Destiny 2: Beyond Light first impressions

By Luke Albigés,
Last week, Destiny 2 changed forever. With the release of new expansion Beyond Light, Bungie took the opportunity to trim the fat from its shooter, although it's clear even at this early stage in the game's next chapter that the studio could have done with either being a little less liberal with the axe, or a little more generous in replacing stuff that got the chop. On top of this mass culling of content, Beyond Light also happens to be Destiny's most meagre update to date — understandable given both the unprecedented circumstances of 2020 and the lack of publisher support or development aid from other studios — but the sad truth is that there's barely enough content upfront here to last a fortnight, let alone an entire season.

Season of the Hunt

The good news, though, is that the new stuff is generally rather good, even if there's not a whole lot of it. Beyond Light's campaign portion is only a few hours long, but it's quite the ride. The structure is sort of similar to Forsaken's story, with boss assassination missions (known as Empire Hunts, which are later repeatable because of course they are) at the core, albeit only three here to Forsaken's six. Between these, you'll be blasting your way around both the massive, beautiful new Europa area and Destiny's old Cosmodrome (which serves as an amazing nostalgia hit and a perplexing story beat), intermittently getting to play with the new Stasis powers of each class before fully unlocking the subclass at the story's end. Each of these trial versions of Stasis plays out just like when you unlocked the other subclasses — with almost instant ability cooldowns and tons of enemies to test your new kit against — only here, it happens like six times. It's too much, frankly, and it absolutely trivialises the final encounter in the new campaign and turns it into a huge anticlimax. And that's a real shame, because if you're someone who plays Destiny for the lore, characters, and story, you'll be in your element here. It's a real who's-who of the series' most popular characters, and there are some fantastic nods and plot points in there for folks that are clued up on their Grimoire.

One thing the new missions and areas really get right is enemy density. Bungie isn't afraid to throw clouds of Shanks and waves of Dregs your way, and the new content is way more exciting as a result. The balancing factor is that Stasis offers all classes a form of crowd control, and there are plenty of Exotics in the game that excel in this field as well. This season's offering, Duality, is another such tool, a two-mode shotgun that hip-fires pellets but launches slugs while aimed. Scatter kills grant a stacking damage buff, while slug kills extend the duration, making this a powerful and satisfying way to clean house and end with a bang on the biggest enemy around. Even when you're all kitted out, some of these encounters are still far from easy, and it's a refreshing change of pace to see story encounters actually put up a bit of a fight for once. That challenge will carry through to the endgame too, and we're already seeing special missions with Power recommendations of up to 1300 (well above this season's cap of 1260) which also have a bunch of nasty modifiers to make life even tougher. We're firm believers that Destiny is at its best when it isn't pulling punches, so this kind of brutal content will always be welcome.

The vaunted new Stasis abilities which Guardians get to wield certainly warrant discussion, and for a number of reasons. First, the system is unique in its execution, with fixed abilities from the off and additional grenade and melee options that can be unlocked via 'Born in Darkness' quests to customise the class. This feels more like the original Destiny's fully flexible skill trees once you've got a few options under your belt, as opposed to the pared-back versions used for Destiny 2's other subclasses. Second, Stasis is fun. Each of the three classes has its own twist on the icy new powers, with some (looking at you, Warlock) significantly stronger than others. Freezing and shattering foes feels fresh, as you'd expect from the first new element since launch, but it's definitely better suited to coordinated play than matchmaking — get used to seeing grenades, rockets, and snipes get rejected by huge ice pillars that some idiot decides to throw up in front of the boss. Stasis is nonsense in the Crucible as well, in a good way. It's far too early to accurately say how balanced these new subclasses actually are, but early estimates lean towards 'not very,' especially with the Warlock's flash-freezing 'melee' projectile shutting down everything and their icy pulse hitting at crazy ranges, even through walls. It's a bit silly.

