This review in progress of Destiny 2’s The Witch Queen expansion is based on ~35 hours of playing, which includes completing the main story and most of the side content. However, the new raid and any endgame content that may follow doesn’t debut until March 5, after which we will release a final, updated review and score.
The reason I’ve stuck with Destiny for more than seven years, through both its highest highs and lowest lows, has everything to do with its incredibly strong foundation. Even when things like a poorly told story or a lack of content have held it back, firing magical space weapons and throwing flaming hammers at aliens just feels good! And while the past few expansions were adequate but flawed iterations that kept my appetite fed, The Witch Queen feels like a breakthrough that finally realizes the long-running looter shooter’s greatest potential. This latest update provides not only Destiny’s first truly phenomenal story alongside a campaign that’s both challenging and memorable, but also a weapon crafting system that’s a godsend for hardcore devotees like myself, new light-wielding enemies that completely evolve the flow of combat, and new takes on some old abilities to refreshingly shake up the meta. There’s no doubt about it – Destiny 2: The Witch Queen is the best Destiny’s ever been.
Destiny has always struggled to balance its rich lore between action-packed campaigns and cutscenes, which at times border on the nonsensical, and the item descriptions and “grimoire” lore entries where many of its world’s most important details are squirreled away. Even if you’ve been following the story for a long while, it would be understandable if you have almost no idea what’s actually going on most of the time. But Bungie has spent the last several years changing that, introducing meaningful story developments and characters that feel more three-dimensional than they have in the past. Nowhere is that more apparent than in The Witch Queen which, for the very first time, doesn’t just tell a passable story but an actively compelling one.
The star of the show is The Witch Queen herself – Savathûn, the Hive God of Deception – who has succeeded in claiming the almighty power of The Light for herself and her Hive brood. But her story is much more than the usual monster of the week fanfare where we drive a tank through her face and emote on her corpse in glorious fashion. Instead, we get to know her life and motivations, understanding her to be more than a purely evil entity out to destroy us – and as the events unfold, we’re treated to multiple, jaw-dropping twists and turns that make the rollercoaster ride much more enjoyable. There are still a ton of references to characters and lore that make the plot harder to follow if you haven’t been meticulously keeping up with Destiny’s wild escapades over the past year in particular, but that’s almost unavoidable at this point and doesn’t stop this story from being entertaining even if you’re playing catchup.
The campaign isn’t very long (I was able to get through it in a 24-hour period on the hardest difficulty), but it’s unique, difficult, and more inventive than any Destiny campaign before it – to the point where it’s actually not even close. The biggest addition is the Become Legend mode, which increases combat difficulty and adds challenging mechanics like limited revives for teammates. For those who would rather not just blow through the campaign immediately, Become Legend serves as a daunting, rewarding adventure that makes Savathûn and her ilk feel like a force to be reckoned with and makes victory in the end that much sweeter, especially since the loot you get out of it is absolutely worth the trouble.
The campaign also includes the notable addition of puzzle mechanics to levels and boss fights that have been almost exclusively gated behind raids and Destiny’s endgame content up until this point. Now, instead of just standing on a plate or scanning an artifact before shooting a boss to death, you might have to remember a set of symbols and fight your way through the halls of a palace searching for the door with a matching set before the boss can be damaged. These interactions never approach anything as complex as proper raid mechanics, but instead feel like a perfect entry level for more casual players or those looking for a less sweat-inducing experience. They make all the difference too, because completing the campaign is no longer a matter of mindlessly running and gunning for a handful of hours before credits roll. Now you have to contend with platforming and weird occult magic while dodging fire from some extremely rude baddies.
Speaking of baddies, one of the new challenges you’ll face is the fearsome, badass Light-bearing Hive: immortal monsters with many of the same abilities your own character possesses. In fact, they can even be endlessly revived by their Ghost to fight you again and again, which is honestly terrifying. In combat, these Hive Guardians can wield the Light to slam you with devastating supers, many of which can kill you in a single hit. Victory against these formidable foes requires smart gunplay, patience, and most importantly, that you remember to quickly run and crush the enemy Ghost before it can revive them. A challenging new enemy type that forces you to think about how you approach an encounter like this is exactly what Destiny has needed to spruce up combat . Knocking them out then smashing their Ghosts in my hand has been the highlight of my time with The Witch Queen.
Once you’re done with the campaign, there’s a whole new area to explore in Savathûn’s Throne World, a pocket dimension that’s a magical, otherworldly representation of her mind. The Patrol Zone is fairly similar to things we’ve already seen before in Destiny, but it does have my new favorite character: Fynch, a Hive Ghost who betrays his own to help you save the day. This sassy little conscientious objector serves as your guide through much of The Witch Queen’s action and is absolutely brimming with memorable one-liners in one of the best voice performances Destiny has enjoyed. It makes exploring the Hive God’s mind a lot more enjoyable, even when you’re running the usual chores like Patrols and Lost Sectors.
