Review: Witch Queen is Destiny’s Most Complete Campaign & Bungie at its Very Best

It’s still early days in Witch Queen, the latest expansion for shared world loot shooter Destiny that initially launched in 2014 then saw a sequel in 2017. Even so, my initial impressions are super positive. It’s been utterly fantastic, surpassing even high expectations.

This update is simultaneously a great entry point for new or returning players and satisfying for those who have been around since early days of what I believe to be one of the more innovative titles in recent memory. Destiny feels as great as ever in Witch Queen, enhanced by various tweaks and improvements plus rewards galore.

Admittedly it’s tricky to critique an expansion for a franchise going on eight years. There’s preconceived notions and a whole lot that’s already transpired. I can’t possibly dig into the nitty gritty of build specifics or historical lore here. Instead, I’ll focus on Destiny’s sixth main expansion in Witch Queen and, to a lesser extent, Season of the Risen as the title’s 16th season. I’ll assume a base knowledge of the series and will be using terms accordingly. We play as Guardians, whether Hunter, Titan or Warlock as a class. Guardians are wielders of the Traveler’s Light, humanity’s primary defense against a universe of powerful foes and an existential threat called The Darkness.

The groundwork of science-fiction first person shooter with weapons and abilities is bolstered here by better mission structure and crafting experimentation. Continuing the theme of adventures spanning the universe, Destiny doubles as a multiplayer game that plays well solo. It’s the beauty of the franchise. Witch Queen is the current culmination of rich world-building, incredible art direction and spectacular mechanics. It builds on a strong foundation to highlight the game’s foremost features while adding new ones that boost the enjoyment and, most importantly, generously rewards a player’s time.

These days during new expansion releases, Bungie launches a new campaign plus starts a brand new season of ongoing content. The first part here is Witch Queen, the latter is Season of the Risen. It’s difficult to parse one from another as they operate in lockstep, and both contribute to this update’s greatness. More on the seasonal aspects later.

Drilling down into Witch Queen as its own release within the broader context, it stands alone as the best Destiny campaign to date. There’s a fantastic, self-contained storyline fighting the Hive, one of the game’s many alien races, led by their trickster goddess Savathûn who has seemingly stolen The Light. There’s the improved quest structure, making missions feel like mini dungeons. A void subclass reworking results in enhancing already top-notch mechanics. There’s plenty of new loot to find, activities to complete and crafting to experiment. Post campaign, Witch Queen lays the groundwork for future installments in this expansive universe.

As for story setup, the deceitful Hive leader Savathûn has been lurking in the shadows since our Ghost found us Guardians back in 2014. She’s the sister of Oryx, whom players slayed in 2015’s Taken King expansion which many regard as the franchise’s best. Until now. She’s found a way to use the same Light as Guardians. That spells trouble, naturally. Warlock Vanguard leader Ikora Ray takes center stage in this pursuit, collaborating with Eris Morn, Titan commander Zavala and an unlikely ally of Fynch, a Hive Ghost that has broken ranks from Savathûn’s army.

Witch Queen proceeds as an investigation into Savathûn’s intentions of using Light abilities to her own ends. It’s Bungie at its best when it comes to core design philosophies, environmental beauty and narrative prowess. It’s the perfect recipe for an ongoing loot game: Immediately and constantly rewarding while always hinting at more to chase, wrapped in a narrative that expands its lore.

Brand new Hive enemy types and encounters highlight missions and go-between exploration, one of Bungie’s most clever additions in series history. The Lucent Brood are dynamic Light wielders that leverage the same abilities as Guardians. It’s a classic doppelganger setup, like fighting oneself. There is an Acolyte with solar abilities, a Wizard wielding arc and, the most dangerous of all, a massive Titan who chucks void shields and lays down barricades. In another twist, these “Hive Guardians” will resurrect if their Ghosts aren’t smashed to bits via a finisher. It makes every high level activity that much more tense, requiring strategy and coordination.

Players step into Savathûn’s Throne World as the new patrol zone and backdrop for battle against her forces. There’s a foreboding charm to Bungie’s art direction in this space, partly because it actually exists in the Ascendant Realm which means it’s a physical manifestation of Savathûn’s mind. It features twists on the usual gothic vibe of the Hive across massive buildings, misty swamps and underground caverns.

