Destiny 2: Beyond Light Review — The Darkness Consumes All
The ice expansion has come to Destiny 2 and, for better or worse, it’s changed the game world drastically. Beyond Light marks the beginning of the fourth year in Destiny 2’s life cycle, and beyond the expected launch-day server issues it brings big additions, monster changes and downright-monolithic reductions to the addictive space looter-shooter that players know and love, and love to hate.
The star of the show here is the new Patrol location: Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, complete with its frigid wastes, frozen Golden Age ruins, and incomprehensible Vex structures. The level design is as stunning as Destiny 2 is known for being, and the new soundtrack brings ominous tones to its epic set-pieces. Europe is big, beautiful and brutal, with powerful enemies, large mobs and new events, and also represents Bungie’s first attempt at a dynamic weather system as powerful storms sweep across the environment, affecting vision and mobility. Europa is the main setting for Beyond Light’s narrative campaign, which, in traditional Bungie fashion, will only take you a day to knock out. It’s only got eight or so main story missions — there are lots of little quest steps that bleed into one another and one copy-paste mission that I refuse to give any credit to — but those missions are some of the best content I’ve played in Destiny 2 for a long while.
The campaign’s narrative announces itself as the salvation of the Fallen. Varicks, an old Fallen friend from the original Destiny tale, asks for your help in taking down an icy tyrant who will lead her people into ruin if left unchecked. Eramis, Kell of Darkness is a powerful foe who wields a previously unseen Darkness-based superpower called Stasis and really has it out for anyone who’s friends with the Traveller (read: humanity). The task of defeating Eramis and her House of Salvation follows a pretty standard mission structure of hitting her Lieutenants one by one before knocking her off the throne; while you’re working on that, you can break up the rampage by evacuating Fallen, treasure hunting, and dabbling in Stasis for yourself. There’s also some ongoing dialogue between Varicks, Eramis and your Ghost that gives us some explicit in-game lore about the Fallen and Europa.
The campaign is gloriously punishing. Powerful new enemy types join both the Fallen and Vex factions and enemies spawn in greater numbers. I enjoyed pushing myself to overcome powerful enemies and dying many, many times to the Stasis wielding bosses, although the punishment may have been slightly self-inflicted as I pushed through the story quickly despite knowing that each new mission required more Power than the last. This increase is there to encourage players to dabble in the ritual activities such as Strikes, Gambit and Crucible (PvP) to level up… which I completely ignored.
While we pretend that removing Eramis by any means possible is a justifiable act, and it is, it all serves to get that sweet, sweet Stasis into your greedy hands. The Exo Stranger, another figure from Destiny past, rocks up to get you wielding some icy new space magic (with the help of her new Fireteam members, Eris Morn and the Drifter, who I am really struggling to not call The Goth Kids). Given that it’s Beyond Light’s flagship feature, Stasis is chaotically fun; designed around ice and crystal structures, it allows players to slow, freeze and shatter their enemies throughout the Solar System. I’ve dabbled in all three Stasis sub-classes, and they’re all solid additions to the game cycle: the Warlock Shadebinder dominates with range, controlling when to shatter combatants for maximum damage; the Titan Behemoth is a wrecking ball of destruction that allows you to sprint right through frozen enemies for a domino effect of chaos; and my personal favourite, the Hunter Revenant, launches two icy sickles — one that freezes the area around its impact, and another that creates a travelling tempest that clears the battlefield up. Regardless of which sub-class you’re using, though, the sound effect that players when you shatter an enemy is a deep, cathartic crunch that makes me… almost too happy.
The other major addition is a location pulled from the Destiny Content Vault, the Cosmodrome. The original patrol location from Destiny makes a return as an improved ‘new player experience’ to better guide and teach players on how to play Destiny 2, an issue that has been present since the free-to-play experience, New Light, launched last year. The Cosmodrome is… back, is about all I can say about it. It is exactly what it was in Destiny with two rather basic Lost Sectors added and an even more basic location vendor, Shaw Han. Han is a guide for new players, but I’d wager he’d have more fun in a Call of Duty game than the space magic arena he’s found himself in. Unlike the other locations in Destiny 2, there are no Triumphs or challenges associated with the Cosmodrone so it exists purely as a tutorial space, with no incentive to return as an experienced player. The ability to run through the new player experience as a veteran player, especially one overflowing with the power of Stasis, is a nice touch, and can accessed from a kiosk at the Tower.
