungie had finally founds its voice after many, many missteps previously. All that good work was erased with Lightfall and the community is back to wondering if there is any competency again within Bungie's walls to craft a cohesive and compelling story.

The major complaints revolve around three things: the entire story is basically a side quest shoehorned into the middle of a single cutscene. There is this thing we need to get, even though we don't know what it is. No one seems to be bothered by not knowing what it is, even though some of them have lived with it for generations. There's this other thing that threatens the thing we need to get, or maybe protect, but we don't know how that works either. All we know is that the Witness - the big bad of the current game, he wants it. So we need to go save it, or swipe it out of his grasp, or maybe hide it, or something. It's the laziest example of a MacGuffin quest you can conjure. When even the "lore daddy" of the entire Destiny community themselves admits after the campaign that they had no idea what was going on, then mere mortals like me can't possibly tell you either.

The criticisms of this non-sensical drivel sounded far and loud shortly after release. It took just about as long as it took people to complete the campaign and then get over the stunned silence thinking "What was that nonsense..." If Witch Queen was punctuated with an impressive and solemn "Whoa," Lightfall's main campaign landed on a note of confused "WTF?" Bungie offered a tepid response: "We can’t wait for the community to learn more..." but won't complete that unveiling until later seasons. So this goes back to the earlier point. If you bought the Lightfall DLC and thought you were getting a complete story... no, sorry. You need to also subscribe to the upcoming seasons for any hope of redemption, or even coherence. The DLC itself is just the basic MacGuffin quest.

You also get to meet the new NPC who has been aptly described as the Jar-Jar Binks of Destiny, a character so out of place and cringeworthy you'd wish you never met them. You also get a neon city location and the new Strand powers to effortlessly traverse the world swinging from rooftop to rooftop like Spiderman. Except you don't because your swing abilities are all on cooldowns and those awesome towering rooftops are actually behind invisible out-of-bounds areas, and you're really just Spider-Ham masquerading around as a super hero who is instead out of breath with hands on knees after two swings.

So the plot is a hot mess and the new characters are downright cringeworthy, except the one new guy that actually seemed like there might be opportunity for a decent narrative backstory, but he gets killed off after about five minutes of screen time and I don't know if that was meant to be a solemn moment. Because right afterwards Jar-Jar chimes in with "Hey haters gonna hate, striders gonna die, let get crunk bro, this is lit" (not a real quote, actually some of it is, that's how bad Jar-Jar is). And don't linger long on all the internal inconsistencies. Jar-Jar says cloud striders only live 10 years even though dead dude is old and grizzled looking well beyond 10 years of action. The city is completely empty because populating it takes too much effort so they're all explained away with a hand wave as being in the Matrix right now, please hold. And let's discover our new power and make it a key plot point that the enemy isn't prepared for us to be wielding this even though that same enemy's own soldiers are already using Strand based shields. Or at the end of the campaign let's "start" putting Strand power in a gun as a new exotic even though guns with strand have dropping in the world since you showed up.

And let's take Calus - our minor-bad and a character we've been sparring with already for years. Now he is backed by the power of the Witness and instead of making this the biggest, baddest version of Calus yet, we're gonna just scale him back into a bumbling fool with one battle at the end that is mostly difficult because of add density not Calus himself. I guess he was tired from that epic battle he just had offscreen with his daughter - a key important moment I would think in her character development that maybe deserved some screen time instead of showing it, we'll just reference it as our character is descending stairs below. Great job!

The campaign is an unmitigated disaster; but that's where we return to the point that Lightfall is more than just a campaign. It's the Destiny 2 roadmap for the next year. If I were to judge Lightfall on the campaign alone I'd be tempted to let it stew down near the 4.9 I gave the Curse of Osiris DLC five years ago. But with Lightfall comes a slew of new changes to the Destiny experience and the core gameplay loops that are going to sustain us as the year progresses. Unfortunately though, I would describe most of these changes as fumbles.

Let's start with Commendations. Bungie wanted to implement a system where players who had a good experience playing with another could let them know. Offer some sort reward for a good time or clever play, especially when random matchmaking for activities is involved. But they failed on three critical aspects: first of all, the commendations are meaningless. At the end of each activity you are given a choice of two pre-determined commendations to offer. While it's not even clear what "Joyful" or "Thoughtful" might even mean, they are worth even less when instead of a palette of commendations I can interpret for myself, I am just given a binary option for the specific match. What's worse is that commendations are tied to player progression. So the incentive to actually be thoughtful with your "Thoughtful" commendation is gone. Have a teammate that is going lone wolf and causing you to lose the game, he gets a commendation! AFK for the entire event, here's your commendation! You get a commendation! You get a commendation! Everybody gets a commendation!!!

I need to spam them in every activity so I can earn the rewards tied to doing so. Finally, making them meaningless to give out means they are just as meaningless to receive. I don't care to receive them because I know how wantonly I myself offer them out... and the commendations screen crashes the game if I try to open it, so what's the point? Commendations are more than a fumble, to be honest. They should be removed entirely and confined to the dust bin of Destiny history. But as long as they exist I'll do my part - as I'm always sure in the post-activity screen to give the matchmade player to my right whatever commendation choice is on the right, and one on my left gets the left choice. No need to even look at the commendation, or the player for that matter. Matching right and left, that's as meaningful as commendations get.

