My six-player Destiny 2 fireteam fired away as the Deep Stone Crypt raid boss, the toughest enemy of the Beyond Light expansion, teleported around the arena and roared with rage. We threw everything we had left at the flying monster in a desperate attempt to stave off defeat. Bullets and grenades filled the air as chunks of orbital debris slammed down onto the landscape, threatening to crush us as we scrambled for cover. It was now or never–if we didn’t manage to kill this thing immediately, it would kill us, and we’d be back to the start of the lengthy fight. And we’d sunk more than 12 hours into the raid over the past two days already.
But then: an explosion. The boss twisted in pain and a cheer went up from our crew. Finally, we’d bested the greatest challenge of the new expansion, after hours of struggling to work out the mechanics and suffering death after death to its powerful enemies. It’s moments like this one that keep me coming back to Destiny 2. There’s nothing quite like powering through a Destiny raid, relying on teammates to handle complex roles and cooperate through some of the game’s most creative designs.
Beyond Light provides more of what Destiny 2 is good at: satisfying first-person shooting, a great raid, fascinating places to explore, and a whole lot of punchy guns to try out. It also maintains some of the game’s lingering problems though, like a reliance on repetitive content and time-sucking grinds to arbitrarily raise numbers. To put it simply, Beyond Light is largely more Destiny–if that’s a thing you like, you’ll enjoy it, and if it’s a thing you complain about, you probably won’t.
But the last two years have seen Bungie making changes to Destiny 2, both large and incremental, that are improving the game, deepening its world, and expanding its experiences. Beyond Light is perhaps the best-told, most fleshed-out story developer Bungie has yet put forth in its game. The focus is on characters who have feelings and motivations, whether they’re heroes or villains, which allows them to grow beyond just a collection of voices on the radio yelling at you to go shoot another world-threatening alien. And new additions to the game, like a host of freezing abilities called Stasis, change up gameplay and combat strategies in fun and unexpected ways.
The new expansion takes you to Europa, one of Jupiter’s frozen moons, to uncover secrets about the latest threat invading the solar system. This is a godlike alien force colloquially known as the Darkness, carried on pyramid-shaped ships and collected in angular, metamorphic black artifacts. For the last few seasons of Destiny 2, we’ve been puzzling out what the Darkness has in store for us–while it has invaded (and, lately, vanished) entire celestial bodies like Mars and Mercury, it hasn’t attacked. Instead, the Darkness is offering seductive power. It doesn’t want to kill the superheroic Guardians that players embody–it wants to own them.
Much of the story of Beyond Light concerns characters figuring out how to harness the powers offered by the Darkness in order to combat it. The immediate issue is that Eramis, a member of the alien race known as the Fallen, has gotten hold of Stasis, the Darkness’s power, and is raising an army to wield it. Taking her out is the concern of the first few hours of the story campaign, but that’s mostly a vehicle to getting Stasis into your hands so you can run amok with it.
Stasis is the real star of Beyond Light, offering a new brand of abilities that require a big rethink of combat strategies. The powers of Stasis debuff enemies, doing things like slowing them down, freezing them solid, or walling them off behind giant ice crystals. Where most abilities and supers in Destiny 2 are dedicated either to doing direct damage to enemies or providing healing to teammates, Stasis adds capabilities for controlling the battlefield, changing the landscape, and altering the odds.
These powers are a nice refresher for Guardian capabilities, since we haven’t seen new subclasses since September 2018’s Forsaken expansion. They feel significantly different from everything else already available, pushing you to figure out how to best use them against enemies and develop creative solutions to avoid getting frozen and shattered into tiny pieces by opponents. As Stasis becomes a more regular part of Destiny 2, it’s easy to imagine ways it can be paired with existing abilities and weapons to pave the way for a whole new set of tactics. Stasis also comes with a bunch of customizations you can earn as you play, amping up the effectiveness of some elements of your new capabilities while exacting tolls like drops in character stats. Destiny 2 has come a long way in pushing you to think about how to spec out your characters, and Stasis deepens that system with additional satisfying choices that let you tune your playstyle for specific situations and requirements.
However, much of Beyond Light is Destiny as usual. The quest to get your new Stasis powers, for instance, largely consists of the usual “go here and shoot x number of this baddie” grind. There also continues to be a heavy reliance on bounties, which require completing minor objectives that are mostly about racking up kills with specific weapons or abilities, and which can be a boring slog to get through, especially as you’re battling to unlock the cool new Stasis customization elements.
But while some of the gameplay can be predictable, Europa is an impressive new offering. It’s a big location with varied environments to explore, including frozen wastes, ravaged ruins, a Fallen city, and huge sci-fi facilities. The destination adds dynamic weather for the first time, and while it’s not a drastic change, a blizzard whipping up in the middle of a firefight to kill visibility forces you to change how you play just enough to give Europa a dangerous and shifting feel.
