Europa’d me in again, Bungie.
There are three things that are certain in life: death, taxes and a yearly Destiny 2 expansion. Beyond Light isn’t just any regular old expansion though, bringing with it more than the regular suite of story bites and new seasonal activities. This time around we’re also getting a whole new subclass and element to play with – the first since the launch of Destiny – and, controversially, we’re losing several destinations and a whole lot of weapons. Has Bungie pulled off this daring removal of content, or has it done more harm than good?
Beyond Light takes us to Europa, a frozen moon of Jupiter, and offers a truly different environment from any we’ve seen so far in Destiny. Most planets are some combination of lush forest or dry desert, but instead Europa offers a snow-covered landscape with windswept icicles. It’s a visual feast as blizzards blow in and obscure vision, and your guardian carves deep paths as they wade through snow drifts.
Sadly, the overall layout of Europa leaves a bit to be desired. The three main patrol zones feel uninspired and are reminiscent of the Moon or even the Dreaming City, design wise. Europa also suffers from the same issue that plagued guardians in the Dreaming City – the only landing zones are way down one side of the map which serves no purpose other than to extend your gameplay time through long transits around the map.
Beyond Light brings back the Cosmodrome too, and properly this time. Some of the Destiny 1 location had returned with New Light to offer fresh guardians the chance to experience Old Russia like veterans had oh so many years ago. Now the Cosmodrome is open all the way around to Skywatch, bringing back all the zones between it and The Divide. Disappointingly, as of right now there is very little to do here other than experience some huge nostalgia like yours truly did upon setting foot in the Moth Yards once more.
Of course, it’s not just cool new zones that have come to Beyond Light, with Bungie having a whole new story to tell about the goings on around Europa. The story kicks off with a distress call from an old friend (yes, Bungie, friend, but we’ll get to THAT soon), and quickly becomes about containing the threat of the new Fallen Kell, Eramis. You see Eramis has got her hands on some Darkness, and she’s using that to empower her army and break free of her culture’s devotion to the Traveller. Being the intrepid individuals we are, we immediately set about trying to murder her and all her lieutenants. Since when has peace been an option?
The story follows the same tried and true Destiny formula that we’ve had since Forsaken – disrupt a lieutenant’s activities for long enough to piss them off, then ice them once they’ve been drawn out. Bungie clearly likes this campaign format, being that this is the third expansion in a row that uses the formula. That said, I would really like to see some innovation from them in this space; this same old paint by number campaign is wearing thin.
The story as it’s presented in game has never been a strong point of the series, despite some truly incredible writing behind the scenes. This time around most of the good stuff is at least accessible in-game, via the various seasonal activities, but Bungie really needs to do better when the next expansion rolls around. Also, why can’t we opt to skip the story/unlocking subclass features on second and third characters yet? We are entering the sixth year of Destiny, and this is a long-requested quality of life feature – have some respect for our time please, Bungie.
When it comes to seasonal activities, Beyond Light has perhaps the strongest suite of them since, well, ever. Players have access to Empire Hunts (killing the campaign targets), Wrathborn hunts (seasonal targets), the Exo Challenges and a whole bunch of weekly collectibles that pop up. This is on top of the rolling post-campaign story that tells the story of the Bray family while also unlocking more subclass toys to play with. There is no shortage of stuff to do this time around, and the methods of acquiring loot are the most fun and consistent they’ve been for years, with Bungie finally getting the balance close to perfect. It’s no Menagerie, but the combination of the Lure providing selectable loot and the wide variety available from Variks is certainly a good step.
Speaking of our boy Variks, boy does he cop the short end of the stick early on from Bungie this time around. Story and post-game grind wise you’ll be seeing a lot of our formerly four-armed Fallen friend as he doles out bounties, sabotage quests and Empire Hunts to help dismantle Eramis’s plans. Unfortunately, as is Bungie’s way, we’re railroaded into some story beats early on that just really did not gel with my personal experience with the Destiny universe – further exposing the issues Bungie has with their storytelling.
You see, Bungie wants you to dislike Variks early on. They heap the blame for Cayde’s death in Forsaken on him and remove any player agency in the matter. I hate this. I hate this SO MUCH. Anybody with a basic concept of grey morality will understand that while Variks may not be entirely blameless when it comes to the death of the former hunter vanguard, he certainly doesn’t deserve the vitriol hurled at him by our Ghost. What’s more, I as a player do not blame Variks at all. When Ghost starts talking a big game to our old friend and making threats, I want to uninstall his operating system just to get him to shut up. Bungie need to sunset this form of heavy handed, railroading story telling in favour of, oh I don’t know, maybe some actual player choice in the matter so it doesn’t feel like I’m playing somebodies else’s story. This is not an uncommon experience in Destiny, but it’s highly detrimental to my engagement. Let me experience the world as I want it and stop using Ghost to tell me how to feel.
