Were it not for Bungie’s split with Activision last year, it feels like Destiny 2’s latest expansion, Beyond Light, might have just been called Destiny 3 instead. As the first installment in a trio of announced expansions, Beyond Light takes some bold steps in a new direction for the series – whether it’s the story’s darker, morally grey tone, the removal of legacy content from Destiny 2’s sandbox, or our formerly-exemplar Guardians giving in and using the corrosive power of The Darkness. In many ways, this is not the same Destiny 2 we’ve been playing for the past three years.
But where Beyond Light deviates from its legacy in some important ways, it also finds itself making some of the same mistakes all over again. With a campaign that’s too short, an endgame that has you grinding the same activities ad nauseum, and a sandbox that seems perpetually imbalanced, my Guardian’s adventures on the snow-covered moon of Europa sometimes had me feeling left out in the cold in a very familiar way.
Beyond Light’s campaign begins with a bang, as several planets in our solar system are blinked out of existence by Destiny’s longtime evil: The Darkness. You’re deployed to Europa in search of answers but, strangely enough, the adventure that follows is largely unrelated and frankly you never really find the answers you’re looking for. Instead, you end up going toe-to-toe with a particularly nasty Eliksni named Eramis, who has discovered a way to wield the awesome power of The Darkness in the form of a cosmic ice called Stasis.
This story is one of the strongest in the series, mainly because Eramis is the first Destiny villain I’ve ever empathized with (and even felt a little sorry for). Many of Destiny’s best characters also receive a ton of much-deserved screen time including The Drifter, Variks, Eris Morn, and The Exo Stranger, who we haven’t seen since 2014 and who now takes the spotlight in a major way – and this time she finally has time to explain. Like most Destiny expansions, though, the campaign ends too quickly at around 6 hours long, and it leaves you with plenty of loose threads that aren’t likely to be addressed anytime soon. As a result, the fight with Eramis and her Stasis-wielding army ultimately feels like a side quest in an epic odyssey that will take the next two expansions (and potentially beyond) to play out.
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Europa itself is a well-crafted frosty wasteland filled with darkness-wielding Fallen and milk-filled Vex that gives you plenty to grind for, but it offers few surprises. The most unique thing about Europa are the weather effects, which will regularly whip up a snowstorm that whistles in your ears and obscures your vision. During the campaign these snowstorms are really cool, immersive events that make you feel like you’re fighting against the moon itself as much as you are Eramis’ armies. But once the campaign ends and you’re running around Jupiter’s moon doing public events and patrol missions that you’ve already done a thousand times, the frequent whiteouts can get old pretty fast – I’m just trying to collect flecks of dark, my dude.
Aside from the weather, there isn’t a whole lot about Europa that we haven’t seen elsewhere. You’ll do some public events, including plenty you’ve already done on other planets, find a few lost sectors to loot (ones that are among my favorites yet, even if they’re largely brief distractions), and run around completing patrols and looting chests until your thumbs bleed. There are a few new enemy types that mix up the Destiny sandbox ever so slightly, but nothing as major as a new faction being added like in The Taken King or Forsaken. There’s also a neat new strike called “The Glassway,” which pits you against some more nasty robots and their inappropriate time travel shenanigans. All told, Europa is a nice addition to Destiny’s ecosystem of explorable locales, but very much par for the course with others we’ve seen.
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To rise to the challenge of the new threats (and grinds) that await on Europa, your guardian will need to embrace the corrupting force of The Darkness, which unlocks a whole host of powerful Stasis ice powers. With Stasis, you gain devastating abilities to slow and freeze enemies, then shatter them into pieces, which can create chain reactions that lay waste to even daunting adversaries in one of the most thoroughly satisfying experiences in Destiny to date. I really can’t stress enough how much joy it brings me to charge onto the battlefield with some icy space magic and turn an entire army into my personal crystalline statue exhibit, then blow it all up.
As you progress through Beyond Lights’s endgame content, you’ll unlock new abilities, aspects, and fragments – all of which allow you to customize your Stasis abilities to fit your playstyle or tackle specific activities. For example, you can unlock grenades that seek out and freeze your enemies, or equip a mod that gives you super energy when you crack open a frozen baddie. Unlocking new Stasis modifiers is an incredibly attractive incentive to push through Beyond Light’s endgame grind, which, in typical Destiny fashion, has you running strikes, playing competitive multiplayer matches in the Crucible, and unfortunately, hanging out with the Drifter in Gambit.
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The crown jewel of Beyond Light’s endgame content is its new raid, Deep Stone Crypt, which brings your fireteam to the birthplace of the robotic exo race to stop the Fallen from using the technology against humanity. Like most Destiny raids before it, Beyond Light’s raid is a phenomenal, challenging undertaking that throws you into some of the most beautiful environments to be found in Destiny. With role-based puzzles that require intricate teamwork and communication, a pulse-pounding soundtrack full of bangers, and some truly memorable surprises, this raid isn’t one to miss even for those who might normally be raid-averse. Deep Stone Crypt is especially impressive in that for the first time the raid tells a cohesive story with a beginning, middle, and an end that can be more-or-less understood without burying your head into a pile of grimoire entries.
Now that the raid has been conquered, Europa has taken new shape and offers a few new endgame quests and activities to keep you busy shooting and looting for the near future with more content arriving in a trickle throughout the season. Those truly committed guardians among us have no end of triumphs to complete, titles to unlock, and exotics to chase, but only those willing to withstand yet another obnoxious grind will finish it all, and the journey is sure to be painful. And with the world of Destiny 2 having been recently cut in half as old content was removed to make room for new content, activities will be more repetitive than ever before. The Strike playlists have fewer strikes than last year, Gambit has fewer maps in rotation, and The Crucible is in a sorry state of affairs in general.
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As someone who enjoys a fair amount of competitive PvP in Destiny, I’m a little hurt that Crucible seems to have been given the (perhaps thematically fitting) coldest of shoulders in Beyond Light, to the point where I wonder if Bungie remembers it even still exists. No new Crucible maps or modes have been added, and the planned changes to the endgame PvP mode, Trials of Osiris, were recently delayed.
What’s worse is Beyond Light’s additions to Destiny 2’s sandbox have an entirely adverse effect on the Crucible. Being able to freeze enemies is awesome on Europa, but once an opposing player does it to you in PvP, locking you in place for long enough for them to kill you five times over, it’s far more frustrating than fun. Even more devastating is that Stasis completely shatters any semblance of balance in PvP, as ice abilities can freeze you even when you’re in the middle of your super, kill you through walls, and generally make the Crucible an unpleasant place to be.