Bungie took the progress they made with the Witch Queen expansion, reversed it and then some with the latest entry in Destiny 2's Light vs Darkness saga.
Ups and downs are the natural flow of existing for anything that lasts long enough. This is something live service games get to experience more intensely than those without a prolonged lifespan as new content and updates are constantly pouring in. In short, not all DLC or expansions can be good.
Unfortunately for Destiny 2 , this is the case with Lightfall, which failed on multiple fronts but storytelling is probably at the top of everyone's mind right now. A quick glance at Steam user reviews will let you know only one in three players left a positive review, which is a worrying sign but if you want a more elaborate explanation of why things are the way they are, we have got you covered.
Story and Neomuna's patchwork background
Let's get the worst part out of the way first. If you are looking to make an informed decision on whether the players' infinite cries about the quality of writing in Lightfall are legitimate, the simple answer is yes - it is that bad.
The story picks up after we defeated Rhulk, the first Disciple of the Witness, who is the new big baddie. He has now taken Calus as a new disciple, setting up a clash that is coming later on. This is where all semblance of coherent writing stops.
From that point onwards, it is made clear to us that Witness is after a McGuffin and sends Calus to fetch it. Throughout the story, the former Cabal emperor produces another McGuffin while chasing the first McGuffin, which we attempt to stop. By the end of the campaign, one McGuffin is no more, the other remains unexplained and we are left with nothing but questions that have no answers, an empty adventure where we achieved nothing and an annoying new character we have to endure.
Now, if Bungie limited the campaign's shortcomings to a terribly paced plot with no conclusion and only one insufferable character, there would still be backlash but not as much. Unfortunately, we had to suffer both Nimbus and Osiris.
Osiris is present through all the missions for two reasons only - to spew technobabble and yell neurotically as if the missions were time-sensitive. The first part is bad enough at the mere mention and needs no explanation as technobabble is just a cheap cop-out when you can't properly explain plot elements, which at this point in Destiny 2 is quite impossible due to years of plot holes and deliberately unexplained parts of the universe.
The neurotic screaming, however, is what annoyed me more. Osiris kept yapping about how we, the living races fighting back against Darkness, are out of time and nudging the player to hurry even though rushing in is absolutely the worst way you can approach the campaign on Legendary difficulty. This schism between the plot and actual gameplay becomes unbearable over time and prompted me to tune out on multiple occasions.
As for Nimbus, they are a Cloud Strider, which is a fancy name for the protectors of Neomuna, the new area in the expansion that feels thoroughly uninspired and only exists because someone wanted to ride a trend that was kicked off years ago with hype for Cyberpunk 2077.
Cloud Strider design in general didn't manage to impress me as they are basically bargain-bin Silver Surfer ripoffs that look like horribly failed RoboCop conversions.
Their lore failed to grip me as well. Neomuna apparently designates Cloud Striders who protect the city for 10 years and are then turned into a server. Yes, like the thing where you keep data.
However, wandering through Neomuna reveals a city that attempts to look like it's from a cyberpunk setting but it's completely deserted even though the two Cloud Striders you meet insist there are people here. The reason is that the residents fully bought into Mark Zuckerberg's idea of Metaverse and uploaded their consciousness into a single server that is inadequately protected, which is evident with the bad guys' effortless campaign to put them in danger.
There is no Mark Zuckerberg or Meta in this universe but what Neomuni are using is called CloudArk and sounds very much like the Facebook head honcho's failed sales pitch.
In any case, you will sometimes spot orange silhouettes around the place which are supposed to be the residents. Their physical bodies are in stasis somewhere apparently. The patchwork reasoning for the empty city and superficial story seems like an excuse for Bungie to not bother with adding an actual population to the city, which is one of the reasons why the story feels so weak.
Speaking of superficial stories, Nimbus' entire writing can be explained with those two words. The character is something lifted straight from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with lighthearted quips for every situation that always intend to deliver humour but never really manage to achieve it.
There really isn't much more to say about the Cloud Strider, which tells enough about the quality of the campaign story where they are one of the central characters.
So, when you get through all the mud that is the story of Lightfall, do you actually get an ending to conclude it or to fix some of the many writing sins thus far? No, Bungie made it clear that the story has been cut up and Lightfall campaign is left with no answers unless you play the future seasons and maximise the game's engagement metrics because paying $50 is not enough to warrant a complete experience.
Gameplay and sandbox
Finally getting out of the dark place that is the story of Lightfall, the new gameplay parts of Destiny 2 are actually not bad. The new Strand subclass is seen as underperforming, compared to the existing ones, but I would take that any day over the mess that was Stasis at the Beyond Light launch.
