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Destiny 2 Witch Queen Review: Guardian Detective Agency

How many Hive does it take to change a light bulb?

Like Omnigul herself, Destiny 2 Witch Queen has come screaming into the game’s fifth year. It seems like only yesterday that our biggest concern was what some bloated Cabal leader was up to on his giant, planet-eating ship. Now, we’re faced with a whole new type of threat as one of Destiny’s oldest names has taken the Light for herself and crafted a fearsome new foe: Hive Guardians.

Year 4 of Destiny 2 ended with a bang, even if it did take an exceptionally long time to get there. Awoken Queen Mara had stripped Savathûn’s connection to the Hive worm gods, freeing her from their tithing. Of course, this went poorly for Team Light and Savathûn managed to escape – not before our favourite Queen shanked her. This sets up the intro to Witch Queen — Savathûn’s Trade Federation-looking ship has popped into orbit over Mars, and it’s up to us to get on board and figure out what she’s up to.

I’m going to put this out there right now: Witch Queen features the best Destiny campaign ever. That’s it. That’s the tweet. Without a shadow of a doubt, the in-game narrative on display is far and away the best storytelling Bungie has managed in the series to this point. Not only is the eight mission story devoid of unnecessary filler objectives and short side quests that are barely worth an afterthought on reflection, it’s all genuinely compelling. It’s no overstatement to say that this campaign is greater than the sum of all those that have come before in Destiny.

While previous campaigns featured short, bland missions that were about as interesting as a strike, Witch Queen steps it up.  Most will feature two or three big fights with hordes of enemies to take on, and mini bosses to boot. Playing through these solo and on the new Legendary difficulty was at times maddeningly tough, but finishing them really felt like you achieved something.

The aforementioned Legendary difficulty is absolutely the best way to experience the campaign, but you don’t need to take it on solo to get the full experience. Locking you at around 15 Light levels below your foes, it’s a challenge you shouldn’t be taking lightly. The hordes of enemies assaulting your position at any given moment can quickly overwhelm you and cause a wipe, so great care and planning is required.

For the first time outside of a raid or dungeon I found myself actually thinking about how to approach encounters. From baiting enemies around, getting them into good positions and planning a step ahead of where I was, Legendary Witch Queen is an experience unlike any other that Bungie has intentionally crafted before.

Even the story is compelling this time around, marking another first for the series. Witch Queen has you diving deep into Savathûn’s Throne World to find out just how she stole the Light, and what she’s planning to do with it. The default assumption is, of course, something not good – with Bungie now showing that it’s not afraid of a morally grey narrative.

While the Guardian does have a few lines this time around, most of the dialogue is still between Ghost and various supporting cast members. This has always been a major irk of mine in Destiny, as the Ghost’s perspective on events almost always differs from mine as a player. Sure, maybe the Ghost represents what we would or should know in a given situation, but his bland takes on a situation have worn thin ever since he first let me know where that wizard came from.

All of that is to say that while the world of Destiny is moving to a grey perspective, Ghost is still annoyingly self-righteous; this is starting to clash more and more with narrative direction. The sheer brilliance of the story this time around really serves to highlight the disparity between the tone of Destiny past and Destiny future. Given how well the campaign and story landed this time though, I’m more confident than ever that Bungie can do the world of Destiny justice in coming campaigns.

This time around you’ll be spending the majority of your time nestled within Savathûn’s Throne World. From the sparkling ivory towers of her inner sanctum to the dark, damp and dingey bowels of the swamps, the Throne World is Savathûn’s mind made whole – the truest representation of herself. Bungie’s art team have absolutely outdone themselves here, with the stark beauty of the Florescent Canal contrasting well against the dank Quagmire and Miasma.

These lower areas are filled with the worst enemy in all of Destiny: the Scorn. These enemies, first introduced in Forsaken, have been my absolute least favourite enemy type to face in Destiny to date. Cabal may be boring, Fallen champions may teleport around too much an the Vex have frustrating hitboxes, but none of these are as bad as the Scorn. They are visually boring, have plenty of annoying abilities and are just not at all fun to fight. The sooner we can see the Scorn gone for good, the better.

Contrast this against the Lucent Hive, Savathûn’s army of enlightened, and the difference in quality of design is night and day. While not my favourite enemy race, I’ve always thought that the Hive are the best representation of an enemy race in Destiny. Unlike the Cabal or the Fallen, the Hive have no redeeming qualities to speak of and so you can never feel too guilty about slaughtering them en masse.

The Lucent Brood are Hive buffed in interesting ways and bring a breath of fresh air to this long-battled foe. At the most base level, the Brood have access to little light bearing moths that give them an overshield in battle. Pop the shield and the moth flies away, becoming targetable after a few seconds. If you don’t take it out it will either attempt to shield a new foe or take you out with an arc explosion. These little moths have nothing on the other big change up the Lucent Hive are bringing though: Hive Guardians. These Guardians are Light-empowered Hive that have abilities much like our own – with Knights, Acolytes and Wizards taking inspiration from Titans, Hunters and Warlocks respectively.

