Destiny 2: Beyond Light Review – A chilling reception

Reviewed on November 21, 2020

Platforms:

Xbox One, PS4, PC, PS5, Xbox Series X|S

Released:

November 10, 2020

Publisher:

Bungie

Developer:

Bungie

The date was the 6th of September 2017. I set up the transfer of my characters from Bungie’s first Destiny title to the greatly anticipated Destiny 2. We had been warned that we would not be keeping any of our items in the new game, but it couldn’t prepare you for the feeling of loss when years of raid gear and Exotic weapons were torn away from you. Since the launch of Destiny 2, the threat of this happening again has loomed over players. What if all your hard work went out the door again? So it came with a sense of relief when Bungie announced Destiny 2: Beyond Light, the first of three yearly expansion that would extend the shelf life of Destiny 2 and put the brakes on any potential Destiny 3 for, at minimum, three years. However sacrifices needed to be made to properly allow new content to be brought to an already crowded system, and now with the launch of Beyond Light we are seeing just how much those sacrifices cost us. But was our deal with The Darkness worth it?

To begin, let’s examine what exactly Beyond Light brings to the table. We have a brand-new planet to explore. Our long-standing eldritch enemy The Darkness has drawn you to the icy wastelands of one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa. The antagonistic nomadic race the Eliksni, better known as The Fallen—a name revealed to be a slur to them, have found themselves a new charismatic leader in Eramis. Eramis has learned to wield the darkness just like our own Guardians have learned to harness the light; and with it she has created the power of Stasis, which is essentially ice powers. Your old ally, but recently off-camera enemy, Variks, calls for your help in stopping Eramis and helping to rehabilitate his people and you agree to help.

So far the narrative of Beyond Light seems simple enough, although it gets a little more complicated when more familiar faces arrive from your past to offer you a new opportunity. The Drifter, a new ally in Forsaken, and the recently returned Eris Morn bring with them an exciting character from our Guardians past, the Exo Stranger. Steeped in mystery in the original Destiny story, the Stranger had left us with more questions than answers and had been one of the early signs of the now well documented last-minute rewrites ahead of launch. These three characters, now renowned for their underhanded ways, bring you an opportunity, the chance to commune with Darkness and face your foes with the power of Stasis—like a space Sub-Zero.

This is obviously the biggest addition to Destiny. From the beginning, we have always wielded 3 elements, Arc, Void, and Solar. The addition of Stasis is the first time in its history that a new element has been added and is also the first time we have been able to equip the powers of Darkness. Stasis manifests in the three classes in different ways. To the Titan, you receive ice entombed fists that create shards of ice that you can then shatter. As a Hunter, you will fling hand scythes that generate a localised tempest to freeze targets. And as the all-mighty Warlock, you are armed with a staff of ice that fires projectiles to freeze enemies before emitting a pulse that instantly shatters them.

The powers feel strong but less focused on damage dealing and more on the tactical use of the powers. Even when facing Stasis infused enemies you need to rethink how you approach a fight. The base story also does a good job at feeding you snippets of time with these powers before handing them over in full. This works to really raise the excitement before you take the wheel and turn them on every single thing you see moving. The key here is just how much fun it is using Stasis, but also how the new power has been revamped with much richer customisation, something the existing powers are yet to experience. There are promises to bring this level of customisation to your three existing powers of light, but this would require a fair amount of rework so I don’t assume we will see that turn around very quickly—especially considering that Stasis has already begun to cause mayhem in PVP activities, but more on that later.

The world of Europa is beautiful, and the game has never looked better playing on PC. For those looking to bring the game over to the new generation, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S will both provide free upgrades on December 8th which will run in 60fps at 4K resolution. The icy landscape is also ravaged by a dynamic weather system that will see storms travel without warning across the landscape. These can go from a simple bit of sleet to a full-on blizzard that completely reduces your vision and will also buffer some of your movement. I have heard some people wish the storms were a little less frequent, but I enjoy the variety and would love to see this system implemented on all the active locations. The idea of needing to take shelter from weather adds an extra element of danger and I can’t describe the fright I got the first time I had an enemy appear from the haze so close to me that all I could do was reflexively melee him to death.

Out in the open air you will find backdrops of desolate cities, frozen tundras, and stark environments, but once you burrow into the snow you will find some great locations. You’ll be spelunking into the likes of an ancient structure of the planet’s other inhabitants, the Vex, and the long-abandoned labs of Braytech which is the birthplace of the Exo. The Exo are not only a player race steeped in mystery, but they are also the best race—and that’s not just because I main them. Each of these areas is filled with little moments and the care put into creating them is great. These moments also carry over to the Lost Sectors that return on Europa with a bit more narrative to them, helping turn them into more of a mini side mission than somewhere you just burn through to get the loot at the end.

