I have quite a long history with Bungie and Destiny. Bungie as a developer has consistently played an important part in shaping who I am today, with a lot of my early gaming life being spent in the classic Halo games. The developer is solely responsible for my sentimentality towards Microsoft, to be perfectly honest. Destiny has been a part of my gaming life since its alpha period and I still regard the original game as one of my favourite experiences in gaming. However, Destiny 2 and Bungie have both been in a spot of bother recently, with a lot of the developer’s decisions as an independent developer coming at the cost of the game. Namely an insane focus on bounties as content and a season pass model which has promoted a mindset that proper new content should only come once a year. While I haven’t really played the game much since the second season of Shadowkeep started, I had high hopes for Beyond Light. Bungie unveiled this expansion as the first of a line of yearly expansions which demonstrate a potential story focus and direction for the game, something which has never exactly been present in either of the games. Unfortunately, Beyond Light is a frustratingly shallow expansion that is void of content and creativity in its design. Instead, it is a perfect representation of Bungie’s lackadaisical design philosophy and reliance on monotony.
To explain why Beyond Light is such a disappointment, we need to look at the IP’s history and its best periods – Destiny: The Taken King [TTK] and Destiny 2: Forsaken. You would be hard-pressed to find players that don’t agree with TTK and Forsaken being the two best expansions that the IP has ever received. These expansions truly understood what it takes to create a thrilling looter-shooter experience. They expanded their loot pools, gave players new and interesting gear and ultimately rewarded their curiosity and exploration. There was a certain level of beauty and elegance in these expansions’ design. They truly respected your time but it was also very clear that the intent was to maintain quite a significant level of player retention. Little things like the Touch of Malice questline, which was not only tied to the raid but also tied to exploration, or other hidden little gems like The Shattered Throne are examples of how Bungie clearly understands what it takes to create a compelling looter experience.
When I think of what makes a looter-shooter fun, there are a few core pillars. For starters, these experiences need to fulfil a certain power fantasy. If the player doesn’t feel powerful, the gear game will inevitably suck. This is exactly why Anthem failed so horrendously, among other things. Both expansions in question came out of the gates to address this through new ability trees. TTK added a new subclass to fill in the missing elements for each class and Forsaken added a new tree to each subclass in the game – by far the most significant addition Destiny’s ability trees. This resulted in campaign design which encouraged experimentation and liberal use of your most powerful abilities. The cheapest and easiest way to fulfil a power fantasy. Make the player feel powerful and they will quickly learn how to use that power correctly. Beyond Light actually manages to do this quite successfully in its early stages. This expansion doesn’t waste a whole lot of time before treating you to its shiny new ability tree and element, Stasis. Unlike most other Destiny campaigns, it does not just give you free rein over the abilities immediately. Instead, you are given specific scenarios to use the new super and its associated abilities during the campaign. Outside of these scenarios, you are just left with the abilities that you are already familiar with and it remains this way until you complete the campaign. All these new abilities are actually a nice addition to the game, and they can fundamentally change the way the players approach encounters. Grenades can be used for area denial, blocking dangerous sightlines or immobilising agile enemies. There is a certain level of agency and versatility in these new abilities and it is by far one of the strongest points for Beyond Light.
The second core pillar for a looter-shooter is an engaging loot game/gear game. As previously mentioned, both TTK and Forsaken completely changed their respective loot pools. They mostly did away with what came before and instead gave players entirely new tools to work with. Even Shadowkeep mostly stuck to its guns (pun intended) and didn’t solely rely on gear from previous expansions and content. Beyond Light is a colossal failure in this regard. Sure, there are new exotics for players to try but the A$60 expansion only really adds one armour set per class and a small handful of weapons to the loot table, so you spend most of the campaign just picking up and dismantling gear that you’ve already seen before. I don’t even mean just gear from Shadowkeep or even Forsaken. There are drops that you can obtain through general play that are from Year 1 of Destiny 2. A$60 to pick up three-year-old gear. This makes the loot game incredibly boring because you have experienced it all already. Now, I am not exactly against the reuse of assets if it means that smaller investment in art will allow for a greater focus on game design and writing. This is just a case of lazy writing and lazy design, which is where we find ourselves with the last core pillar for a looter-shooter.
Destiny has always been an IP that has come under the scrutiny of critics for the constant repetition of content in its activity and endgame. The general comment ‘Destiny is just doing the same thing over and over again’ is one that you pretty much always see whenever discussions regarding the game occur, and they aren’t exactly wrong. The beauty in the content loop of Destiny is its variety. Every content drop added at least a few things and it quite expertly walked the fine line of familiarity and variety. Destiny’s lowest points always have this core pillar in a state of disrepair and show a complete misunderstanding of why the content loop is so important. Beyond Light also completely fails in this regard. This expansion adds two new strikes currently, one of which is just a retooled strike from the original Destiny – The Will of Crota strike to be precise. So for longtime fans of the IP, this expansion may as well have only shipped with one strike. There is no true shift in the game’s design philosophy and it truly earns the banner of ‘more of the same’. The easiest way to describe this expansion’s understanding of the content loop is the Borderlands 3 of Destiny expansions. Nothing feels different and anyone that wanted anything more than very minor improvements/changes will be sorely disappointed.
