November 2020 was a big event for the Destiny 2 community. Major sweeping changes were made to the game's ecosystem, controversial elements were implemented, and the promise of brand new content that would shake up the entire experience were tossed about. In many ways, the Beyond Light expansion was a sequel in all but name, something Bungie leaned into with in-game events and press releases.
Now that Beyond Light has been out and the first season of this new era, Season of the Hunt, is in its final weeks, it is time to look at these design decisions, the new content, and whether or not it lived up to the community's expectations.
Beyond Light, Stasis, and Endgame Content
First I want to preface this overview by stating that I have nothing but the highest respect for everyone at Bungie who worked on all of this. This wasn't just new content for their players, this was a massive overhaul of the entire game's underlying technology. They were cleaning up and refining underwhelming netcode, optimizing the entire experience to reduce loading times and speed up matchmaking, and preparing the game for its inevitable debut on next-gen consoles and PC hardware. All of this had to happen on top of brand new material for players to enjoy, all while working from home in the middle of the deadliest global pandemic in modern history. Everyone at Bungie should be applauded for their dedication and talent on display here.
As for Beyond Light itself, it has a solid campaign. As the name of the expansion implies, you slowly gain access to a brand new Darkness subclass for your character as you fight the new threat on the moon on Europa. The story even heralds the official return of the mysterious Exo Stranger, the character made infamous by one embarrassing cutscene, finally having time to explain what her deal is and how it ties to cosmic war between the evil space pyramids of the Darkness and the Traveler's Light. It does just enough to set the table for new battles and set pieces while showing off Europa. Bungie's art department is still delightfully on point, and the worldbuilding that happens with the Clovis Bray facility is all fantastic.
The biggest problem with the campaign is the big villain: Eramis. The lore of Destiny goes on about her having a sympathetic backstory and well-intentioned ambitions, but she is portrayed as yet another highly charismatic baddy going mad by the power she's using; little more than a Saturday morning cartoon villain. She doesn't have the presence of a pure force of evil like Oryx in The Taken King, nor do her plans amount to any major changes to the universe like in Forsaken or Shadowkeep. Aside from one throwaway line that ties into Beyond Light's endgame content, Eramis' whole plan amounts to give her troops Stasis power, then attack Earth. It's not exactly the stuff of legends.
These first impressions are what led many people to believe that Beyond Light was an underwhelming expansion. For the game's first week, these were understandable critiques. Then the game's new Raid, Deep Stone Crypt, went live and triggered the rest of the new content.
It was in this second wave that Beyond Light revealed their focus: endgame content. Legendary Lost Sectors, Master difficulty Empire Hunts, all full of exclusive exotic armor and weapon rewards. Then there's Deep Stone Crypt, which might just be the most polished, exciting, and challenging Raid in the game to date. Even now as of this writing, they have added a brand-new, highly replayable challenge mission centered around this season's unique weapon: Hawkmoon. If you play Destiny 2 exclusively for PvE content and love to get teams together for raiding, Beyond Light has you more than covered.
Vaulting, Sunsetting, and The State of Crucible
Unfortunately, this kind of focus has had a knock-on effect on the rest of Destiny 2's content. Beyond Light does too good a job pushing you towards optimizing a build, getting the right mods, and looking up the best strategies for this endgame content... but doesn't account for casual play. There have been multiple times where I just wanted to grind out some bounties playing Strikes, only for the entire fireteam to speedrun or glitch their way to the final encounter and kill the boss within a minute. When a large chunk of your game's quest steps involve meticulously fighting through Strikes, that is a problem.
Gambit suffers a similar issue. The more casual Gambit and the more competitive Gambit Prime modes have now been meshed together into a single mode, which has lead to some baffling matchmaking issues. Expert clans getting matched with first-timers who barely know how the mode works happened way more often than anything resembling fair play. If a new player never touches Gambit mode ever again due to these bad match ups, I would not blame them.
The greatest victim of Beyond Light's changes however, is its PvP. As it stands right now, the competitive meta for Destiny 2: Beyond Light is very simple: Use your Stasis subclass, and have a hand cannon at the ready. That's it. The imbalance was so bad, Bungie actually shut down the Trials of Osiris mode for several weeks. All of this happened after the Stasis subclasses were nerfed.
But the biggest issue affecting most of this content has been Vaulting. In order to keep Destiny 2 to a manageable size and scope, Bungie opted to remove several areas, locations, and activities, the argument being that this content might return in the future while allowing for a focus on the new material. While certain areas were in need of an overhaul (looking at you, Titan and Io), it also means that certain Strikes and Crucible maps are no longer in rotation. There isn't enough enemy variety with PvE now, and the current list of PvP maps actively discourage long-range weaponry.
Going hand in hand with Vaulting has been the introduction of gear Sunsetting. In theory, putting a hard limit on how powerful weapons and armor can get should inspire players to try out new gear and builds... but that actually makes it punishing due to the shrunken loot pool. Thankfully, Bungie has been re-introducing new armor and weapon sets from prior seasons to mitigate this, but it doesn't augur well for the game going forward.
Hunting with The Crow
Destiny 2 is also wrapping up its first season of this new era: Season of the Hunt. The results were quite interesting from a worldbuilding perspective, a lot of watercooler moments to be sure, even if it felt rote when it came to its gameplay challenges.
Most of this discussion stems from this season's new supporting character: a new Guardian called The Crow. Longtime Destiny 2 players have been anticipating Crow's return for a while, and for good reason. Before he came back to life, Crow was Prince Uldren, main villain of Forsaken and the murderer of Cayde-6. His resurrection happened back in 2018 during the Black Armory DLC.
This has lead to some fantastic discussions within the Destiny community. In this universe, if you are brought back to life as a Guardian, you have no memory of what you have done before. In essence, Crow is a brand-new character wearing the face of Uldren. But it is difficult to overlook or even forgive such a thing when their appearance brings back such visceral responses from people. Too many people I talked to admitted they would just shoot Crow on reflex because of how much Cayde meant to them.
It's a discussion that slowly plays out through Season of the Hunt. Crow helps you track down a dangerous Hive general, and you slowly learn more about Crow's time as a Guardian and the prejudices he has faced due to his past.
It's a fantastic little narrative, sowing the seeds for a possible redemption arc in the greater narrative of the world of Destiny, it's just a shame the gameplay is a bit lackluster. The Wrathborn Hunts are underwhelming because in terms of boss fights, they're just amped up remixes of past fights with a green aura around them. The Lure used to access these hunts have mods that help you determine what loot you get, but it's still from a limited pool of drops. I barely did any of the hunts until the season's conclusion when Crow's story continued.
Thankfully, Season of the Hunt's content won't just be going away once February rolls around. All seasonal content will be sticking around until 2022, so there is plenty of time for Bungie to tweak and refine the rewards here.
Moving Forward to Season of the Chosen
Unfortunately, that seems to be the recurring theme with the state of Destiny 2. There's a lot of good to be found, but it can't fully outweigh some undercooked but well-intentioned experimentation. Beyond Light brought so much new material and content to the game, but it's led to the PvP suffering. Season of the Hunt plays with great themes but didn't have strong enough content to thread it with. I genuinely hope Bungie continues to work with the community and continues refining Destiny 2, learning from their mistakes as they go. It isn't exactly in a stellar place right now, but improvement is more than possible.