“This makes all three storylines feel like B-Plots, distracting us from the fairly massive development that ended the final season before Beyond Light dropped. It also seemingly robbed us of the nuance The Darkness had been building.”

Those familiar with Destiny will be aware of how these expansions tend to go. They’re fairly brief with maybe 6-8 hours of gameplay, but that is only to start you towards endgame content. The story here is longer than Shadowkeep but shorter than Forsaken. While it is shorter then the story of Eramis, Variks and their struggle over the fate of the Eliksni is solid for the most part, with plenty of world-building for the Destiny lore buffs out there. This goes even further with much more lore and context for who the Exo Stranger is and where she is from uncovered in end game missions. What undermines this story however is the juggling of these plotlines, which was not helped by the beginning of the latest season, Season of the Hunt, which brought a third plot. This makes all three storylines feel like B-Plots, distracting us from the fairly massive development that ended the final season before Beyond Light dropped. It also seemingly robbed us of the nuance The Darkness had been building.

Seasons were added to Destiny 2 with the launch of Forsaken, usually a few months long and focused on enclosed stories. With these we also saw the inclusion of a Season Pass which would give you access to rewards as you levelled up as well as access to special missions and activities. This meant people were able to choose if they would pick up a particular season or skip over it, but could still access the core gameplay loop everyone else was experiencing for free. Our final season before Beyond Light was Season of Arrival, which marked the arrival of The Darkness and their pyramid ships in our solar system and triggered the beginning of this era in Destiny, which takes us to what we’ve lost.

As Beyond Light begins, we are informed that The Darkness has enveloped Mars, Io, Mercury, and Titan; all locations we had been exploring for years now. This was an in-universe explanation for the Destiny Vault, possibly inspired by the old Disney Vault, which will remove content from the game that has become outdated to make space for new content. This vaulted content then has the option to be reworked and returned to us at a later date. To kick off this process, the team at Bungie have already provided to us the Cosmodrome, where we awoke all those years ago in Destiny 1, and have promised the return of their first raid Vault of Glass in the coming seasons.

The Cosmodrome is a good nostalgia hit; it has been updated slightly to include the newer Lost Sector mechanic but also to remove some of the map—for now. While it is nice to see the old location, beyond the novelty of being there I am yet to see the game give me a reason to visit often. This Vault will also house old strikes, raids, and other content whose removal helps to keep the game from getting sluggish. It is an impressive endeavour that the team have been very open about, but it does risk the world suddenly feeling exceptionally smaller, especially when considering how much we lost against what we have actually received in return.

This paired back feeling transfers over to other areas of the game as well. The Vault is not the only place for old content, we have also started to experience the reality of Sundowning. This is a move that leaves old guns with a level cap lower than any of the game’s activities making them essentially superfluous. While it makes sense for a game with such a huge munition economy, I worry they went a little hard on the idea as 70% of guns were suddenly paperweights that wouldn’t even bruise the avian boned Hunter class. In the first week of Beyond Light, this left us with very few viable options in our fight again Eramis. It’s worth noting though that with the launch of Season of the Hunt there has been an increase in the guns on offer, and Bungie has openly promised to increase the number of weapons on hand after players responded negatively.

The other area that suddenly feels paired back is what Bungie has referred to in the past as the Three Pillars of Destiny 2, Strikes, Crucible, and Gambit. Let us begin with Gambit. This is a mode that saw two teams of four competitively take on waves of enemies with brief moments to invade the other team’s arena for a spot of PVP. Gambit was a big hit when it released, then interest waned. The team responded by creating a second mode, Gambit Prime, which would add more strategy to how you played and that again was a big hit, until interest waned. Gambit suddenly felt like two children that you drag out at family gatherings to remind people they are there. So what better way to spice up those children than taking your favourite bits of both, and creating a Frankenstein’s Monster version of the child, whilst also cutting its length in half—okay that analogy got away from me but you get the point. We now have only one mode of Gambit with parts from both versions and instead of best of three rounds, it is now best of one. The shorter length certainly entices me to play it more, but it almost feels like I am only playing more because I get through it faster to get the weekly rewards, not because I am enjoying it.

