Between its consistently enjoyable seasonal updates, engaging week-by-week story beats, and the excellence of 2022’s The Witch Queen expansion, Destiny 2 had me feeling incredibly optimistic about its new Lightfall DLC and the future of the game as a whole. The Light and Darkness Saga that started all the way back in 2014 with the original Destiny has had both high highs and low lows, but going into Lightfall, it felt like developer Bungie had finally found its stride and would be able to capitalize on Destiny 2’s recent momentum with a satisfying and engaging penultimate expansion.
Now that Lightfall has come out and I’ve spent over two weeks engaging with everything it has to offer, though, it’s left me feeling heartbreaking disappointment — and also serious concern about what lies ahead in 2024 with The Final Shape. Between the expansion’s shockingly poor main story, lacking post-campaign quests, the lifelessness of its new location Neomuna, and its mechanically bland raid, Lightfall is a dismaying slip reminiscent of Destiny’s past mediocre expansions rather than the triumphant success players were hoping for.
Disclaimer: This review was conducted on PC with the Steam version of Destiny 2 using a copy of the Lightfall expansion purchased by the author.
Destiny 2 Lightfall review: Campaign and story
Story campaigns have traditionally been the weakest part of Destiny 2’s expansions, but with The Witch Queen, Bungie delivered a fantastic one that featured a captivating plot and some of the franchise’s best ever character writing for its primary antagonist, Savathûn. I had hopes that Lightfall’s story would maintain this level of quality, but unfortunately, it’s the worst expansion narrative we’ve seen since the dark days of the Year 1 Curse of Osiris and Warmind DLCs.
The campaign starts off strong, with The Witness and its fleet of Darkness Pyramid vessels launching a devastating assault on humanity and the Traveler that was seen in the expansion’s launch trailer. Unfortunately, it quickly derails into nonsense as players pursue The Witness’ new Disciple, Emperor Calus, to Neptune and a previously undiscovered metropolis called Neomuna that’s located there.
|Genre||Live service shooter|
|Platforms||Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Windows PC (Microsoft Store, Epic Games Store, Steam)|
|Xbox/PC Game Pass||No|
Neomuna is home to “The Veil,” a mysterious paracausal macguffin that has ties to both Light and Darkness. Calus and his Shadow Legion Cabal invade Neomuna to control The Veil so The Witness can use it against the Traveler, so naturally, your goal in the campaign is to reach it first and stop it from falling into the wrong hands. This story is conceptually fine, but the execution of it is absolutely awful. Throughout the campaign, you never even learn what The Veil is despite everyone around you acting like it’s obvious, and several other key plot threads aren’t adequately explained, either. Even Destiny’s biggest lore YouTuber can’t figure the story out.
Making matters worse is the fact that half of the levels are low-stakes tutorials for Strand, Lightfall’s new Darkness power that (unlike Beyond Light’s Stasis) has zero narrative context and appears for no identifiable reason. I’d have loved to see more missions centered around working and bonding with the people of Neomuna and their Cloud Strider protectors, Rohan and Nimbus — two cybernetically enhanced humans with painfully cliché personalities and zero character development — but apparently having random training segments was more important.
Beyond confusing story beats, dull Strand 101 classes with Professor Osiris, and annoying surfer bro quips amid humanity’s potential downfall from Nimbus, there’s at least some enjoyment to be had with the campaign’s villain, Calus. Since players met him in Year 1 with the Leviathan raid, he’s been obsessed with opulence, grandeur, and glory, and it’s entertaining to watch that personality contrast with The Witness’ cold, almost Machiavellian demeanor. Compared to Savathûn’s many appearances throughout The Witch Queen, though, Calus doesn’t get much screentime.
One thing that Lightfall’s campaign mostly gets right is gameplay. Most levels have engaging and exciting encounters that are satisfying to overcome, especially if you play through the DLC on Legendary difficulty (you’ll get increased campaign chest rewards, a full set of high Power Level gear, and a new Lightfall Exotic armor piece of your choice if you do). A few of the encounters in the final two levels are pretty frustrating, but overall, this aspect of the campaign was done well. Tormentors, a new juggernaut-style enemy with suppressing melee strikes, a deadly grab attack, and two distinct passive and aggressive combat behaviors, are a particularly great addition that I hope return in future PvE experiences.
