There was a lot of hype going into Lightfall, Destiny 2's big cyberpunk expansion. The reality has been much more muted, full of ups and downs, fun discoveries and tedious chores. Live-service games are unwieldy creatures to try and examine under a microscope, and Destiny remains one of the toughest of them all.
Free-to-play sandbox changes are launching alongside the paid campaign, and separate seasonal story missions will be dropping week to week as hotfixes continue rolling out. Below fellow Kotaku writer and Destiny 2 glutton Zack Zwiezen and I discuss the highs and lows of Lightfall’s initial kick-off.
Zack Zwiezen: Eyes up, Guardians. We will be talking about Destiny.
Ethan Gach: Okay, let’s start with the Lightfall campaign. What were your most and least favorite parts? The high point for me was obviously the opening cinematic that shows The Traveler confronting The Witness and everything going sideways. The low point was crawling through air ducts while Osiris barked at me to quit wasting time and become one with the green space magic (Strand).
Zack: My favorite part was also the opening bit and the ending. It felt like stuff was happening and actually seeing the Traveler do something was amazing. Finally, the orb is helping us. My least-favorite part was how much the rest of the main campaign feels like season three of Lost, just spinning its wheels until the big finale.
It’s ironic that Osiris is so angry about us wasting time when this whole campaign feels like a waste of time.
Ethan: I felt extremely torn throughout most of it between the gravity of the story Bungie is telling at this moment and the lightheartedness of the ‘80s tropes littered throughout the campaign.
Neomuna feels like a cross between a Saturday morning cartoon and an afternoon at a futuristic space mall. The training montage with Strand was cute but also felt like a complete waste of time. Nimbus has grown on me over time, but I think they suffer from being the loan representative of an entire new civilization.
Read More: 13 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting Destiny 2: Lightfall
Zack: I kept wondering, as I played through the campaign, what the point of this expansion was. And the weird mix, as you mention, of ‘80s tropes and serious storytelling, didn’t help. With Witch Queen, I really liked how the narrative developed the idea that the Light isn’t some inherently good thing. That it can instead be used by anyone and how that really shook up Zavala and others. This time around the Strand was just a fun Darkness power we got via a Rocky-like montage, beat Calus (again) and I was left going “Okay...cool?”
I really enjoy exploring Neomuna and Nimbus has also grown on me. And I do like how the post-campaign quests seem to be expanding more on the lore of the planet and its people. But compared to last year and Witch Queen, I mostly felt disappointed by Lightfall.
Ethan: Yes, Witch Queen felt like a very tightly calibrated story with a beginning, middle, and end that built out the lore and stakes of the larger story while still focusing mostly on expanding on Savathûn’s backstory and motivations. No characters really provided that in Lightfall.
The end-game quests are much stronger than many of the campaign missions, I think, and probably would have provided a nice middle point to help the expansion breathe a bit more. I think backloading finally getting Strand, learning about Neomuna’s history, and also what Rohan was up to prior to our arrival, only served to make the campaign feel even more rushed and underexplained.
Zack: Yup. And I’ll also admit now that I still don’t fully understand why The Witness couldn’t just pop down to Neomuna and get his fancy Veil thing and do what he needed to do. And I also found it weird that Bungie—which is usually good about seeding stuff long before it becomes a big part of the story—just invented this whole Veil thing outta nowhere.
It just added to the feeling that this was rushed or not planned out as well as past expansions and seasons. Ethan, where did The Witness go? And will we find out before the next expansion via the upcoming seasons?
Ethan: I’m sure there will be hints of it throughout the upcoming seasons. But as tends to be the case with the expansion/season divide, my guess is the plot won’t move forward until The Final Shape. Which is fine, honestly. I get why some people felt like Lightfall needed to deliver more than a couple cutscenes, but I would have been completely satisfied if it felt like Neomuna had been properly fleshed out and had more tension.