The second pillar I want to discuss is Crucible, the core PVP experience, something that some players will lose hundreds of hours to. Crucible, and the much more serious and competitive Trials of Osiris, have an ever-changing landscape of balancing and meta but at its core the experience is often about high mobility gameplay with those that stand still for too long being rewarded with a bullet. Lucky then that they introduced the ability to freeze Guardians solid. While this does mean people need to reassess the meta of Crucible, the opening two weeks of PVP have soured a lot of fans. From Warlocks damaging people through walls with their pulse attack or hitting enemies on the other end of the map with a Super that has no range limit, to Hunters being able to freeze a Guardian in mid air as they barrel towards you with their Super, often plummeting them to the ground to be one shot shattered by their tormentor. Bungie says it is addressing a nerf on Warlock’s Stasis powers, but with Trials also delayed until November 27th due to a different bug, there is certainly some trust to be rebuilt with the PVP centric player base. Also, side note, no new Gambit or Crucible maps on Europa is a crazy way to launch a new planet.

Last on the block is Strikes, these are probably the ones that have been streamlined the best in terms of accessing them, just keeping it to the playlists people were actively engaging with on a regular basis and trimming the fat. The concerning aspect though is the removal of 7 Strikes to be replaced with 1 brand new Strike and 1 reworked classic Strike from Destiny 1—rhymes with Mumnigul. This raises a few red flags about Strike rotation, something that was already creating some tedious loops with a much larger pool of Strikes to enjoy. Now two more reworked classic Strikes will be returning with the next season and there has been the promise of more strikes coming. But to launch a new expansion with only one new Strike and other areas of content paired back at the beginning speaks to what I think is the major issue players will have with Beyond Light.

Beyond Light is the beginning of a three-year plan, as I mentioned above, with the next two instalments “The Witch Queen” and “Light Fall” releasing in 2021 and 2022 respectively. What this means is that Beyond Light has a big feeling like it is the first step into a new trilogy of content from the team around the Guardian’s growing connection to The Darkness. We can almost certainly expect to see two new elemental sub-classes with each new expansion. We have also seen, since Forsaken, the move towards releasing content in a slower feed, elongating the time players spend with the game by having them return as new experiences unlock. This elongation is also seen within seasons, with things becoming available over time to manufacture longer player engagement. This has positives and negatives. New content is exciting and keeps a community engaged, however when we are just now at the beginning of what appears to be a three-year plan, it can make the experience in front of us feel hollow.

Already I have found myself in a bit of a repetitive gameplay loop one week into a new expansion and only days into a new Season beginning. Were it not for the fact that Destiny 2 has some extremely satisfying moment to moment gameplay, this content would dry up quickly as would my tolerance for the loop. While I can see the framework here for expanded experiences in the future, I even noticed in-game achievements that hint towards yet to be unlocked content, you can’t deny that without giving Bungie the benefit of the doubt the experiences so far pale in comparison to their own past content releases such as Forsaken and The Taken King.

Everything is subject to change though, with the nature of Destiny allowing the potential to adapt and update. Forsaken saw a whole new world mechanic begin and new experiences open as the first fireteams of Guardians cleared that expansion Raid, The Last Wish. The Raid for Beyond Light, Deep Stone Crypt, is set to open here in Australia on November 22nd at 5am AEDT. If you aren’t able to put together a fireteam to partake it’s always exciting to watch the best clans around race to be the first to finish, something that has become a huge part of the Destiny community. Who knows, when that final shot rings out, the landscape of Beyond Light might be completely changed. But alas, as it stands right now, I can only speculate on what Bungie plans with this franchise.

6

Decent

Positive:

  • New Stasis power is fun and much more customisable
  • The game has never looked better
  • Plenty of lore we've been waiting for

Negative:

  • Lacking launch content
  • Dissonance between where the story left off and where it picks up
  • Concerning PVP experience at launch

Destiny 2: Beyond Light is a strange beast. As a long time Destiny fan I can see cogs turning and groundwork being laid for a bright future, but I cannot turn a blind eye to a world that suddenly feels as empty as the Destination Map since four locations vanished. The potential growth Destiny 2 has with its new Vault framework is exciting, but a framework without anything over it is not enticing and it could deter players from returning. I will never be able to deny, Destiny 2 is an incredibly fun game to play and the addition of Stasis and Europa is also a lot of fun—this game is fun—there is fun to be found here. If it were not for the sudden vacuum you feel in the absence of vaulted content there would be no question in my mind about how much I enjoy this game. Whether this drip-feed of content is a gambit that will ultimately pay off for Bungie and the emphatic Destiny community will only be revealed over time. As a Day 1 Guardian, I really hope it does. I really hope this is simply a misstep towards grander things and I really hope that I do not keep having to make excuses for the series.