As has been a series staple, these environments are phenomenally gorgeous. The Hive aesthetic is artistry in the mysterious. There’s spiky architecture alongside flowery gardens. Misty swamps and creeping corruption. Tombs embalming fallen Hive, temples dedicated to gods, a spacious apothecary used for unsanctioned experiments. Centering it all is Savathûn’s terrifyingly beautiful palace, threatening in its aura. From top to bottom, those alluring sky boxes to dimly lit caves, Bungie’s art team shows why it’s one of the industry’s premier outfits. Witch Queen is a visual marvel, a showpiece of magical enchantment and visual mysticism.

There’s something here for everyone. It’s an access point for the curious, an ideal framework for a returning audience plus an excellent continuation of Destiny’s content model and power grind for diehards.

When it comes to hour count and content density, Witch Queen is a chunky experience. The first campaign playthru can reach upwards of six to ten hours depending on difficulty, because Bungie has introduced one of its most genius ideas yet: a Legendary campaign setting. This option caps any level advantages and introduces a variety of modifiers to make it more challenging, including no radar, beefy shields and enemies that produce fire upon death. There’s still a more casual version, of course. Legendary offers more difficulty, and increased rewards. It’s a worthwhile tradeoff.

The most noticeable campaign improvement in Witch Queen is the team’s focus on mission structure and enhanced mechanics. Each mission now has checkpoints. Most of them boast puzzles, platforming or bespoke features. Plus there are generous rewards after major encounters, rather than just boss fights, supplementing loot that drops from enemy kills. While this isn’t revolutionary, it’s a step towards making Destiny much more dynamic compared to earlier days.

Puzzles adorn most missions, often accessed via a new physic capability called Deepsight which pulls in invisible objects like platforms or statues. Sometimes it reveals new pathways or runes one must shoot to progress through an area. There’s swords that open locks, portals that zip between areas, mirrors that transport Guardians into the unknown and symbol combinations used to proceed through certain doors.

These parallel with more robust combat requirements, as Witch Queen is the most mechanics heavy offering in Destiny history. It’s a campaign leaning more towards dungeon or raid qualities, like solving riddles on the fly or methodically targeting menacing opponents. Yet they don’t act as an encumbrance. It’s a welcome addition to a formula that’s been working well for years, working to keep it fresh and change up gameplay from its usual, sometimes predictable, cadence.

And, similar to the original game, there’s a weekly rotation of story missions. Not only that, all Witch Queen missions are now replayable via an in-game selection. This level of accessibility and repeatability fits perfectly with Destiny’s ongoing nature. Pick up and play, at one’s leisure or when preparing for a higher level challenge.

When not delving into a story quest, there’s side objectives, reworked activity playlists and Throne World exploration that can easily distract and help level up the odd piece of gear lagging behind. Especially helpful when going for that juicy Legendary story completion. Within the new area, the rogue Hive Ghost named Fynch is the point of contact complete with his own reputation system.

Scattered across the Throne World are the usual cooperative activities like Patrol missions and Public Events, the latest being an escort situation reminiscent of Overwatch. It features three new Lost Sectors. There’s also plenty hidden under the surface, a reason to return and poke around corners. Deepsight points will reveal secrets or timed chests. Altar of Reflection is the name of a quick side quest. Because of Fynch’s reputation rank, every single action is working towards a goal.

Witch Queen offers two additional strikes, Destiny’s classic three-person fireteam missions. Birthplace of the Vile tasks Guardians with fighting Scorn in the underground Dark City, while The Lightblade asks players to hop on a ferry then traverse deadly swamps in order to retrieve a relic guarded by a familiar foe. Then there’s Wellspring as a separate match-made activity where six Guardians battle together in the Throne World, capturing plates and burning down bosses.

There’s another new area I haven’t mentioned, that’s the Enclave which is Ikora Ray’s base on Mars which is back from the vault apparently. This houses the Relic crafting area plus an Evidence Board that provides post-game content, returning to areas from the campaign and digging into the mysteries of this latest Hive threat. Right now there are time-gated portions. It gives a reason for people to come back, after all.

The main enemy factions featured across this new content are Hive, naturally, plus Scorn and certain Cabal rebelling against the command of their Empress Caiatl, shaky ally of humanity’s Vanguard management team. Another element of fighting Hive are Light-bearing moths that boost even the most minor archetypes like Thrall. These nuisances will bounce from enemy to enemy if they aren’t shot out of the sky, adding another layer of depth to Destiny’s firefights.

Adjacent to Witch Queen is Season of the Risen, where Vanguard summons Caiatl for assistance in an ongoing, unsteady alliance. We have been killing members of her military space rhino Cabal race for years now, after all. After completing a couple missions in Witch Queen, the seasonal content begins with our Vanguard convening a war council.

