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A Narrative Critique of Destiny 2: Lightfall

This is an analysis of the quality of Destiny 2: Lightfall's story. Advertised as the beginning of our end, the Lightfall expansion saw us finally make contact with the Witness and its forces for the first time. But did the story live up to the hype, or did it crumble under the pressure?

A Narrative Critique of Destiny 2: Lightfall

Destiny 2: Lightfall has finally released to much anticipation. Acting as the first of two parts, Lightfall is the beginning of the end of the “Light vs. Darkness” saga in Destiny 2, concluding with The Final Shape next year. While the last year-and-a-half have seen some radical changes in how Destiny presents its storytelling, I submit that Lightfall has one of the worst storylines told in a single expansion or season of Destiny 2. And in this article, I’ll be explaining why this is the case.

This is an analysis and critique of Destiny 2: Lightfall as a story. Gameplay mechanics will only be brought in when narratively relevant. Otherwise, I’ll be solely focusing on discussing the storytelling mechanics of the expansion. This will include plot, characters, themes, and more.

The purpose of this article is not to insult Bungie’s narrative team in any capacity. This article is meant to create and add to discussion surrounding Lightfall’s story, as well as provide feedback for Bungie. While I will be critical of this story, know that I’m in no way attacking anybody — only the material presented. If I use more flavorful language such as “absurd” or “silly,” I am commenting on the story, not on its creators. In short, I dislike the story, not its creator.

Spoilers for the entirety of Destiny 2: Lightfall.

The Good

Although I consider the story as a whole to be poor, there are some genuinely good highlights in the story. They don’t do enough to make up for the faults, but I’d like to highlight these for a few reasons. Firstly, it’d be unfair to only consider the bad points in the story, especially in an objective analysis. Secondly, and more subjectively, it’s nice to have some positivity here and there.

Destiny 2: Lightfall - Opening Cinematic

Worldbuilding & Plot

This opening cinematic has a ton of good narrative queues, and is one of the best moments of the campaign. The space battle immediately establishes a harrowing and losing battle. This is done through the comms between allied pilots being distress calls and casualty reports.

In terms of worldbuilding for the Witness and the Traveler, we finally see both of them show off some great abilities. The Traveler seems to show some offensive capabilities in the form of a massive Light beam. Its effects are consistent with the motifs around Light, those being creation and life. This is shown through the walls of the Witness’s ship transforming into roots and trees.

The Root of Nightmares raid shows more of what the Traveler can do when facing off against the Pyramids.

The Root of Nightmares raid shows more of what the Traveler can do when facing off against the Pyramids.

Meanwhile, it’s immediately established how powerful and formidable the Witness is. Not only is it able to command the Pyramids, but it also can wipe out numerous Guardians and ships with simple gestures. The Witness is clearly the most devastating powerhouse we’ve ever had to face down.

Another small thing; I do like how the Cloud Striders initially refer to us as “Warlords” and “Lightbearers.” It shows that they only knew Guardians in their infancy during the Dark Age, when some Lightbearers became brutal warrior- and bandit-kings.


We see some great subtle character exposition with Zavala, and his reaction to watching numerous pilots die. It’s consistent with what we know of his character, being that of the reluctant warrior archetype. While he will fight and sacrifice everything for his own, that doesn’t mean he will enjoy doing so. Seeing him show sadness as allies fall reinforces that character trait, and I applaud this small but important scene.

Osiris shows an appropriate ambition to get back into the field and start helping again. He’s headstrong and pushing the front line as best he can without his Light. He’s one of the most active characters we’ve seen in any Destiny 2 storyline, especially in Lightfall. It’s also consistent with his portrayal in Curse of Osiris, wherein he intends to stop Panoptes alone in the Infinite Forest.

We also see that Osiris still grieves for Sagira, his late Ghost. It's another trait that elevates his character.

We also see that Osiris still grieves for Sagira, his late Ghost. It’s another trait that elevates his character.

The star character in this expansion is, without a doubt, Calus. Despite his god complex and great power granted by his transformation into a Disciple, it’s clear that this is all for himself. He’s only acting in the best way he sees fit to ensure his survival until the final shape. The one time he lets his ego overtake his faux-devotion to the Witness, and the Witness pushes back against him, Calus immediately crumbles again. He wants to have his cake and eat it too — he wants to serve the Witness but also be the herald of the end.

Speaking of the Witness, Bungie gives this entity some character traits here. It’s a very driven, efficient entity that understands its own power. When something is out of place, it will ensure that it can put it back itself, shown by it shutting down Calus’s monologue. While it’s still very enigmatic, it’s good to finally see the Witness get some character traits to latch onto and analyze.

The Bad

Unfortunately, this is the part that will get the most meat. There will be a lot of unanswerable questions here, as well as contrivances, contradictions, and holes. I’ll try to stick with the biggest ones, but overall the plot is so poorly constructed that it’s hard to accurately note everything wrong with this story.


Here’s the question everyone’s been asking: What is the Veil?! Being the MacGuffin of the story, the Veil and its properties should be well understood by both the characters in the story and the players consuming the story. Unfortunately, we only have the liberally-used “paracausal” adjective to describe the Veil. We can theorize that it’s some amalgamation of the Light and Darkness, but not much more. At the moment, it’s just a battery pack for the CloudArk.

The Veil is a mystery, but because of how central its mechanics are to the stakes, it's more frustrating than intriguing.

The Veil is a mystery, but because of how central its mechanics are to the stakes, it’s more frustrating than intriguing.

