It wasn't until November 24, a full two weeks after Destiny 2: Beyond Light was released, that I got the rush of excitement I was waiting for. That's when I finally logged in on reset day, looked at the array of new activities and challenges peppered over the solar system and thought, "Now that's more like it."
What started as one of the slimmest expansions ever has developed into a memorable adventure with some of the best activities and story moments in Destiny 2's history. With the full scope of Beyond Light now in view, I can safely say that I'll be playing this expansion quite heavily for weeks and months to come, and with renewed but cautious confidence in Bungie's ability to deliver content at a rate that's both sustainable and tantalizing, which will be especially important as the studio embarks on a three-expansion trilogy.
Welcome to Europa
Beyond Light's five-hour opening campaign mirrors the overall expansion experience: the first half is a bit weak and things just sort of happen as you dawdle around Europa, but Bungie really sets the hook in act two. It helps that the backdrop to all this is one of the prettiest destinations we've ever had – I'll never get tired of the snowstorms and reflective ice – but the best part is how the story unfolds in layers. Our brief dalliance with Eramis, a new Fallen antagonist who uses the Darkness power of Stasis to start an uprising on Europa, delivers some refreshingly challenging boss fights and witty dialogue, but it's only in the post-game that the overarching narrative starts to pick up speed.
Release date: November 10, 2020
Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PC
Beyond Light delves deep into mortality, the nature of the Darkness, the questionable righteousness of Guardians, and the humanity of enemies like the Fallen in a way that previous expansions never dared to, or really even could have. After all, it's hard to distinguish between the Fallen trying to kill you and the Fallen who might understandably be fleeing a tyrannical despot when the only direction you have is to kill dudes and the main feedback you receive is, "Great job killing those dudes." This story is much more nuanced and creative.
Sometimes your Ghost questions your actions, other times the Vanguard leaders criticize your methods, and there's a clear divide underpinning it all which I hope comes to a head in future expansions. I want characters to leave and die and betray and surprise, and for the first time in a long time, it feels like Destiny 2 might actually pull some of that off. The best characterization comes late in the campaign as you get to know the Exo Stranger and her past, which has quickly become one of my favorite stories in the Destiny universe – one that not only ties up loose threads from the first game, but also builds on one of the most interesting characters in the lore, Clovis Bray.
The keystone supporting this tension is Stasis, the first Darkness power that we've ever wielded. Stasis is also the crux of Destiny 2's latest power fantasy, which I'd liken to playing a Diablo-style ice mage but in the best-feeling FPS around. Slowing, freezing, and shattering enemies with ice is as satisfying as it is effective, and Stasis feels very different from the Light subclasses we know and love. It's more synergistic thanks to unlockable Aspects and Fragments – major and minor ways to tune your powers, respectively – and it gives players the kind of AoE and crowd control that Bungie's largely avoided in the past.
Stasis is also a bit uneven, however, and I'm not just talking about how busted it is in PvP, though instantly being frozen in place will never not be an infuriating buzzkill. The granular Stasis customization described in the past has yet to truly materialize. I currently have two Stasis Aspects and four Fragments available to me on my Warlock, and with two slots for the former and four for the latter, I'm not really making a lot of decisions with my skill tree. There's the illusion of choice, but until we have more options to choose from, Stasis won't be much better than the preset skill nodes of the Light subclasses.
I also dislike how slowly and frankly unceremoniously Stasis is rolled out in-game, mainly because it feels underwhelming for the first 10 hours or so despite being the Big New Thing. Still, the subclass framework here is a huge step up, and if more Stasis powers are released in the near or far future, it'll become a peerless theorycrafting engine. And I hope it does improve, because theorycrafting is more fun than ever thanks to some huge and understated quality of life updates to the modding system.
Loot has many doors
A new subclass is just a nice surprise, but any Destiny 2 expansion is truly tested by the variety and quality of its loot, and here too Beyond Light is a bit off-kilter. It's introduced some of the best and most inventive weapon perks yet, but its loot pool is disappointingly small for an expansion. A recent update helped offset this by bringing back a bunch of old guns, and the new raid guns are extremely desirable, but with only two dozen truly new weapons available, Beyond Light definitely feels a bit samey. There's still no special Strike loot, we're still waiting on an increasingly necessary vendor refresh, and many weapon archetypes have gone desperately underserved.
