Many people in my life have urged me to play Destiny 2 for years, whether it's my coworkers, my partner, or a random drunk guy at the dive bar who overheard me talking about my job. I would always steadfastly refuse. "It's too much," I would say, "I don't get it," I would insist. Now, with around ten hours of Destiny 2: Beyond Light under my belt, I can say with confidence that it is too much, and I still don't get it – but I love it anyway.
The legendary shard that broke this stubborn camel's back was when my friend Gita told me Destiny 2 would provide "no thoughts head empty vibes" with the mechanics of a "perfect shooter". "If you ever played Halo, you'll understand why people love this," she texted me. "I spent two years straight playing Halo 3," I responded. So I bought Beyond Light.
Destiny 2: Beyond Light is a massive expansion, and the first part of a trilogy of expansions set to release through 2022. It takes you to a brand-new ice world called Europa and gives you a brand-new freezing power called Stasis. None of this means anything if you haven't played Destiny 2 before, especially considering a huge chunk of the game's content was vaulted to make room for Beyond Light goodies. But the confusion you will encounter as a first-time Destiny 2 player is soon overshadowed by the excitement you'll feel as you blow through countless enemies for a very unclear reason. We've already got a Destiny 2: Beyond Light review from our resident Destiny expert, Austin Wood. But what is Destiny 2: Beyond Light like for a first-time player? Let me tell you.
Destiny 2: Beyond Lore
I'll be honest, I played about an hour of Destiny 2 right before Beyond Light dropped, but didn't have much of a chance to do anything beyond the now-vaulted new player intro. Because I already technically played through a version of the intro, when I drop back into the game after Beyond Light's release, I'm not immediately taken to the revamped player intro, which gives you a chance to settle into the confusing world of Destiny 2. That new intro includes a handful of missions that let you try out new weapons, find engrams, and navigate the UI to better understand quests, collections, bounties, and strikes - all without going anywhere near the Tower, the game's central hub. It's a much better introduction for newbies than the one I faced (I went back and played it recently, and it's excellent). Instead of a gentler player intro, I'm thrown into the new Beyond Light campaign, and drop my boots on the snowy terrain of Europa.
I immediately have no clue what's going on. Nolan North the floating robot talks about strange readings. I get attacked by some floating harpy things. Soon after, I'm watching a bug man get encased in ice by someone who, I can only assume, is his mortal enemy. Characters are talking about "the Darkness" and sadly not referring to the 2002 hit 'I Believe in a Thing Called Love'. I take a second to Google 'Destiny 2 lore' and am immediately overwhelmed by the results, but after a few minutes I learn Darkness = bad, Light = good. Except that dichotomy seems less concrete in Beyond Light than ever before, as you soon embrace the power of the Darkness in order to get a new ability: Stasis.
But beyond the most rudimentary understanding of Destiny lore gleaned from the original new player opening, I'm still pretty lost, and entirely unfazed by the cast of returning characters as I have no idea who the fuck they are. The Exo Stranger, whose arrival seems like it should evoke excitement, hands me the Stasis ability and basically says, "I know I used to say this was bad, but now it's good." She seems… wishy-washy, at best. Variks speaks in strange riddles about a species I'm not familiar with, and his dialogue is randomly punctuated by clicks that have no clear meaning to me – is he angry? Excited? Clearing his throat? I also don't understand the importance of the other destinations I'm able to visit, beyond having some understanding that many of them were vaulted for the debut of Beyond Light.
For the first few hours, this almost complete lack of lore knowledge is like a nagging pain at the back of my eyeballs. It fills me with this bizarre Destiny-themed existential threat. What am I doing? Why am I doing it? Does anything I'm doing matter in the grand scheme of things? As someone who has never played an MMO before, I feel a burning desire to understand the drive behind my actions, the motivations behind the goal of making numbers bigger. But it's hard to get that understanding with Destiny 2, and with Beyond Light so clearly changing course in terms of this universe's moral rules, I quickly grow frustrated.
But then, as I fire off a grenade launcher at a giant mech that explodes on contact, the supremely smoothe combat flicks on that "no thoughts, head empty" switch, and suddenly I'm on autopilot, like a self-driving Tesla is taking me through the winding roads of the Pacific Northwest and there's '70s light rock on the Bang & Olufsen sound system. Destiny 2's combat is so good, I don't care what I'm doing. Plot who? I never met her.
Destined for greatness
Oh sweet Traveler, the combat in this game is virtually unparalleled. Every single weapon feels supremely different and fun. I start off with a pistol that's fairly innocuous, but soon get my hands on a handcannon and get a very twisted sense of satisfaction from shooting Fallen in the skull. As per Austin Wood's sage advice, I choose to play as a Warlock – a Guardian class that specializes in combining weapons with magic powers. Even from the first firefight, where I'm still trying to get my space legs, the combo snaps like a taut rubber band, like the ideal version of a Mass Effect Vanguard (in that Destiny 2's combat is actually good).
I quickly find a pattern that makes me feel like the Terminator of the Fallen: squirt out a few rounds with the handcannon, throw a fiery grenade into a group of Dregs, drop a healing rift, swap to a grenade launcher and take out a heavy. Rinse, repeat. When I get my first Supercharged ability and a flaming sword appears in my hands, I audibly shriek. This shit is badass.
Destiny 2 boasts the kind of combat that makes you long for the good ol' Halo 2 days. It's challenging and demands your rapt attention, as the enemy AI is far from inept, and the trio of weapons at your hip aren't to be used willy-nilly – there's a fine art to choosing what weapon you'll use to dispose of the hordes. You'd be hard-pressed to find something as satisfying as settling into a combat cadence that's like a deadly sci-fi tango, with elemental explosions firing off around you and the distinctly different sounds of your rotating guns ringing in your ears like a gorgeous melody. And there's few other things in life that feel as rewarding as finishing off an enemy with the Warlock's graceful palm-slap, or watching a Fallen's soul escape their body as you dome them with a Damietta-LR2. The combat, quite simply, slaps.
Because of the fluidity and seamlessness of the combat, I don't mind facing off against wave after wave of Fallen even though I'm not sure why I'm killing the poor guys. The initial reticence with which I pulled the trigger, unsure of who I was shooting and why, has disappeared. Now, I'm a damn killing machine, and anyone who stands in my way is getting a round from my Gnawing Hunger auto rifle to the chest.
This "no thoughts, head empty" vibe is exactly what I need right now, and as I barrel through waves of enemies, slashing them with a flaming sword or bitch-slapping them back to the planet they came from, I stumble upon lore details and campaign missions that further drive home a key point: I'm officially a Destiny 2 person now.