In comparison, Stasis absolutely ruined PvP until it went through a long string of nerfs that brought it in line with the rest of the subclasses. Additionally, Beyond Light ruined performance on PC, even on machines that were more powerful than the recommended settings for the game. Neither of these happened in Lightfall, although it's debatable whether this should be a reason for praise.
The reason I'm mentioning the issues from Beyond Light is that you will regularly see people calling Lightfall the worst expansion Destiny 2 had, which is absolutely not true. Ironically, another "expansion" featuring Osiris as the titular character is widely accepted as the worst one and in my opinion, it deserves to keep that throne today. Meanwhile, Lightfall isn't the worst expansion in all aspects even if you consider the last three - Beyond Light, Witch Queen and Lightfall itself.
Strand may not be performing outrageously but it also didn't destroy anyone's experience so far. Not using it will not hamper you or your team. In other words, the subclass that comes with Lightfall is not pay-to-win, which was a dangerously slippery slope Bungie treaded with Stasis.
On the other hand, there is a whole lot of fun to be had with Strand, regardless of which class you are using. Grappling around the map provides a whole new way to interact with the place and grapple punches never cease to be fun.
The main complaint you will hear about Strand is that Titans got the short end of the stick, although it doesn't refer to Berserker's power. It performs just fine, the complaint is about the creativity, or lack thereof, that went into creating the specialisation.
Overall, the sandbox is pretty fun at the moment, which is more than what could be said for Beyond Light, although it is not flawless. For example, PvE players are clamouring for buffs to primary ammo weapons in general, especially hand cannons, as more and more Guardians opt to use two special ammo weapons in their load-outs. In an ironic turn of events, I completed the Legendary campaign with my Austringer equipped at all times since I didn't really keep up with the meta in the months leading up to the expansion.
Unfortunately, the Legendary campaign also suffered from reduced quality, compared to Witch Queen. This time around, we got to face only one new enemy, the Tormentors, and the "difficulty" revolved around enclosing us in tight spaces and spawning enemies out of thin air all around.
While it is not the worst way to increase difficulty, Bungie definitely didn't invest nearly as much effort as they did when the team introduced the Hive Lightbearers. Let's take a moment to be thankful they didn't just increase all enemies' health and damage output and called it a day.
One of the cheapest "difficult" moments was a fight against a Cabal boss that would frequently call in reinforcements through drop pods. Anyone who killed a bunch of Cabal and Fallen in EDZ knows where this is going.
The boss himself was not difficult at all and neither were his reinforcements and yet, this has to be the only mission no one managed to complete without dying on the first run and the reason for that is an instant death mechanic that gives you no time to react. Cabal drop pods will kill a Guardian in one shot but there is usually a way to avoid them safely. A wide open space, a good sight line to see when they are arriving or even a marker on the ground to warn the player.
This fight had none of those, with the Guardian packed into a tight space, fighting waves of enemies and a boss at the same time and the only "warning" you get is a small notification above your abilities on HUD. To add insult to injury, if you are standing on a landing zone when this warning happens, you do not have enough time to move and survive.
They also change the landing location so your only choice here is trial and error or cheesing, which is as fulfilling as farming a Lost Sector for three hours straight with zero Exotic drops.
Bungie also messed up something on the backend which resulted in Threshers being far deadlier than they are supposed to be. Essentially, if you are running Destiny 2 at 60 FPS or higher, the aircraft has a good chance of depleting your health before you can even react. It is similar to the infamous Scorn crossbows a while back.
While the Legendary campaign difficulty was a mix of hit and miss, the changes to the Power requirements in the open world are only a compilation of misses. People are now forced to grind up gear with a high Power level just to do menial tasks, Master and Legend difficulty activity Power balance is a mess and everyone hates the changes. At least all Pinnacles now award +2 in power bumps.
Another point of contention between the players was the difficulty of the new raid but there seem to be more people who actually liked it than those who didn't. The raid itself is fun, with a lot of movement so it's not just sitting in a well and mopping everything up. Not at all times, at least.
Lightfall's performance can be quickly summed up by saying Bungie completely dropped the ball with the story elements, gameplay was affected slightly negatively but the raid left people with positive vibes. That said, the raid did come after all the negatives baked in so it's quite possible we lowered the bar subconsciously in the meantime.
However, nothing can really excuse shipping an unfinished story at the price of $50 and using it to bait additional playtime three, six and nine months later, when each subsequent season launches.
In comparison to the previous two expansions, Witch Queen is leagues above Lightfall while Beyond Light is better in some aspects and worse in others. Beyond Light ruined the state of PvP with Stasis and even though it's hard to believe, ruined general gameplay even worse by inexplicable performance drops that persisted for the better part of the year. Lightfall didn't suffer such setbacks but it's lacking in story and content too much to justify the price tag.