Destiny 2 and I have a long and kind of weird history. I was along for the ride when this game first launched primarily because I had enough fun with the first game to warrant wanting to be there at the jump with the sequel. And for the most part, I had a good time, even if the circle of friends I had around me that were also playing felt a bit thin. In fact, I was dug in enough that I kept pace with the game at least through Forsaken until I just fell away.
I tried a return visit by diving in to Shadowkeep but felt like I was repulsed – almost punished, frankly – for being away for so long and daring to come back. For a while I was satisfied that was the way of things as I assumed my FPS gaming skills had dissolved from aging anyway.
But something about the Lightfall expansion’s release piqued my interest enough to want to try again, and since I was kindly granted a review key for the expansion, it really was a matter of nothing ventured, nothing gained.
So, could a player who had been pushed away from Destiny 2 years ago make a return visit this time around? Had it been too long? Did it evolve beyond me? I’m happy to report that it doesn’t feel like I’ve been quite as dust-covered as I had first supposed, though my overall experience with Lightfall still seems like a mixed bag.
Before I go on with this impressions piece, I should perhaps more clearly point out that I’m extremely far behind as far as this game’s narrative goes. The Red War, Cayde’s death, Curse of Osiris, and a little bit of what happened with Warmind are as far as I ever got with the game’s storyline before I shuffled away. The events beyond that point and up to Lightfall hold almost no sway for me. That is to say, I’m certainly missing some of the bigger plot picture with my perspective.
Even so, when I first started up the expansion, I was treated to a vignette that did a pretty good job of summarizing events up to the in-game present day. Sure I missed out a lot of the finer details, but I at least didn’t feel like I was being kicked into the deep end.
It appears that missing out on those finer details ended up for the best in some cases, at least from a narrative standpoint, as it seems like the vast majority of long-entrenched players were deeply unhappy with Lightfall, and while I can’t say that I share in their frustration, I can say that the yarn told in the expansion really did miss the mark.
For one thing, most of what’s being told to us comes from the mouth of Osiris, who I consider to be the game’s most insufferable and annoying NPC to begin with. This only made his frustrations at our character and his breathless panic at stopping a thing called the Veil from achieving what is called the Link even more aggravating, as he tries to convince us that this thing called the Final Shape an enemy called the Witness wants is a doomsday scenario without bothering to explain why.
I’m no stranger to Bungie’s writing “style,” but I had also hoped that its narrative team had evolved past the point of confusing lazy vagueness for compelling mystery. No such luck with Lightfall, regrettably; the fact that the studio wants people to wait through its next seasons to fill in the immense gaps is bad planning at best and intentionally confused writing at worst.
It’s a damned shame too because at the end of the expansion’s main campaign, we actually lose. Quite hard, I might add. It really would have been nice if the stakes felt higher; the final cutscene might have had a whole lot more impact, but by the end of it all I wasn’t met with a sense of dread so much as a shrug and a “huh, well that’s neat.”
This vague storytelling approach hurts its big baddie, the Witness, the most, as I just wasn’t capable of taking it seriously. It has some intriguing style to it, especially since it seems capable of unmaking things with simple hand gestures, but all I primarily had to face was yet another Legion threat peppered in with some Vex all while Osiris whined at me for the umpteenth time.
Plus, one of my good friends who has been playing the game a lot longer (and harder) than I said the Witness looks like a Cenobite rocking a Kid N’ Play fade, and now I can’t unsee that.
While the nebulous nature of the plot sucked overall, there were a lot of more personal moments for me that also made Lightfall bellyflop for me. A lot of hay was made by Bungie about Strand, the new subclass power set that was part and parcel of the expansion, but I never got to actually use that power at any great level of depth until after I beat the main campaign. Worse yet, I was constantly being given small tastes of the extremely neat stuff Strand was capable of doing but ultimately had the power ripped away from me. Over and over and over. Sometimes multiple times in a single mission. That’s not motivating; it’s annoying.
Still, as much as I complain about the Lightfall experience from a storytelling standpoint, I had almost no gripes with the game from a gameplay standpoint. It’s very clear that Bungie has gotten comfortable with what it’s doing, both in terms of shooting and in its new seasonal content output. And while I still rankle at Destiny 2’s penchant for calling a single bullet sponge boss with nonstop trash mob spawns “a challenging fight” (hint: It’s not, that is also lazy), I was having a generally good time.
Much of my coping with Lightfall’s story aggravation came from the Neomuna location, which looks like a Trapper Keeper cover painting brought to video game life (that’s a compliment). Empty as it is – the citizens have uploaded their consciousness to a literal cloud – I still really dig the location’s whole vibe.
Also, Nimbus is a bro.
Extra motivation came when I started to feel like some of my old shooter skills were returning to me. At one point I was able to successfully fight my way through an event with foes that were 100 power levels above my own through determination, cheese, and some admittedly reasonable levels of personal skill. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that seeing others rushing in near the end like a victorious cavalry charge didn’t feel amazing too. Having a growing circle of beloved friends playing the game also helps; I would not have defeated Calus on my own, frankly.
Destiny 2’s hooks only set in deeper once the main story finished and I was left to the many chases awaiting me at endgame. From the exotic quests to the bounties to the public events, from the instance playlists to the wonderfully surreal Dares of Eternity, I was having a great time finding things to do, collecting loot along the way, and unlocking the Strand skills I want. I’ve leaned very hard into the Warlock Broodweaver, by the way. I am a wormy mom, summoning my little threadling children to come out and play frequently.
On the subject of my character, I also feel like there is a lot more buildcraft present in Destiny 2 that I don’t remember there being before. The armor mods system grants some more control over how my character grows, providing a form of grounded progression that only gets enhanced when I get some nice loot drops, where before it seemed like I had to pray to the RNG gods for anything like progression.
My Lightfall experience can then be summarized as a hot garbage story experience that’s tied around the neck of some otherwise excellent gameplay. The seasonal stuff finally makes sense, the building of my character feels great, the activities I can take up with friends and family as well as by myself is enjoyable, and I adore my little green thready wormies.
I don’t know that it was all worth going through the expansion’s story, but I am definitely invested in the gameplay and the seasonal stuff. And frankly I kind of feel like that’s why a lot of people keep playing, so it’s nice to be part of that fold. I might not be home again, but I certainly feel part of it all. For a lapsed player, that means a lot.