Ever since the release of the Forsaken expansion in 2018, developer Bungie has been shifting its focus with Destiny 2, emphasizing building up its world and telling more character-driven stories that are important to that world’s progress. I’ve only spent a couple of days with the Beyond Light expansion, but so far it demonstrates Bungie’s new direction better than any content the developer has released to date. The campaign of Beyond Light in particular might be the best version of Destiny 2 storytelling, thanks to an emphasis on characters that makes its run-and-gun missions feel more meaningful than they have in past iterations.
Beyond Light continues the story of the arrival of the Darkness, a powerful, unknown enemy force, to the solar system. We’ve been hearing about the Darkness since the first days of Destiny, but now we finally know what it is. So far, it hasn’t been an enemy so much as a seductive force, encouraging the people of the solar system to stray from the benevolent Traveler and the power it’s granted players since the first game. We finally get to try this new power, but the story campaign of Beyond Light has characters constantly wondering if the risks are worth the benefits.
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), we need those benefits, which manifest themselves in the form of a new icy power called Stasis. Eramis, the leader of one of Destiny’s enemy groups, the Fallen, have discovered how to wield Stasis, making them some of the most powerful creatures in the solar system. To defeat them, we need to take on the power of Stasis as well, which alters the game significantly by introducing a host of new abilities in both player-vs.-environment and player-vs.-player activities.
The opening few hours of Beyond Light are about figuring out how to beat Eramis, which requires you to complete a bunch of tasks to unlock new Stasis powers–pretty much par-for-the-course Destiny stuff. There’s a new big bad and we need to kill it. Breaking up the missions in which you chase down bosses or battle massive groups of enemies are your usual “kill X enemies in Y location with Z gun/ability” grinds. Every so often, you’ll unlock new kinds of guns to blast enemies, new armor to look spiffy doing it, and the new Stasis abilities to provide some new strategies for your battles.
What makes the story campaign stand out from other Destiny offerings is that it feels a little more impactful for characters and important to the overall lore than some of the game’s past stories. You spend the first portion working with Variks, a Destiny 1 Fallen character who has been missing throughout the last few years of Destiny 2, and who, in the backstory of Forsaken, betrayed his former allies (and was indirectly responsible for the death of one of Destiny’s biggest personalities, Cayde-6). Variks threw in with Eramis in hopes of uniting and protecting the Fallen people, the Eliksni, but when the Darkness started to corrupt her in her quest for power, he bailed again and called on the Guardians for help.
Variks in particular is a fascinating character because his ultimate goal is to help the Fallen, whatever form that might take. He spends his time talking about those goals as you hunt Eramis and her advisers, but instead of the villain being a distant, faceless force of evil, you’re in direct contact with her for many of the missions. That leads to straight-up debates between Variks and Eramis about the best way to protect the Fallen. Beyond Light makes smart reference to lore while filling in the gaps for casual players. Between the characters actually talking about what matters to them, the deeper backstory of how the Fallen got where they are and what drives them, and the influence of the Darkness on events as they unfold, the campaign elevates Destiny storytelling in a way that’s been lacking since the very first game.
Even after the situation with Eramis is resolved, the focus on examining characters and linking them with Destiny 2’s vast lore continues with the Exo Stranger. We last saw the Stranger way back in Destiny 1’s vanilla campaign, where she basically showed up to, again, point at some big bad before disappearing into the lore for years. In the campaign, you spend a bunch of time learning about the Stranger and who she really is, how she’s affected by the game’s lore, and how she connects with other characters. It still mostly exists in the realm of past Destiny stories–characters generally just monologue in between missions or chime in over the radio–but in Beyond Light, there’s a feeling that decisions and motivations actually matter, and that there’s more underpinning the events than just some new thing that needs shooting.
At least in PvE, the new abilities and weapons help to change up the experience in fun new ways. The Stasis abilities are all based on debuffing enemies while damaging them–the Darkness lets you slow and freeze enemies, then shatter them to do damage, and some abilities create frozen walls of ice to stop incoming fire or control the battlefield. It offers some fun new ways to solve problems after spending a couple years with the same set of powers, and I’m interested to see the ways Stasis will sync with other player abilities on a fireteam to take down some of Destiny’s toughest challenges.
As for the additions to the game world, Europa feels big and mysterious in the ways where Destiny 2 best excels. It’s full of towering frozen ruins and tough-to-spot nooks and crannies, providing plenty of gorgeous vistas and places to slip in small discoveries. Notable is the inclusion of dynamic weather, a Destiny first, where storms will whip up as you’re running around a patrol zone. The weather adds a little extra feeling of life to the place while changing up firefights as visibility suddenly plummets under a blanket of snow. It’s not a drastic change to the experience, but Europa does feel fresh and foreboding in a new way for Destiny that adds to the desire to explore it.
There are a lot of other, smaller changes in the game, the effects of which haven’t all become clear yet. While I like Stasis in PvE, I haven’t had a chance to see how much it’ll change the dynamic of the Crucible, where players go to face off against each other. On paper, it feels like the new powers should add some new strategic depth to teamwork in the Crucible, but I’m interested to see for myself–particularly in light of the complaints some are already leveling against Stasis within the Destiny community.
It’s also hard to gauge the quality of any Destiny 2 expansion in the first few hours or even days. So much of the game burns slowly, requiring you to grind up your strength, unlock new gear, understand new systems and new meta relationships between weapons, and uncover hidden mysteries. The Deep Stone Crypt raid is also a major question mark, since the raids are always where Destiny takes its biggest risks and shows off its best ideas. That won’t be released into the game until November 21.
I’ve been impressed with Beyond Light so far, though, especially in its storytelling focus. Destiny 2 campaigns have struggled to convey their stakes or portray well-developed characters throughout the game’s life, but this expansion feels like a major step forward. I’m not just interested in seeing how the next mission is designed–I’m interested in what I might learn about the Stranger, the Fallen, and the Darkness, too. Destiny’s world is vast and multifaceted, and with Beyond Light, it finally seems as if Bungie is figuring out a way to better establish what makes it so fascinating to fans without always relying on pages and pages of lore text.