Bungie mixes in its trademark gorgeous vistas with lots of little crevices to plumb for mysteries, but what makes the new landscape stand out is that so much of Europa feels like the tip of a much larger story iceberg. In the first two weeks of the expansion, portions of that iceberg have been steadily uncovered. The new Europa Strike isn’t just about finding and killing a big enemy; it expands the story both of Eramis in the present as she uses an alien portal for her own ends as well as the shadowy human industrialist, Clovis Bray, who built that portal centuries earlier. Venturing into the depths of the Braytech Exoscience facility doesn’t just give you another venue for gunfights; it reveals the circumstances that created one of Destiny 2’s player races, the robotic Exos, and fills in their story as a tragic, lost people.
Bungie has also gone much further in developing the story you uncover along the way through the expansion. The battle against Eramis is mixed up with Variks, an old Destiny 1 character who has been absent outside of lore text since Destiny 2’s release, and deals with the two characters’ disagreement on how best to serve and protect the scattered Fallen race. Finding and harnessing Stasis expands the story of the Exo Stranger, another Destiny 1 character, and finally sheds light on a bunch of questions that have lingered since the confusing and haphazard Destiny 1 campaign. This expansion tells a coherent story that’s grounded in interactions between characters you’ve spent time with over the years, while reaching into the lore in smart ways to build on the huge Destiny world. You don’t have to have read a ton of lore to understand what’s going on in Beyond Light, but the storytelling will make you want to do so, and reward you with additional nuance for the investment.
We’ve also seen a little bit of new content for the ongoing Season of the Hunt, which shores up the drip-feed nature of the season pass model with some serious story relevance. The season centers on Uldren Sov, one of the major antagonists of the Forsaken expansion–he’s the guy players hunted down to exact revenge on for the murder of Cayde-6, one of Destiny’s biggest personalities. Uldren has been revived as a Guardian, losing the memories of his past life in the process. He sends you on hunts to take down a variety of bosses to earn specific perk and stat rolls on gear, and those activities are brief but engaging diversions that don’t carry the same frustrations (like relying on other, random players) as past short-lived seasonal activities.
While this season, like others, will mostly consist of replaying the same few activities to chase various guns and armor, the simmering conflict of working closely with a guy your character executed makes the Season of the Hunt feel like it’s burgeoning with possibilities. Recent seasons have felt as if they didn’t have been a bit lacking in feeling like they really matter, outside some brief flashes, beyond providing large chunks of busywork, but the character implications of the Season of the Hunt already provide as big a draw to that content as the endless loot chase.
Even after six years, there are still growing pains with Beyond Light and Destiny 2 at large. Bungie has removed a huge swathe of content from Destiny 2 with the expansion, whittling down the number of destinations and activities by “vaulting” them, with a possibility that they could be re-released at some unknown point in the future. Europa’s a big place, but it’s true that there’s altogether less of Destiny 2 today than there was a year ago. That’s not necessarily wholly bad–the game was getting unwieldy, big chunks of it were barely visited by players, and just because you could unlock and use hundreds of guns didn’t mean they were all worth the effort. But for a game that is both built on and hampered by repetition, less content means less variety, and that means things can get stale all the quicker.
Destiny 2 has always felt like it’s being actively molded into the game Bungie envisions, advancing toward a perfect version in the future without ever quite getting there. The last year saw Bungie trying a new approach to worldbuilding, storytelling, and maintaining player engagement with seasonal content, but seasons felt a bit haphazard and unconnected, often spinning their wheels with limited-time diversions while hinting at something better down the line. Beyond Light comes closer to that vision, but it’s a step forward, not a leap. Destiny 2 still struggles with the same cyclical, repetitious core of completing busywork grinds to reach the content you actually want to play, and in some ways, Beyond Light also feels like it’s gesturing at a future point when Destiny 2 will finally become the game it’s always tried to be.
It might be somewhat smaller and more streamlined, but this is also the most alive Destiny 2 has felt, at least since the best days of the Forsaken expansion, and maybe ever. This is the closest we’ve ever been to its story, characters, and lore, and the most we’ve ever seen characters interacting with each other in meaningful ways. Already, we’ve uncovered a bunch of deep-cut, fascinating story beats about characters who have persisted in Destiny since its beginnings. The Deep Stone Crypt raid was an exciting, intense, and inventive challenge, and completing it altered Europa in some significant ways. It not only feels like Guardians are influencing the world of Destiny 2 right now, but because of the constant story underpinning of the dangers of wielding Darkness, that the world is influencing us back.
Beyond Light might not be the biggest expansion, but it does feel like we’ve entered a new chapter in the game’s life, with new priorities and an approach that makes the game more resonant in a way that goes beyond satisfying shooting. On the whole, Destiny 2 might be more of the same than it is different, but what’s the same about it–like its phenomenal raids and tight, satisfying gameplay–is still largely pretty great, and what’s different is mostly making the game all the more worthwhile.
Published at Wed, 25 Nov 2020 01:16:00 +0000