A couple of months behind schedule, the latest expansion to Destiny 2 has arrived. Beyond Light launched a week ago - and as ever the internet is divided on whether or not it's any good... and whether or not the Crucible has finally been ruined for good.
The debate is entirely justified - as after spending nearly a week wandering through Beyond Light and dipping a toe into some of the endgame elements of it, this is Bungie giving with one hand while taking with the other. It's a tactic that was technically necessary, but which is inevitably going to rub some people up the wrong way.
Destiny expansions have a history of being a hit-or-miss affair. The first expansions to both the original Destiny (The Dark Below and House of Wolves) are generally remembered as being colossal misses, as are the first couple for Destiny 2 (Curse of Osiris and Warmind). Later ones for both games though, delivered as the service game found its feet, have generally been much more highly regarded - The Taken King and Forsaken both being held up by the community as Bungie doing their finest work on the franchise. Beyond Light is aiming at those lofty heights and to some extent appears to manage it. Why "appears to" manage it, you ask? Well, it's only been out for a few days - the raid hasn't dropped yet, the Crucible hasn't settled down yet... and for a game with legs as long as Destiny's are, where new bits and pieces come online in the weeks following a launch, there's still plenty of time for the perception of that success to change. Where The Taken King and Forsaken were both notable for their narrative directions as well as for the sheer amount of content they added to the game, I think Beyond Light will be remembered more for what was removed from the game with its appearance than it will for the narrative expansion to the world - and that's a shame, because it tells the tale of one of Destiny's most interesting protagonists to date.
Set on the icy moon of Europa - home to the Braytech facility that was used to produce the Exo's, Beyond Light tells the story of Eramis - the Fallen Kell who's setting herself up to be the latest Kell of Kells (basically, boss of 'em all). She's without doubt the most interesting Big Bad that we've seen in Destiny so far. In the past, they've always been Evil Beings doing Evil Things... for the simple reason that that Evil Things are what Evil Beings do. Eramis demonstrates something unusual in Destiny - shades of grey. Yes, she's done some bad things (and through the course of the campaign continues to do even worse things) - but she's doing those bad things for some good reasons. At least at the start, anyway. To say much more would be to head into spoiler territory - but there are exchanges between her and some other characters that will make you wish that getting them around a table for a chat was a viable option.
While we're talking about Europa, it's a very impressive new environment. Bungie have always been exceptional at making sky boxes - and Europa's is a masterpiece. Jupiter hangs massive in the sky on the horizon, while the ice-wind blasted remains of golden-age civilisation clings to the sides of massive glaciers. The subterranean caverns are incredible, with the light bouncing off the ice and the snow crunching underfoot. Size wise, it's HUGE - it feels like it's a similar size to The Tangled Shore (added in Forsaken) but it's also hinting at lots of hidden areas and secrets akin to The Dreadnought from the original game. It's also the first area in the game to include a weather system - storms will blow in from time to time that reduce visibility to practically nothing, and include gusts of wind that will blow your Sparrow off course. Most of the new campaign takes place here, and while the objectives continue to be heavily based on "go here, kill that" as you'd expect, the novelty of the new area, a handful of new enemies and the narrative itself have been enough to push me through it all.
So far, so good? Well... yes and no. It wouldn't be a Destiny release without at least some uproar from the player base - and Beyond Light is no exception. While it's brought some new things to the game, not all of those things are proving to be as popular and universally applauded as Bungie may have hoped. Let's start with the new sub-class: Stasis. You get to play with it through the course of the campaign, and by the end your shiny new sub-class is ready to go - allowing you to freeze and shatter enemies. In PvE it's fine, and offers up some entertaining destructive capabilities... and in the Crucible, it's hateful to come up against. Movement has always been one of Destiny's highlights - running, jumping, strafing, and boosting your way across a map is all part of a beautiful dance that the best players fully master the steps of, and Stasis interrupts that for the first time. Grenades will freeze you in place - making you a sitting duck for incoming fire. Even if you manage to break out by holding the B button, you'll lose a massive chunk of health in the process meaning that the next couple of bullets that come your way are fatal. Maybe it's everywhere at the moment because it's just the newest, shiniest thing for players to be latching onto - but the experience of playing against it in Crucible can be extremely frustrating at the moment. I'm yet to try it out for myself, but I can only hope that being the guy using it provides a nice flip side.
The other thing that needs to be talked about is the sheer amount of content that Beyond Light removes from the game - for while Europa and a reprised Cosmodrome give us some new (ish) places to run around and do the space murder, it's at the cost of a LOT of the game's older real estate. Io, Mars, Mercury and the Leviathan are gone - along with all their strikes and all their quests. They've been dropped into the newly created "Destiny Content Vault" and may emerge again one day. We'll see. For the moment though, the game feels more streamlined than it has in a long time.
I think the hardest thing to gauge about Beyond Light is exactly who it's intended for. While past expansions have always felt like "more of the same" to a lesser or greater extent, Beyond Light feels like an intentional rocking of the boat. The long awaited Darkness subclass isn't just a new mechanic for us to play with, it's a manifestation of the shades of grey in the universe that Bungie seem to be looking to actively embrace. The simple Light=Good, Darkness=Bad equation is no longer as clear cut as once it was - and this could have implications that will echo on through the game for the next few years. Experienced players will be the ones noticing what's been removed the most though, and the ones most likely to dislike the new features in the game. For a new player coming in, a lot of the game that was previously used to introduce the universe and its lore (and thus its history) is no longer accessible. There's a new quest to set them up in the Cosmodrome - being honest I haven't played it yet but can only hope that it gives players an idea of just how massive and deep the game is. Europa and the Cosmodrome's welcome return will hold my attention for a while - but am I onboard for the whole season? For the moment, I don't know. One thing's for certain - Destiny has taken its first step toward becoming something that could be very different to what it's been so far. Whether or not the fans will embrace it is a whole other question though.