Beyond Light

We should really talk about the 'sunsetting' of gear, too, because it has a massive impact on the game. Every piece of equipment now has a maximum Power cap (bar Exotics, which are exempt), and in a lot of cases, that cap is 1060. With Beyond Light starting by upping all gear to a base level of 1050, that means most of the stuff in your Vault will be effectively useless in PvE activities within the first hour of the expansion. It's a fine idea in principle, as it stops the usual trend of overpowered weapons like Recluse, Wendigo, and Loaded Question from being the go-to options for basically everything, but Bungie took it way too far. With so many weapons retired, the effective loot pool in the game becomes exceptionally shallow. Where once we had options for all weapon types in all elements, now we don't even have all weapon types represented in the standard pool — there are only two Legendary Machine Guns that didn't get sunset, for instance, and neither is available from the regular pool, so you might want to give those Bounties a miss until you can eventually get your hands on one. The problem with mainstays like Recluse was that they limited our loadout options, and Bungie finding a new, somehow worse way to limit options doesn't really feel like the most elegant solution. Or a solution at all, actually. In a game focused around loot, a selection of gear this narrow simply is not good enough, especially with the Collections tab still documenting the embarrassment of riches we had at our disposal just a few weeks ago.

This week's reset brought with it Season of the Hunt's main new activity, and it's... well, it's bad. Wrathborn Hunts themselves are quick and entertaining enough, but they're gated behind having to charge the lure by doing playlist activities. While it's great that you get to choose between Strikes, Crucible, and Gambit, it still means you spend half an hour priming the new activity and then just five minutes actually playing the damn thing. With all the stuff sent to the content vault, it seems strange that the seasonal activity would actively push players towards playlists which are notably shorter than they were two weeks ago. We're down seven Strikes, 11 PvP maps, and two Gambit maps thanks to The Great Vaulting, so you're going to see the same ones come up a lot more often. It's neat that you can pick a reward to chase and apply mods to the lure to alter the stat roll on the drop, but the laborious charging process means you probably won't stick with it after you've got your powerful drops for the week. There are also only four unique targets right now, all with exactly the same mechanics, so there could really do with being more if this is going to have any kind of legs as a mode.

Destiny 2 Beyond Light

It's hard to get a handle on what kind of value proposition Beyond Light really represents at this point, since Bungie seems to be leaning more and more towards slow-burn content drops these days. Little and often is the order of the day here, and you can see just from the pages of rewards for stuff that isn't even in the game yet that there's much more in store — only having two 'new' Strikes at launch (one of which is a rejigged version of The Will of Crota from the original game) seems pretty weak, but knowing that more are coming down the line softens the blow somewhat, and that's true across the board. The way things are right now, Destiny 2 works much better as something to dive into for a few hours a week than as something to no-life like it once was for us, but there just isn't the content or incentive to do that at the moment. New and returning players can look forward to a much less daunting experience now that everything has been streamlined, so that's something, and fear of missing out won't be as much of an issue any more since previous modes and rewards will be made available in new ways.

Beyond Light's Raid, Deep Stone Crypt, drops this weekend, and perhaps the grind of gearing up for that has put a bit of a damper on our experience with the expansion so far. As we say, it feels very much like the revised version of the game lends itself better to piecemeal play, but we wouldn't miss that magical experience of getting baffled and battered with friends in a new Raid for the world. Hopes are high for Deep Stone Crypt — Destiny 2's current issue is one of quantity rather than quality, after all, and all it'll take is for this Raid to have great encounters and/or great loot to ensure at least one weekly visit from a lot of players. Either way, we'll keep plugging away with Beyond Light, and hopefully with a new-found sense of enthusiasm after a fantastic Raid. Destiny 2 remains a lot of fun, and after this initial burst of overeager housekeeping, it's only going to keep getting better as Bungie continues to add new stuff and old favourites. Maybe think about adding some new achievements next time though, Bungie. Turns out some people really like those things...

Destiny 2: Beyond Light is available now, and is playable with Xbox Game Pass. The Xbox Series X|S upgrade, which will push the game to 4K60 and add a FOV slider, arrives on December 8th as a free update.
Luke Albigés
Written by Luke Albigés
Hey, I'm Luke! I've been playing games since way back in the 8-bit days, and have spent the last 15+ years writing and talking about them professionally for anyone and everyone who would let me. Monster Hunter fanatic, wearer of many fine hats, and always up for a raid.