The good news is that when we do get new weapons – and we will – they're bound to kick ass thanks to all these awesome new perks. Gone are the days of "reload perk and damage perk." We're in an ability economy now, baby. Thresh and Wellspring refuel your abilities on kills, Surplus can turn any clunker into a lightweight killing machine, and the return of unique raid perks (!) has given endgame loot some much-needed bite. The loot pool may be small, but there are nearly a dozen weapons that I want to grind for, and I'm looking forward to that grind.
Bungie has gotten a lot better at steering the grind in the past year. Some seasonal systems were too tedious and some were a bit too easy, but I reckon Beyond Light has cracked the code. There are several reliable ways of getting specific guns, and there's still a little spice left in the world loot pool that gives every random engram some potential. Empire Hunts and Variks' tiered loot tree let you target specific Europa weapons, and Legendary Lost Sectors help you acquire individual Exotics through fun solo challenges. You can also get Europa gear by killing random mini-bosses, which is the kind of thing I'd expect from most RPGs but not Destiny, since it generally cordons off its loot sources. These mini-bosses make exploring Europa more fun and rewarding. It's just plain cool to kill a big mech while on patrol and get a new shotgun for my troubles. More of that, please.
Then there's the Season of the Hunt loot cycle which is running in parallel. To put it as simply as possible, the season is about collecting and placing lures to hunt Wrathborn fighters entranced by the Hive god Xivu Arath, who's now being targeted by the Fallen merchant Spider and the newly resurrected Awoken Prince Uldren Sov AKA Crow. I don't know what most of that means either, frankly, and I don't think it will really matter until 2021 anyway, so I'll leave it to the loremasters for now. What I do know is that these lures channel the best parts of the Menagerie by making core playlists worthwhile and letting players tailor their drops.
Likewise, the new raid currency can be used to make up for bad luck or double down on specific raid weapons, which is an absolute godsend. I have never been this hungry to raid, and I was here for the Forever 29 racket in Destiny 1. Speaking of which: I don't want to spoil any encounters, but we've gotta talk about the Deep Stone Crypt.
The Deep Stone Crypt
The Last Wish raid in Forsaken feels like playing Jeopardy in the middle of an active warzone, but the Deep Stone Crypt takes a lot of the mess out of communication and instead emphasises chaotic action and personal responsibility rather than your responsibility to the team. Like the Garden of Salvation raid in Shadowkeep, it focuses on a clear mechanical throughline that gets more complex over time, and it uses that foundation to define roles that ensure everyone in your fireteam has something important and exciting to do. In my first run, I had a few clutch finishes that came down to fractions of a second, as well as plenty of failures that always felt instructive rather than punishing. With gorgeous and powerful gear waiting at the end of each encounter, this makes the Deep Stone Crypt incredibly fun to play.
Of course, I was expecting a fun raid. Bungie's never disappointed there. What I wasn't expecting was for the Deep Stone Crypt to be such an enchanting environment. As a play space, it's on another level compared to most raids. I haven't stopped to appreciate audio and visual splendor like this since the first time I stepped into the Dreaming City. The space station of the Deep Stone Crypt is all-in on the sci-fi side of Destiny's universe, but there's this magisterial atmosphere to it that gives me those fantasy goosebumps. It's so deliberately sterile and its environments are often nests of engineering, but it's somehow still so wondrous. There are pockets of tranquility between the chaos, and ironically the quiet parts are the most unforgettable. If Bungie's audio team doesn't win an award for this raid, it'll be criminal.
We can also thank the Deep Stone Crypt for finally opening the floodgates for the best content in Beyond Light. When the raid was first cleared, several quests and storylines advanced all at once, unleashing the activities and rewards that it felt like we were missing. If I had to pin it down, it really was the raid that saved this expansion for me. Once the Deep Stone Crypt came into the picture, everything fell into place. I've got long-term goals for loot, I'm incredibly motivated to get my other characters up to snuff, and I'm looking forward to every weekly reset. It took its sweet time, but Destiny Christmas is back, and it's great. As an expansion and as a base for content to come, Beyond Light is flawed but spirited, and undeniably compelling – in other words, Destiny.