Destiny 2: Lightfall review – saved by the sum of its parts

Patrick Dane
Destiny 2's Lightfall expansion takes players into a new era of the game.

Destiny 2: Lightfall has been in the hands of players for a couple of weeks. The majority of the expansion has now been unveiled, and players have been able to simmer with all of the content. At such a pivotal moment for Destiny 2, Bungie couldn’t possibly fumble the ball… right?

Destiny 2 has one of the best sci-fi universes ever assembled. While that may seem like an outlandish statement when you consider that titans like Star Wars and Star Trek exist, for those that dive deep into the lore and stories, it becomes much less so. Destiny’s universe is massive and compelling in the way few are.

That being said, Destiny 2 has always had a story problem – especially in the eyes of a more casual audience. Famously, Destiny launched in 2014 to a confusing and disjointed campaign, and it’s a sheen the franchise has never really shaken even as it has made massive strides in recent years.

Destiny 2 has been coalescing into a whole as it focuses its sprawling universe into the end of the ‘Light and Darkness saga’. This has been the 10-year story the franchise has been building toward – a showdown between The Traveler and The Witness. Ever since Shadowkeep, this story has been coming into focus with momentum building for the closing chapters, Lightfall, and the upcoming The Final Shape.  

This was Destiny’s moment, where all eyes were on the product, for it to finally unfurl itself and talk plainly about this central conflict. 

It did not do that.

Destiny 2: Lightfall key details

Developer: Bungie
Price: £39.99 / $49.99
Release Date: February 28, 2023
Platforms: PC / PS5 / PS4/ Xbox One / Xbox Series X

Destiny 2: Lightfall trailer

Guardian down

Destiny 2: Lightfall has fumbled at a key moment in the franchise. While I’ve written more in-depth about the campaign’s failure than I will get into here, it feels like something went wrong. This didn’t set up the finale of the Light and Darkness saga. Instead of answering questions, it merely set up more and put a pin in the broader story to explore things that are narratively less interesting. Lightfall’s campaign is about contending with the new Strand subclass and mastering that, rather than having much of anything to do with the war between the Light and Darkness. 

Destiny 2 Lightfall The Witness cinematic
The Witness reaches out to the Traveler – but to no explainable end.

It’s hard to overstate how much of a gut punch the campaign’s failings are for long-time fans who have wanted answers for nearly a decade. The missions are all pretty great though. There’s no issue with the moment-to-moment, with many missions being even better than The Witch Queen‘s, probably the best campaign in Destiny history.

On top of that, there are excellent moments of storytelling that exist outside of the campaign. The Unfinished Business quest is great, both humanizing Nimbus, a character that jars in the main story, as well as answering age-old questions by explaining what the Black Heart in Destiny 1’s original campaign was. However, the failure of the broader story tarnishes so much of that good work. That disappointment lingers over all of Lightfall, extending its reach to every aspect of Destiny 2 right now. 

Stranding tall

Don’t be mistaken – there is so much good in Destiny 2: Lightfall. While the campaign leaves a taste of heartbreak in the mouth, the more time you spend with Lightfall, the more its quality shines. Case and point – Strand. This is the game’s fifth subclass, and it is an utter triumph. It is so fun to use, combining exceptional crowd control of powerful enemies, a grapple that can be attached to anything, and abilities that seem to be in service of pure aggression.

guardian using grapple ability in destiny 2 lightfall
Strand is one of the best additions to Destiny ever.

It’s all so well executed that it brings Destiny into a bright new era of subclass diversity. Unlike Stasis, which has almost always felt like a bit of a problematic subclass, especially when it comes to PvP, Strand has had a smooth transition into the Guardian’s arsenal. It is a staggering win for Lightfall.

That being said, and this is an ongoing issue throughout the expansion, Strand feels somewhat at odds with what’s going on in the story. While it’s vaguely connected to the Veil, one of the least explained and confusing MacGuffins you’ll ever see in a story (seriously, what is the Veil though, Bungie?), it doesn’t feel in line with the world of Neomuna. Its suffocating focus in the story is never really justified, and it ultimately just feels a little disparate from what is going on – feeding into this overall sense of incoherence between the expansion. It’s a shame too because when using it, it hosts some of the best moments I’ve had with Destiny gameplay in a long time.

Life in the big city

Neomuna is the new explorable area and it’s a unique addition to the world of Destiny 2. While it starts a little confusing, as you learn the area’s layout it becomes a neat space to exist in. There’s no setting in Destiny 2 that feels like Neomuna, a still-functioning cyber-city with digitized residents. It jars with the rest of the planets Guardians can land on from the Director, but not in a bad way.

Destiny 2 Neomuna
Neomuna grows on you as you learn its streets.

There’s a lot to explore in the city, and the new Terminal Overload activity is both fairly rewarding and provides a tough challenge even for multiple players. There’s also a lot to do here, with history to be explored through exotic quests, neat lost sectors, and enemies to be felled.

