With Beyond Light, I Care More About the Story of Destiny Than Playing It

Let the boys kiss.

I promised myself I wouldn’t get back into Destiny 2 with Beyond Light. There are too many other games to enjoy and cover for me to carve off the ridiculous amount of time I spend obsessing over this game. The new expansion makes a promise, too. The marketing frames it as a new beginning — just like pretty much every piece of DLC before it. Destiny is constantly, habitually vowing that we’re on the cusp of something new and exciting. The problem is that we always crest that next peak — reach that next expansion — and the same thing is always waiting. It’s the exact same promise every time. This $40 will lay the groundwork for something bigger to come. The next expansion will be something fundamentally different from what we’ve seen before.

This remains true of Beyond Light. So far. Despite the well-oiled hype machine developer Bungie has built over the years, this yearly update is a bit thin, with a story that feels like a diluted version of the better-received Forsaken and very few genuinely new activities. There’s a fresh zone to explore and a condensed version of one yoinked from the original game. The rest is mostly yet more bounties to complete (a longstanding frustration among fans) and new powers to use in the same old activities.

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Said activities didn’t get much of a refresh, either. Beyond Light introduces two Strikes (one brand-new and one transplanted from the first game). Crucible and Gambit, the two main competitive modes, didn’t even get that. There are no new maps for either one. Though you need to play one or more of these old modes to complete certain Beyond Light quests. Crucible also remains the best way to power up your normal gear early in the cycle. Few Destiny players are happy about that, however, as they learn getting frozen to death by Darkness powers isn’t very fun. And it’s all still in service of making a number go up until it doesn’t matter anymore.

Before Beyond Light, I tried to temper my expectation that this time Destiny would meaningfully shake its foundation. I feel pretty justified in that decision. Especially since I play a Titan, the class whose new abilities are pretty clunky and poorly explained in the game. But the rest of the stuff involving the Darkness — our usually unseen, unknowable foe hinted at in the game’s lore — perks up my ears.

Things changed the day before Beyond Light dropped. Lots of in-game planets were wiped off the map (literally) during a live event that showed their icons being deleted. Three of Destiny‘s most interesting characters now chill together on the frozen moon of Europa. Though they haven’t done much together yet. Other NPCs died offscreen. And now that this “season” of Destiny has officially kicked off, we get to work with an old enemy, resurrected and memoryless. Bungie is finally plucking at the many threads it strung two years ago or more.

beyond light story

It doesn’t all land. The big bad of the Beyond Light campaign is a wild miss in my opinion. Eramis, the first central female antagonist to appear in-game, doesn’t really work. She’s the first to tap into Darkness powers (ice skills called Stasis) and you basically turn those abilities against her to… uh… stop her from unifying her dying species?

The Fallen have never made much sense as a faction, to be honest. They’re not zealots to eldritch gods like the Vex, Taken, or Hive. They’re not even imperialists like the Cabal. Bungie tries to paper over this by calling them “colonizers,” but they’re more like space refugees. Set adrift in the cosmos, they eventually came to Earth to literally, canonically eat babies. Only a giant border wall has been able to keep them from annihilating humanity.

Don’t worry, though! You team up with a Fallen prison warden who used to capture his own people and let you murder them for amusement to stop big, bad Eramis. There’s also a wedge of “good” Fallen (good because they work for us and don’t seek a means to control their own fate I guess). Yeah…

The optics of this have never been great. And as Bungie starts including more story in the actual game of Destiny 2, the details look even more xenophobic, or at the very least clumsy, as they spend more time under the microscope.

Maybe there’s a better, more nuanced version of this tale. The initial thrust of Beyond Light doesn’t get the time it needs to develop into that. Instead you shoot the baddie and get cool wizard powers. Your 99 percent silent protagonist doesn’t weigh in on the topic. Nobody asks more questions than they need to.

beyond light crow

On the bright side, this also means we move past all the uncomfortable comparisons very quickly, and get back to the cosmic horror hijinks. This is where Bungie excels. And even with all the extra story in the game itself, the studio hasn’t stopped added complementary lore in short stories. There’s a pretty excellent one happening right now. It tells us that two of the biggest figures in the universe are boyfriends who share poetry and love letters. It implies the daughter of my favorite character is going to war against her dad. It kills another major character (from an expansion you can no longer play) offscreen…

That’s the problem, of course. For as much as I like where Destiny is going, and for as much as Beyond Light puts more plot into the actual game, the best stuff is still hidden. The queerness is quarantined to a story on a website, like some Overwatch bullshit. The first gay Guardians in Destiny 2 — Saint-14 and Osiris — and 99.99 percent of their romance is implied in stuff that’s not even part of the campaign. Even when I’m more interested in the game’s tale than ever, I still have pretty major reservations about it. Not to mention that recycled foundation wears on me now more than ever.

I didn’t keep my promise to stay away from Destiny entirely. But I do know what I want from it at this point. I’ll read the short stories, watch the cutscenes, and log in to catch some good dialogue. But I won’t obsess over it again for some time to come. We’ll see how long that promise lasts, at least.