Speaking of the CloudArk, it was a mistake to make this sort of network. The Vex feel very ham-fisted in this story, despite us learning that the Neomuni have warred with the Vex for centuries. With that, how is it that we’ve never stumbled upon Neomuna? In this age with powerful sensors and scanners, not one stray explorer has passed by Neptune and noticed a point of paracausal energy? Now have we ever noticed huge sources of power from the CloudArk?

As for the Cloud Striders, what in-universe reason can there only be two at a time? They seem extremely powerful, so it would benefit to have even ten, let alone hundreds. I understand that becoming a Cloud Strider shortens one’s life to the next ten years. But the Neomuni seem very dedicated to protecting their city, and I’d imagine at least more than two at one time would want to go through with this sacrifice. 

If the Vex are an excusable ham-fisting, then Strand is a complete sucker punch to the plot. We discover it as soon as we land on Neptune, with no connection to any prior story. Its flimsy origin being that of the Veil makes its inclusion narratively worse because we don’t know what the Veil is.

Strand, the new subclass element in Destiny 2, is extremely fun to play, but the story behind it feels rushed in.

Strand, the new subclass element in Destiny 2, is extremely fun to play, but the story behind it feels rushed in.

When we finally reach the Veil and defeat Calus, the Witness achieves its goals… I think. The Veil being poorly explained could be excused if its role caused actual consequences to occur within the universe. Yet, when the Witness makes its positively contrived link with the Veil, it opens up a portal on the Traveler and — leaves? What happened? How did we lose? On the surface, if anything, it would almost seem like the Witness just goes away. Obviously with some inference, the Witness achieved something, but it hasn’t immediately affected us in any capacity. So, again, what exactly did we lose?


I wish the Cloud Striders were great characters. Bungie had hyped them up with their intriguing concepts; while the Traveler chose us for immortality, they chose to shorten their lives for the power to protect humanity. Unfortunately, their actual characters are extremely disappointing.

Rohan barely qualifies as a character. He’s the older, wiser mentor of Nimbus and… that’s about it. We have the necessary traits of being heroic and selfless in order to save his city, but we never explore further than that. We don’t see any early life, a reason to become a Cloud Strider, or a deeper mentor-mentee relationship with Nimbus. He’s extremely flat, so the vast majority of the audience met his sacrifice with a resoundingly sarcastic “oh no!”

Nimbus and Rohan were characterized poorly, with little complexity to them.

Nimbus and Rohan were characterized poorly, with little complexity to them.

While Rohan gets little-to-no character, Nimbus fares worse by actively trying to be resented. They’re the young pup to Rohan’s old wolf, and we see a more jovial and free-spirited character in them — to their detriment. The nonstop awkward quips, sarcasm, and jokes in the most inappropriate times makes it extremely difficult to try to empathize with Nimbus. They remorselessly poke at Rohan for being dead, as well as quipping about Calus seconds after his death in front of Caiatl. Other little actions and character traits show that Nimbus just doesn’t seem to care about their surroundings.

Caiatl herself was heavily underutilized this expansion. Though we did explore her relationship with her father numerous times beforehand, this expansion was the downfall and death of her father, and she hardly reconciles with it. Even though she declares “my father is dead” in Season of the Haunted, she should be extremely emotional in some way due to seeing Calus dead.

Caiatl was underutilized in the story of Lightfall. There were many moments where she could have been exploding with character.

Caiatl was underutilized in the story of Lightfall. There were many moments where she could have been exploding with character.

Another angle would be to make her distant and quiet, lashing out at those who try to pry into her thoughts. But she’s just fine with the situation, I suppose. She’s more annoyed than offended that Nimbus joked about Calus’s death in front of her. It almost seems like Calus was just another enemy to her, which would be an interesting mindset to explore, but we don’t.


There are way, way too many issues with the structure of the plot. Other than the ones that fell into the other categories above, here’s a list of some of the issues with the plot:

  • The Witness wants Calus to destroy the Veil before it can make the link. One could argue that this was to deceive us, since it knowingly broadcast this to us through our Ghost. But Calus probably wasn’t in on the plan for his early death. What if Calus succeeded? And how did Osiris not suspect that this was a trick?
  • What is the Radiant Spire? Where did it come from?
  • How was Rohan’s self-destruction able to destroy the paracausal object that is the Radiant Spire? The story established that only Strand would be able to destroy the Radiant Spire.
  • When the Witness takes our Ghost to make the link, why is our first idea to shoot him? Why didn’t Nimbus fly up earlier? Why didn’t we jump up or Strand grapple to him?
  • What was the Witness doing between the first and last cutscenes? Was it just standing there in front of the Traveler? Why didn’t it personally oversee the link with/destruction of the Veil?
  • As cool as it was to hang onto a ship entering lightspeed, the Guardian should probably be dead from that.
Destiny 2: Lightfall seems to prioritize spectacle over internal consistency in many cases.

Destiny 2: Lightfall seems to prioritize spectacle over internal consistency in many cases.


Destiny 2: Lightfall’s campaign was disappointing. The prior year, while flawed, had some of the best stories in Destiny’s history. Bungie had seemed to hit their storytelling stride, but then we were delivered this story. I made a list that ranked each story from The Witch Queen from worst to best. If this expansion were on that list, it would go at the very bottom (yes, even beneath Season of Plunder). While there are some highlights to the story — and the gameplay is fantastic — this is one of the most confusing and convoluted stories Bungie has ever released. I am praying that The Final Shape does not follow Lightfall’s narrative example.

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