Destiny has always been about inhabiting dangerous spaces that have long lost their glory, but Neomuna is a change of pace as Guardians get to exist in a space that is still in its prime – albeit with a massive warship at its doorstep spewing Shadow Legion Cabal and the terrifying new Tormentor enemy type. 

Back to your roots

Those Tormentors play a role in the expansion’s new raid Root of Nightmares too, which is a visual delight, and one of the most ambitious settings for a raid thus far. This is the one place where the happenings of the broader story between the Light and Darkness are most felt – which is both neat and a shame all at once. While it doesn’t help explain anything about the broader story, it does allow you to exist in the aftermath of the meeting between the Traveler and the Witness. Set aboard the aforementioned Witness’s ship, you travel through a space that’s growing and shifting beneath your feet as the powers of Light and Darkness mangle the foundations below you.

Destiny 2 Root of Nightmares raid gameplay
Root of Nightmares is a visual feast for Destiny fans.

While mechanically it is not the most complex raid and certainly ranks among the easiest out there, it’s a feast for the eyes and a showcase for just how special this game is. There are no gaming experiences like Destiny raids elsewhere, and if you’re new to the game and want to see it at its best, this is a great introduction to this type of content. The third encounter is an all-timer that really shouldn’t be missed.

Buildcrafting for the future

Alongside all these back-of-the-box, big-ticket items, Lightfall also triumphs in foundational changes that are paving the path for a much healthier future. While these technically aren’t exclusive to the Lightfall experience, and any player can benefit from them, they are certainly defining of this new era of Destiny.

At the top of that list is Buildcrafting. Destiny 2 has always shined when players optimize their builds and synergies, however before this clean-up, it was a mess of various ideas and aspects of seasons long forgotten. 

destiny 2 first contact mission
You can do so much with the new build crafting system.

Buildcrafting 3.0 is an excellent reimagining of the system which simplifies the process to be more approachable, without it feeling significantly dumbed down. It works out of the box too, with some wild builds already out there, but it’s also a brilliant foundation for the future, with more mods and customization coming.

These changes mean that every player can wrestle with buildcrafting and experience the best gameplay Destiny 2 has to offer without doing a ton of research. The fact a build can be nicely displayed and shared on one screen now helps this process immensely too, as players can easily just steal what works from each other. That’s great from an accessibility standpoint and will get more people into this facet of gameplay. 

Get a loadout this guy

This all goes hand in hand with the new loadout system which is simple and efficient. You can now swap instantly to any loadout you require for any given situation. This is an exceptional tool that just works and allows you to craft your builds and store them, like several identities ready to go at any moment.

Your Guardian has never felt more like your own.

These new changes aren’t all a success though. Both Guardian Ranks and the new commendation system have arrived feeling a little out of whack. Guardian Ranks take an age to level up (only to be partially reset every season) and the commendation system is sloppily thrown together. There’s no incentive to be thoughtful with how you commend your fellow Guardians and sometimes the screen doesn’t even load in time for you to hand out your commendations.

That said, these feel like salvageable systems that need love to reach their potential. Add on top the prospect of an in-game LFG finder on the horizon, and all of these quality-of-life improvements help give the sense that the game is moving in the right direction. 

In the dark

Ultimately, Destiny 2: Lightfall is a strange beast of disappointed expectations that still manages to be largely excellent in its separate elements. Here’s an analogy I’ve grown fond of: You’re invited to a five-star dinner at a fancy restaurant. When you get there you are informed that you’re not getting a crafted dinner, but rather a smorgasbord of finger food. The smorgasbord is excellent and made with some of the best ingredients out there. You eat great, but in the back of your mind, you still long for that original crafted experience you were promised. 

Destiny 2 Lightfall gameplay
The Tormentors are an excellent new addition to the world of Destiny 2.

It’s a roundabout way of saying Lightfall doesn’t feel like a cohesive whole, even if the sum of its parts remain top-tier. There’s so much to be fond of in Lightfall. Buildcrafting is great, the raid is a visual delight, the narrative experiences around the campaign are neat, the weapons and perks all appear to be winners, once you get your head around Neomuna, it’s a great addition to Destiny, and Strand is a knockout punch, proving to be one of the best additions to the game in years. However, it’s all tinged by the feeling that this should have been more. While I can’t talk about it with certainty, Lightfall feels like the product of a development shift. An expansion salvaged from a change of course from when it was originally envisioned. Bungie didn’t forget how to make great games, and that’s why the quality of all of its parts shines through – but something happened here. 

The Verdict: 3/5

In Destiny 2: Lightfall, the great does eventually shine through the experience even if it makes a catastrophic first impression. Lightfall will likely be remembered as one of the franchise’s great disappointments for some time, which is unfortunate as there’s so much that’s worthy of your time here. Destiny 2: Lightfall is largely excellent – it’s just heartbreaking so much of that is tarnished by one of the biggest fumbles in the franchise’s history.

Reviewed on PC and PS5