Destiny 2 Lightfall review: Neomuna
Ahead of Lightfall’s launch, developer Bungie advertised the futuristic city of Neomuna as a lively patrol space with lots of verticality that would pair nicely with Strand and its grappling hook ability. The Neomuna we got, though, is nothing like this. Outside of wherever the Terminal Overload Public Event activity is happening (its location rotates daily), there’s barely anything to fight or do as you explore the streets of the city. You also never see any Neomuni citizens — the cop-out reason for this is that they’ve all uploaded themselves to the “CloudArk,” which is basically Destiny’s version of the metaverse — and because of this, Neomuna feels like a complete ghost town.
The post-campaign quests that take place in the city are also a slog, as most of them dump exposition on you in audio logs or walls of text and then task you with killing random Vex minibosses in locations you’ve already been through multiple times. These aren’t all bad (a particularly unique one takes you to a Lost Sector set in an arcade taken over by the Vex), but almost none of them stand out for good reasons, either.
Neomuna also lacks the verticality that was marketed in Lightfall’s various pre-release trailers. These videos showed Guardians leaping off skyscrapers and swinging between high-rises with Strand’s grappling hook, but in-game, very few of Neomuna’s buildings can be climbed. If you attempt to do so, you’ll usually get smacked down by invisible walls or out of bounds warning messages.
At least Neomuna looks gorgeous, as the neon-soaked cityscape contrasted by a stormy Neptunian skybox is truly a sight to behold. The city is also where much of Lightfall’s excellent soundtrack plays, treating players to a blend of dreamlike synthesizers tinged with dark, foreboding undertones.
Destiny 2 Lightfall review: Strand subclasses
While most of Lightfall is disappointing, its new Strand subclasses are a fantastic addition to Destiny 2’s gameplay and buildcrafting sandbox. They felt underwhelming at first due to the limited selection of ability-altering Fragments available, but once Bungie unlocked all of them, players began to discover just how powerful Strand is.
All of the Strand subclasses are a joy to use, as their abilities encourage active, action-heavy playstyles. Warlock Broodweavers can dominate the battlefield by constantly creating armies of vicious Threadling minions, while the Berserker subclass turns Titans into an unstoppable shock trooper that can easily access the damage-reducing Woven Mail buff, Suspend foes in midair with Barricade casts, and tear them apart with rapid melee slashes. Hunter players get access to Threadrunner, an agile high-mobility subclass that provides two Grapple Grenade charges and enables players to generate anchors when grappling. These anchors don’t consume grenade cooldowns when grappling to them, allowing Threadrunners to launch themselves into groups of enemies and perform explosive grapple melee combos over and over again.
This is how the subclasses perform at a base level, though there’s plenty of opportunities for tweaking, optimization, and synergy with Exotic armor pieces. For example, a powerful alternative playstyle for Warlock involves consuming a Shackle Grenade to begin Weaver’s Trance, a buff that causes slain enemies to release a burst of area-of-effect energy that Suspends anything it hits. Paired with the Necrotic Grips Exotic that spreads deadly poison when you kill an enemy, it’s possible to quickly Suspend entire armies of grouped up combatants since the damage-over-time will proc Weaver’s Trance whenever it inevitably scores a kill.
Since the DLC’s launch, I’ve spent hours putting together a variety of different Strand builds, and testing them out in various PvE activities like Battlegrounds and Nightfalls has been an absolute blast. If there’s one reason to buy the Lightfall expansion, it’s Strand.
Destiny 2 Lightfall review: Root of Nightmares raid
Raids represent the pinnacle of Destiny 2’s PvE content, and are often what many players look forward to the most when new expansions launch. Coming off the disappointing Lightfall campaign and patrol space, I was hopeful that the DLC’s new raid, Root of Nightmares, would be a good one. After completing it several times (both with and without the day one -20 Power Level “Contest Mode” active), though, I was disheartened to find that even the raid is a lackluster experience.
While the raid has an absolutely phenomenal theme and aesthetic — it’s set within The Witness’ flagship Pyramid that the Traveler terraformed with a beam of Light energy — three of its four encounters have a laughably simple core mechanic that will only involve, at most, two players from your six-man fireteam. Everyone else will do nothing but clear ads for the majority of the raid, making the Root of Nightmares feel boring and bland compared to most of Destiny 2’s past raids. There is one particularly cool boss fight that involves four of the players on your team moving floating planets around a room, but that’s it.
Some won’t mind the raid’s simple design, and it’ll undoubtedly be a great one for fans that get intimidated by complicated mechanics to play through. For me, though, mechanics are what make raids special, and when over half your team can coast to victory without engaging with them, I see that as a huge design failure. At least the Root of Nightmares raid loot is awesome, because if it wasn’t, I probably wouldn’t even bother running it every week.