Of all the new frontiers The Witch Queen offers though, none are so enticing as the long-awaited weapon crafting feature, which is a joyous windfall for RPG nerds like myself. Now, instead of relentlessly grinding the same activities over and over in hopes of getting that perfect weapon with all the right perks you were looking for, you can simply craft it to your exact specifications. There are a few caveats, though. First, doing so is every bit as needlessly complex as you might expect from Destiny, forcing you to juggle a bunch of new, confusingly named currencies in a process so hilariously dense you’ll get whiplash coming at it straight from the fast-paced battlefield. And second, building your perfect weapon requires (wait for it) a whole lot of grinding! That’s right – the new system that lets you avoid the grind for the perfect weapon is replaced by a different grind to level up a mediocre weapon until it’s powerful enough to be crafted into its final form. The good news is now you at least always know there will be a definitive and predictable end to the grind instead of playing endlessly hoping RNG will be kind to you, but killing thousands of enemies and completing dozens of activities just to level up a single weapon is still quite a climb.
The weapon crafting system also impacts just about every aspect of how you’ll play Destiny going forward, in that now you’ll likely be using less-than-ideal weapons in order to level up ones you’d like to fine tune via crafting. And since one of the ways you gain the resources necessary for crafting is by using randomly dropped (and usually bad) weapons until you fill up a progress bar, my loadout was usually a bizarre mish-mash of weapons in their awkward puberty stage before they become useful for the endgame. That injects a bit of amusing variety into the day-to-day grind, but also means you’re rarely using weapons you fully enjoy for most of the time you’re working your way through the expansion.
One entirely welcome addition in The Witch Queen is a new weapon archetype called the glaive, which is a polearm that can be used to block incoming fire, attack enemies in melee range, and fire projectiles to hit others from a distance. It’s been a few years since Destiny got a proper new weapon type and this one shakes things up in a big way as the first melee/ranged hybrid option. So far the experiment is a glowing success! Glaives are a lot of fun to use, play a major role in the Destiny weapons ecosystem, and don’t feel overpowered at the moment (until someone inevitably devises a completely broken build to exploit them, as is tradition at this point).
The other major sandbox change is Void 3.0, an overhaul of one of the four power types guardians can choose from. After Stasis abilities were introduced with Beyond Light in 2020, the legacy abilities of Void, Arc, and Solar have all felt out of balance by comparison – and at times even completely unviable. Void 3.0 is an attempt to fix that in part by bringing one of the other ability groups into parity with Stasis. The new customization options completely changed the way I thought about my Void abilities and have the much-needed benefit of making it so my guardian doesn’t play identically to every other guardian at my side. Now two characters using the same subclass might be equipped with two entirely different super abilities, grenades, and perks that fundamentally change how they operate, which mixes things up for the better in PvE and PvP alike.
The downside is that it’s only a partial fix, as the two other subclasses (Arc and Solar) remain very much in the dust. Seeing them in the wild has been a rarity in the days following The Witch Queen’s release. Bungie has said it plans to bring the other subclasses into parity over the next year or so, but in the meantime the meta remains very much imbalanced in a way that discourages you from using half of the abilities on offer.
And that’s a trend that arises quite frequently when playing The Witch Queen. While just about every inch of the content added does everything right, its shortcomings are instead defined by what isn’t there. That’s embodied perfectly by the complete lack of additions both to Destiny’s PvP modes and the PvE/PvP hybrid mode Gambit. Once you step out of the excellent campaign and new content around it, which you’ll almost certainly need to do during the grind to the endgame, you’ll find that absolutely nothing has been added to Crucible – no new game modes and not a single map. This isn’t a new trend either as Bungie has largely left their PvP options rotting on the vine, even removing a whopping eleven maps from their playlists without replacing them and going on almost two years without adding a new one. Similarly, Gambit has had its maps reduced to just four, and only minor changes have been made to it over the years despite it being easily the most unenjoyable mode Destiny has.
We used to expect Crucible maps and the occasional game mode to be added with each major content release, but The Witch Queen is yet another expansion that largely ignores the issues. It’s getting harder to overlook that when Crucible and Gambit are stood up as such large cornerstones of what players are expected to do.
Another thing that’s missing from The Witch Queen is any sort of improved introduction for new players, which is especially painful considering that this expansion makes an already convoluted world even more complex with weapon crafting and Void 3.0. If you don’t already know how to play Destiny 2, the odds of you figuring it out without a very kind and very patient friend are infinitesimally small. I’d like everyone to enjoy the truly awesome stuff The Witch Queen has to offer, but while its sure to excite existing Destiny fans, it’s also hard to recommend it to the uninitiated in its current state.
I’ll be playing The Witch Queen every day leading up to the raid on March 5 and will undoubtedly have more to say once I’ve seen everything this already fantastic expansion has to offer. Look for our final review once I’ve had a chance to conquer what is sure to be The Witch Queen’s most daunting challenge, even after a campaign full of them.
Source: IGN Video Games All