Bungie continues to develop its shooter MMO with the strongest storey campaign it’s ever made and a slew of new features to keep players interested.
There has been a formula for Destiny and Destiny 2 expansions for as long as there have been expansions. The add-ons have always been stand-alone packages with new firearms and a new playable location, immersing players in a fresh tale that is more or less unrelated to the previous games. Each contained a slew of new content and a new storey campaign, but they were more like semi-discreet new modules grafted onto an old, enormous whole than sequels to a living game.
The Witch Queen, on the other hand, is an organic, evolutionary outgrowth of Destiny 2. Rather than tying something fresh and independent onto Destiny 2 with no context, it is an organic, evolutionary outgrowth. Bungie’s live game is moulting, transforming into something better, smarter, and more comprehensive than it was before.
Bungie dubbed The Witch Queen’s new tale “the definitive Destiny campaign” when it initially discussed the expansion. Despite being marketing talk, that assertion has proven to be true—Destiny expansions are generally built on multi-mission storey arcs, but The Witch Queen’s campaign stands apart from the others. It is, without a doubt, Bungie’s best campaign for the game, surpassing even the most beloved previous releases, such as Forsaken or The Taken King. This is what people like about Destiny, condensed into easy-to-understand missions that can be played alone or with others.
Destiny campaigns are on the simpler side of the spectrum, serving as a gateway to the game’s more complicated offers, such as six-player raids and three-player dungeons. The problem with this strategy has always been that, while the early parts of any given Destiny 2 expansion feel nice—the game is nothing if not incredibly fulfilling in terms of basic shooting mechanics—they aren’t always reflective of what makes the game good.
Destiny 2’s raids, which are full of ingenious systems that demand skilled teams to learn the rules, establish roles, communicate intentions, and operate together like the intricate components of a clockwork device, have really defined the game. You don’t get a true feel of what makes Destiny 2 amazing until you play its finest content, which is always the high-level stuff that can be difficult to access.
The Witch Queen flips that on its head, plainly drawing inspiration from raids, dungeons, and other high-level content to bring those same emotions and experiences to its plot. Fights aren’t just large arenas with bullet-sponges to chip away at; they’re fast-paced settings full of combatants that often require you to use your intellect to solve a puzzle or devise a strategy while also detecting targets and prioritising threats. You confront a boss who is immune to your attacks and hunts you through a shadowy maze in one memorable scene. Your mission is to locate and destroy the secret crystals that fuel the boss’s shield, but they’re buried in dark corners and defended by smaller adversaries.
Although it’s nearly hard to see your path, you can use brilliant orange pustules protruding from walls to spray their incandescent muck all over the ground, illuminating your path. So you’re fleeing from a massive monster, blasting his henchmen, searching for artefacts that will allow you to harm him, and navigating a maze. Levels gradually introduce new concepts and ideas, culminating in a boss fight, and when combined with Destiny 2’s already strong combat foundation, the result is an immensely fast-paced, chaotic experience.
With superb level and arena design throughout the campaign, and each objective feeling drastically different from the others, the campaign is full with these standout moments. Bungie has also added a slew of useful quality-of-life enhancements, including as extra checkpoints and the new “big encounters” strategy, to go along with the fantastic levels. Major encounters are big fights with a clear start and end point, where you can refill all your ammo beforehand so you’re prepared for what’s coming, and where you get a big pile of equipment rewards at the end. This is another page borrowed from endgame content, much like the inclusion of the smarter raid-like mechanics.
Each of these venues seems like a significant competition, one that will test your skills and reward you with a sense of success once you’ve conquered it.
This is especially true while playing the storey campaign on the new Legendary difficulty, which adds a lot to the overall package. Destiny storey campaigns are typically easier than the rest of the game because they are designed to be on-ramps for new players. Veteran players, on the other hand, have the weaponry and expertise for a much tougher fight, which the Legendary campaign nicely accommodates.
It lowers player Power levels to below the recommended maximums while also introducing a few important modifiers and other modifications, upping the stakes by making everything more dangerous. The tactical consideration of defending yourself and eliminating vital targets before they can severely endanger you, along with the clever mechanics and encounter design, results in a superb challenge that is consistently, beautifully distressing.
The addition of a major new opponent in the Hive Lightbearers, mini-boss-like foes who appear at critical points and in large engagements, adds to the high-intensity threat sensation. These new foes hold the same space magic superpowers as players, creating a sort of middle ground in Destiny 2’s competitive mode between playing against computer-controlled enemies and fighting against other humans. Furthermore, the Lightbearers are indeed lethal; whenever they appear, they completely upend the circumstances in which they find themselves.
They demand that you assess the new threat and adjust your plan accordingly, or risk being obliterated by a bolt of lightning or sliced in half by a soaring Captain America-style energy shield. The Lightbearers provide a new level to The Witch Queen’s tale encounters, pushing you to use what you know about your own skills to counter your adversaries’.
