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Destiny 2 The Witch Queen Review: "On The Verge Of A Golden Age Of Destiny"

Destiny 2 The Witch Queen Review: "On The Verge Of A Golden Age Of Destiny"
Image: Bungie

Written by 

Aaron Bayne

Posted 

25th Feb 2022 11:59

For a long time, the Destiny franchise has been the gold standard of live-service games. Since its inception back in 2014, Bungie has continually expanded the horizon of its impressively deep sci-fi shooter with a myriad of play modes, season passes, stunning new vistas, and narrative experiences. Yet a full eight years since Destiny first blessed our gaming platforms, five of those being under Destiny 2, does the game that started it all still have what it takes to keep us looting and shooting? Well not only does Destiny 2 The Witch Queen renew its looter shooter status, it manages to be the best the game has ever been, all while ushering in a new age. 

A Story For The Ages

Destiny 2 The Witch Queen review: Savathun's Ghost

Part of what makes Destiny so interesting is how it tells old folktales of the golden age where heroes were born and legends forged. A world that existed well before your reanimating Ghost brought you into the fight between Light and Dark. However, Destiny has never been an overtly narrative experience, so you'd be forgiven for letting your interest fade as the game throws more content your way.

Of course, there have been some excellent moments that players have fought and played through, but for the most part, the narrative of Destiny has remained on the outskirts of its experience. There are methods of learning about the latest lore - popular YouTubers will dive deep into the origins, for example - but the game itself has often done a poor job of giving you a reason for why you're travelling to places and shooting more enemies beyond the typical woes of the end of the world, nay, universe.

 

That completely changes in The Witch Queen, although it might not immediately seem to be the case. The narrative strands established in Season of the Lost are continued, where Hive God Savathûn has reemerged after years of hiding in the shadows. However, as her power grows, Savathûn is revealed to have a very special trick up her sleeve. Alongside her Lucent Hive, the pair have somehow been emboldened by the Light, meaning enemies will now be able to utilise the super abilities we've been merrily popping for years. 

This is likely the unique selling point of The Witch Queen that will turn the heads of the Destiny fans new and old. Giving the Hive these super abilities has the potential to shake up the gameplay experience, and it's certainly why I giddily rocked up to The Witch Queen on launch. Much to my surprise however, it was the story that sunk its crusty claws into me. 

Lore Is In The Air

Destiny 2 The Witch Queen review: Oryx and a Worm God statue.

In many ways, The Witch Queen feels like the culmination of Bungie's previous expansion efforts. Players will jump to a returning Mars, the ominous Europan Pyramid, and then the dense Throne World, while becoming embroiled in the tension of old friends along the way. As you dig deep into the mystery of the Light, and how Savathûn managed to gain its power, The Witch Queen narrative feels entrenched in its world, in a way that could only be done after years of storytelling through gameplay. 

More importantly, The Witch Queen feels like we are entering a new dawn of legends. We already know that this expansion will act as the first of three, rounding out the story of Light and Dark, but the significance of its story meant that I'm finally invested and looking forward to seeing what's in-store next. The Witch Queen feels like an event that will be told as lore in a far future version of the game, and being part of that is something that hasn't really hit home thus far in Destiny 2.

Destiny 2 The Witch Queen review - The Europan Pyramid.

Hearing fan-favourite characters like Ikora Rey and Zavala reference things like the Worm Familiar or Xivu Arath may be daunting to newcomers, but in the moment-to-moment action, the story is far more involved than it has ever been. It's enjoyable as long as you relax and let the sci-fi space opera wash over you,  although a little less backtracking to already-explored areas wouldn't have gone amiss.

This is a spoiler-free review and of course, we can't be too sure on what comes next, but The Witch Queen sets up narrative threads that will send shockwaves through the Destiny universe in ways that previous expansions could never. The sense of a grand shift alone is enough to amp engagement in its story where we are no longer just shooting for the sake of it, we are fighting for a world we've grown to love alongside characters we feel connected to. 

Lootin' And Shootin' For Days

Destiny 2 The Witch Queen review: A guardian faces a Hive Guardian.

Narrative aside, looting and shooting is the name of the game here. The majority of players will be done with The Witch Queen campaign after eight or so hours - more if you decide to go for the new Legendary mode - so how does it fare in the content and gameplay angle? It is really no surprise that from a gameplay perspective we still have one of the best first-person shooters ever made on our hands. And with the inclusion of Hive Guardians, you really start to shudder as you hear the crack of a newly activated super, because it only ever means trouble for you. However, the odds aren't entirely stacked against you, as The Witch Queen introduces Void 3.0 and a brand new weapons crafting system. 

For many, the new Void 3.0 system will just make it easier to fine tune how they want to use their powers. In a sleeker layout, you will choose one of your four abilities, and the various mods and perks that amplify them. As someone that previously paid very little attention to the specific builds of my Guardians, Void 3.0 meant that I spent a significant amount of time finding exactly what worked for my Warlock. 

That only continued with the weapons crafting, which seriously shakes up the whole looting aspect. Traditionally, outside of exotic weapons, guns are on a quick turnaround, often swapped out for something more powerful, especially in the early game. With The Witch Queen however, players are encouraged to stick at it with their favourite guns, and can actually customise and bolster abilities beyond initial builds in a wide range of new weapons.

This is great for playing customisation, but it also emphasises the fun of a grind, because weapons feel more permanent, rather than temporary placements while you search for the perfect gun. To anyone jumping into Destiny 2 for the first time, you might wonder why this is worth clamouring about, but crafting will turn the fixed meta into a kaleidoscope of diverse builds, which will only continue to expand as we move forward.

Plenty To Do, Plenty To See

Destiny 2 The Witch Queen review: Savathun's Throne World.

Content wise, the new Legendary difficulty will keep those looking for a real challenge busy. Thanks to the high damage, Legendary difficulty changes the pace of gameplay, as Guardians can't just rely on being insanely powerful space wizards. Instead, players have to take their time, and be a tad more tactical about when and how they are dealing out damage. 

For that real endgame content however, players will be able to sink their teeth into the six-player Offensives, PsiOps battlegrounds, and the challenging as ever Dungeons - however the latter is locked behind the Deluxe Edition of the expansion. Sadly, the new Raid isn't available in the first week of The Witch Queen's launch, so we haven't been able to try that one out yet. The Witch Queen does feel like it is missing that new fun mode, that players can return to time and time again, but at least we still have Dares of Eternity. 

However, Savathûn's Throne World is the biggest addition as a brand new explorable space, and it is easily up there alongside the best the series has seen. With the hauntingly ethereals peaks of Savathûn's Palace to the daunting depths of its murky swamps, the Throne World is begging to be explored and exudes the historical yet warped charm Bungie aspires to at every turn. 

A New Beginning

Destiny 2 The Witch Queen review: A Vanguard meeting.

The Witch Queen smartly nudges Destiny 2 in a fresh new direction, without bucking the horse. Once you are done with its campaign, the gameplay tweaks that have been introduced give players a finer direction to aim towards, leading to a deliberate yet expansive experience. 

Whether you are here for the narrative, gameplay enhancements, or new suite of content, The Witch Queen is unlikely to disappoint. If this ambitious trilogy starter is any indication of what's to come, then we are on the verge of a golden age of Destiny content that realises the vision of an evolving and lived-in world that players can be a part of. It's not just the best expansion since The Taken King, it may be the best the series has ever been.

 

9/10

Reviewed on PS5. Code provided by the publisher.