Image via Bungie

Destiny 2 Lightfall Review: More Trip Than Fall

The Destiny 2 Lightfall expansion trips at the starting gun and falters almost the whole way through.

Destiny 2 Lightfall has the ignoble reputation of being one of the worst expansions in franchise history. It’s all but fashionable to dislike it, and if all you played was the story campaign, not only is your opinion correct, but you would be in familiar company with the entire D2 community.

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Put shortly, Lightfall’s story campaign is awful. It lacks stakes, meaningful character or narrative development, and leaves so many plot threads dangling that pulling on one would fail to dislodge anything. Even in the almost six months since it came out, we’ve seen only the slimmest clues of where — if anywhere — the story was going. The whole expansion seems rushed, filled with experimentation no one asked for, and did little to make Destiny 2 better.

Destiny 2 Lightfall Review: More Trip Than Fall

Image via Bungie

There are a few aspects of Lightfall worth celebrating. The new Strand subclass came out a bit quiet but quickly found its feet, easily becoming one of if not the most powerful all-around options in many of the game’s activities. It’s also amazingly fun and likely to become more so as time goes on. Perhaps best of all, the expansion-exclusive weapons are some of the most effective and enjoyable to use we’ve seen in at least a few DLCs. The problem Lightfall faces, however, is that its lows are so low that they overshadow almost everything else.

To say we in the Destiny 2 community were excited for Lightfall is to do a disservice to the word. I remember having legitimate jitters in the days leading up to release, expecting we’d finally know something about where the story was heading. We were going to see the Traveler, the godlike orb protecting humanity, do something — fight its foes, truly protect us, or something equally exciting. Finally, there would be some conclusions to draw about this world we’re all inhabiting.

Nope. We Got Almost Nothing.

Instead, we saw the Traveler shoot a single, ineffectual laser at a single Pyramid ship, then sit still while the rest of the entire fleet sealed it. Then, seemingly without warning, we were off to Neptune to chase something called “The Veil,” a mysterious object or force that would help turn the tide Lightfall‘s entire campaign is predicated on finding. Worse, everyone knew about it, what it could do, and how important it was to the fight. Did they deign to share that with us? Nope. Did we learn what the Veil was at the end of the campaign? That’s funny. Would it take six literal, real-world months and a hidden quest to give us any information?

Yeah, that last bit is true. Yet the Veil is so integral to the story of Lightfall, both powering the neon-soaked city of Neomuna, housing its citizens in cyberspace, and somehow acting as a conduit between dimensions. It’s also a weird egg-shaped thing that apparently gives off similar energy to the Traveler and can somehow interface with human machinery. We only learned of its connection to our favorite off-white sphere because of a seasonal cutscene and a series of gameplay-less audio logs that Bungie had to apologize for not telegraphing.

Then there’s the actual story of Lightfall. Predictable. Uninteresting characters. An uninspired narrative arc. Worst of all, neither Rohan nor Nimbus, cybernetically enhanced supersoldier protectors of Neomuna, are anything more than caricatures. The former is “grizzled veteran 2.1-b,” and the latter is “the young, perky soldier with a quip and a wink” who has to grow up too fast.

Osiris, our guide to the new Strand subclass and one of the most important characters in the narrative for the past several years, seems to have forgotten everything he learned last season during the Spire of the Watcher Dungeon and spends a full half of the campaign yelling at us to get a move on before… something happens with the Veil.

Calus, the main antagonist of the Lightfall campaign, has been a thorn in our Guardian’s side since Destiny 2 came out. But rather than being the grand adversary, we can finally face in a grand battle at the end of all things, here, he’s reduced to a bumbling fool, unable to make a single correct decision, and he has had literal years of context with which to make them.

And the Witness, the great evil that’s chased the Traveller across the stars for longer than our Sun has existed, spends its time staring wistfully at the big white ball above Earth, yelling like a child at Calus for his failures, and then says some cryptic lines of dialog before vanishing into a tie-die portal to nowhere, that we learn we can’t go through without dying horribly and that we need to resurrect Savathun, the main villain and focal point of the Witch Queen expansion, to enter.

Every turn of Lightfall’s narrative appears to have forgotten or willfully tries to retcon the years of storytelling that preceded it, and Bungie has been using the accompanying seasons to play the world’s longest game of catchup. If you’re at all interested in Destiny 2’s evolving story, I can almost recommend skipping Lightfall’s entirely, as you’ll know about as much of it as everyone else who played the whole thing three times. Like me.

