Destiny 2 Lightfall review – far from the beginning of the end

For the most part, Destiny 2 Lightfall is an enjoyable and solid expansion, but it falls short of its lofty expectations due to an underwhelming campaign.

Destiny 2 Lightfall review: The Witness raises a hand with several pyramid ships floating behind it

Our Verdict

From a gameplay perspective, Lightfall is a very solid and enjoyable expansion for Destiny 2. However, the heart of any Destiny expansion is its campaign, and the narrative in Lightfall falls short of expectations.

Destiny 2 Lightfall has finally arrived, and it has some Savathun-sized shoes to fill following last year’s widely-celebrated The Witch Queen expansion. Expectations, including my own, have been high, with Lightfall getting a jaw-dropping narrative setup before launch, countless gameplay changes and new systems, a new subclass, and the aesthetically-pleasing location of Neomuna.

But after clearing all the Lightfall missions and the post-story quests, grinding some of the new activities on Neomuna, and dipping my toes into some of the larger gameplay changes, I’m left a little conflicted. While in many aspects this expansion gives Destiny 2 a breath of fresh air, in others it feels rather stale in comparison to The Witch Queen.

We won’t be discussing major plot points here, but there may be some light spoilers ahead, so look away now if you’re wanting to go into Lightfall completely blind.

A disappointing story

Let’s start with Lightfall’s highly-anticipated campaign, shall we? While it has a strong opening couple of missions and wraps up with a decent boss battle, I came away from the campaign feeling underwhelmed. Sure, it was enjoyable to play through, and the action-movie vibe Bungie has given off pre-release remains true from a gameplay perspective. However, Lightfall is eclipsed in its shock factor, storytelling, and general pacing by The Witch Queen (and maybe even Beyond Light at times too).

Heading into Lightfall, I had just one real worry, and that was that Bungie had let too many cats out of the bag before launch. In the last 12 months it has been criticised for some of its limited, secretive, and sometimes non-existent marketing runs for new content, and there seems to have been a bit of an overcorrection for Lightfall.

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The campaign fails to really deliver any impactful moments outside of what was already teased, implied, and, in some cases, straight up shown before launch. Had moments like the Traveler firing a beam of Light at a Pyramid ship or the reveal of Calus’ new appearance been seen for the first time in the campaign and not in trailers, I would probably be commending Bungie right now.

While there is a somewhat surprising Destiny 2 Lightfall ending involving the Veil, it actually creates more questions than the rest of the campaign answers. Sure, over the course of the year – and maybe even in the new Destiny 2 Lightfall raid, Root of Nightmares – we’ll get a more solid understanding of what the conclusion of the campaign means for us and the Traveler. But in the moment, after all that build up, it felt very underwhelming.

What was perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the Lightfall experience, though, is the way that Strand is introduced and dealt with.

Strand-om encounters

Let’s answer the big money question first: Yes, the grappling hook and a lot of the other abilities you can learn are good fun. However, narratively-speaking, Strand feels so detached from everything else that’s going on in Destiny 2’s universe right now. Despite its drawbacks, the Beyond Light expansion did a decent job at introducing Stasis in a more meaningful way that felt linked to the story and the environment of Europa. The same can’t be said for Strand.

On your arrival in Neomuna, Strand is kind of just, well, there – it’s floating all around you and you find concentrated pockets of it in convenient locations. It also just so happens to be something the Neomuni and the Cloud Striders are oblivious to before you show up, and Osiris apparently becomes an overnight expert in it. I know he’s a smart fella, but the way Osiris (often overwhelmingly) lectures you on the slightly washy context of this new power and how to control it really missed the mark for me.

Destiny 2 Lightfall strand: A guardian glowing in green energy soars through the air with scythes as hands

The way the campaign delivers its hits of Strand is also disappointing. Of course, you don’t unlock the subclass properly until you’ve cleared the story, so there are some crafted set pieces where you can use Strand for a short while instead. None of them felt particularly epic or memorable, and there are some moments I would sadly label as filler.