The next big sweeping change worth mentioning is Bungie's mission to Make Destiny Hard Again™. They increased the difficulty of many, many activities and even casual patrol zones. It just... feels bad man. I'm not against difficult content. I love diving into builds and soloing three-man activities. The real issue is that it takes so much of the game and locks it behind a frustrating power wall, especially for new players. I see it both ways. There are three character classes in Destiny. I mainly use a Hunter. I have all the exotics unlocked for Hunter, lots of armor choices, and lots of experience with the unique movement, abilities, strengths and weaknesses of the class. Even under-leveled and against all odds, with my Hunter I can find a way. With the other two classes though... woof. It's not even so much my skill levels with Warlock or Titan, it's that key pieces of gear that I never got around to earning previously are now locked out behind Lost Sectors that are too hard to slog through for minimal rewards. Overcoming the difficulty spike is often done by buildcrafting the more powerful ability and armor combinations with the exotics. But that piece of exotic armor is the key I don't yet have. It's like locking the key inside the chest. I am reluctant to even play on the other characters knowing that much of the game is just not as fun because I can't unleash the space wizard hidden in the build. This is essentially also the new player experience. Anyone who didn't grind out access to key exotics in DLCs past are now faced with an expensive toll to try and overcome that wall.

Which brings us to loadouts. Actually, loadouts are awesome. With loadouts you can save certain combos of weapons, armors, and builds in game and easily and quickly swap between them. It's something third-party tools have been doing for ages with the API but in-game loadouts remove all the API restrictions - like locking out swapping while in certain activities or areas. Loadouts are the best thing about Lightfall, but they're not perfect. I'd actually like to be able to save a loadout but keep some slots, specifically weapon slots, open. There might be a specific armor and build I want to change but the guns in my hand remain the same and it's not possible to easily and conveniently do this with the in-game loadouts like the third party ones can.

Also, the naming/symbol/color scheme of loadouts could be much more robust. You are locked into only a few pre-assigned choices and far more meaningful ones should be possible, especially with naming. It's fine if I only have one loadout for an activity, but if I want to run multiple similar ones it gets convoluted very quickly. Try building multiple Strand loadouts and see how quickly the default options exhaust themselves, or quickly identifying between two Solar PvP builds. Loadouts are a huge quality of life boon, and with some small iterations could completely replace the third party apps. Ok, ok, they did fumble one part of loadouts though - by locking 4 of the 10 slots behind some extra difficult content. That was not kind and a smaller example of locking the key in the chest.

Lastly, it's worth looking at what isn't in Lightfall: no new crucible maps for PvP, no new world armor, only one new strike, most of the world weapon drops are just recycling old guns we already had, and Gambit again gets not only nothing new but is so unloved it isn't even mentioned in Bungie's various communications. Instead of coal for Christmas, we're not even hanging up Gambit's stocking anymore. Uncorrected bugs persist however. A frame rate bug has you getting one-shot by giant flying airships. A rendering bug I've been experiencing personally for months has players turn invisible, making certain modes unplayable. This was finally fixed a few days ago, but it was game breaking, present for ages even in the Witch Queen, and was not fixed on Lightfall's release - in fact, it got worse. Old problems have also gotten worse. For example, the game can still only fit 4 on-screen messages representing various game states or bonuses in play. And now with Armor charges governing everything, even more space is taken up. So I'm running a dungeon and struggling to know how many stacks of motes I am carrying for a key activity mechanic because the UI has been further muddied and the screen can't fit all of the necessary info on it at once.

This next part is speculation, but it makes sense. I believe when we get down to it and look under the hood, Lightfall, is simply a DLC Destiny never intended to push, and it shows. The original plan was for this age to conclude in next year's expansion The Final Shape, but then things happened behind the scenes and Lightfall was created, basically as filler, to give the dev team time to finish the opus. In every way, from the lore to the color palette, Strand screams that it should have been a power introduced by the webs and weaves of the Witch Queen's antagonist, Savathun. But it was pretty obviously pulled from that and shoehorned into this MacGuffin side quest of a DLC to fill it out. Then they slapped together a tone deaf narrative around it and built a neon city to contain it and never got around to filling in many of the blanks. And this is why the side quest that makes up the entirely of the DLC story basically takes place in the middle of that single cutscene. Why the characters in that cutscene don't even change places despite narrative days supposedly separating the DLC's beginning to kick off the campaign and its conclusion. It's because it was mean to just be one scene, the opening of The Final Shape, but it was broken up to buy time to finish the rest of the DLC that couldn't ship in time. 

Buy time with Lightfall...we don't really have a story to tell but would really like you to pay for it anyway so we can keep the lights on at the studio for the next year and give us the time we need to finish it. If you're new to Destiny then the advice is easy - this is probably not the DLC for you. Go back and snag the Witch Queen on sale and introduce yourself to Destiny at its Nadir. For the rest of us, those that have already fallen in love with the gunplay and power fantasy of Destiny, this is possibly the price of admission for this year. It's not value for money, but are you really going to go play something else?

This is the Destiny we have for now. And things will change over the next year, a lot of tweaks are incoming. Difficulty will probably be scaled back as the current state scares away new and casual players. The consumables economy is likely going to need to be tweaked as well, the game will evolve with the seasons, but Lightfall itself is an overall disappointing chapter in a game that remains excellent. Bungie appears to be buying time until the Final Shape next year, and we're being asked to pay for it. 

Rating: 5.5 Mediocre

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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First picked up a game controller when my mother bought an Atari 2600 for my brother and I one fateful Christmas.  
Now I'm a Software Developer in my day job who is happy to be a part of the Gaming Nexus team so I can have at least a flimsy excuse for my wife as to why I need to get those 15 more minutes of game time in...

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