Once upon a time, a beloved but maligned game finally realized its full potential with a groundbreaking expansion centered around a Hive god and his kingdom. That expansion, The Taken King, brought massive changes to the original Destiny and the economies that governed it. Here we are now, six and a half years later, looking for the Taken King's sister to do the same for Destiny 2.
I have been playing Destiny for the last 6 years. At many points in that, or even at most points, it was the probably most played game week to week in my library. https://wastedondestiny.com/ actually lists my total playtime for the first game at over 730 hours played; with Destiny 2 clocking in an additional 880 plus hours. I only started just after The Taken King expansion, when the original Destiny entered into its finest state. Technical limitations in that first build prompted Bungie to head back to the drawing board and release a new standalone title with the sequel, Destiny 2. With the new title, came lots of changes, most of them... not good.
I still gave Destiny 2 a score of 8.8 in my original review, but noted pretty clearly "for most of the hardcore Destiny 1 players, this is simply not the game we were expecting. This one is built for the casuals." The game was an attempt to open up the experience to as many players as possible, even if that turned off many in the core community. Things went downhill from there. After a lot of "listening" by Bungie, I gave the first major expansion, Curse of Osiris, a 4.9. The second expansion, Warmind, followed six months later and scraped a 7.0. Forsaken followed that, earned another 8.8 (9.0 on PC per Zach's review), and things were finally looking to turn the corner. Shadowkeep was the 4th expansion, and though we have no review (because if memory serves me Bungie never provided a review copy) I was even happy to pay real money for it, because Forsaken had gone a long way to recreating the post-Taken King magic of the first. But then came Beyond Light, the 5th expansion, and I ended up walking away from Destiny for most of the last year plus. Beyond light, despite Sean giving it a 7.0 (though he pointed out some serious PVP issues not long after), introduced a new element, Stasis, that was shipped as broken as anything Bungie has ever produced. Worse still, this broken mechanic was paywall locked to the new expansion. For some time Destiny had tried to balance free to play with the paid expansions, and got it wrong on every level with Beyond Light.
So that's where we are entering in to The Witch Queen. In many ways Forsaken probably should have been that "Taken King moment" for D2, but Bungie got it so wrong with Beyond Light that we're back to another bad state of the community that needs to be rebooted, and the Hive are back with another deity poised to do just that. So with that lengthy background foundation laid, let's take a look at just what Destiny 2: The Witch Queen brings to the table, especially with respects to a long time player, only now getting back into the action after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
The first big change with The Witch Queen sees the Void element completely reworked and this time, Void 3.0 is available to all (mostly, the full grenade arsenal still requires the expansion). While Bungie made much needed nerfs to Statis over the past year, I'm not convinced they learned the lesson not to paywall supers because, unlike introducing a new power, the changes to Void have to be pushed to all as all players already had access to the old version of the powers. But F2P and paid expansion players can enjoy mostly level footing on this one, at least. That being said, all of the old content is still content locked behind previous expansions. This is not a case where with the latest release the previous releases open up, in many cases it actually becomes sunset and no longer available at all. So if you missed out on Beyond Light (or the 30th anniversary mini-expansion), like me, then you still won't be able to access those dungeons and guns without dipping back into the store and making a purchase.
With the gap in previous content from old expansions, comes a bit of a gap in the plot. Certain characters are back with vastly different personalities than where I left them, entire planets are missing, and there are some spaces to fill in. I knew planets were disappearing because Bungie had well published its intentions to move large pieces of the world into the content vault in order to best maintain the core experience and promote new activities. I never actually expected that would actually weave its way into the narrative. But lo and behold Mars is back. Apparently the entire planet disappeared through the Pyramid macguffin introduced some time ago and finally put into action with the previous release.
Even though Mars is back, the majority of the Witch Queen content takes place in Savathun's Throne World, a Mars-adjacent and entirely new location. While the majority of the opponents in this new space is Hive and Scorn forces you will be familiar with, there are some new twists to the Hive forces especially that are quite game changing. You see, the Hive have learned how to harness the Light, and certain lieutenants in their army are able to not only pop Super abilities which closely mimic those of your own guardian, but even resurrect if you don't close the distance and crush their ghost in time after defeating the foe. It's a welcome twist on the PvE formula, and adds a real element of challenge in certain scenarios.
