Review: Destiny 2: The Witch Queen
I can remember being incredibly excited for the release of the original Destiny back in 2014. After all, it was the next big game from the company behind Halo, the game series that was responsible for many teenage back pains as I frequently hauled my Xbox and my large, heavy television to friend’s houses in the days before online multiplayer had taken off on consoles. As Destiny expanded, my interest would fade between major updates as it just didn’t feel like there was much for me to do. Years later, Destiny 2 arrived and while I played it at launch, I completely passed over the Forsaken expansion. My time had become so invested in other games that it was hard to even think of the idea of adding another regularly played game to my list.
In more recent years, I found my interest re-kindled in the world (or worlds) that Bungie has crafted within their Destiny universe. I dipped my toes back into the water with Shadowkeep, and then found myself becoming more absorbed as Beyond Light launched. Now that Destiny 2 firmly has me in its grasp once again, I’ve been excited to see what the latest expansion, The Witch Queen, has in store.
Destiny 2: The Witch Queen, developed by Bungie, is out now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. The Xbox version was played for this review on an Xbox Series X.
One of Us! One of Us!
Continuing after Beyond Light’s Season of the Lost, The Witch Queen starts with the re-emergence of Mars, which was previously shrouded in darkness (and vaulted). As your Guardian travels down to the surface to see what’s going on, you discover that two other parties have also been drawn to the red planet. You encounter a large ship belonging to none other than the Witch Queen Savathûn in addition to the Cabal, who are setting up a large cannon aimed directly at her ship. Recent alliances with the Cabal not at the forefront of the Vanguard’s mind, you’re tasked with boarding the ship.
After gaining control and yeeting yourself up to Savathûn’s ship via the Cabals cannon, your Ghost detects traces of Light… an unsettling observation. Progressing through the ship, you uncover more traces of Light. As your ghost notes, it’s not corrupted Light, but the same kind of Light that a Guardian would wield. Upon defeating a stronger Hive champion, the awful truth shows itself. The Hive are using the Light, and they have Ghosts that can resurrect them- just as the player does. Soon after, you soon find yourself in Savathûn’s Throne World as you work to uncover the mystery of how she gained the ability to use the Light.
I loved the ideas that the team incorporated with this expansion. And while not everyone will be comfortable with defeating a member of the Lucent Hive and then having to destroy their Ghost… that’s kind of the whole point isn’t it? It’s supposed to be a bit unsettling. It’s an interesting narrative (and gameplay) choice that makes you begin to think more about the elements that have been at the core of what Destiny is. The lore bombs that we get during The Witch Queen’s campaign were incredible, and they caught me completely by surprise. Bungie is really going hard on their narrative and I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.
New Content… But At A Cost
For as long as I can remember, one of the staples of Destiny’s gameplay has been the pursuit of the “god roll.” Hoping that you can get a specific weapon to drop, with specific traits. The developers at Bungie have decided to finally make a better system to help players to get the weapon they want, with the traits that they desire. Enter: weapon crafting.
Early on in the campaign, the game walks you through your first crafted weapon- the new glaive. Players are able to select a frame, as well as the traits that the weapon will have so that the weapon can be made to fit any specific playstyle. After crafting a weapon, using it in activities will slowly increase its level. As a weapon’s level increases, the options to customize it increase, adding further traits, or enhanced versions of traits, as options during the re-shaping process which lets you fine tune already crafted weapons.
Now, the game doesn’t just let you make any weapon that you want with any trait that you want. In order to create one of these crafted weapons, the game first tasks the player with obtaining deepsight versions of them. Essentially what this is, is the game has you find a weapon and use it. After you’ve used it enough, you’ll be able to earn some crafting materials, and in some cases, you’ll also receive the pattern for that weapon, allowing you to make one yourself.
While ultimately the addition of deepsight weapons is yet another grind added to the game, the end goal of being able to better get the weapons that fit your playstyle is a welcome one compared to the previous method which involved just playing the game and praying to the RNG gods. The system also gives you a reason to equip different weapons as you run your weekly bounties. I don’t normally use fusion rifles for example, but if I get one that’ll let me get some crafting materials off of it? Yeah, I might as well throw it on and use it for a bit…
…That is, of course, assuming that I can be bothered to unequip my glaive. It’s a spear, it’s a gun, it’s a shield! It’s like a giant space combat Swiss Army Knife. I don’t know how the developers decided that the new weapon was going to have all these different features, but the end result is something that I’ve been enjoying quite a bit!
