If last year’s Destiny 2: Shadowkeep set the template for where a newly-independent Bungie wanted to take their lucrative science fiction looter-shooter next, Beyond Light sees them double down on what worked, sand away some of the sharper edges and - more or less - stay the course. It’s probably not going to surprise you but there's a good chance I'll still manage to lure you back in to the series' core conceit of loot, shoot, repeat.
In some ways, what follows is less of a typical review and more of an annual report. The broad-strokes formula and moment-to-moment gameplay that won me over when Destiny 2 first came to the PC in 2017 (and then again with Shadowkeep) hasn’t exactly undergone a reinvention here. There are a few new ingredients in the mix but Beyond Light is largely more of the same for both better and worse. The gunplay remains tight and while the series’ motley crue of enemy designs are a little overly familiar at this point, they’re still a delight to blast away at.
This time around, the Fallen take center stage amid the encroachment of the long-awaited and consistently-cryptic force known as the Darkness.
Former foes become allies in the face of a new threat and, as opposed to their portrayal in earlier expansions, Beyond Light actually goes out of its way to give your insectoid adversaries a more robust characterisation, centering the character of Variks and drawing out some of the more intriguing subtext found in of the series lore.
Without getting too into the weeds, the main hook here is that - for the first time - you’re forced to fight fire with fire. In order to take on a new foe armed with the power of the Darkness, you’ve got to embrace it. Though utterly predictable in light of the narrative framework that Bungie have been laying for the past three years, this twist still manages to feel like a refreshing riff on the usual formula. Through darkness (or Stasis as it is also known), all sorts of things become possible. Rounding out the previous trio of elemental specialisations (Void, Arc and Solar), each of Destiny’s three playable classes now has a handful of crunchy new Stasis-based abilities at their disposal.
To me, the most tactically playful of these is a new grenade that creates large crystals that can both encompass and trap enemies or act as sort of spontaneous cover. Across the board, Bungie’s bag of new Stasis-based tricks injects new life into the somewhat stale status quo that preceded it.
Even if the developers are clearly having some teething issues when it comes to balancing the new and old, the arrival of Stasis does help make Beyond Light feel somewhat like a new ‘era’ for the series, even if that vibe is undercut by the aging context in which these fresh new mechanics present themselves. Traversing the slopes of Europa - the Beyond Light’s most-visible addition - sometimes felt a little too similar to the cratered topography found in Shadowkeep.
Of course, Beyond Light doesn’t just add content to the Destiny experience. It also subtracts it. In a move that’s earned Bungie comparisons to Disney, the team behind the game are ‘vaulting’ a significant amount of older content with the arrival of the game’s latest expansion. Locales like Mars, Mercury, Io and Titan have been removed outright and so have a considerable amount of the guns, quests and end-game activities that were on the table this time last year.
This raises a ton of really interesting issues and questions. On one hand, it’s a bold measure to try and reel back in the bloat that’s been incurred by three years of expansions and seasonal content that gradually expanded what Destiny 2 offered at launch by leaps and bounds. Starting a new character and playing through the ‘New Light’ on-boarding experience is much more friendly than it used to be and it's a little clearer what you're supposed to be doing once you reach the endgame.
On the other hand, a lot of labor went into that content. Bungie’s attempts here to create a sense of artificial scarcity to the content that’s in the game represent a distressing escalation of the video game industry’s prickly relationship with historical archivists (not to mention the artists, designers and developers who actually worked on and built this stuff). In any case, as someone who fell off the Destiny 2 train partially because of the intimidating number of end-game tasks on my to-do list, the streamlining here is something I did appreciate - though I remain irked by how much of Destiny’s exotic quests aren’t all that solo-friendly.
The Bottom Line
The shift here by Bungie towards a more ephemeral kind of end-game feels like an uncertain experiment but the new content and mechanics brought by Beyond Light make it a great excuse to jump back into the action for both Destiny regulars and relapsers alike.
Destiny 2: Beyond Light is available now in Xbox One, Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PC and Google Stadia.