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Destiny 2: Beyond Light box art Image: Bungie

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Destiny 2: Beyond Light is Destiny 3 with less baggage

The age of Darkness has arrived

Ryan Gilliam (he/him) has worked at Polygon for nearly seven years. He primarily spends his time writing guides for massively popular games like Diablo 4 & Destiny 2.

Destiny 2: Beyond Light’s most impressive feat is how it takes Destiny’s first step into a new era — the Era of Darkness — without being a full sequel.

Beyond Light isn’t a new golden age for the franchise like Destiny: The Taken King and Destiny 2: Forsaken were. Beyond Light is something different. It’s more Destiny, but it’s actively stepping into a new generation of powers, performance, and design.

The game loads faster. The menus are snappier. The Director is cleaner. And the new tutorial experience is actually useful for new and returning players. So is this Destiny 3? Not exactly.

Beyond Light is the closest thing we’re going to get to Destiny 3, and I’m fine with that. First-drafts and do-overs haven’t always fared well in Destiny, as Bungie overcomplicated the original Destiny in 2014 and oversimplified Destiny 2 in 2017. Both games got major expansions to fix their issues, but most players aren’t eager to go through those pains again.

And that’s where Beyond Light is different. It soft-reboots Destiny 2 without forcing people into a new game, one where Bungie could potentially start the cycle over again. The new powers and UI feel like something I would find in a true sequel. But Beyond Light avoids the pitfall of a fully rebooted sequel by making strategic, targeted improvements rather than sweeping ones.

Stasis: the Guardian’s newest toy

Some Stasis abilities generate crystals that erupt from the earth, instantly freezing enemies
Image: Bungie

Stasis isn’t like the other super powers in a Guardian’s arsenal. It’s less about absolutely destroying a few enemies and more about controlling a lot of them. My Super ability that would normally kill a single wave of enemies can instead freeze two waves. Once frozen, either my Fireteam or myself can destroy those foes in a number of different ways.

On its face, Stasis is an impressive tool. But when you dive into the power’s unique customization menu, its potential becomes clear. Unlike the familiar powers that launched with Destiny, the Stasis abilities aren’t binary. I can slot in different “Aspects” to give myself wild new capabilities.

Now my Titan can slide through frozen enemies to create a massive explosion, while my Hunter can dive into the ground from mid-air to shatter opponents. Two weeks in, and I only have access to one of these Aspects on each of my classes. But the first is such a game-changer that I can’t imagine what comes next.

I’ve yet to take Stasis off for more than a mission or two since I got it. Stasis is the big, new toy I would expect from a Destiny sequel, but it’s coming in an expansion. It’s more strategic than the basic powers in Destiny, one that requires a bit more thought. If I work harder, I can get more done with Stasis. It makes me not want to go back to the older subclasses, even when Stasis isn’t optimal in whatever activity I’m doing.

Stasis recontextualizes every fight, and makes old content feel new again. Stasis gives Destiny 2 that Destiny 3 feel almost immediately.

A trip into the ice on Europa

Destiny 2: Beyond Light Glassway Strike
The entrance to The Glassway Strike on Europa
Image: Bungie

If Stasis is the new toy, then Europa is the perfect playground to play with it in.

I land on Europa and hear my Guardian’s feet crunch into the snow. The light from the distant sun slams into the ice and radiates around me. When I jump on my Sparrow, a storm rolls in, and the wind blows my Guardian off course. Through the thick ice and wind around me, all I can see are blue and red lights. Some may be beacons, leading me to a structure, but most are the eyes of my enemies.

Looking at screenshots of Europa doesn’t sell the destination’s quality. It looks like a beautiful, desolate wasteland. But Bungie has taken that enormous space and filled it carefully. There are barren points, but they feel purposeful, like a stark battlefield with no cover. Other areas that appear desolate are rich with snow banks, science stations, or broken buildings.

A vast, Fallen castle lives in Europa’s clouds. And a derelict laboratory sits beneath its surface. It’s immediately one of the coolest locations we’ve seen in Destiny, filled with secrets and small details everywhere I look, like the windswept icicles, hidden Exo bodies, or small penguin toys to collect.

And the planet is home to one of the more interesting stories we’ve seen in Destiny. Destiny’s story has been quite good since the start of Destiny 2, but the telling of that story in-game has been lacking. Beyond Light pulls out tricks Bungie started using a year ago to enrich the storytelling, like loads of dialogue unhindered by too many giant in-universe terms in a single sentence. Beyond Light explores simple, interesting ideas — the suggestion that an “evil” force is only evil because we don’t understand it, or that a “good” force isn’t inherently good because it offered a gift — that reward invested players and pique the interest of those that never gave a damn about the plot.

It’s a much better storytelling approach from Bungie, hosted by a planet that feels like the studio’s best locations — Dreadnaught and the Dreaming City — blown out to a much larger scale.

The step back

Destiny 2: Beyond Light Guardians pose with new weapons
Some of the new gear and Exotics in Beyond Light
Image: Bungie

What helps Destiny 2: Beyond Light feel so refined is the pruning Bungie did at the start the expansion. Fewer planets to land on, fewer Strikes, and the sunsetting of old weapons force players to rethink their approach. And while all the new content in Beyond Light is some of the best we’ve seen yet, the growing pains of a paired down Destiny are the expansion’s tallest hurdles.

Earlier this year, Bungie announced plans to sunset over 100 weapons, making them essentially useless in most activities. Based on what we’ve played so far, both Destiny 2: Beyond Light and its companion season, Season of the Hunt, will only add about 30 weapons back into the game. This creates a limited pool of usable weapons for all players. For example, thanks to sunsetting, there are only two non-Exotic Machine Guns in the endgame: Seventh Seraph SAW and Thermal Erosion (with a third coming in the raid).

It’s a massive blow for veteran players — losing tons of options we’ve been accustomed to since 2017. And while we certainly expected sunsetting to hurt, the lack of loot in Beyond Light is currently rubbing salt in that wound.

But sunsetting is a minor cut on Beyond Light’s beautiful face. It stings now, but it will heal in time.

Destiny 2: Beyond Light Guardians fight a mech
The Fallen have a new enemy type: Brigs
Image: Bungie

Beyond the launch, Destiny 2: Beyond Light’s lack of content does arouse some concern. Since Bungie became independent from Activision, its two released expansions (Shadowkeep and now Beyond Light) have launched with limited loot pools, implying that Bungie is struggling to hit watermarks it once reached. But Beyond Light’s loot woes are frustrations, not a deathrattle for the expansion or the franchise.

And while gun options may be lacking, the new story missions, Hunts, and abilities are keeping Destiny 2 fresh for me, despite having already logged 2,000 since the launch of the game in 2017. And we’ve still a raid and undiscovered Exotic quests coming in the next few weeks.

The best part about Beyond Light is that it looks and feels like a sequel without needing to start from scratch. A new power set like this isn’t something I expected to see out of an expansion. In that way, Beyond Light answers a question that’s given me serious doubts as a fan: how much can Bungie change Destiny 2 without moving to a new game entirely? For the first time, Beyond Light feels like Destiny 2 is truly putty in Bungie’s hands, rather than a titanic ship that takes eons to turn.

Destiny 2: Beyond Light released Nov. 10 on PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One. The game was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Bungie. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.