To meet this new challenge, guardians are given not just a slew of new weapons, but a new weapon archetype and an entirely new weapon progression system - albeit limited to those new weapons. Glaives are the new archetype. They combine ranged and melee attacks with a shield in big stick. To keep a sense of balance, they are a bit underwhelming on the ranged and shield parts but quite devastating (and efficient, using no ammo to bash away) as a melee option sitting in your special slot. The most significant change is the weapon crafting system. The system is introduced with that first glaive and a few other introductory guns, but the idea is that you build up certain crafting materials through game progression and dismantling unneeded random drops. Then you use those materials to build guns with the exact roll you're looking for - if you've leveled it up enough to actually unlock those options that is.
What I think I like most about it is that it actually forces you into using new weapons. Not just to level up the ones you've crafted, but also to unlock the frames needed to craft them the first time and build up the resources for the crafting itself. There is still a random component to it, so RNG has a role yet, as not every weapon yields resources or works towards unlocking the frame. Only special drops, those indicated with a red border around them in the time screen and with a "Deepsight Resonance" slot can be applied towards progression in unlocks or materials. So in each facet, you spend significant time actually working on guns that might not have otherwise graced your load out. Destiny has long had a problem that once the arsenal got so big, certain weapons started to stand tall amongst their peers, and it becomes hard to tear yourself away from that core subset. With crafting and Deepsight Resonance, even mundane combat can feel that much more refreshing by guiding you into new weapon combos and loadouts. It's not too dissimilar from early D1 when the advanced weapon perks, even on the fixed rolls, were locked behind XP progression. I think this is the first time in its existence D2 has actually found a similarly meaningful way to promote exploration in weapon choices, and the first time that I feel like I'm actually investing in guns in the process.
If the new world is very good, then the new weapon system is a shade above approaching downright great. But what I think impresses me most about The Witch Queen is the sheer volume of things to do. There are activities packed into every corner, not least of which in the new playspace, but also cleverly incorporating old spaces as well. After racing through the campaign on normal, which was also excellent and told what was probably the single best narrative D2 has yet to produce, I was simply amazed at how many icons littered the map beckoning me with opportunities to play in different ways and level up my characters towards max light. The following is by no means a comprehensive list:
The game isn't perfect, there is still no respite for the chore of spending the first 15 minutes of every day running to various vendors to snag bounties. There were actually more bugs than I remember previously, although I certainly wouldn't label the game as "buggy." There were times were enemy AI was overly passive, I clipped through the game world on one or two occasions, and more often than I liked I had to restart certain missions or reload activities when certain key gates wouldn't open. Also there were at least two occasions in the first two weeks of launch where "maintenance" took the entire game offline for a few hours in the afternoons. Maybe I was just unlucky but two lunch breaks where I was very much looking forward to getting some Destiny in were instead spent wondering if it would even be back after dinner. But that's the real crux of The Witch Queen expansion, I look forward to playing Destiny again on my lunch break. As a matter of fact, it has risen right back to the top of my playlist overall, review due or not. And to give a hint of its competition in my current rotation: I'm still polishing off the trophies toward my platinum in Horizon Forbidden West and I gave that game a freaking 10.
In some ways the Witch Queen isn't quite D2's Taken King moment, because Forsaken already did much of the needed heavy lifting. But in one, perhaps most important way it is: Destiny 2 following The Witch Queen is simply in its best state ever. This is a far better game that the one at release, better than Forsaken, and certainly better than the dip it suffered from Beyond Light. It makes giving the game a score actually quite easy. If this is the best Destiny 2 has ever been, then it deserves its best score: a 9.5. Whether its better than post-Taken King D1 is a debate for someone else to settle, and one that probably could be done easily if Bungie decided to pull the Kings Fall raid out of the Vault and give it a next-gen makeover. But even absent that wishlist item, I can unreservedly say that, for the lapsed Destiny players like myself, this is the best time there has ever been to get back in, and The Witch Queen is worth every penny as the price of admission to unlock the content to do that.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
First picked up a game controller when my mother bought an Atari 2600 for my brother and I one fateful Christmas.
Now I'm a Software Developer in my day job who is happy to be a part of the Gaming Nexus team so I can have at least a flimsy excuse for my wife as to why I need to get those 15 more minutes of game time in...