After this long, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Destiny 2: The Witch Queen would be spinning its tires, or coasting on years of momentum, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. With this fourth expansion, Bungie’s magnum opus reaches its highest peak yet, simultaneously honouring its past, setting the table for an exciting year, and planting narrative seeds that will bear fruit for years to come.
In The Witch Queen, players discover that Savathun, one of the leaders of the Hive, has somehow stolen the power of the Traveler’s Light—the same power which fuels the player-characters of Destiny, the Guardians. With this stolen gift, she now commands fearsome lieutenants that use Ghosts to wield Light-based powers and come back to life when slain, just like we do. In order to find what happened and take the Light back, Guardians will head to Savathun’s Throne World, a twisted plane born from the Hive goddess’ own psyche.
The Witch Queen’s story is a considerable epic which builds upon the previous tent pole, Beyond Light, as it turns out that the Darkness powers Guardians unlocked in that story are pivotal to solving the mystery. Players will work closely with Ikora Rey, Eris Morn, and a defecting Hive Ghost known as Fynch as they untangle Savathun’s web, and learn galaxy-shaking truths in the process.
As a long-time player, I absolutely loved the campaign experience. The storytelling has never been more succinct and expressive than it is here. Older plot lines were relevant, long-running NPCs were present and integral, and the third act brought up a whole plethora of additional questions for the future. If the base experience isn’t enough, there’s a new Legendary variant which can be played from the start, and rewards those who can overcome it with impressive gear and exclusive rewards.
But after the dust had settled, I had to wonder: what would The Witch Queen look like to someone who booted up the game today, for the very first time?
I first played the Destiny series shortly after it launched; I picked it up alongside my PS4, and it’s been a mainstay for me ever since. It’s a game I dust off each season (and for almost every Iron Banner event), just to see what’s going on in the story or blow off some steam. I consider its engine the best FPS engine out there today, taking the best of what Bungie created with Halo and making it really soar with a more fantastical backdrop.
However, it’s been a rocky road. The series’ lore has always been under told, first through in-game codexes and text dumps. The gameplay is tight and features a great variety of foes and modes, but I often wonder if most players understand why we’re taking part in these glorious gunfights. Even browsing its listings on storefronts is confusing—which of these obtusely-named products does a new player need to buy?—and I often hesitate to recommend it, despite how much I adore it.
“The Witch Queen is probably the best expansion in Destiny 2, if not the entire series.”
The Witch Queen is probably the best expansion in Destiny 2, if not the entire series. But it would take a lecture’s worth of backstory to truly help newcomers wrap their heads around the series’ core concepts—like Light, Darkness, Guardians, Ghosts, the Traveler, etc—and unlike something like, say, Final Fantasy XIV, you can’t just grind your way through all the previous storylines, with half of the Destiny 2 experience vaulted. The “New Light” system helps get newcomers up to speed with the current power baseline, but I question if it does the whole narrative justice.
This impenetrability aside, a suite of new features and subtle revisions continue Bungie’s ongoing mission to keep the game fresh and sand down its rough edges.
A new system for weapon crafting is here, allowing players much more versatility than the Black Armory did in Forsaken. Players can learn the “pattern” for certain weapons by using them, then craft their own variants and choose the perks for them, instead of hoping the right combination of features drops on the right weapon. Resources for this are hard to come by at first, and it replaces one kind of grinding for another, but it’s a fun mechanic that should alleviate some monotony for gear-focused players, and could be used to better effect as the expansion goes on.
The first thing players will craft is a new weapon type, the Glaive. It’s been some time since a new weapon type was added to Destiny 2, and a melee one at that. I was skeptical about the idea of a first-person melee weapon, but all that hesitance is gone, and to my surprise, I had mine equipped through the rest of the campaign instead of my trusty Felwinter’s Lie.
Glaives can be used indefinitely, regardless of ammo, unlike swords in the Power weapon slot. They also use ammo for a mighty ranged shot, which I was delighted to find is incredibly useful. Reloading the basic glaive takes considerable time until you can reshape the weapon with a better perk, but it’s a fair trade when one shot can down most regular enemies. This bit of versatility and variety has big ramifications in a game where you replay content this much.
If you use Void subclasses often, you’re in for a treat with The Witch Queen, as they have been reworked to match the Stasis model introduced in Beyond Light. This area has needed a makeover for ages, as it’s always been a somewhat obtuse menu. However, as someone who plays an Arc Warlock 90% of the time, I’m left feeling some FOMO. When Arc and Solar subclasses are brought up to this standard, there should be much rejoicing.
Overall, vendor NPCs have been adjusted for more clarity and simplicity, giving you a better idea of what your engrams will unlock and such. Chests that drop after major encounters in each campaign mission keep the Upgrade Modules flowing, making the climb from power level 1350 to the soft cap at 1500 much less painful. The redundant H.E.L.M. zone is still there, but otherwise the whole game has had a couple of subtle adjustments that add up to a profound difference.
If I could change one thing, though, I’d do away with the arbitrary—and thankfully, relatively sparse—rune puzzles, where you have to shoot certain Hive runes in particular orders to unlock doors. Beyond the tedium of this mechanic, it’s used in an area you visit multiple times, but changes between visits. It felt like a make-work puzzle, a pimple on an otherwise remarkable visage.
The Witch Queen owes much to Savathun’s Throne World, where the vast majority of the new campaign takes place. This Lovecraftian locale is one of the most visually stimulating and diverse environments in the game’s history, and quickly shot to the top of my list of favourite destinations. Born from the titular queen’s psyche, it’s a fascinating intersection of Darkness and Light (the powers themselves), and also the closest thing we’ve seen to a “home world” for the Hive.
I’m genuinely excited about checking into this game weekly for the foreseeable future, in a way that I haven’t been since the sequel launched. Destiny has always been a great companion game to whatever your main title du jour may be, and with the standard set by this expansion, that weekly check-in experience is going to be more enjoyable than ever… for established players, at least.
If you’re uninitiated but curious, I would implore you to do a little homework and give Destiny 2 a fair shot. The game gatekeeps itself, unfortunately, but once you pass through that gate, the experience is one of the best first-person shooters of the generation. With The Witch Queen, it’s truly realizing the potential its faithful have always seen in it.