Ahead of this week’s Lightfall release, Destiny 2 was on a roll. Season of the Seraph delivered on every front, including a terrific final mission and concluding cutscene showing the series’ infamous white orb called the Traveler finally getting off its ass. The pre-release marketing campaign for Lightfall was firing on all cylinders, getting fans hyped for an epic showdown on the previously unexplored planet of Neptune. Then the new expansion launched on Tuesday, opening with a dramatic space battle above Earth and breaking the game’s all-time concurrent player record on Steam in the process. But it has been downhill since.
In my initial five hours with Lightfall, I’ve explored the patrol zone around the neon-fueled city of Neomuna, dipped into the Season of Defiance quest chain, and neared the end of the main story campaign centered around defending a powerful artifact from Calus’ Shadow Legion. On paper, it’s everything I want, but in action Neomuna looks empty, the story is underexplained and tonally confusing, and Strand, Destiny 2’s newest set of Guardian space magic, feels underwhelming.
Lightfall promises the discovery of a new world full of technological wonders and long-standing mysteries. Destiny 2’s Vanguard, space cops defending a post-apocalyptic futuristic version of our solar system from alien invasions on every front, discover a long-lost human colony on Neptune, home to both a power called The Veil and cyborg protectors called Cloud Striders. After calling their home The Last City for eight years, Destiny’s characters realize they’re not alone in the solar system after all.
What should be a major consequential epiphany is short lived, however. After a brief scene and some short dialogue between the grizzled Warlock Osiris, a wizened Cloud Strider named Rohan, and his rookie apprentice Nimbus, it’s back to mowing down Cabal with familiar guns and chasing more unexplained macguffins. The seasonal Exotic, Verglas Curve, is a delectable Stasis bow that lets you swap between high damage head shots and multi arrow spreads that spawn protective ice barriers. The rest of the new loot feels more sparse. Several hours in I still find myself mostly sticking with my old gear.
Strand, a new set of subclass abilities denoted by glowing green threads, is found loitering on the streets of Neomuna like an afterthought. So far I’m finding it less impactful than Stasis and less powerful to play with than the recent 3.0 overhauls of Solar, Void, and Arc. The all-new grappling hook is excellent, when you’re not waiting on the minute-plus cooldown.
And rather than ratcheting up the tensions as The Witness and his army of dark pyramids corner Earth and The Traveler, old characters retreat into caricature while new ones greet armageddon with goofy one-liners. “Let’s go do some hero stuff,” Nimbus says as their city becomes a battlezone. Neomuna itself is completely devoid of life. It turns out the populace Nimbus is sworn with protecting have all uploaded themselves into the metaverse. No, seriously.
Lightfall’s missions have left me similarly cold. While the Legendary difficulty mode returns, the encounters don’t feel as memorable or interesting. After a while, Neomuna’s teal and magenta infused metropolis streets and rooftops all begin to blend together. With continuous waves of enemies standing in for more tightly wound combat arenas, the shape and pace of each big battle feels less distinct and more diffuse. Very little of it is peppered with interesting new bits of lore about Neptune or The Veil, or characters grappling with the stakes of their newfound predicament, either. Mostly, Osiris just barks about not wasting time. Over 1,000 alien corpses later, I still feel no closer to uncovering what The Witness is up to then when I started.
As a longtime Destiny player, it’s an incredibly weird place to be. Usually, the first week of a new expansion is a honeymoon period. Overjoyed with the mere prospect of more content to run through, flaws are easy to overlook and the inherent strength of Bungie’s art direction and combat makes everything feel at least a little bit fun or rewarding. Maybe I’ll begin to feel that way the more I dig into Neomuna, explore its post-campaign quests, and get into the flow of the seasonal mystery. Perhaps I just need to re-adjust my expectations coming down from the high point that was The Witch Queen. I certainly hope so. Lightfall’s premise and aesthetic hold a ton of promise, and a new raid is just around the corner.