Destiny 2: Beyond Light review: Icy expansions brings cool changes
“Beyond Light's weak story leaves a lot to be desired, but new stasis abilities help make the game feel fresh again.”
- Versatile stasis powers
- Lots to explore on Europa
- Faster load times
- Dull campaign
- Classes feel imbalanced
No matter how good it actually is, it’s always tempting to feel a glimmer of hope anytime a Destiny 2 expansion as significant as Beyond Light drops. Any excuse to hop back into one of the best shooters currently out is welcome at this point, but it’s becoming more necessary to keep one’s long-term expectations in check.
Just over a year ago, we reviewed the game’s last big expansion, Shadowkeep. At the time, we said the upgrade was “brimming with potential” and hoped it would turn the game around after a rough year that lacked exciting content.
If that sounds like déjà vu for fans, that’s because it’s the exact same situation Beyond Light finds itself in now. Shadowkeep ultimately didn’t deliver on its intriguing setup, leaving players to hope that Beyond Light would put the ship back on course. After years of reliving this same cycle, it’s time to finally accept these expansions for what they actually are and stop using them as a symbolic Rorschach test for the game’s future.
Taken at face value, Destiny 2: Beyond Light is a perfectly suitable content drop for fans who just want more Destiny. The new Europa location and stasis ability give players a fair amount to toy around with, though the new story campaign is among the franchise’s weakest yet. It’s not a revelatory change for the looter shooter; it’s just a nice reason to log back in… and that’s okay.
Welcome to Europa
Beyond Light offers one of Destiny 2’s most self-contained stories yet. Rather than zipping from planet to planet, just about the entirety of the five-hour campaign is spent on the game’s new location, Europa. The big bad this time around is a Fallen captain named Eramis, who has empowered her army with the game’s new element, stasis. Guardians are forced to fight fire with fire (or ice with ice, in this case) by wielding the power of the darkness against her.
Nothing about the story is particularly memorable. Eramis ends up amounting to little more than another anticlimactic villain, with the real big bad presumably being saved for the game’s upcoming raid. There’s not much to get excited about in the individual missions either, as the campaign is more or less the same sequence of objectives repeated three times. It feels less like a story and more like an elongated tutorial for stasis powers.
Despite those shortcomings, there’s some surprising thematic weight to the story. The good guys are left asking whether or not it’s morally right to use the tools of evil to fight evil, which feels intentionally pointed in our current political climate. That question becomes less compelling each time characters parrot the same existential debate, but it’s always welcome to hear meaningful, real-world questions posed during the game’s infinitely vague story about light and dark.
Europa itself is a mixed success when it comes to locations. At times, the snow-covered planet looks exactly like the moon with grey craters palette-swapped for white hills. The lack of convenient landing zones means that players will need to make the same long treks every time they have a new objective. The campaign and its subsequent post-quests will send players through the same handful of areas over and over again, which gets old fast.
The best parts of the planet are the spaces hiding below the snow. High-tech laboratories provide a stark contrast to Europa’s desolate surface, adding some environmental mystery to the mix. Europa’s lost sectors especially stand out, providing some of the expansion’s most inspired ideas. In one hidden area, I freed a platoon of Braytech robots, who became my personal army as I took down a giant hydra.
The story feels less like a story and more like an elongated tutorial for stasis powers.
Even with those bright spots, the new story content and location underwhelm compared to past expansions. There’s still plenty to enjoy, especially after the campaign ends, but Beyond Light feels less like the gold standard Taken King expansion and more like the comparatively less ambitious Rise of Iron.
Ice to meet you
The campaign’s obsession with stasis is ultimately warranted. For the first time ever, Beyond Light adds an entirely new element for players to equip, complete with new supers and abilities. Stasis gives Guardians ice powers, allowing them to stop enemies cold, shatter frozen foes, and erect giant ice walls like Overwatch’s Mei.
Stasis is the most exciting feature to hit Destiny in years.