Also new with The Witch Queen is a revamped Void subclass for all Guardians. Based on the system that was created for the Stasis subclass in Beyond Light, the new and improved options for Void give you even more customization. As someone that would frequently used a Void based Titan, I was more than excited to see the changes. As a Void Titan that also secretly loved using the shield to live out a weird space-based Captain America fantasy, I absolutely love the changes here. Seeing the void shield come out when using your barrier ability and having a new melee option that throws the shield at your enemies is great. There have been many videos going around about the “best builds” using Void since the launch of The Witch Queen and I can’t wait to dive in and experiment with all of the options.
The new things that the team has added with Witch Queen feel pretty solid. However, they do come at a cost. Just as Bungie did with Beyond Light, The Witch Queen also saw the removal of older content. The victims this time around were the entire Forsaken campaign and the Tangled Shore area. The team has said one of the reasons it has vaulted content was to keep file size down. As someone that’s been playing MMOs for over a decade, I was excited when Bungie came out and finally used the term MMO to describe Destiny 2. However, vaulting content like this feels incredibly anti-MMO. To me, an MMO is a game that is about expansion; giving people more to do in addition to what’s already there. But with Destiny 2 and their vaulted content, I feel like all it does is make the game’s narrative threads harder for new players to get into.
Right now, not only is the base Destiny 2 campaign gone, but so is the campaign of its first major expansion. With those campaigns, the original methods for obtaining certain weapons and their catalysts are also removed- though Bungie has made efforts for them to become obtainable via other methods. What used to be a neat narrative driven quest to unlock a powerful weapon is now often changed into another “spam a bunch of activities” grind with one of Xur’s exotic ciphers. It’s a little sad to think that those quests, the areas, and the narratives that were made for them are now just simply… gone.
One area that the teams behind Destiny have always excelled at is their environments, and Witch Queen is no exception. In this latest narrative, the Vanguard undertakes operations in Savathûn’s Throne World, an area whose castle-like grounds look like, for lack of a better phrase, what might happen if Guillermo del Toro got to decorate Middle-Earth’s Minas Morgul.
The pale-green castle grounds are littered with red foliage and hedges, as well as beautiful but unsettling statues. I wasn’t sure about the look of the aesthetic when I began playing, but I have to admit that it’s certainly been growing on me the more I explore. On the outskirts of these more castle-like areas are swamplands that share some of its eerie vibes.
The soundtrack also accompanies these visuals quite well, including tracks that range from more ambient, environmental pieces, to epic fight songs. While I haven’t heard anything from it yet that has hit me the way that Beyond Light’s “Deep Stone Lullaby” has, I have found myself pulling the new soundtrack up on occasion when I’m at my desk and wanting something to have on in the background. In fact, I’m listening to it right now as I type this review.
Where No Guardian Has Gone Before
Destiny 2’s latest isn’t without it’s quirks. I’ve experienced some odd respawn locations when I’ve died during the campaign, and I’ve seen enemies simply floating out into the sky. However, the more I play The Witch Queen the more glad I am that I began giving Destiny 2 more of my time.
The revamp to the Void subclass and the addition of weapon crafting has breathed a lovely breath of fresh air into the game and I’m excited to be able to spend more time with them to make my Titan the best space-Captain America he can be.
With two of the games campaigns now vaulted, and exotic quests from the previous expansion now gone, the game certainly does give some decent sized FOMO (fear of missing out) vibes. However, that won’t be an issue for people that have stuck with Destiny 2 all this time. If you’ve thought about jumping in, it’s definitely better to do it sooner rather than later, especially as the narrative continues with each new Season. This review didn’t even go into what’s included with Season of the Risen- which introduces a new activity and story alongside everything from the expansion.
Ultimately, the new narrative in The Witch Queen is absolutely worth checking out, and the game still features what I think is the best gunplay in any game I’ve played- and now it has glaives!
Review copy provided by Bungie for Xbox. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Other images provided by Bungie.