Destiny 2: The Witch Queen is Bungie’s most ambitious piece of content within the franchise to date. Join us as we explore what’s new, what works, and what has yet to prove itself in the crucible of time.
Drawing from over eight years of lorecrafting and tweaking game systems, Destiny 2: The Witch Queen is Bungie’s most ambitious piece of content within the franchise to date. Long-time players, publications, and members of the development alike are considering this expansion to be like or even surpass Destiny: The Taken King in its scope. If you are new to Destiny as a franchise, that is exceptionally high praise.
The Story So Far… With As Few Spoilers As Possible
Our story picks up following the events of Beyond Light by unfolding the situation that sent us to Europa for answers. Mars, one of the planets pulled from the Sol system by (presumably) the Black Fleet, has reappeared - scarred by temporal anomalies. With Savathûn’s trickery leaving the Vanguard and the Queen of the Reef reeling, the timing of this emergence could only be linked to the Hive god of trickery.
The reappearance of Mars has also caught the attention of the Cabal - who once held a significant foothold on the red giant. Fighting against time, our Guardians connect with Ikora Rey and Eris Morn as they try to unlock the secrets of this newest enigma of The Darkness… only to have Savathûn’s Throne World manifest before them.
Desperate to catch Savathûn in a weakened state, we enter this pocket dimension in space and time to discover a terrible truth: the Hive… the same ravenous, death-driven ravagers of star systems and genociders of a thousand societies now wield the one thing that we assumed separated us from them: the Light. This Lucent Brood now wields our powers, but how? Is this all one of Savathûn’s twisted machinations? Was it really the Light? If so, was it stolen from the Traveler? Or, do we dare ask the worst: was the Light freely given to the Hive?
“It is the mind which must bend to see the truths hidden here.” - Eris Morn
These questions, and more, send us into a journey of discovery to uncover where the truth truly lies and what lies have been easier to believe than the truth. We will rely on a new power bestowed on us by the Darkness: the power of Deepsight. Deepsight allows us to see into the past as we seek clues to unravel the present and prepare for the future.
The Campaign: Become Legend, Survive the Truth
Destiny 2: The Witch Queen’s main campaign feels very full without feeling like it is bloated. The main story consists of eight missions and two new story-associated strikes. These missions aren’t short, either; they typically involve around two or three major boss encounters, a smattering of puzzles, rich story delivery, and loot - a handsome amount of loot.
With this campaign, Bungie returns to the Halo formula for engaging gameplay: provide bursty loops of fun with meaningful rewards along the way. After each major encounter, players are rewarded with a chest containing equipment engrams (typically two) along with Upgrade Modules to ensure players feel like they are progressing as they play.
Not only is the story engaging and the loot generous, Destiny 2: The Witch Queen’s campaign can be played on a scaling Legendary mode. The Legendary mode adds difficulty modifiers to each level, including locking player Power at 15 below the recommended level for the missions. This difficulty provides players with an incredible (but not insurmountable) challenge, rewarding them with a full set of 1520 Power Level gear, the choice of a class-specific Exotic armor piece, and a special emblem to flex.
From an experience standpoint, I played through both to get a feel for the difference. In the normal campaign, there are still challenges, but it provides an incredible entry point for players new or returning to Destiny 2. The Legendary campaign, however, does require a bit more strategy in both loadouts and how a player approaches encounters. As someone who typically plays a more aggressive Code of the Missle (aka Yeetus Deletus) Titan, I found that I had to play smarter, calculating my attacks based on the cover available to me instead of the raw strength of throwing my Arc-charged body at my enemies.
Even after the campaign is over, there are a number of post-story missions to participate in and a number of secrets to uncover within Savathûn’s Throne World. Players can work alongside Ikora’s Hidden agents to unravel the events of the campaign, team up with Queen of the Awoken to find a new host for Savathûn’s recently exorcized worm, build reputation with the plucky new vendor named Fynch, and participate in a new six player playlist-style defense- or offensive-based activity called Wellspring for special Throne World weapons and armor.