Take down one of these Hive Guardians and their ghost will pop out, preparing to resurrect them much like our own. The only way to prevent this is to take the screaming Hive ghost in your gloved fist and crushing it out of existence. While it’s brutal at first, Bungie has turned this little act of malice into a thoroughly enjoyable one. Perhaps I should talk to my psych about that one.

The other big-ticket item that landed with Witch Queen is the introduction of weapon crafting. Early in the campaign Ikora summons you to Mars, where a darkness relic has been found. This relic — inventively called the Relic — is capable of shaping and reshaping guns as you like. Choosing from a selection of perks lets you finally get that god rolled weapon you’re chasing without the reliance on RNG, though a lot of work still has to be done along the way.

To get access to new and exciting perks, you have to level up the weapon frame. This can be done through completing ritual activities including Strikes, or any other activity you can think of; in classic Destiny fashion, don’t expect this to be a quick process. Farming locations like the Thrallway have pushed Bungie to minimise experience gained through kills and push it towards activity completions instead, which to me is a bit of a bummer.

Most of the basic perks will probably be unlocked for your frame by level 10, but the joy doesn’t end there. Weapon levels are essentially endless, but after level 20 you won’t be unlocking anything new for the frame. By level 20 you’ll have unlocked a host of “enhanced” perk variants to try out that are supposed to be even better versions of the base perks we’re familiar with. In reality though these are largely underwhelming in their effects and rarely worth the material cost to apply them. Classic Bungie balance.

This overly aggressive balancing — or fun draining, depending on how you think of it — extends to the new seasonal activity too: the Wellspring. It wouldn’t be a season of Destiny 2 if we didn’t have yet another match made six-player activity to dive in to, and it wouldn’t be a post-Menagerie activity if it actually rewarded or valued your time, either. This time around the Wellspring rotates between two different activity types daily. One type has you attacking the Wellspring, while the other has you defend it. Interesting enough in theory, the sheer lack of rewards — which is apparently being addressed soon, though this keeps happening — means there’s little reason to play the mode right now.

While we’re on the topic of disappointing things, I’d be remiss to mention that the core ritual type activities are still hot garbage. We’re into the fifth year of Destiny 2’s life now and the core activities of Vanguard Strikes, the Crucible and Gambit are still a mess. This is in stark contrast to Destiny 1 where these activities were great – huge, rewarding time sinks that could easily carry the game in the long content droughts. The continuing reluctance to fix the modes that have traditionally been, and are still in theory, the core of your week-to-week Destiny gameplay is becoming a stain on the game at this point, and I hope this is fixed soon.

In Destiny 2 though these activities barely even warrant a mention, and likely would have almost no player base if they didn’t have associated powerful or pinnacle drops. Strikes are in a terrible state – a long sequence of boring encounter after boring encounter for almost no reward at the end. The Crucible, once one of my favourite places to spend time in Destiny, is just a Hunter filled hell hole with the occasional Warlock or Titan trying their best against Destiny’s PvP easy-win class.

Once the worst of them all, Witch Queen has at least gone a long way to making Gambit a tolerable pinnacle activity. In seasons gone I wouldn’t even play the couple of game needed every week to secure a good power level drop from this mode. With some big changes to the way the core Gambit mechanics work, the mode is now on par with Strikes and the Crucible at least, but that’s a low bar.

It may seem like I’m beating on Destiny a bit here, but honestly the game is the best it’s been in a long time – perhaps ever in Destiny 2’s life. This frustration comes from a place of love, as I really do love the world that Bungie has crafted and the steps being taken to fix it. FOMO was finally conquered in Year 4 of Destiny 2, though perhaps too late for many. Where once I had ten to twelve friends who I played with regularly, there’s now only one left. That FOMO, the consistent “oops, unrewarding activity”, the reluctance to value players time – all of these things have weighed down the player base in the past and caused veterans to turn away forever.

Witch Queen is thankfully a beacon of hope. Destiny was long mocked for the narrative and mission design it provided, and this new expansion absolutely knocks it out of the park with the best campaign in the Destiny series. If you’re a lapsed veteran I sincerely hope you come back and experience the joy of the campaign. Its challenging difficulty and brilliant — actual — in-game storytelling are worth the price of admission alone.

Destiny 2 The Witch Queen

22 February 2022
PC PS4 PS5 Xbox One Xbox Series X
 


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About the author

Hamish Lindsay

Avid reader and general geek, justifying the time I spend playing games by writing about them. I try not to discriminate by genre, but I remember story more than gameplay. I’ve been playing League for longer than Akali and I’m still Silver. Fallout 3 and MGS3 may be the pinnacle of gaming.