Beyond Light has also heralded the arrival of a true first in Destiny, and I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to properly bring it up: Stasis. Yes, finally after 5 years Destiny has gained both a new element type and a whole new subclass thanks to our jaunt with the darkness. Fitting with the theme of Europa, stasis brings with it an icy new twist as you freeze combatants and then smash them to pieces. These subclasses bring a whole new way of customizing your playstyle too, with Aspects fundamentally altering the way a subclass works and Fragments offering some excellent buffs to your gameplay.
While Stasis should be a big game changer, the overall weakness and frustration of playing both as and against the subclasses in everything from PvE to PvP activities reduces their splendour somewhat. In PvE, the classes often feel a bit weak, which suits their intended “battlefield control” purpose but doesn’t exactly make them fun to play. In PvP they are a total clusterfuck, but we’ll get to that shortly.
Outside of the new and shiny stuff, the core Destiny 2 experience remains largely the same. Gambit has seen some much-needed love, combing both Gambit modes into one super Gambit. While they don’t reinvent the wheel, the changes do at least make Gambit more of a bearable experience – if only because it’s now much shorter.
The Crucible remains the unbalanced hellscape it always has been, though pleasantly this isn’t the fault of one weapon archetype for once. The weapon meta is in a really great place right now and isn’t the cause of the issues, for once. Instead abilities are the problem child this time around, and as per usual Hunters get the best of it. Ever the strongest class with their frankly overpowered-for-PvP dodge ability, the new Statis subclasses do nothing to alleviate the issue. Instead Hunters have the best of everything once more, and while Warlocks were briefly Crucible Kings for a week, they’ve now been wrangled into shape and Hunters remain firmly on top once again. Couple this with the frankly oppressive nature of Stasis in PvP and you’re left with an entirely unfun experience – Bungie, nobody likes losing 90% of their health to break free from being frozen, and wasting valuable stat points in the otherwise useless Resistance is just frustrating.
Strikes, and the Strike playlist, is quite frankly the worst part of Destiny 2 right now. Strikes are boring, and we’ve played them all to death. It’s almost at the point now where I can recite the dialogue of a given Strike as we go along. With no Strike-specific loot, no interesting or meaningful rewards and no fun modifiers, Strikes exist only to provide a place to grind the occasional bounty and complete your claim your weekly pinnacle reward. Strikes and the Strike playlist are in a truly sorry state in Destiny 2, and the reluctance of Bungie to fix them is really becoming a detriment to the game – especially when some Strikes have just been sunset out of existence and some truly broken ones still remain (*cough* Exodus Crash *cough*).
It’s also worth mentioning the issue of sunsetting, which as everyone predicted has been quite detrimental to the overall experience this time around. To catch you up to speed, Bungie has seen fit to remove an extraordinary number of weapons from end-game viability by limiting their maximum power level to last seasons cap. This effectively means that the weapons people have set aside and built up as favourites across several expansions are now worthless in most activities.
Aside from the obvious issues this can cause for people who were attached to those guns – thanks to stat trackers and ornaments, as well as the difficulty of obtaining some of them – it’s also massively reduced the variety of guns you’ll see as rewards. As soon as this was announced the community pushed back hard, raising all sorts of concerns ranging from loot diversity to a reduction in the ability to “play your way”. And they were right on all counts.
Bungie has done a lot of questionable things during the development of Destiny, but this implementation of sunsetting has been among the worst.
Despite this, Beyond Light represents a turning point in Bungie’s design of Destiny going forward. Despite what Luke Smith has said previously, weapons are now just becoming stat sticks with fewer lethality perks and more holistic perks that buff ability recharge or other passive stats such as handling and movement. Hell, most top tier weapon builds in Beyond Light revolve around the creation of Warmind Cells to quickly clear rooms or deal chunks of damage to tougher enemies.
Combine this with Bungie beginning to officially refer to Destiny 2 as an MMO, and you can see why Beyond Light represents such a shift. Gone are the days of the abilities being “just good enough” and the weapons being the star of the show – now you’ll be combining all of your abilities together if you want to be effective while weapons mostly serve to help you get those abilities back faster.
This change is undoubtedly going to have a vast impact on Destiny long term. Whether or not this new, more ability focussed game is right for you is a decision you’ll need to make going forward, but if the Statis subclasses are anything to go by then you can expect big changes to be in the pipeline.
It’s always exceedingly hard to review a Destiny expansion. Every time it feels like a two steps forward, one (or two, or three) step back type affair, and as much as I badly want to love every aspect of a new release, I just can’t. How much longer can Bungie go along pretending that near enough is good enough? How many more times can they make obviously poor decisions before losing the communities trust entirely?
Ultimately though, I’m a sucker for Destiny, and I recognise that. For better or worse, I’m going wherever this game takes me. See you on Europa.
10 Nov 2020 (PC PS4 PS5 Xbox One Xbox Series X)