The Story Continues: Season of the Risen
It is also important to note that there is significant overlap with the seasonal content that dropped alongside The Witch Queen. This is incredible for the health of Destiny’s story as previous expansions developed a story thread for a while, only for its significance to be largely forgotten within the next season’s content. By the end of Beyond Light, this did improve, The Witch Queen seems to be going all-in on cohesive storytelling.
In Season of the Risen, the strength of our armistice with the Cabal’s Empress Caiatl is tested as we traded blows with her people on Mars. Both sides opened fire on each other, while justifying their actions “for the greater good.” I guess the ancient rite of “finder’s keepers” doesn’t quite work here.
After an in-person meeting in the Tower, the Vanguard and the Empress agree that the true enemy of their respective races is not each other, it is the one manipulating threads of discord wherever it can. To get to the bottom of this, a plan is devised to “hack” the minds of Lucent Brood lieutenants in order to unlock more of Savathûn’s secrets.
Within this season, players will experience weekly story missions, participate in the mind-bending PsiOps Battlegrounds, and unlock two seasonal Exotic weapons: the Grand Overture heavy machine gun and the Dead Messenger grenade launcher.
The Shape Yet Formed: Weapons Crafting
Speaking of weapons, we need to talk about one of the newest aspects to Destiny 2: weapons crafting. While we have technically crafted Exotic weapons through questlines, the crafting system added in The Witch Queen goes a bit further and makes it a little more personal. This new system is grounded within the narrative by an artifact stolen from Savathûn, which becomes a new weapon arcitype, the glaive. More on that in a bit.
To progress this system, you will pick up specific weapons that contain Deepsight Resonance. These weapons must be used to attune them to yourself to learn their secrets. Once the attunement is completed, you will have the choice of rewards from a series of Resonant materials. These materials are used back at the Enigma on Mars to “Shape” or “Reshape” weapons.
Once a pattern is learned through a series of attunements, a weapon can be Shaped and then grown through usage. As you progress a weapon's levels, perks available to that weapon can be unlocked along with advanced versions at higher levels. Each weapon Shaped is stamped with the date it was created.
This new system does provide another layer of progression to the game, but I do have some extreme concerns with its viability long-term. The biggest concern is that (at the time of writing this review) there is an extremely rare material, Ascendant Alloy, that only seems to be available once a week or, by chance, through higher-level activities… that are locked behind a reputation vendor.
Where this is most concerning for me is in unlocking enhanced traits. At the moment, I did not have a wide enough sampling of weapons unlocked to determine whether or not unlocked Enhanced Traits are specific to the weapon they are unlocked for or if they are unlocked for all weapons that Trait is available to. Even breaking it down to the latter, unlocking Enhanced Traits costs one Ascendant Alloy (along with other resources) - which, if you remember, are only acquired through extremely limited sources, especially right out of the gate.
If a player is looking at unlocking all six available Enhanced Traits for a weapon like the Red Herring rocket launcher shown above, that is six Ascendant Alloy… at 400 Legendary Shards a pop… once a week. Keeping in mind that Legendary Shards drop in very small quantities (0 - 4 pear Legendary) from disassembled equipment, which means you would need to disassemble over 100 Legendary items per week for one Ascendant Alloy.
This may not be a big deal for veteran players with a Vault full of fodder and stuffed coffers, but it is extremely prohibitive for New Lights. With 29 weapons (counting the Osteo Strigga Exotic SMG - which requires three Ascendant Alloys to unlock the catalyst), we are looking at an astronomical amount of resources and time to upgrade a single weapon… that will likely get replaced when some new hotness drops.
Do you need to unlock all the Enhanced Traits on a weapon? No. But for someone who is completely and self-awarely neurotic when it comes to leveling professions in MMOs, this system, as I perceive it, drives me batty!