Destiny 2 Lightfall review: New weapons and Exotics
Like previous Destiny 2 expansions, Lightfall has introduced a wide variety of new Legendary weapons and pieces of Exotic gear to the game’s sandbox. Some of these weapons can be earned by completing Terminal Overload runs and other minor activities on Neomuna, while the rest come from Root of Nightmares raid encounter completions. The Season Pass for Season of Defiance that’s included with every Lightfall copy also gives you access to its six seasonal weapons. Lightfall’s Exotic weapons are obtained through Neomuna’s post-campaign quests, and you can snag its Exotic armor pieces from Legendary Lost Sector completions (you can get one for free on each character by playing through the campaign on Legendary).
The majority of the new gear is great, and even though every weapon or armor piece won’t be meta-defining, I’ve enjoyed incorporating them into my loadouts. The Swarmers (Warlock) and Abeyant Leap (Titan) Exotic leg armors are incredible for Strand builds, as are Strand weapons like the Perpetualis and Rufus’s Fury Auto Rifles and the Synchronic Roulette SMG. The Exotic Machine Gun Deterministic Chaos is an excellent choice for Void users since it weakens targets and makes them volatile, while the unique Exotic heavy Stasis Glaive, Winterbite, shoots frost orbs capable of quickly freezing massive groups of ads.
My only gripe with Lightfall’s new loot is that a sizable chunk of its new weapons are reskins of old gear from past seasons and expansions. Aside from some added lights and different base colorations, all the Neomuna weapons look exactly like the ones that were added in 2019’s Shadowkeep DLC. Season of Defiance’s weapons also look extremely similar to Season of the Lost’s, with the only difference being different base colors and a new crystalline texture on some parts of the guns.
Ultimately, this isn’t that big of a deal, but I do feel like players should be getting new weapon designs in an expansion that costs $50 to purchase. A gear piece’s style is part of its appeal, after all.
Destiny 2’s new Guardian Ranks, Commendations, Loadouts, and Armor Charge mods
When Lightfall launched, it added a some new systems and overhauled existing ones in an effort to improve Destiny 2’s quality-of-life. Because these additions and changes are accessible to all players, including people that don’t purchase Lightfall, they’re not being factored into my review score. However, I’m still providing a short explanation of these changes and my thoughts on them here in brief, as it’s valuable information for both new and returning players to be aware of.
- Guardian Ranks are a new progression system that helps new players get familiar with Destiny 2, while also allowing veteran players to show their experience. It’s a good idea, but the current implementation bafflingly makes higher ranks reset every season. It’s also too easy for new players to reach the Guardian Rank 6 “Veteran” status, making the system feel pointless.
- Players can now give each other Commendations after matchmade activities, allowing them to reward teammates when they’re helpful, fun to play with, or skilled. However, Commendation score has ties to Guardian Rank progression and Powerful and Pinnacle Gear rewards, and as a result, it’s become just another commodity to be “farmed” rather than a genuine show of appreciation.
- Loadouts are a new feature that lets players save and organize up to 10 different builds comprised of subclass customizations, armor pieces, armor mods, armor transmog choices, and weapons. This feature is absolutely phenomenal, although I’d have liked a way to exclude weapons from my loadouts.
- Destiny 2’s new Armor Charge system consolidated many of the game’s old Charged With Light and Elemental Well armor mods under one umbrella. Buildcrafting with mods is now much easier to understand and engage with, though several mod functions that were available before aren’t now. As a result, Armor Charge has disappointed many veteran players, though newer players will have an easier time getting started.
Destiny 2 Lightfall review: Final thoughts
Ultimately, Destiny 2: Lightfall is a thoroughly disappointing and underwhelming expansion that will leave most players deeply unsatisfied. While the new Strand subclasses are fantastic, the gear is solid, and the campaign is enjoyable to play through, Lightfall’s story, post-campaign content, new patrol space, and raid are all some of the worst that Destiny 2 has had in years. How did we go from The Witch Queen to this?
If you’re already committed to playing Destiny like I am, you’re probably going to pick up this expansion (or have already) to keep up with the game. If you’re a new or returning player looking for a good way to jump in, though, you should pick up the Destiny 2: Legacy Collection and play through all the old expansions until Lightfall goes on sale. Don’t worry about FOMO; there’s not a whole lot here to miss out on other than Strand.