The Curtain Pulls Back On Destiny 2: Lightfall
Destiny 2’s next big chapter is just around the corner, with a planned expansion launch for Lightfall on February 28. The expansion represents the penultimate storytelling beat in the long-running Destiny story up to this point – what Bungie has come to call the Light and Darkness Saga. I got an early look at a new ViDoc, as well as some more detailed demos of the expansion’s planned systems, and it has me excited to see some notable changes coming to one of my most played hobby games.
Lightfall’s biggest additions are on the planet Neptune, on a city called Neomuna that has been thriving out beyond the rest of humanity’s view for hundreds of years. The city is a departure from many prior Destiny locales, which have often been dominated by ruins from long ago. In contrast, Neomuna is vibrant and neon-lit, having persisted since the Collapse that decimated so much of the rest of human civilization.
Two of the most prominent characters we will interact with are Cloud Striders – the defenders of Neomuna, and rough analogues to the Guardians we play as. We meet Rohan, a grizzled veteran, and Nimbus, a relative newcomer to their ranks. The two are cyber-enhanced and also seem to tower over standard human heights. As a rule, the Cloud Striders work together in a Mentor-Mentee relationship, perhaps drawing some inspiration from the Jedi of the Star Wars fiction. In an interesting twist, the Cloud Striders only live around 10 years after their dramatic enhancements, in contrast to the seemingly endless lives of the Guardians.
The Cloud Striders have been holding off the presence of the Vex on Neomuna for many years, but the new threat is the arrival of Calus’ Shadow Legion. Calus’ new ship, the Typhon Imperator, has landed at the far end of the city, leaving a large swath of the brightly lit metropolis in shambles.
I got to see the entirety of the opening mission on Neomuna, in which the player’s Guardian fights their way through Shadow Legion forces that have been enhanced by The Witness – the long-awaited big bad that has been making its way to our solar system for so long. I also got to see more of the Tormentors, the new scythe-wielding enemies that pull Guardians close for devastating attacks. The battles I witnessed were fast-paced and frenetic, largely in thanks to the use of the new power source, Strand.
Players will eventually access an entirely new subclass based in Strand, which is described as a cosmic web that connects all life. It’s a power source not from the Traveler or The Witness but rather from within the Guardian. In this earliest mission, you get access to Strand in brief stretches, but without fully unlocking the subclass. Each class (Warlock, Titan, Hunter) receives their own unique subclass, but everyone gets access to the new grapple ability, which replaces your grenade slot when in use.
I liked what I saw of Neomuna. The battlefields were big and enemy-packed, with a number of distinct locales. While I couldn’t get a clear sense of absolute size in comparison with other locales, the brief glimpse I saw of the map suggests a destination of similar size to previous ones, with three major public play bubbles and a number of smaller, more private spaces that branch away throughout the city.
While much of the storytelling is likely to unfold on Neomuna with a focus on new characters, the Season of Defiance is a counterpoint, mostly centered on familiar characters on Earth who are attempting to hold off Calus’ forces, so expect a lot of friendly faces from the established fiction when attempting seasonal content.
Beyond distinct new destinations and characters, Lightfall is also characterized by a major effort toward improving the player experience.
One central facet of that improvement is the focus on buildcrafting and loadouts. A new build management screen lets you see your entire build in one place, without having to switch around. That also makes it much easier for friends and content creators to snapshot a build and share with others. Important information is viewable right away, like which types of Champions you’re equipped to confront. The new seasonal artifacts move away from perks and mods that need to be unlocked and then applied to your armor. Instead, artifact unlocks are simply unlocked and active right away.
In a related advancement, Destiny 2 is also getting a fully featured loadouts option. This one is particularly exciting for me, as it feels like an especially overdue option to encourage easy exploration of different builds and cosmetic looks and easily queuing up different loadouts for the different activities I might undertake. Loadouts let you pull a full suite of equipment (and its related mods) onto your character, and the items can be either on your character or in the Vault. Changes to shaders or other cosmetic elements also change with the tap of a button to your new loadout.
To put it another way, if you have one preferred set-up for raiding, another for Crucible PvP, and a third for messing about on a destination and exploring, you can set them all up to switch between at a whim. Loadouts are never locked out, and can be changed at any time, except for specific locked loadout activities, which is as it’s always been. As a player who is sometimes limited on how much time I can spend in-game, in the past I've often stuck with one strong preferred loadout that could get me into the action quickly. With this new approach, that's likely to change.
Lightfall also brings the introduction of Guardian Ranks, a system meant to answer the question, “What should I focus on next?.” Guardian Ranks let you progress through different challenges and activities, providing clear goals for how to improve and further develop your experience in Destiny 2. Your rank is visible to other players. Longtime players will likely have several ranks already complete when Lightfall launches. Many activities carry over from one season to the next, but ranks do partially reset with each new season, reflecting the seasonal activities that you might be engaged with. Guardians who have the highest ranks are clearly players who have spent a lot of time overall with Destiny 2 but also with the current content.
As the last major expansion ahead of the storyline’s conclusion with the Final Shape next year, Lightfall is in something of a strange place. The action and storytelling need to be memorable and exciting, but there’s also the lingering sense that a much bigger beat is about to drop next year. Nonetheless, Lightfall is looking intriguing and engaging. Strand looks to be a thrilling addition to our arsenals as Guardians, and the new player experience improvements will all be very welcome. Players only have a couple more weeks to wait to experience the expansion for themselves.