Essentially, we need the Cabal’s “Light-suppressing technology” to wage war against Hive lieutenants and projections of Savathûn. This is done via a new playlist called PsiOps Battlegrounds, which will rotate across different destinations throughout the season. Caiatl offers her Psions, masters of psychological warfare, and what’s called a Synaptic Spear to remove thoughts of Savathûn from their minds. It’s pretty cool from a lore standpoint, plus a good change of pace from more demanding objectives. This part of the season will evolve over time as the storyline moves along, which has been a strength of Destiny in recent months.

It’s been long enough. Time to talk gear, progression and ability tuning.

After all, Destiny is primarily a loot game intertwined with a treadmill of progression. I’ve said this to anyone who would listen since the jump. Starting with this latest expansion, all players begin at Power (or Light for us long-timers) Level of 1350. This goes steadily up to a soft cap of 1500, then a powerful limit of 1550. Beyond that point, there are pinnacle drops from specific endgame type content that will push players to the maximum level of 1560. While there are plenty of no-lifers that grind these levels early in an expansion, primarily to reach an amount that’s fitting for demanding PvE stuff like raids or dungeons, casual playing will allow for a high enough level to see most of the new content.

In one of Bungie’s most genius moves to date, players are awarded a set of 1520 gear after finishing the Legendary Witch Queen campaign. It’s a dual benefit. There’s a major reason to see the newest content plus it helps tremendously to limit the usual power grind. It’s always fun to see the numbers go up. Having that happen while also enjoying a great narrative is the best of all worlds. It eliminates the tedium of lower levels plus offers a major incentive to run main missions. This is probably the team’s smartest decision yet from a time versus reward standpoint.

Combined with power boosts from the seasonal artifact, the aforementioned Synaptic Spear, and infusing gear, this lessens the need to spend every waking hour devising a plan to maximize efficiency. At the time of this writing, I have three characters at or above 1555. I’ve been mostly playing campaign and seasonal content as opposed to grinding legacy sources of powerful gear. Which is ideal.

While leveling, there’s at least 40 new legendary weapons to earn in Witch Queen. Not all of them can be crafted, and certain ones are still locked behind time-gated activities. There’s eight new exotic guns, the highest tier and hyper specialized to encourage different play styles. On the armor side, there’s six new exotic pieces: two for each class. After finishing the Legendary campaign, players can pick one exotic piece of armor. The unfortunate part is the stats on these exotic pieces are lacking, though of course they can be rewarded from playing Lost Sectors in the future.

Supplementing the usual random loot drops is weapon crafting in Witch Queen, which Bungie introduces by having players “shape” an entire new weapon archetype in the Glaive. This is a hybrid melee and ranged weapon with shield capabilities as well, a pretty flexible offering that’s more useful for casual play than endgame content unless it has specific perks.

Within the Enclave on Mars, there’s The Relic which is where guns can be made. Right now, crafting is limited to those from Throne World, Season of the Risen and the upcoming Vow of the Disciple raid. Each weapon requires unlocking a pattern before crafting it, which is gained by finding that weapon in the world then using it for kills to fill up what’s called Deepsight Resonance. Get enough kills, receive the pattern and gain access to shaping that particular gun.

Making or updating guns requires various materials, naturally. Including new ones called Elements, of which there are six, each corresponding to a different set of traits. There’s Resonant Alloy, gained from dismantling items. And the top tier Ascendant Alloy, an exceedingly rare material for exotic crafting, catalysts and the most enhanced traits. Once crafted, a gun is pretty basic to start. It must be ranked up before unlocking most perks, which means a serious time and material investment.

Got all that? I know, there’s a lot to it. It’s the type of system that’s overwhelming at first, introducing all these new items and an entire process of creating or changing weapons. It’s not clear at first how to find patterns. Right now at least it’s limited to weapons from those select sources, more an experiment than an essential aspect of playing Destiny. I’ve made the required glaive and a couple other pieces, relying mostly on drops or infusion for my current arsenal.

That’s partially because philosophically, I’ve been torn on weapon crafting since Bungie revealed its addition during this expansion. The reason why I, and many people, play a loot game is for the chase of getting that perfect drop. Or the allure of seeing what perks combine with others to result in synergies not initially apparent. It’s that rush of seeing an item on the ground, picking it up and discovering if it’s awesome or a dud. Sure, it can result in disappointment. There’s also moments of pure elation. Crafting shifts that towards a creation factor, which can be fun in its own right though doesn’t offer the high of finding that perfect item.

