The last few seasonal stories in Destiny 2 had been building up the importance an upcoming big bad, Savathûn. She had been manipulating in-game events and characters for years behind the scenes, and now that she’s stepped out of the shadows I can say that she and developer Bungie have more than lived up to the hype. Destiny 2: The Witch Queen is not only one of the best expansions in the franchise’s history, but a crowning (heh) achievement for live service gaming.
The gist of the The Witch Queen is that Savathûn, a God among the Hive (one of the more villainous factions), has somehow gained access to the Light, the very same power that allows Guardians (the good guys) to canonically respawn and combat the enemies of humanity with an array of devastating abilities. After experiencing first-hand that Savathûn can now endow her Hive soldiers with the same space magic that Destiny players have been using for the past seven years, you are given two objectives: find out how Savathûn stole the Light, and destroy her. What follows is the outstanding gunplay Destiny is known for and the best narrative in a Bungie title outside of Halo: Reach, filled with twists and turns that make longtime players question what once were absolutes in the Destiny universe; it’s a tale that I wish I could talk about further, but is undoubtedly best left unspoiled.
Also immediately impressive in The Witch Queen is the new area we are given to explore, Savathûn’s Throne World. A physical manifestation of Savathûn’s mind, the Throne World has the grimy bogs one might expect from a place the Hive would feel at home, but also a weirdly “pure” area that reflects Savathûn’s newest acquisition, the Light. As a whole it’s huge, and has all kinds of offshoots to explore and puzzles to solve. I’m pretty sure I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s hidden there, and I’m very excited to see what other secrets are still waiting for me throughout the as-of-now uncharted land.
Another big win for The Witch Queen is the change-up to classic Hive enemies, many of which are far more dangerous with their Light-based powers. Smaller enemies often have overshields, making mobs that much beefier, and then there are the true Lightbearers, the ones who can can cast the very same super abilities as the player. I found myself running for cover far more often during firefights in The Witch Queen than previous campaigns because of sentinel shield-throwing Knights, blade-barraging Acolytes, and lightning-infused Wizards who all use those attacks to hit just as hard as I do when I use them. And that was just while playing through campaign on the normal setting, not the ultra challenging legendary mode that feels eerily reminiscent of the higher difficulties from the Halo games of old. I’m only about a quarter into my legendary playthrough at the moment, but I’m absolutely loving the intense challenge it offers so far.
Most surprising in The Witch Queen – to me at least – is the new weapon type it introduces, the glaive. As someone who was never over the moon about swords, even when they were being touted as the next big thing in Destiny: The Taken King, I was not expecting much from this new melee weapon. However, I love my glaive. Keeping the melee weapon in first person perspective gives you a much better feel for the close quarter combat than swords, or at least when you’re not shooting enemies with it. Glaive’s medium-ranged blast attacks make them extremely versatile tools, and ones that I genuinely enjoy using, sometimes even more so than shotguns and fusion rifles! Throw in the armor mod that weakens enemies you hit with the bladed staff, and glaives are poised to be a powerful choice for any and all Guardians this season.
There’s a lot to love about The Witch Queen, but it isn’t perfect, mainly because of one glaring issue: the weapon crafting system. While being able to create the perfect stat roll for your weapon of choice is more than welcome, but the pool of craftable firearms is disappointingly small as of now, and the method in which you make them is far from what I expected or was hoping for. Essentially, you need to attune (kill stuff with) multiple, specific versions of the same gun, which are still random drops mind you, and then spend an astronomical amount of resources you get from attuning said weapons to get your curated roll. Even I, someone who rarely minds the grind in Destiny, am already feeling overwhelmed by trying to upgrade just one gun, and I wouldn’t be shocked if/hope those mechanics get an overhaul in the near future.
Weapon crafting may be a big swing and a miss (for now) but Bungie knocked everything else out of the park with Destiny 2: The Witch Queen. It’s a stellar expansion for one of the best sci-fi shooters on the market, delivers on years of build-up while also unveiling shocking truths, and sets up an even more epic future for Destiny; one that that looks different than I could have ever imagined.