Stasis literally changes how the game is played and fans are already taking full advantage of it. The game’s Crucible PVP mode is currently in a state of delightful chaos as Guardians use their abilities to do things never before possible in Destiny. Some build ice walls to block off entrances to control points, allowing them to safely finish capturing them. Others throw the ability at their feet, shooting them dozens of feet into the air.
The Destiny series has rarely had that type of experimentation, even when adding new subclasses and supers. It was always clear what its three damage types did, no matter how they were wrapped up. Stasis feels entirely foreign, adding excitement back into activities players have grinded out for years.
The way the stasis subclass works completely differs from the old trio. Players can augment each ability with fragments that completely change the way it operates. When the ice wall grenade wasn’t clicking with my playstyle, I switched over to one that shot out a creeping row of icicles that could chain to enemies. There’s so much depth to the way players can customize the subclass, which makes it genuinely rewarding to hunt down more options.
It does feel like Bungie has some tweaking to do, however. Stasis is absurdly powerful in a way that feels unsustainable in the long run. Not only does ice freeze enemies (it can even shut down supers), it harms them once they break out too. That’s a blast in PVE activities where players can shatter an entire mob of dregs, but it feels out of whack in competitive modes. Getting frozen feels like a death sentence, no matter what the circumstance is, making stasis feel like an imbalanced option in its current state.
Even if there’s work to be done, stasis is the most exciting feature to hit Destiny in years. It opens the door for new playstyles and makes old experiences feel new again. It’s exactly the kind of refresh the game has long struggled to achieve.
Less is fine
The big story with Beyond Light is less about what it adds and more about what it removes. The update slims Destiny 2 down significantly, removing entire planets and their corresponding activities. Places like Mercury are gone, ridding fans of tedious content like the Infinite Forest.
What’s surprising is that none of it feels missed so far. I haven’t felt bummed out about not being able to patrol on Titan or missing out on a run of Escalation Protocol. The mass expulsion highlights just how gluttonous Destiny 2 had become in years as it amassed filler content that didn’t add anything.
Not much is added in their place, but that has its benefits. Destiny 2’s file size has nearly been cut in half, making for a more compact game that already feels like it runs much smoother. Load times are faster and I’ve run into far less loading zone hiccups during strikes.
Beyond Light is about stripping the game back down to its bare essentials so Bungie and players alike can figure out what’s actually fun about the game.
The added stability feels like a fair trade, though the long-term impact is unclear. With much of Beyond Light’s content contained to Europa, I’m not sure how small things will feel once I’ve cleared out my quests. Many of those questions should be answered in the upcoming Season of the Hunt, but perpetually skeptical fans wouldn’t be wrong to brace for another slow year.
That’s why it’s so important to recalibrate expectations this time around. Beyond Light isn’t about starting a bright chapter for the series. It’s about stripping the game back down to its bare essentials so Bungie and players alike can figure out what’s actually fun about the game. It’s entirely possible that Beyond Light only holds players’ interest for a few weeks, but maybe it’s time to accept that Destiny 2 might be less effective as a long-tailed service game and more enjoyable as a rock-solid shooter that’s worth revisiting a few times a year.
Destiny 2: Beyond Light is a slimmer offering than fans might have hoped for thanks to its disappointing campaign, but there’s still enough intrigue beneath Europa’s surface to warrant a return to orbit. The new stasis subclasses freshen up years-old experiences and make parts of the game feel new again, even if the honeymoon feeling melts away in a few weeks.
Is there a better alternative?
The answer is still no, though competition is getting fiercer. Warframe is especially creeping up on the throne, but Destiny 2’s shooting is still unmatched.
How long will it last?
The campaign itself only takes around five hours, but there are plenty of quests and activities to complete even before the new season begins.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you’re already sold on Destiny 2, there’s no reason not to continue the adventure. The move to next-gen is an added reason to jump back in for new console owners.
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