From a quality standpoint in the early going, Witch Queen has some solid gear with a few highlights. Osteo Striga is the exotic submachine gun in vogue right now, available via crafting and complete with poison rounds. Syncopation 53 is my go-to Pulse Rifle, a Suros build with great stability and a smooth firing rate. Likely Suspect is a hard-hitting Fusion Rifle, while Dead Messenger and Parasite exotic grenade launchers offer fun variations on their standard archetypes. The former leaves three trails of elemental fire on the ground while the latter shoots explosive Hive worms. Yes, it’s a worm gun!

Another new twist Bungie applied in Witch Queen is how different weapon manufacturers or activities have intrinsic perks called Origin Traits. These exist in a separate column from others, and apply to all guns of that particular source. Veist Stinger may reload a weapon automatically and Vanguard Vindication recovers health with each kill. Then there’s new perks available solely on the latest gear. Chill Clip applies frozen rounds to the first half of a magazine, while Compulsive Reloader is perfect for me because it increases reload speed when a magazine is nearly full.

It’s way early in the latest meta, so older guns like Glacioclasm, Outbreak Prime or long-time favorite Gjallarhorn are still desirable for higher level content. Yet a lot of new attributes combined with the Origin Traits are going to offer great rolls that the community will discover over time. There’s a ton of great potential, we’re only scratching the surface this first week.

Witch Queen is the current culmination of rich world-building, incredible art direction and spectacular mechanics. It builds on a strong foundation to highlight the game’s foremost features while adding new ones that boost the enjoyment and, most importantly, generously rewards a player’s time.

While Witch Queen doesn’t establish any new ability classes to supplement the four currently available, Bungie did substantially rework the void subclass in what’s dubbed the “Void 3.0” update. The void subclass now has a similar structure to Stasis, a freezing Darkness subclass introduced in 2020’s Beyond Light expansion. There’s a lot more customization now via Aspects and Fragments, plus there’s interoperability even across classes so they share grenades and attributes.

Bungie is laser focused lately on establishing “verbs” within ability setups. For void, akin to gravity magic or shifting spacetime, these fit into one of six areas: suppressing, weakening, vanishing, shielding, restoring health and, most exceptionally, exploding aka volatile. It’s all very familiar, many of these existed before, yet there’s much more in the way of flexibility.

For instance, Hunters can now use suppression grenades, sneak around while invisible then cause targets to explode all at the same time. Titans can generate shields from various sources, including an awesome shield melee throw, and plug in a Fragment that extends duration to become the universe’s most survivable tank. Warlocks can weaken targets then kill them quickly to trigger devour, which effectively steals life away. And most of these verbs can be done by all classes.

What makes Void 3.0 even more useful is pairing it with armor mods. Especially those centered on Elemental Wells, an underutilized category that produces collectable “wells” granting temporary buffs, plus seasonal artifact mods. That latter group lowers the cost of certain traditional mods and introduces high-powered, high-cost ones that synergize with these void verbs. There’s Volatile Flow, which grants explosive rounds to void weapons, then Suppressive Darkness which weakens targets when suppressed.

This subclass reinvigoration is nearly my favorite part of Witch Queen, because of how incredibly fun it is to find coordination both within a subclass and when playing alongside a team of Guardians.

When it comes to the flip side, to my complaints, I’ll always have them. It’s Destiny, after all. Though when focused on strictly Witch Queen and the latest season during its first week, glaring issues are more limited than usual. Shoot, servers even worked from very early so I can’t make jokes about waiting in line on launch day!

As expected, weapon crafting is obtuse and intimidating. Destiny is notorious for having meager tutorials, and this new functionality is no different. It’s the type of thing the community will figure out, partially because Bungie doesn’t do a great job of explaining it. There’s a cacophony of new materials to learn including the various Elements plus precious Ascendant Alloys required for better crafting offerings. I made the mistake of spending one on a side quest because I missed how expensive it was to reshape my glaive.

This might be a bit in the weeds, but moving Orb of Power generation away from individual guns to a helmet mod slot is a painful change. I know why Bungie did it, to encourage other styles of play and possibilities other than those strictly focused on orbs. Charged with Light is much less effective, which is why I’ve shifted to Elemental Wells. So I guess it’s working the way Bungie intended, even if it’s fixing a problem that didn’t exist.

So I’ve mentioned strikes and more cooperative content, what about Gambit and Crucible? Well, these are most certainly not the focus of Witch Queen what with the massive campaign, ability changes and Vow of the Disciple raid in queue. Bungie lightly tweaked the rules and workings of Gambit, it’s still similar at its core. And on the Crucible side the biggest change is two returning maps in Vostok and Eternity. Many players will point out how there haven’t been any new Crucible maps in years. How the modes other than Trials feel stale. These are true, and it’s a disappointment even for players like me who don’t often play competitively.