That’s everything that’s new in Beyond Light, but you can’t review this expansion properly without acknowledging the amount of content that Bungie removed from the game; the Destiny Content Vault has gotten a whole lot bigger as the developer culled the game into what is essentially a Destiny 2.5, a soft reboot that nobody wanted, but one that presumably needed to happen if the game is to survive as an indie title. Aside from Beyond Light’s Europa-based story, the only content that remains in the game is what’s available in the Cosmodrome, the Dreaming City, the European Dead Zone, Nessus and the Tangled Shore. To add to that agony, Bungie also sunset 70% of the weapons and armour that was available before the update, rendering most of the loot from those older locations useless.
Bungie also combined Gambit and Gambit Prime, the hybrid PvE and PvP game mode that was unique to Destiny 2, into a mode simply called Gambit. The remodelled mode plays as a single round with Gambit Prime mechanics for the mote collection phase (mote drain, invasion caps, etc.), and standard Gambit for the Primeval (boss) phase, without any Gambit Prime armour perks. Stasis is as fun here as on Europa and does exactly what a new subclass should do: breathe life into a stale game mode.
The studio also smooshed the Crucible down to offer just the one rotating PvP mode each week, and even slashed the list of game modes to choose from. Unlike in the PvE environments, Stasis is an absolute shit-show in the Crucible, an unbalanced source of chaos that I find entertaining, but that PvP mains are very upset about. Freezing an enemy is a near-guaranteed victory, negating player Supers and abilities little to no skill ceiling. Worse still, the Warlock Shadebinder subclass — which is already regarded as brutally overpowered in the Crucible — has a bug that allows for infinite Super. Due to this glitch, Bungie has postponed Trials of Osiris, the endgame PvP event that goes live each weekend, until at least November 27, to give itself time to address the issue. In Beyond Light, Bungie also updated the Trials’ loot pool, but we’re going to have to wait to see if they’re any good.
At the end of the day (literally, because that’s all the time I needed), Beyond Light features a stunning ice world, powerful new abilities, a better tutorial space and… very little else. Considering the fact that it came in at AU$60, it’s left a number of disappointed players wondering whether it was actually worth the purchase. It’s difficult to see exactly how good Beyond Light is from a value-for-money standpoint, though, regardless of whether it should be, within the first week; although Bungie promised that players would be able to play Destiny 2 their way, the only way to really get the most out of an expansion is to have the Season Pass as well. That means you’ll have to fork out more money, but if you’ve only got the expansion and not the season (or vice versa), it’s like playing without your arms or the ability to breathe — a short-lived, difficult experience.
It’s also important to remember that Bungie developed Beyond Light as an indie studio, under the strain of remote working conditions due to COVID-19. Since the expansion launched, the developer has been proactive on community forums, applying hotfixes where possible (RIP Witherhoard and Widows Walk) and assuring users that it is taking any and all feedback on board. In a recent interview on Twitch, Game Director Luke Smith acknowledged that its smaller size means that Bungie would likely never be able to produce an expansion the size of Forsaken again; that’s fair enough, but it does lead me (and surely many others) to wonder exactly why the company is charging the same price for a smaller product.
Outside of Beyond Light, the main criticisms I have for the current state of the game are that, aside from Europa, the locations that remain available in Destiny 2 are all flat and boring, and there’s a complete lack of loot to hunt or use since the associated weapons aren’t around anymore. There’s a smattering of new weapons and Exotics, but they’re quite generic (not you, Salvation’s Grip) and fail to match what we lost to sunsetting. Fortunately, the Season of the Hunt story content kicks off tomorrow and I’ll bet my Stasis powers that there’ll be some loot chases and events on the menu that spice up these older locations. There’s also the raid into the Deep Stone Crypt on November 21 to get giddy for.
There is a lot to consider when approaching Beyond Light, including consumer ethics, but I’ve genuinely enjoyed the content Bungie has put into it so far. The new dark mode interface is a welcome change, and the many quality-of-life improvements that I don’t have space to list prove that Bungie is trying. I’ve seen improvements to load times on my Xbox One X, and there’s a free next-gen upgrade to look forward to early next month. It’s a stark remodelling, but from the snowy canvas, I’m sure that Beyond Light will reach glory once again… or it won’t, and we can all play Outriders if it doesn’t get delayed again.
A stunning new world and powerful abilities await in Destiny 2:Beyond Light, but all the good is outweighed by the amount of content Bungie threw in the Destiny Content Vault, forcing future Seasons to pick up the slack.
Tom reviewed Destiny 2: Beyond Light using a retail Xbox One code purchased from the Xbox Marketplace.