I do think it’s been much more successful as a patrol space and launching pad for new exotic missions, however. What have you been thinking of the post-game and the broader content changes and additions in Lightfall?
Zack: I like the quality-of-life stuff! The loadout manager is cool and actually works. The way red frame weapons work now, where you just get the plan right away, is nice. But it’s not all great. I hate the new guardian rank system. And the commendation stuff, which could have been cool, just sucks.
Commendations seem so generic and everyone is giving them out all the time, regardless of how I played, and it all feels pointless at the moment.
Ethan: Yea it feels very caught between wanting to incentivize good behavior and also not lead to negativity. Also since matchmaking is reserved for the easiest activities, I’m also rarely ever paying attention to who I’m playing with.
By the end of a Defiant Battleground or Nightfall I rarely remember who was the person that went out of their way to revive me or kept us from wiping. I do see who is the best dressed, and yet there’s no style commendation. It also feels moot when you can assign one to both people, and a chore considering the number of button presses. How do you feel about the overhauled mods?
Zack: All of the mod changes are solid and much needed, I feel. The mod manager helps a lot too. I really like how much easier it is to play how I want without having to worry about costs or energy types as much. I also like that the artifact mods are now active perks. Overall I now enjoy messing with mods and my build more than before. And I was someone who barely cared about that stuff before because it was such a chore.
Ethan: It definitely feels like the builds have less personality around them. Warmind mods had a very specific flavor, and I miss elemental wells a ton. Overall I think the changes are good to great on average, though I think the way mod benefits are communicated is still a little obtuse, especially for newcomers.
It’s clearly part of the design philosophy at Bungie to slap “+10% kinetic damage” on something, which I admire, but the current system requires learning a lot of keywords to break down what are, at the end of the day, numerical trade-offs. Speaking of which, man it’s rough out there for legendary primaries.
Zack: I’m still mostly using stuff from the last two seasons, which is often a bad sign. I’ve not liked most of the new Neomuna-themed legendary weapons. Which feels like a change from past seasons, where I would often end up swapping out most of my stuff for the new toys and having a good time!
Ethan: The Neomuna weapons haven’t been super exciting, and it’s a pain that the Terminal Overload ones aren’t craftable. I’d almost rather have it be reversed, with Nimbus’ engram weapons being RNG rolls only, since Terminal Overload is a much more targeted farm.
If the Queensguard weapons didn’t also roll out alongside it, I think there would be a lot more talk of Lightfall lacking loot on par with some of the criticisms of Beyond Light, though the exotics are head and shoulders above other expansions (with the exception of Witch Queen’s Osteo Striga, which remains undefeated).
One complaint I have is that I’m over 30 hours into the new content and still don’t have a new crafted weapon yet, with the exception of the Vexcalibur exotic. As with Strand, the campaign would have been a great time to level one of the new guns up and grow attached to it. Now, I almost don’t care anymore. Crafting in general, while less painful, still feels under-developed. It was the key feature of last year’s expansion, and it feels like a footnote now.
Zack: *Looks off into the distance, dreaming of Osteo Striga. What a gun...*
But yeah without the Queensguard weapons I’d be pretty damn bummed about the loot this time around. And about crafted weapons, I too lack any still. And I often forget about the whole system now that I just hit a button to get the plans. It really feels like a misfire, and keeping it around in this current half-baked form feels bad. Rip it out and just let us have generic plans that can be used to craft stuff, or something.
I do think it’s maybe telling that we’ve talked so much about the new expansion and neither of us seems excited about Strand. I don’t hate Strand or anything like that. I enjoy using it. But it’s not as exciting to me as the other subclasses after the big 3.0 overhauls.