Moving down the list, Eververse always falls into the category of complaints. This is Destiny’s extensive cosmetic store, which accepts two currencies: Silver, that people can buy, and Bright Dust which is sprinkled while actually playing. The problem is there are items exclusively available for Silver, including an awesome set of Void ornaments starting this expansion. It means those items, right now, can’t actually be earned by playing Destiny. I am fine with Bungie making money. It’s that I don’t like this setup and prefer all items to have a Bright Dust alternative. Even if it’s expensive. Looking cool is a major appeal of any ongoing loot game. Players should be able to earn every cosmetic if they are willing to put in the time. Period.

Then there’s content vaulting. It’s Destiny’s elephant in the room, lurking behind every positive moment like an ominous cloud raining on our parade.

With Witch Queen, the campaign of Forsaken along with its Tangled Shore location enter the vault. They are no longer playable, now maintained in the annals of YouTube and nostalgia of Destiny vets worldwide. Bungie’s explanation surrounds the technical limitations of keeping years old content in a game as massive, or bloated, as this one. It pains me to lose paid content. Yet if it means the game can thrive in the future with amazing campaigns like Witch Queen, I understand the unfortunate tradeoff.

Lastly, there’s still a substantial grind. That avenue to increase one’s level. And boost up factions or individual vendors like the Gunsmith or Throne World rank. The numbers must increase! It’s both painful and blissful. Frustrating and fruitful. This is a situation reserved for the most hardcore, of course. It’s also essential for anyone wishing to delve into top tier content like raids, Nightfall strikes or “Master” difficulty missions. I wouldn’t call it as much a complaint as a necessary evil, one that Destiny fans tend to even enjoy.

Destiny as a franchise is a roller coaster, in more ways than one. It has its ups and downs, both from a content standpoint plus the cadence of new updates. There’s peaks and valleys, excitement and lulls.

These last few months have been slower, mainly because of Bungie delaying Witch Queen from its original time-frame into this new year. I believe that has made all the difference, resulting in the strongest offering in perhaps the development studio’s entire existence going back to the original Destiny and even Halo. Right now is the height of the team’s creative vision.

The best part is Destiny can be a lot of different things, and Witch Queen reflects that sentiment especially when talking cooperative play. There’s the chill casual parts, like running the base campaign or hanging in the Throne World looking for alien heads to pop. More advanced players will tune their armaments, seek out exotic quests and face off against Savathûn and her goons in that tougher Legendary setting.

Even the second and third time around, the campaign holds up. Each mission has memorable moments. Whenever a Lucent Brood activates the same super ability I’ve used countless times, I feel my muscles tense and I sit up, locked and ready. There’s fun platforming puzzles and serious boss battles. That’s not to mention the lore ramifications across the entire Destiny universe as the final cinematic sets up what we will Witness in 2023’s Lightfall expansion.

I wrote this review before the Vow of the Disciple raid launches in early March. Plus there’s more seasonal content, quests and events unfolding in Season of the Risen over the next three months. If Witch Queen is an indication of the future, both immediate and longer term, then Bungie is steering the spaceship in the right direction. Narrative points are hitting. Mechanics are expanding. Structure is getting more intricate. And, surprisingly, I believe a newcomer can jump in right now and get their time and money’s worth with this update.

Even as it stands right at launch, Witch Queen surpasses both Taken King and Forsaken to achieve the best campaign in Destiny history. It presents a perfect intersection of appeal for long-time, lapsed and new players. There’s something here for everyone. It’s an access point for the curious, an ideal framework for a returning audience plus an excellent continuation of Destiny’s content model and power grind for diehards.

I can’t recommend it enough, whether as a standalone campaign experience, a loot-filled time to chat with friends or push towards serious prep ahead of challenges to come in the future. Quite plainly, Witch Queen is Bungie at the pinnacle of its game.

Title: Destiny 2: The Witch Queen

Release Date: February 22, 2022

Developer: Bungie

Publisher: Bungie

Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, Google Stadia.

Final Score: 9/10

Recommendation: Witch Queen is an absolute must-play for anyone even remotely interested in Destiny, first-person shooters or cooperative multiplayer experiences. It’s the ideal time to try, and there’s something for everyone whether casual or core.

Sources: Bungie.net, Screenshots from Xbox Series X.

-Dom

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