If you isolate Strand from the story and look it at from a gameplay perspective, we’ve actually got a pretty great new subclass here. You can do some very creative stuff with the abilities, aspects, and fragments on offer, and there are some pretty busted builds already. As mentioned above, the headline ability of the grappling hook is good fun to use at points during the campaign and when generally exploring Neomuna. However, it is incredibly janky at times, and with it taking up a grenade slot, I can see it having a short shelf life for players that want to actually make the best Strand builds.

New places, new faces

While the narrative has left me disappointed, one thing Lightfall nails is its new location, Neomuna. I was stunned when it was revealed, and I’m still impressed while actually navigating through it. Also, loading into Nimbus’ spawn point atop one of Neomuna’s skyscrapers for the first time is one of the most memorable moments of Lightfall for me – an indication of both how awesome the city is to look at but also to how lacklustre the overall campaign is.

Destiny 2 Lightfall review: An aerial shot of Neomuna, a neon-lit futuristic city in Destiny 2

From a gameplay perspective, Neomuna is excellent too. There are lots of new public events and mini challenges going on, which offer a good level of challenge and rewards.

There are snippets of lore and environmental clues pertaining to the inner workings of the city, but I really hope we get to learn more about this place over the next 12 months – murals, poukas, and the elaborate sealing away of the Veil all point towards the Neomuni and the Cloud Striders having a long and fascinating history.

Speaking of the Cloud Striders, I really like Nimbus as a new ally, even if they come across a bit too enthusiastic at times given the wider situation. Rohan too began as an intriguing character, but his limited (and at times, straight up jarring) usage in Lightfall means we never get to see their relationship fully develop.

This trend continues with even our returning allies in Lightfall – there is very little in the way of meaningful character development, and there are a lot of moments where the gravity of the situation isn’t really reflected by their words or actions. Most of the campaign’s narrative weight is thrust onto Osiris and Caiatl. These are two great characters that have been expertly crafted and written prior up to this point, yet during the Lightfall, they are not given that same treatment.

More effort is given to fleshing out the Witness, which is great to see, and there is a moment I found particularly intriguing when some off-screen intimidation turns the arrogant and unwavering Calus’ into apologetic subservience. Like most things in Lightfall, though, this isn’t fully explored or explained – we never find out what this intimidation looks like, what Calus saw, and what the Witness is truly capable of.

Destiny 2 Lightfall review: A Tormentor raises its scythe above its head

While not strictly a ‘character’, I can also say that the new Tormentor enemy type is a great addition, and they are just as fearsome in your first encounters with them as Bungie promised. I love the way that they saunter around menacingly in their first damage phase, before going terrifyingly aggro in the second. Killing a Tormentor is far from straightforward, and I expect them to feature heavily in the raid – if they do, they’ll be an even bigger challenge to deal with.

Fine-tuning

It’s not just new content that Lightfall delivers to Destiny 2, as there are plenty of reworked or improved gameplay features to talk about too.

There’s the new, streamlined mod system, and it is mostly excellent in my opinion, with only a few creases to iron out and gaps to fill. Having your artifact mods always on and not taking up armour mod slots is also a great change.

The simplification of crafting is noticeable from the get-go, and while some will miss having a more in-depth system, I’m in favour of this stripped down version. End-of-activity commendations are also a nice addition (even if they are mostly being spammed in return for loot right now), and while it’s a bit fiddly initially to set up and save a class, the new loadout system makes switching builds super easy.

Destiny 2 lightfall review: the Cloud Strider Nimbus with their arms stretched behind them as they surf through the air

On a systematic and gameplay level, Lightfall is a much-needed and well-made expansion to Destiny 2. However, expansions are often remembered for the way they progress the narrative, the characters they introduce, and the impact they leave on the wider Destiny universe. By those metrics, Lightfall is pretty forgettable.

The pacing, the character development, and the plot all really miss the mark when compared to The Witch Queen. The bar was set high with the story around Savathun, and players would likely forgive Bungie if it were to undershoot just a little. However, Lightfall feels very wide of the mark, despite its captivating setting and all of the positive changes it’s bringing to Destiny 2 under the hood.

Make no mistake, with a holistic view, Lightfall is a good expansion. But players had expectations of Lightfall feeling like the beginning of the end – the penultimate expansion in Destiny’s Light and Dark saga. Instead, players will end its campaign with just as many questions as they had when they went in.