Ethan: It’s definitely very powerful, and I like that it can be utilized very effectively in both offensive and defensive ways, sometimes even in the same build. The grappling hook, like every moment-to-moment action in Destiny 2, feels great. Sorry though, not trading away my grenade for it. I mostly find myself using it now when I want to speed through lower-level grinds. I also don’t find it quite as visually and auditorily satisfying as Stasis, which, as evidenced by the stellar Verglas Curve exotic bow, remains so satisfying every time. But the damage output on Strand is wild. Players bemoaned the boring-sounding Titan Strand subclass, but I think it turned out to be the most fun version of it.
Read More: 14 Things I Love About Destiny 2: Lightfall
Zack: Oh the grappling hook feels soooooo good. But yeah, giving up a grenade for it and the long cooldown compared to the campaign makes it far less enticing to use regularly.
I think your comment about it not being as visually or auditorily satisfying is accurate and it leads me to the other problem with it: It just doesn’t seem as unique. The other subclasses being mostly elemental worked well to make them stand out. Strand is the first new subclass that seems less obvious to explain to someone. It’s like green space strings...I guess?
Are you excited about the rest of the year? Or has Lightfall dampened your Destiny 2 excitement for 2023? I’ll admit that I came into this new expansion and year very excited and pumped after Witch Queen and the last two seasons. And this has definitely made me a bit less excited for the rest of the year.
Ethan: I was extremely burnt out after last fall, and didn’t play a ton of last season. So far, I’ve actually been playing more of Lightfall than Witch Queen, which I loved it, but which I ended up dropping off pretty hard. We haven’t mentioned the Root of Nightmares raid yet, but I think while not as spectacle-driven as some past ones, it will get a lot more play because of how much shorter and more straightforward it is to grind. That’s especially surprising considering how the more general ramp-up in difficulty this season has completely turned me off of doing Lost Sectors and Nightfalls, which just feel like more trouble than they’re worth right now.
Zack: Yeah it’s interesting to see the raid be so much simpler than past raids. I wonder if Bungie wants more people playing raids or is just trying to shake things up and not always do some complicated beast for each new raid. Yet, meanwhile, other parts of the game are harder than ever. I imagine Bungie has data to back up these choices, but then again, as I write this, I see the hotfix patch notes for the game mention increasing rewards on solo Lost Sector runs. So maybe this is more evidence that this expansion and update didn’t get as much time in the oven as it needed
Ethan: As we look forward to the rest of the year—and to be clear, a Destiny expansion really is a year-long $100 commitment at this point (both for Bungie and the player)—there are definitely some things coming that I wish could have arrived alongside Lightfall. An in-game looking-for-group tool is one of the big ones, but the biggest of all is an end to the Power grind. It’s tedious. It gates content. And it’s just not fun.
RPG leveling has always been an uncomfortable fit for Destiny, which is a shooter at heart and fundamentally about chasing guns. Without skill trees or stats to pour points into, there’s really no reason, besides padding. to have to hit an arbitrary number before being able to participate in new content. It’s always been a fundamental tension in Destiny, but I don’t think any of the solutions have ever fixed it. And on a more optimistic note, I’m more confident than ever that the fundamentals of the game are strong enough to survive without it.
Zack: More so than ever, this expansion and season I feel the Power grind and I’m excited to hear Bungie isn’t going to raise it again next season. It feels like the beginning of fully removing it completely. The game can live on without it.
Reading back through this chat, I worry I sound super down on Destiny 2. But I’m still ready for the rest of the year and I’m excited to play more. I think, for me, this expansion just reminded me of how damn good Witch Queen was. It was always going to be hard to compete with that.
Ethan: Lightfall is definitely a slow burn. I can’t recommend it to people who aren’t already invested in the game in some way, unlike The Witch Queen, which was arguably the best shooter campaign of 2022.
But I think, or at least I’m hopeful, that it will bear more fruit over the long run. Season of Defiance is already off to a really strong start compared to other expansion-adjacent seasons, quality of life is improving, a lot of the currencies and grinding is getting streamlined, and there’s room to tie up a lot of interesting loose ends before The Final Shape.
Zack: Agreed. The future is still bright for Destiny 2. We just have to get there.