Destiny 2’s upcoming Lightfall expansion is ambitious. It features a new subclass, legendary campaign, overhauls to the entire buildcrafting system, and a new onboarding experience with Guardian Ranks. With just one major expansion left before the end of the Light and Darkness saga, is Bungie spreading itself too thin here? Can they deliver another excellent campaign that rivals The Witch Queen while simultaneously updating core systems that feel outdated? After attending a recent preview event, I feel Lightfall has a real shot of taking Destiny 2 to new heights.
It’s easy to reach those heights when you’ve got a grappling hook. Lightfall’s newest subclass is Strand, a mobility-focused toolkit unaligned from Light or Dark. Bungie’s done a good job covering how it works in its deep-dive blog, but that doesn’t do the subclass justice. When a player gets their hands on Strand’s grappling hook, the flow of combat completely changes.
This is best showcased by one of Lightfall’s opening campaign missions. In it, Guardians make their way to Neomuna and find themselves in the middle of a warzone. Calus’ Shadow Legion and the Cloudstriders are engaged in skyward battle while players fight through war-torn districts and neon-bathed streets. Combat here immediately feels familiar. But some of the Shadow Legion have unique properties. A slain Cabal soldier dropped a protective sphere that required precise shooting to destroy, for example. Destiny fans will know what to expect here, but there are still some nice surprises.
The second you grab hold of Strand, the entire flow of combat changes. Your environments and enemies become potential weapons. Our Threadrunner Hunter reached out into the air and pulled themselves upward before delivering a torrent of gunfire from the heavens. A swift-throwing knife disintegrated a few of the Shadow Legion, turning one of them into a floating tangle of Strand energy which they used as a bomb—functionally identical to Warmind Cells.
Strand is a subclass that encourages moving fast and chaining abilities together, more so than Stasis or any of the Light subclasses. Hunters gain melee energy by timing their melee ability casts, and an Aspect grants a second grenade charge. Titans get three melee charges by default. Warlocks don't have a copious number of ability charges, but nearly everything in their kit can spawn threadlings, tiny Strand minions that seek out targets and explode. Paired with this subclass' tangle orbs, every class can spawn grappling points or explosives at the press of a button. A Hunter can dive into a group of enemies to levitate them, use their melee ability to spawn a tangle while refunding melee energy, then throw this tangle to create a moving grappling point. Masters of Strand will have little issue manipulating the battlefield to suit their needs.
Getting the most out of a subclass like Strand will require a good build, something Bungie is attempting to streamline with what they’re calling ‘Buildcrafting 3.0.’ This overhaul aims to make armor mods easier to understand, more accessible, and much more flexible. While it’s tough to gauge that last point since we didn’t get to check out every new mod, I can confidently say that Bungie nailed those first two points. Modding your character is easier than ever thanks to in-game loadouts, a feature fans have been clamoring for since 2014. Your weapons, armor pieces, mods, and even your fashion are saved into a loadout you can equip at any time from your inventory screen. If your build requires items in your vault, they’ll automatically be pulled. Bungie clarified that you won’t be able to pull or deposit items into your vault while your inventory is full, so don’t expect third-party apps like Destiny Item Manager to become obsolete anytime soon.
As great as a loadout system is, that alone doesn’t solve the massive hurdle of introducing players to buildcrafting. Bungie’s solution is a new progression system called Guardian Ranks, a sort of miniature ranking system that mirrors the progression system of Seasonal Challenges. New Lights will start their adventure at the lowest Guardian Rank and have a series of challenges that introduce core mechanics like Champion counters and Power leveling. As you increase your Guardian Rank, you’ll unlock access to new armor mods, loadout slots, and some other unique rewards Bungie was notably evasive about during our roundtable Q&A session. Veteran Destiny players will start much further in this system, with all armor mods unlocked from the get-go.
With that said, Guardian Ranks won’t be a one-and-done system either. There are 11 Guardian Ranks, four of which are reset each season and unlocked by demonstrating mastery over new seasonal activities and endgame content like Grandmaster Nightfalls. Reaching the maximum Guardian Rank has a unique reward Bungie doesn’t want to spoil, but rest assured that these seasonal ranks won’t lock any critical rewards like mods or loadout slots.
Hearing this system compared to Seasonal Challenges immediately raises some concerns about progression and overall grind. Joe Blackburn, game director at Bungie, quickly clarified this isn’t the goal. “The Guardians you see at ranks 7, 8, 9 10 are real masters of the current game without making this, ‘Hey, this is a whole other thing system for you that you’re gonna be grinding.’” Blackburn says, “The things that reset from season over season are really about that mastery of what’s new. It’s about proving you’ve done the new dungeon, new raid, of proving you understand the new content. These objectives point you at doing things you would be doing anyway.”
One place I wasn’t expecting innovation is the patrol space. Neomuna features the typical three-bubble loop as seen on Europa or Savathun’s Throne World, yet the destination itself feels so much larger than that. Part of that is due to the verticality of the play space. Strand tangles dot the skies and can be used for quick traversal with your new grappling hook. That becomes useful for combat since enemies always out-level you on Neptune, featuring the same Power scaling as the Derelict Leviathan and Heist Battlegrounds. A new world activity is also launching on this destination that Bungie repeatedly told us wasn’t a Public Event but rather a sort of ‘Escalation Protocol 2.0.’
Neomuna is a destination that feels like a real place, something I can’t say about Europa or Savathun’s Throne World. You’ll occasionally hear news reports through your Ghost as you’re out on patrol, apparitions of citizens appear in the now desolate streets, and colorful murals juxtapose the imposing Pyramid ships that loom over the distance. Hell, one of the Lost Sectors is a gaming arcade. Neomuna has real, tangible history that helps ground this new cyberpunk setting. You’d never expect this art style in Destiny, but it fits.
And that environmental storytelling does wonders for Lightfall’s campaign. Humanity is at its low point, fighting an insurmountable threat in unfamiliar territory. Every season since Beyond Light has been building up to this moment, and those two years of buildup finally start to see pay off here. It reminds me a lot of the Red War campaign from vanilla Destiny 2. Characters crack jokes, tons of Cabal are fought in breathtaking set pieces, and humanity is forced to create alliances to stop a major threat. But Lightfall’s campaign is shaping up to avoid all of the Red War’s narrative pitfalls. The stakes are taken seriously, the lore is expertly implemented into the core narrative, and the cutscenes match the quality bar set by The Witch Queen campaign and recent Abhorrent Imperative finale.
I was skeptical that Bungie would be able to pull off so much in a single expansion, but it seems that Destiny fans are in for another great year. Strand offers Guardians a new toolset that meaningfully evolves the core sandbox. Buildcrafting 3.0 manages to streamline Destiny’s build ecosystem without leaving new players behind, and its connection to Guardian Ranks should give New Lights a much better onboarding experience. Add to that a new legendary campaign and engaging patrol space, Lightfall is shaping up to be one of Destiny 2’s best expansions.
Destiny 2: Lightfall launches on February 28 for all currently supported platforms.
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