I do, however, want to extend a bit of grace right now with this because we are still in the infancy of the expansion. The sources for finding these materials do increase as you gain access to higher level weekly story missions and more challenging Wellspring activities. Even with this considered, there is opportunity for the system to mature and be tuned as we move throughout the year of content.
I could be experiencing this system all wrong, but for now, I am just going to hoard materials… and wait.
To the Third Power: The Beginnings of Light 3.0
In Destiny 2: The Witch Queen, our ability to wield the Light has grown with our embrace of the powers of the Darkness. Following in the footsteps of the Stasis subclass from Beyond Light, players now have a broader range of customization of their Void tree. Each class retains many of their main Super abilities, but they are now augmented by Aspects and Fragments.
This gives players a broader spectrum of control within the subclass and greater utility for their playstyle. I mentioned earlier that I have recently been playing a more aggressive Arc-based Titan. With Void 3.0, my tactics have adapted to building around enemy suppression and weakening while providing myself with enough survivability to tackle high end content.
This customization is a great step forward for players who enjoy the freedom to buildcraft within RPGs. I am looking forward to seeing how Bungie grows the Solar and Arc subclasses in the future.
Oh, don’t worry Cuirass of the Falling Star… I’ll be back.
Stab? Guard? Shoot? Why Not All Three?
Adding to the rich arsenal of Destiny 2, The Witch Queen drops a new weapon in the sandbox: the glaive. We talked about its place in the narrative above, but what IS the glaive, how does it work, and what are our first impressions of it?
As mentioned prior, the glaive serves as our introduction to weapons crafting (or Shaping), but in practice, it is a versatile special weapon for mid- to close ranged combat. For all of those people wanting to live out their Stargate fantasies (well, at least the ones involving a Ma’Tok staff), the glaive’s primary firing mode shoots an energy-based projectile. The secondary fire raises an energy shield capable of blocking projectiles for a time.
Since this is a crafted weapon type, players can modify the glaive to lean heavier in defensive or offensive modes with a degree of swing in between. With perks like Impulse Amplifier and Frenzy, The Enigma (the glaive everyone learns to craft at the beginning) seems to favor a more aggressive play style while still offering traits that enhance survivability.
One thing that the glaive does - whether intentionally or not, is that it finally makes sense of a mechanic that never did in Destiny before: melee attacks from bladed weapons do not consume ammo. While equipped, the glaive’s melee command replaces the player’s melee power in favor of its blade.
With the release of The Witch Queen, Bungie has taken Destiny 2 several steps in the right direction. The length of the campaign is nearly perfect and when coupled with higher difficulties as well as replayable campaign missions, Destiny 2: The Witch Queen delivers a stunning experience of rewarding gameplay that values a player’s time investment within it. All of that would be incredible on its own, but these are backed by incredibly well-developed stories and mysteries that have yet to be uncovered. It is a truly awesome thing to be a witness to!
Some players (including myself) reported sluggish UI issues on the PC side of things following launch. Anecdotally, the PC I use for reviews is no slouch and I have seen Destiny run extremely well on a range of hardware. So, it makes me wonder if this was just a launch week hiccup or if there is something more going on behind the scenes. Maybe it's just Telesto striking again. My experience with the issue didn’t break the game, but it has made me twitch before trying to swap loadouts during an encounter.
Outside of this issue, I truly believe that Destiny 2 is in the best place that we have seen the game since launch. I would also go so far to say that I truly believe that The Witch Queen is the beginning of what I think could be the greatest years of content for Destiny as a franchise. All of this is built on the shoulders of eight years of deep lore development fostered by Bungie, disseminated within the community, and consumed in formats that are getting easier and easier to digest. Bungie has a history of creating amazing stories, but they just keep getting better at the ways they are telling them.
While the story may be turning to darker dimensions, the future of Destiny 2 could not be more bright.
Full disclosure: A copy of this game was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.