The storey, too, is one of Destiny 2’s best, owing to the fact that it’s not a one-off addition to the game that emerged out of nowhere, but rather the culmination of years of storytelling, particularly the game’s last four seasonal stories, which debuted in 2021. The gravity of Savathun, an eons-old godlike alien whose modus operandi is manipulation through lies and deception, has shifted the Destiny 2 world’s direction since before the release of the Beyond Light expansion. The Witch Queen brings her schemes to completion after years of Destiny 2 players witnessing Savathun’s manipulations play out in small-scale clashes.
All things considered, it’s a fairly excellent story—one that recognises players’ investment in the game, not just in the previous year, but at least since the introduction of Destiny 2 in 2017. It takes use of major components of Destiny 2’s narrative, bringing some of the universe’s oddest and most interesting characteristics to the forefront and re-contextualizing what we thought we knew about the plot.
The Witch Queen is both a satisfying convergence of the strands Destiny 2 has been weaving for a long time, and fantastic at dropping fascinating clues that keep you hooked, after more than a year of build-up to this exact moment. But, like Beyond Light, it shines when it concentrates on its characters and the contradictions that exist between their ideas and the perils they face.
The Witch Queen challenges our preconceptions regarding major aspects of the game, most notably our relationship with the immortality-granting “good” force known as the Light. When the Hive, an extraterrestrial death cult known only for conquest and extermination and possibly humanity’s deadliest foe, claims the Light’s power, it sends shockwaves through the galaxy When the player’s Ghost, their stalwart friend and the character representation of their connection with the Light, explodes with wrath at witnessing that power in the hands of the Hive, it’s one of the best moments of the campaign.
Other characters who have regarded the Light with religious reverence are questioned about their beliefs and decisions, which raises the stakes above simply shooting another large alien before it can perform some kind of magical rite to wreck everyone’s life. The Witch Queen seems to have an impact on the people who make up the game’s basis, in addition to what you’re shooting.
The difficulty with Destiny 2’s storey and expansions is that so much of the necessary context is found in lore passages dropped as flavour text on weapons you find or in special lore books you unlock—long it’s been a problem with the game that its best stories don’t happen in the game you’re actually playing. Bungie has grown a lot better at this in recent years, and The Witch Queen is perhaps the best example of how to blend fantastic mythology ideas with the real gameplay experience that it’s ever done.
However, it continues to struggle with conveying complicated in-universe concepts to all players, from those who have read all of the literature to those who are just getting into the game for the first time. The Witch Queen can’t quite thread that needle; in an attempt to make things clearer for players who haven’t been in the game long enough to create context, it compromises the difficult stuff, and in doing so, it undercuts the impact of some components for those who have been around the whole time.
Furthermore, even the shortened tale isn’t simple enough to hold the attention of newcomers, thus the concessions wind up diminishing the storey for both groups. While this chapter makes more sense than previous ones, it’s still best enjoyed by those who are familiar with Destiny’s long-term storey and lore, and even then, it has its ambiguous moments.
Even so, there’s a lot of wonderful storytelling going on here. Following the campaign, there’s plenty to do in Savathun’s throne world, the game’s new location, which is full of secrets to discover, more missions to play, and weapons to gain. The Witch Queen also introduces a new weapon-crafting system, which adds a whole new dimension to Destiny 2’s traditional loot pursuit. It’s still too early to say how successful the system is because it demands a lot of player investment as you earn the components you’ll need to assemble your weaponry, but the system provides a lot of intriguing new stuff to hunt and modify.
I’ve constructed a version of the new first-person melee weapon, the Glaive, that I love, and I have lots of designs for new auto guns and scout rifles after just a few days with it. It’s a system that feels like it could use some tweaking in terms of how quickly components and rewards are distributed, but investing in your arsenal and customising it to your liking is an addition to Destiny 2’s loot system that feels like it’s paying off my investments and encouraging customization.
There are a few more updates to Destiny 2 with The Witch Queen that improve the game, such as changes to the Void player subclasses that give you a lot more leeway when it comes to loadouts, and changes to the Gambit activity that make it more competitive. Those tweaks, too, give the impression that Bungie is still honing Destiny 2 to its best possible version.
While we’ll have to wait to see what Bungie has planned for the Witch Queen endgame, which includes a new raid set to premiere on March 5, the first week of the new expansion has been really stunning and a lot of fun. The Witch Queen’s centrepiece is a laudable storey campaign that makes a lot of the game’s best design more approachable for a wide range of characters, but it also calls back to the best parts of Destiny’s past, such as the secret-laden, dense, and fascinating locations found in The Taken King and Forsaken expansions. The Witch Queen is a huge step forward for the game, marking the conclusion of a long history of significant improvements and additions that have resulted in Destiny 2 being at its best.