Destiny 2 Lightfall Review – Double-edged sword

That expectations surrounding a new Destiny 2 expansion are always high is no surprise by now. Bungie is a master in creating hype with very slick trailers that make your trigger fingers itch. Thus, the latest in the series – the counter now stands at seven – also managed to interest me. I have to admit that I may have a somewhat unique perspective on the situation, as I am a returning Destiny 2 player. After quite a few bullets, gear and precision kills, this Hunter thought it had been enough for a while after Beyond Light and the cloak went neatly folded in a moving box to the attic.

Of course I watched The Witch Queen from the sidelines and was itching to pick up Destiny 2 the old-fashioned way, but I had seen it all a bit and just wanted to play other games. Until the Lightfall trailer appeared, because somehow it really grabbed me. A new location, a new subclass and of course plenty of cool toys to send all the bad guys to the eternal hunting grounds. I was also happy when I was asked to review this DLC. I immediately checked out my fireteam buddies, arranged a lot of free evenings at home and dove into the new adventure on Neomuna full of anticipation.

Light has indeed fallen

If you are a seasoned Destiny 2 player, you will have to chuckle at least a little bit after reading the intro. After all, I managed to miss out on The Next Big Thing since toasties by skipping The Witch Queen. After the first somewhat disappointing hours – more on that later – I was told often enough that the storytelling in the previous DLC was quite a bit better after all. Now I haven’t done the actual flight hours, but there are plenty of videos on YouTube to get up-to-speed and unfortunately I have to agree. The story in Lightfall is simply not the best.

Without getting too caught up in the subject matter – if that’s at all possible, as it all remains a bit vague – at the start of the DLC you are treated to one of the better Destiny cutscenes. The Witness – the new big bad guy – arrives in our solar system with his fleet of flying pyramid ships, and a big battle in space ensues. Even the Traveler gets involved in the battle, but unfortunately things don’t seem to go well for our heroes. Osiris decides in the final moments of the battle to hijack a Cabal ship and go to Neptune, there, he believes, would be something we can use to stop The Witness, and we as loyal Guardians naturally follow him.

So the bulk of Lightfall takes place on Neptune, here you encounter the technologically advanced city of Neomuna. On this particularly empty city, Osiris kind of sends you from pillar to post. It turns out we are looking for a macguffin called The Veil. Unfortunately, throughout the DLC it doesn’t really become clear what it is or what exactly it does, but seemingly it is very important because The Witness and his new minion Cabal Emperor Calus are also all too eager to get their hands on this object and make things particularly difficult for you, Osiris and your new Cloud Strider friends Rohan and Nimbus.

In the heat of battle, you leave the battlefield to play a little sidequest on another planet.

Now, in terms of track record, Destiny is not really known for good storytelling – I can still remember a time when I had to read maps to fully understand the lore – and Lightfall kind of takes the cake in that regard. In the heat of battle, you leave the battlefield to play a little sidequest on another planet. In the end, the whole thing feels a bit like a disguised and lengthy tutorial to unlock the new subclass, and looking back, that would have been fine in a shorter questline as well.

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That said, in my case Destiny’s story is more of a nice to have and not primarily the reason I like playing this game. Once after the famous phrase “I don’t have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain” I had honestly already given up a bit of hope and actually play Destiny mainly because it plays so nicely and I just really enjoy the spicy PvE moments with friends. In that respect, Lightfall fortunately offers enough in that regard.

Neomuna, a city of extremes

In Lightfall, guardians are once again presented with a completely new location. The futuristic city of Neomuna looks very beautiful with all its tall buildings, crisp colors and frequent use of Neon. Story-wise, this city has been “hidden” all this time and thus has been spared all the misery. The result is technology that Guardians could still dream of during the Golden Age. The lack of combat makes this a beautifully unharmed setting that contrasts with the other planets we have visited in the past.

One downside is the fact that the city looks quite empty. The only three characters you encounter are Osiris and the Cloud Striders Rohan and Nimbus. The latter duo is tasked with protecting Neomuna from threats, and they do so with cybernetic upgrades and a flying surfboard that The Silver Surfer would still envy. The rest of the inhabitants of Neomuna have chosen to upload their consciousness into The Cloudark and become immortal. As a result, you will only encounter a kind of neon phantoms and collect much-needed patrols to grind XP from them as well.

Because grinding you will have to do. In Lightfall they also looked at the balance in order to present players with more challenging content. Here I think Bungie went a bit off the rails, because usually difficult activities are almost impossible to do in Lightfall at the lower levels. For example, Vanguard Ops playlists, Nightfalls, Patrols and especially Lost Sectors have really become particularly tough. In contrast, I whistled through the campaign because the sections with the new subclass really made me extremely overpowered.

