Bungie has welcomed a long-teased adversary to the game in a new expansion that does a lot of things right.
There's no denying that at its original release, Destiny 2 left a lot to be desired. It felt empty, repetitive, and lacked a lot of the recent improvements that make the looter-shooter feel refreshing and inventive. This very approach carried on over the first year, where we were delivered the basic and quite dull expansions that were Curse of Osiris and Warmind, but thankfully, Bungie pulled itself together and rectified a lot of wrongs in the stellar Forsaken expansion. Since then, we've had Shadowkeep and Beyond Light, two more expansions that brought a lot of new features, some of which have been met with a little bit of flak (we're looking at you Champions), and while both were interesting, they lacked the gravity in their narratives that is becoming increasingly necessary to give this fantastic science-fiction universe the push towards its ultimate end goal. Now, the latest expansion, Destiny 2: The Witch Queen, is out and available, and has been teased for quite some time with the promise to serve up and tackle some thought-provoking areas and offer truly ground-breaking moments that have been missing ever since Cayde was assassinated at the start of Forsaken. Without foreshadowing too much, The Witch Queen delivers, and more.
As you can probably tell from the name of the expansion, this story revolves around the Hive faction's Witch Queen, Savathûn. Long-time Destiny players will know of this character quite well, thanks to the repeated mentions of her name throughout lore over the years, but this marks the first time we ever truly get to meet her, in her own form, in-game. Savathûn is brutal, cunning, a master of chaos, and is an incredibly powerful, near immortal being, more so now she managed to tame and manipulate the Traveler's Light to use as her own. This is pretty much what the narrative revolves around, figuring out how Savathûn claimed the Light for herself and her subjects, and what her plans for it include. It's a story that is unlike anything we've seen before in Destiny history as its a morally ambiguous tale and asks your Guardian, a stalwart champion of good, to question their own existence, thanks to the introduction of Lightbearing Hive warriors that use Ghosts to evade the clutches of the grim reaper.
The elite enemy types that are Champions have served as a way to ramp up the difficulty of Destiny 2 over the past few years, which is something the game has needed due to the ever more powerful nature of the Guardians. But, these enemies are frustrating to play against as they funnel you into using modifications and specific weapons to be able to defeat them. Lightbearing enemies are a different kind of challenge, one that is refreshing but also often a massive task to overcome. These foes can channel the Light to cast versions of Guardians' supers to make for incredibly lethal abilities that if not approached correctly will reduce you to ashes. Acolytes can cast Solar daggers similar to the Hunters' Gunslinger subclass, Knights can hurl Void shields around alike a Sentinel Titan, and Wizards will fry you with bolts of lightning in the same way that a Stormcaller Warlock would. And the similarities extend further, as each one of these enemies can use class abilities as each Guardian class would, making certain Acolytes suddenly a nuisance to fight as they flip and dodge shots as a nimble Hunter would.
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But, with all this being said, and the reason why The Witch Queen is such an ambiguous expansion is because alike Guardians, Lightbearing Hive can resurrect upon death, meaning there's only one way to prevent this from happening: crushing their Ghosts. The action of doing so is satisfying and animated in such a way that it's almost therapeutic, but it's also unsettling, as the Guardians have to set their sights on something so similar to them, something that is blessed with the same essence of purity and virtue as they are, and that raises questions within yourself, with your Ghost, with the Vanguard, and to an extent, to Savathûn herself.
All of these questions are posed and subsequently handled within the campaign, which this time around acts more like a standalone campaign than anything we've ever really seen in a Destiny 2 expansion before. You can play it all, mission after mission without ever really being limited by your Light level, and this is the case because the missions themselves are longer, broader, and deeper, and serve up rewards in each mission at multiple intervals in the same way that a raid would. Bungie has even gone a step further by offering up two difficulty options to play it on as well, with newer or less capable players able to select the Be Brave option that removes a lot of the challenge in favour of a more approachable experience, whereas veterans can choose the Become Legend mode for a far more gruelling experience that offers up better rewards for your troubles. The latter is ideal for those who want to quickly advance through the typical, and admittedly quite dull process of progressing towards the Light power cap once again.
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As for where this story is told, the new location, Savathûn's Throne World, is a harrowing and yet oddly beautiful locale. It has the evil and unforgiving appearance of Hive architecture but presents it in a polarising, pure, whitewashed fashion that is once again polarised by the surrounding dank and rotten swamps. As you'd hope for a Destiny 2 location, it's absolutely riddled with secrets and problems to uncover, be it new Lost Sectors, Public Events, mini-bosses, and mysteries, and is an ideal place for the most versed of Destiny code breakers to lose countless hours to.
Those out there who long for the grind will find The Witch Queen all the more satisfying thanks to the introduction of weapon crafting, which adds a variety of new materials and resources to amass and challenges to complete. It's a system that brings a new level of freedom to how you select your weapons and is ground-breaking in this regard, even if it will require you to sacrifice an arm and a leg to truly get the most value out of it. Assuming you do, however, you'll be rewarded with perfectly designed weapons, including the new Glaives, which make swords look antiquated and make you beg the question of where Glaives have been all your life.
While Bungie has been in the process of fine tuning the Destiny 2 experience for years at this point (for example, altering vendors and changing how ammo works), something The Witch Queen does definitely benefit from, there are still elements that feel archaic to me. As I mentioned earlier, the campaign helps with the power grind, but having to come to terms with finding 210 levels of power over the season feels exhausting and a little bit pointless, and so does the relentless grind of completing bounties for marginal sums of experience, all so that you can level vendors for better gear and items. Bungie is working on bettering the game however, and the inclusion of Void 3.0, which changes the Light class into a reflection of how the massively customisable Stasis operates, will make you look at Solar and Arc as though they are Fallen Dregs standing next to a Kell. It's that much of an improvement to the experience.
All of this culminates to the fact that Destiny 2: The Witch Queen is the best version of Destiny 2 we've ever seen. The campaign is ground-breaking and thoroughly engaging, the new enemies challenging yet fulfilling to fight, the world shrouded in mystery and dripping in exploration opportunities. Everything Bungie has done to lead up to this point, including delaying the expansion months has worked brilliantly. It's given me faith that the direction the story is going will ultimately provide a pay-off unlike anything we've seen before in games, something similar to what Marvel achieved with the Infinity Saga, and has also proved that the desperately long wait following Season of the Lost was for a good reason, as I'd gladly wait another 18, heck 24 months for Lightfall if this kind of expansion is what we're going to be served up. The Witch Queen is Bungie back to its best.
9 / 10
Campaign is enthralling. New enemies are challenging and enjoyable to face. The Throne World is a joy to explore. Weapon crafting is ground-breaking. Glaives absolutely rock.
Some archaic Destiny tropes are still present. For the expansion to pay-off, you need to have a history with Destiny, else the set pieces and heaviest moments will lack gravity.