The air was choked with mystical energy. Everyone around me was staring upward at the oil slick tinted sheen billowing out of the Traveler, a gargantuan machine that's been an inert part of the scenery for so much of Destiny that it's been easy to forget what a strange, unsettling entity it is. Now, it seemed to be doing something, and in the history of Destiny, that's rarely a good sign. The last time it did anything, it was in response to an enemy attempting to take its power. The time before that, well, we still don’t know what actually happened. My Ghost, seemingly reading my mind, responded “The last time this happened, the world ended.”
In this case, the Traveler's sudden activity heralded the launch of Beyond Light, the newest expansion for Destiny 2. There had been a serious hype cycle leading up to this expansion, and that culminated in an event that had your Guardian come down off the tower and join the citizens of The Last City to get a better look as the Traveler, the floating god-orb that give Guardians their powers, started to pulsate with energy. That event ended with a cutscene showing the ever looming Darkness consuming various planets in our solar system, obscuring their locations on the game’s map before the Traveler flashed in bright white. The servers went down, and the long wait for launch began.
As with most Destiny expansions, trying to log in to see the aftermath of this dramatic reshaping of the game was extremely hit or miss in the early hours of release. Server queues were implemented but still the server errors were plenty.The first time I managed to load into the game I made it to the second mission before being promptly tossed back to the title screen.
Despite the frustration of having to wait hours to get on a server, I was still elated when I touched down on Europa, one of two new patrol zones included in this expansion. The amount of change coming to Destiny seemed to wash away so many of the pain points of a popular game having server issues on day one. That feeling even carried into the week, where I was met with as many enjoyable choices as frustrating one.
My first week with Beyond Light mirrored the high contrast landscape of Europa, with its stark white snow set against the pin pricked inky void of space. Destiny now, as it’s been for much of its existence, was a series of highs and lows, but this time it finally feels like the highs are winning out. While past expansions have iterated and improved on the way Bungie tell their stories and introduce new mechanics, my enjoyment of them was largely rooted in my already immense buy-in. Beyond Light is the first time that I feel I can wholeheartedly recommend that players jump back in, regardless of their past experiences with Destiny 2.
The campaign for Beyond Light has you helping out Destiny 1 fan favorite Variks, a Fallen (one of the game’s “enemy” races) hoping to save his people from what could be described as a populist uprising gearing up for all out war with humanity. This storyline is the type of nuanced, interesting, and flavourful sci-fi writing that normally would be relegated to the game’s lore books, hidden in a menu that can be easy to miss. But finally they’re telling the type of story I’ve always known Destiny could tell, but was often disappointed when it veered away.
On the other hand, my first week was a mess of grinding and quests on quests that I think would turn off many new players. In fact, I had friends asking me about how to level because the leveling curve seems to lag behind the mission requirements for the campaign. In lieu of difficulty levels for the campaign, you can choose to over-level before tackling any mission, or just go in with what you’ve gotten from the previous one. This would often leave players at a deficit of 20 levels, which is like bumping up the difficulty from normal to whatever is one notch above hard in your average game.
The issue with this is that leveling in Destiny 2 is notoriously fiddly. Lapsed players who may want a more even experience would need to spend way too much time leveling before getting to the new content, a mistake that seems to be at the service of making the new location feel dangerous when you log in for the first time. Anyone who wanted to have a more normalized experience shouldn’t have to wade through Destiny 2’s obtuse leveling for hours before seeing something new.
Ultimately, my first week in the game has been extremely enjoyable. For the first time in a long time we have a raid to look forward to, and despite my distaste for the “make the numbers go up” portion of Destiny, I’m actually enjoying getting raid ready. With this expansion they’ve managed to pack enough story and narrative beats alongside the regular grind that there’s always a new subclass ability to chase, some new exotic to acquire, a new piece of lore to unlock. With Beyond Light, Bungie have managed to turn the part of the game I used to grin and bear (the grind) to get to the good bits (the raid, more story) into one of the good bits.