Remember when Bungie used to make Halo games? They were great, weren’t they? Some of the tightest, smartest shooters around – revolutionary in the way they opened up the corridors of the genre and popularised the use-the-weapons-of-your-enemy mechanic. Whether you were playing as Master Chief in the main trilogy or some plucky young upstarts in ODST or Reach, those games are packed tight with some of the most iconic moments in FPS history. And Bungie is drawing on that Legacy for its Lightfall expansion in Destiny 2.
Last year, at the launch of Destiny 2: The Witch Queen, I said Bungie knocked it out of the park in one of the best FPS campaigns I’ve played in years. The story was tight, the missions were well-paced and intriguing, the mechanics shunted into the game were fun and invigorating. It seems the developer is capable of bottling lightning for two years in a row, then, because the newest campaign, Lightfall, has done it again. In fact, I think it might be even better.
I am a true believer in Destiny. I think, outside of the content treadmill that sets in with the game’s seasonal stuff, it’s one of the most impressive shooters ever made. Ever. Yes, a big statement, but you cannot argue with the design and gunfeel of most of the weaponry. Pulling the trigger on pretty much any gun feels amazing, and using your powers to put enemies to bed will never get old. Summoning space magic down from on high to melt a boss’ health bar as you mate fills it with hot plasma? It’s the bombast that sci-fi dreams are made of.
But that’s all foundational stuff – the constant baseline Destiny is operating from. Mechanically and systemically, it’s a Very Good Game. It’s in these new content drops and story expansions that my perennial on-again/off-again relationship with Bungie gets to spread its wings. And I think, with Lightfall, the developer has looked deep into its past in order to galvanise its future – and what a treat it is.
I am going to try and keep this spoiler free. In the first chapter alone, there are echoes of some of Halo’s greatest moments. But in reverse, sort-of. At one point, at the climax of the chapter, you’re tasked with infiltrating a huge ship and toying with its power supply. I am choosing to play this on the ‘Legend’ difficulty, a knowing nod to the ol’ Halo Legendary mode that offers intense challenge – but delicious rewards. It’s not quite the ‘All Skulls On’ challenge you Chief-heads might remember from back in the 360 days, but damn if it isn’t close.
So. You boot into the mission, and you’re tasked with navigating through a series of tight corridors that open out into nice, manageable encounter rooms. This mission, in particular, likes to put you on the back foot; fighting up stairs, peppered on all sides by pissed-off Cabal rebels, turrets surprise-hidden around corners, scant opportunity for cover as you’re forced to push forward into gunfire. It’s tough, but fair – making you and your teammates play the game properly: rotate weapons, deploy class abilities, call out when you’re dropping buffs or shields. It’s like raid homework, sort-of.
Halfway through the mission, you need to clear a room, and slam-dunk an energy source into something unstable to start a chain reaction. Not a problem: clear the adds, cut a path, and you’ll do it without too much issue. But then a boss appears: a new enemy type, a rusher, who likes to get in close with its scythe. Kinda reminiscent of the Brutes and their grav hammers in the latter Halo joints, but maybe that’s just me. He’ll Benny Hill you around the arena as you avoid his slashes and dives, but eventually you’ll put him to bed. That’s the mission over, right? Nah.
Next up is the real boss arena: the centre of a gaudy chamber packed out with the spoils of war. The slam dunking you were taught to do earlier? Do it twice more, but this time, in a boss arena. Deep breath, you got this. It took me and my fireteam longer than I’d like to admit to figure out how to score the objectives and manage the enemies at the same time – eventually opting for a cheeky flanking manoeuvre around the rim of the chamber, as a seemingly infinite number of hard-ass battle hounds pursued us from corner to corner. Taking pot shots where we could, and escaping death by the skin of our teeth on multiple occasions, we eventually made it. This is Halo-level encounter design; every enemy placement, every mechanical interaction, every small gear in the machine is intricately curated and masterfully realised. This is peak FPS design, and we crushed it.
The successful mission sees you (noisily and explosively) wreak havoc on the ship before you’re given a simple, final task: escape. You summon your Sparrow and hoof it through a gauntlet of enemies, tanks, obstacles and –– hang on… isn’t this the last level of Halo 3? It is, you know. It’s almost laid out exactly the same. Except you’re not in a Warthog hopping over the Flood, you’re in separate sparrows hot-tailing it away from Cabal and Fallen. Neat. The soundtrack blares out, salvos of missiles rain down around you, and you make it. Chapter 1, complete.
Later on in the campaign, you’re even plopped in a tank and ushered out into the world to blow things up as – once again – a soaring and chugging soundtrack encourages you onwards. The parallels to Halo are unavoidable, and surely intentional. I am only about nine hours into Destiny 2 Lightfall, but already it’s captured my imagination and got its hooks in my head – I cannot wait to see what other surprises Bungie has in store.
Destiny 2 Lightfall is out now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.