Gameplay, Humanity’s True Savior

Image via Bungie

If you look instead to the gameplay of Lightfall, the picture is much rosier. Actually playing the campaign missions is fun, mostly. Though having to use completely unupgraded Strand when its abilities are unfamiliar and you have no build synergy, is incredibly frustrating.

That said, there’s a ton of great gameplay variety. From stowing away on and destroying the inside of a massive Cabal carrier to Strand’s introduction to an intense vehicle section, and lastly to a drawn-out fight that demands both endurance and attention. Then, moments of brief levity will give you a chance to breathe and prepare for whatever’s next.

Almost all of the combat encounters are well-designed, save one near the end that I’ll maintain until my dying day is probably the worst-designed fight in the Destiny franchise. My friends disagree, but I shan’t be dissuaded. Every new encounter asks you to use your skills in similar but still varied ways, and this is especially true of the sections where you’re learning to use the new Strand subclass. They’re often thrust upon you with no warning and little guidance on how to use the class itself. This gets in the way in the later parts of the campaign, but once you finish and begin to unlock Strand’s true potential, those early frustrations get mostly left behind.

Lightfall’s post-game is also top-notch, with a bevy of new Exotic armor and weapon choices, all strong in their own way. The quests to get those Exotics are also enjoyable (for the most part), taking you on a more focused tour of Neomuna and asking you to engage with the expansion’s additional activities. From helping Nimbus come to terms with the loss of their best friend and mentor in the Unfinished Business quest to uncovering some of the secrets of Neomuna’s past with the Winterbite quest chain, there’s a lot to like in Lightfall, once you get past the obligatory and far below-par campaign.

The various endgame activities — Terminal Overirde, Hard Reset, and hopefully the Root of Nightmares Raid — are all fantastic, if a bit on the easy side. They’re usually more deftly written (where there is writing) and are engaging mechanically across many outings. That’s not even counting the new Strike and the Seasonal content released with Lightfall, which is one of the coolest new activities we’ve seen in a while. The seasonal content has been a mixed bag, with Season of Defiance having some great gameplay and writing — until it really didn’t. Season of the Deep was marred by its need to continue both the Lightfall story and tell its own, and was fun enough without ever reaching the highs of seasons past.

Perhaps most importantly, the weapons exclusive to Lightfall and the Neomuna destination are some of the best in the game. All of them are craftable and can go toe-to-toe with the classics and old standbys. Getting your hands on the right rolls of the LIghtfall weapons is harder than it should be and is frustratingly tedious at its worst. Earning the final crafting patterns is less relief than joy, as it means you can finally stop farming destination engrams and gold patrols.

Destiny 2 Lightfall Review — The Bottom Line

Image via Bungie

Pros

  • A strong gameplay showing between Strand and various endgame activities.
  • A solid selection of top-tier weapons.
  • Great music.

Cons

  • Somehow the worst story in all of Destiny 2.
  • One of the worst gameplay sections in the franchise.
  • Multiple narrative and gameplay experiments that fall completely flat.

If you’ve read this far and wonder if the last several paragraphs of good things in Lightfall outweigh the bad, let me tell you that they almost don’t. The low points of this expansion are so low that it’s impossible for me to look past them or not factor them into my opinion. I can’t even say what many community members said back at the release of the first Destiny: that it’s the best 7/10 they’d ever played. Lightfall is just a 7, and I think that’s being quite generous.

If you want more D2 content (from what’s actually good), there’s tons of additional Lightfall coverage in our Destiny 2 guides hub.

[Note: Bungie provided the PC copy of Destiny 2 Lightfall used for this review.]

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Destiny 2 Lightfall Review: More Trip Than Fall
The Destiny 2 Lightfall expansion trips at the starting gun and falters almost the whole way through.

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Author
John Schutt
John Schutt has been playing games for almost 25 years, starting with Super Mario 64 and progressing to every genre under the sun. He spent almost 4 years writing for strategy and satire site TopTierTactics under the moniker Xiant, and somehow managed to find time to get an MFA in Creative Writing in between all the gaming. His specialty is action games, but his first love will always be the RPG. Oh, and his avatar is, was, and will always be a squirrel, a trend he's carried as long as he's had a Steam account, and for some time before that.