Not exactly Spidey

The new subclass Strand steals the show in Lightfall. The big advantage to Strand is the increased mobility, as the subclass replaces the grenade ability with a grappling hook that allows you to move quickly. Neomuna has a lot of vertical level design where this functionality can obviously come in handy. In addition, you can use this newly acquired power in combat as well. Strand, like the other subclasses, can also be fine-tuned by unlocking certain aspects. The subclass also has an entangle that temporarily locks enemies in place, or a tracking grenade that allows you to send some sort of critters at enemies.

No one wants to be Spider-Man with a cooldown timer on their webshooters.

The big drawback is that there is a big difference between the Strand+ you use in the campaign and the actual subclass you eventually unlock. Namely, in the campaign you hardly suffer from the cooldown timer and you can also spam with your Super attack nicely. The unlocked Strand is a bit tamer because here, without aspects, you have to wait considerably for the cooldown timer. Especially during the spicier activities, I preferred something other than the grapple hook, which was strategically more convenient. Also the free movement with all the beautiful tall buildings in Neomuna felt a bit dull then. I understand well that in combat and especially PvP you have to level things up naturally, but had the grappling hook then been incorporated with the jumps or glides. Because no matter how much the level design invites you to use Strand, nine times out of ten you can get to the other side by jumping or gliding properly, which makes the addition a bit unnecessary. Because let’s face it, nobody wants to be Spider-Man with a cooldown timer on his webshooters.

Under the hood

So on the surface, we see a new location, a new subclass and plenty of cool activities. As far as I’m concerned, the really big changes are in Destiny 2’s subsystems. At its core, of course, the game remains the fine-feeling looter shooter with a strong social component. To make this a little smoother and more enjoyable for everyone, Bungie has decided to give the mod system an overhaul. In addition to being much easier to manage from a screen, certain restrictions have been lifted making it easier for players to customize and/or combine their mods.

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The loadouts system is also new. It allows you to save different loadouts which allows you to switch fairly easily. Previously, you had to do this all manually – which took a very long time – or work with an external app to arrange this. These quality of life improvements eliminate the somewhat tedious elements so that, as a player, you have less hassle with inventory management and more time left over to enjoy shooting all the alien scum.

Lightfall also adds the commendation system. This allows you to provide other players with positive feedback after an activity. It’s always nice to get or give a virtual pat on the back, but it unfortunately misses the mark a bit when you have to give 750 of them to grow in your Guardian Rank. The latter is an addition I’m not entirely broken about. The Guardian Ranks act as a sort of indicator showing how proficient a player is in Destiny 2. By checking off certain things there, the player’s score grows, and if the score is sufficient, the player also increases the Guardian Rank. You just have to do quite a lot to grow in your Guardian Rank and is even more annoying that the ranks all get reset at the end of the season.

Nightmare

With a new expansion comes a new Raid, of course. Because that endgame activity is of course the cream of the game. I made the classic mistake of not playing the campaign on the legendary difficulty which made the road to the desired power level a little longer for me. Fortunately, I found a nice fireteam who took me into The Root of Nightmares where the six of us gave Chief Nezarec a bit of a beating. The Root of Nightmares takes place in one of The Witness’ pyramid ships, the ship was hit by one of The Traveler’s pure energy beams causing the pyramid to terraform with all sorts of crazy plants. I have to admit that I really loved the set pieces. There is a lot of color and you sort of walk around in the same area as the plants continue to grow.

One thing is the difficulty, for example, The Root of Nightmares is said to be one of the easier raids. Of course, we saw this in The Contest Mode where the first team managed to complete the raid in just under 2.5 hours. Personally, I found this raid still tough enough, but it is one of the first where I managed to reach the finish line on my first attempt as well. As far as I’m concerned, it’s great that for once we got an easier raid, it invites players who normally skip this endgame activity to give it a try.

In addition to Lightfall, the Season of Defiance has also begun and this season also offers a fun activity with Defiant Battlegrounds for a change. In this activity, you and a fireteam will do your best to free prisoners from the hands of The Witness. The activity is best described as a kind of long Strike with two boss battles. I found it a fun activity for a change, but keep in mind that a run is quite long and this is not one of which you do three in a row for fun.

Returning to Destiny 2 felt like a warm bath to me. The gameplay still stands like a house and it’s just nice to have a nice evening of shooting with my fireteam. Still, I fear Lightfall is not the expansion we had all hoped for.It seems with this expansion if everything is a tale with two sides. The quality of life improvements are a step in the right direction. The Commendations and Guardian Ranks systems they are geeky on paper, but in practice they miss the mark. The Strand subclass is very cool, but it’s annoying that the grappling hook has a regular cooldown timer which removes its usefulness a bit. Neomuna looks beautiful, but just looks tremendously empty due to the fact that there are only three “physical” NPCs to be found. While the story is not a showstopper for me, it really could be better. By the way, Bungie promises that a lot will become clear in the coming period and seasons, but that’s a bit mustard for now.

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