So if the gear is average and the content loop is average, what else is there? Truth be told, there are still a few things that this expansion does well. The Europa destination is quite beautiful, and its cold, harsh environment is somehow inviting in a beguiling way. The snow plains are beautiful and areas with deep snow are pretty cool, considering how everything can interact with said snow – ranging from the player’s tracks even down to ammo drops. There is an undeniable level of care that has gone into crafting Europa and the art is easily one of the strongest points of this expansion. I’d be willing to hear arguments that it is quite barren but ultimately it’s still quite a stunning destination. The very few new pieces of armour and weapons also have quite a cool and unique aesthetic. There are some that are quite goofy, like how the Titan’s boots from Europa look almost like a pair of Ugg Boots, but Destiny has needed silly, whacky armour for a while. In-game fashion is all about expression and if the player wants to be silly then it’s a great idea if your game can facilitate that silly nature – it’s why I love Monster Hunter so much.
One facet of the new destination that I actually was surprised to find so enjoyable was the Lost Sectors, considering these little caverns and mini-dungeons have been traditionally disappointing. I remember Bungie hyping these up during the lead up to the launch of Destiny 2 and being amazed at how basic and stupid these were. A lot of the Lost Sectors in Europa, and even The Cosmodrome (the very first destination in Destiny), are actually quite fun and sometimes very unique. My personal favourite is a Lost Sector where you can rescue humanoid robots who will fight alongside you. While we are on the subject of Lost Sectors, Bungie has introduced these underused activities into the power grind through the higher difficulties. Selections like Legend and Master beef up these Lost Sectors tenfold and, in turn, can reward the player quite handsomely. In a way, you can also look at it as allowing players to feel how difficult high-level nightfall content can be without forcing them to load into Nightfall Strikes specifically. I actually really like this idea, it’s just a shame that I feel no drive to continue the grind.
One of my favourite changes, however, has to be with the pinnacle weapons. It used to be that each reputation vendor had its own pinnacle weapon. For example, the Crucible had the very infamous Recluse, the Vanguard had the Oxygen SR3 and Gambit had the Exit Strategy. These weapons were (generally) incredibly potent and they were designed around rewarding players for being incredibly committed to the gun’s associated activity. The only problem is that these guns often were so powerful that it became standard practice to use them outside of their intended content – the Recluse hassled many raids. Most players that wanted to do the more high-end PVE content would often have to play content they didn’t enjoy. Anecdotally speaking, I cannot stand Gambit but I did it just to get the Exit Strategy as it was the easiest Gambit pinnacle to acquire – I also hate the Crucible now but at the time when I got Recluse, The Mountaintop and Revoker I didn’t hate it. As a designer, you don’t want to subject the player into content they don’t really wish to do, so the pinnacles were changed with Beyond Light. Now it is only the one pinnacle and it can be done in either Strikes, the Crucible or Gambit. These all exist as completely separate quests but you can only choose one, so the player feels encouraged to choose the approach which best suits them. THIS is how you reward the player for their persistence. Well done, Bungie. It has been a long time coming.
Now, this review is going to be a first for me when it comes to a Destiny review. Normally, I would wait to at least do the raid once in order to give comments on that, however, the incredibly lazy design philosophy of Bungie and this expansion just has me so unenthused that I don’t even want to grind to be ready for it. This no fault of the raid, and from what I’ve been hearing regarding leaks for the raid, it’s probably going to be very good and potentially much different to what we are used to. However, the grind is just so flat and bland now that I don’t feel it is worth it. That should tell you all you need to know about it. The fact that I, a devout Destiny player who has done every raid countless times and has stuck with the IP through thick and thin, does not feel compelled by the game to grind to an appropriate level for the raid is crazy. For those of you who are compelled to grind for it, I sincerely hope you enjoy it.
To say that Destiny 2: Beyond Light is bad is unfair. It does some things well and it is still better than a number of games on the market in the genre. The problem is that I wouldn’t exactly call it that good either. It has been shown up by many other Destiny expansions. It is my sincerest of hopes that this shaky start is just an anomaly for Bungie’s new direction, but the game’s state ever since Shadowkeep also leads me to believe otherwise. I can’t really recommend this game unless you really like how Destiny 2 has been recently or if you find it for cheap.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- PS5 / PS4/ Xbox Series X&S / Xbox One / PC
- November 10, 2020