Surprisingly, Destiny 2: Lightfall is kind of awful

Destiny 2: Lightfall
(Image credit: Bungie)

In the weeks leading up to the launch of the Lightfall expansion, my expectations for it were sky-high. After all, between its consistently well-written seasonal storylines, The Witch Queen's engaging "Light 3.0" overhauls to the game's subclasses, and all the top tier loot available, the last two years of Destiny 2 have been some of the best in the franchise's history. On top of that, developer Bungie did a superb job getting players psyched up for the DLC, teasing a flashy, verticality-focused romp through a lively Neptunian metropolis in multiple cinematic trailers. Multiple pre-release blog posts also showed off the expansion's new Strand powers and some huge changes to buildcrafting, getting everyone excited for new ways to play.

Then, Lightfall actually came out on February 28, and as I dove into everything it has to offer, my feverish excitement morphed into crushing disappointment as I realized just how shockingly rough it is. I've completed almost everything there is to do in Lightfall aside from the new upcoming Root of Nightmares raid at this point, and while there is some good here — the new Tormentor enemies are great, Neomuna and the expansion's music is beautiful, and the Loadout system rules — the vast majority of the DLC's content is riddled with major problems.

Nimbus, one of the Cloud Striders from the Destiny 2: Lightfall expansion. (Image credit: Bungie)

First, there's the campaign story (no spoilers here). Compared to the strong writing in the previous expansion, The Witch Queen, Lightfall's narrative is a confusing and inconsistent mess. The new Cloud Strider characters are introduced haphazardly and without any meaningful time to develop, and several crucial parts of and moments in the plot are never adequately explained at all. When someone as knowledgeable about and invested in Destiny's story as lore YouTuber My name is Byf can't even piece together what's going on, there's a huge problem.

Frustratingly, a significant portion of the campaign's runtime felt wasted on Strand and learning how to wield it. Bungie weaving the filamentous subclass into the narrative isn't inherently a bad thing, but it was done in a way that felt completely detached from the rest of the story. Entire missions that could have been dedicated to forging a bond with the Cloud Striders or the people of Neomuna were instead nothing more than tutorials for the subclass. By the end of the campaign, you don't even find out where this mysterious new Darkness power came from, which wasn't the case with Beyond Light and its introduction of Stasis.

Some things do get addressed in post-campaign questlines, but for the most part, the answers that come aren't presented in a satisfying way. Most details come from audio log exposition dumps and huge walls of text at vendors, rather than from organic discoveries made during actual gameplay.

Neomuna is as beautiful as it is empty. (Image credit: Bungie)

Then, there's Neomuna, which is undoubtedly one of the least engaging patrol spaces in all of Destiny 2. Despite looking absolutely gorgeous, this neon-drenched utopia is completely devoid of life or character. None of the city's people can actually be seen anywhere — the contrived lore reason is that they've uploaded themselves to the metaverse to hide, which is a total cop-out — and as a result, it doesn't feel like anyone is in any actual danger. Making matters worse is how laughably sparse the location is in terms of enemy encounters. Outside of Terminal Overload runs and the occasional platoon of foes in the rotating Vex Incursion Zone, there's barely anything to fight or do.

The city is also a far cry from the verticality-filled Neomuna that was marketed in Lightfall's trailers. Barely any of the city's structures can be climbed at all, and more often than not, you'll be met with an out of bounds warning when you try. Overall, it feels like players got burned by the trailers here.

The new Mod Customization and Loadout features are excellent, but Armor Charge mods are not. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Lightfall's gameplay has some serious issues, too, namely the new Armor Charge mod system and the cooldowns on many Strand abilities. When Bungie originally announced that it was simplifying the process of making builds by consolidating its Charged With Light and Elemental Well mods into a single system, I was excited, as I've always wanted more players to dig into Destiny 2's buildcrafting. However, part of me was worried that the Armor Charge system would be too simple, and that turned out to be the case. Many staple mods that were the foundation of interesting builds before Lightfall's launch aren't around anymore, and as a result, those setups are no longer possible. The new system is simply less interesting and offers fewer options, and that sucks.

Strand, Lightfall's premier gameplay offering, has also proven to be fairly underwhelming so far. While you're able to wield its abilities frequently throughout the campaign, their cooldowns get dramatically longer once you obtain the permanent version of the Strand subclass. You can mitigate this somewhat with buildcrafting, but even with endgame-level triple 100 stat loadouts and the like, standard Light subclasses just feel more effective. Strand is a ton of fun to use, but I wish it was more potent.

There's also the DLC's gear, which drops at a snail's pace and is frustratingly difficult to obtain. Many of the new weapons are actually pretty cool, such as Strand guns with a unique perk that causes Threadlings to spawn whenever you get a headshot kill. It's unfortunate, then, that you'll barely get any of it while completing Neomuna's activities. At least Lightfall's Exotic gear is pretty cool, and is earned through quest completions.

Strand, as undeniably cool as it is, feels underwhelming in gameplay. (Image credit: Bungie)

Ultimately, as someone who has experienced the highest highs and some of the lowest lows in Destiny 2's lifespan, it's incredibly disheartening to see Bungie drop the ball this badly. I thought terrible releases like this one were a thing of the past for Destiny, but now, I'm not sure. How did we go from The Witch Queen to this? Even if the upcoming Root of Nightmares raid is excellent, it won't fix any of the glaring problems with Lightfall's campaign, its new patrol space, its controversial mod changes, and the fruitless activities on Neomuna. 

Bungie has proven that it's capable of so, so much more than what Lightfall is, and that's precisely why my expectations were so high going into this expansion. Evidently, the community largely feels the same way, as Lightfall broke Destiny 2's concurrent player record on Steam while simultaneously getting a "Mostly Negative" rating. Hopefully better days are ahead with the DLC's four seasons, because the core Lightfall experience has been a complete letdown.

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.