Destiny 2 Can Transcend Its Rise of Skywalker Moment
But Bungie has time to course-correct.
Bungie’s much-anticipated Destiny 2: Lightfall expansion takes the player Guardian to the dazzling cyberpunk city of Neomuna on Neptune. There, they team up with a pair of nanotech-enhanced Cloud Striders to protect The Veil from the former Cabal Emperor Calus and the big bad Witness who’s just arrived in the Solar System…and…well, things get real complicated real fast.
Even for the most diehard Destiny fans and lore hounds, the recently released Lightfall campaign is a nesting doll of MacGuffins and unfamiliar proper nouns that raises more questions than it answers. Worse, just about every answer either defies all logic or feels like a head-scratching contradiction. Those narrative blunders have sparked major concerns within the community about the game’s future.
Over on Steam, Lightfall has more than 4,200 reviews that place it squarely in the “Mostly Negative” range. “Coming from The Witch Queen to Lightfall narrative-wise is like going from a perfectly steakhouse ribeye to half-eaten freezer grizzle,” prominent Destiny content creator Fallout said in a recent video.
Destiny’s “lore daddy” Byf calls Lightfall outright “dangerous” and a huge disappointment, noting that he could never recommend the expansion to new players. Now was the time for Bungie to begin explaining why these many cryptic and cosmic events matter, but even the community’s foremost expert has no idea what’s really going on. At this point, the lore of Kingdom Hearts makes more sense.
It’s clear that for now, the narrative trajectory has stalled.
Lightfall is the penultimate chapter in what Bungie refers to as "The Light and Darkness Saga," a label that attempts to evoke the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Infinity Saga and the Star Wars Skywalker Saga. In many ways, Lightfall should be an Infinity Wår moment before The Final Shape expansion delivers the Endgame next year. But it’s hard for anybody to care about escalating stakes that are this tough to understand — and when rather than fight on the frontlines of this conflict in Lightfall, we’re shunted over to Neptune to protect something called The Veil that is never explained properly.
In the Destinyverse, anything related to the game’s space magic gets slapped with a blanket label called “paracausal,” whether that’s the giant orb that gives us our power or its dire enemy with a cloud for a head. Yet we don’t have any context for who’s good or bad or why — or even what the consequences are of the dramatic Lightfall finale. We just know that The Traveler is associated with “The Light” and The Witness with “The Darkness” and that Destiny 2 has spent the last two years complicating how closely we associate these vague terms with “Good” and “Evil,” respectively.
“The line between Light and Dark is so very thin,” several characters have said before. For all the emphasis put on the dichotomy between Light and Dark, the difference between the two is inscrutable, particularly when the player Guardian can wield two sets of magic powers rooted in Darkness and three in the Light. Are we all mere pawns in a cosmic conflict so far removed from the scope of our existence?
Lightfall was finally the time to give us a bit more clarity. But it did not.
“Imagine if in Lord of the Rings, you never saw the Ring, never had it described, but all of the characters knew what it was and why it had to be destroyed,” one disgruntled redditor wrote in a post. Pretty much every proper noun in Destiny these days is a bit like that.
In a 2008 TED talk, filmmaker J.J. Abrams explained how “mystery is the catalyst for imagination” as he unpacked his famous “mystery box” approach to storytelling. Whether it’s the first season of LOST or Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so many of his stories sizzle with energy as they ride a wave of narrative intrigue and potential. But it relies on the viewer to imagine the story in their own mind.
The longer a mystery box stays closed, the more frustrated the audience becomes. When Abrams came back for The Rise of Skywalker, he delivered an absolute blunder that conjures new plot threads out of thin air while failing to offer much in the way of closure for any of it. Rather than open the mystery box and give us some closure, he presented us with half a dozen more and a shrug. As it stands right now, Lightfall does the very same.
In addition to the excellent gameplay and myriad of quality-of-life improvements that came with this latest expansion, there is an important silver lining: The last two years of seasonal content have proven that Bungie has nearly perfected its unique approach to ongoing stories. Over the next year, we’ll get weekly and seasonal storylines that simply must give us some definitive answers. Already the Season of Defiance “We Stand Unbroken” questline focuses on humanity’s allies coming together to defend against The Witness and rescue prisoners from its Shadow Legion. While it won’t explain any of the game’s bigger cosmic mysteries, it at least will provide some robust context for the ongoing conflict on a more personal level.
The Traveler has been one big mystery box all along, and we still don’t know what’s inside. But it’s finally time for that to change.