Destiny 2: The Witch Queen preview – Learning from Beyond Light and setting up “the beginning of the end”

We’ve probably seen more of Destiny 2: The Witch Queen than any previous expansion at this point. Savathun, weapon crafting, new Exotics, Void 3.0, Hive Guardians – Bungie is clearly going all in. Enough so that when I sat down for a recent hands-off preview of The Witch Queen, I was mostly expecting details, not surprises. 

While I did learn more about all that other stuff – which looks great, and we’ll get to it in a minute – there was a real surprise in Bungie’s presentation: somehow, I’m looking forward to the campaign more than anything else. Which is weird, right? Usually, the Destiny campaigns are just the appetizer. But seriously, I don’t think I’ve been this excited for a campaign since the launch of the original game. The Taken King is pretty close – those Hive god siblings sure do make for good expansions, don’t they – but The Witch Queen campaign is something we’ve never seen from Destiny, and at this point in Destiny 2’s long life, that’s exactly what I want to see. 

Better than Beyond Light  

Destiny 2 Bungie image Void subclass revamp

(Image credit: Bungie)

Destiny 2: The Witch Queen has actively targeted the three biggest issues I had with Beyond Light’s story. Firstly, the campaign is actually interwoven with the season launching alongside it. The Season of the Hunt was totally divorced from our fight against Eramis, but Savathun and her Lucent Brood are at the heart of the Witch Queen’s campaign and the Season of the Risen. This new season will also see the return of Caiatl, an unlikely ally, now fighting the Hive using the same anti-Light technology that the Cabal once used against us. This is a lovely little narrative thread that dovetails nicely with the second major improvement here. 

When was the last time you thought about Eramis, the big bad of Beyond Light? Probably the last time you cleared the campaign, because she totally vanished after it concluded. But as Bungie writers Julia Nardin and Nikko Stevens told us last year, Savathun will have some proper staying power, and I’m even more sure of that after this preview. You don’t just build up a villain for years, spend a five-month season weaving her into our daily routine, and then yank her off-stage once the credits roll. The Witch Queen is setting up “the beginning of the end for the Light and Darkness saga” of Destiny 2, and I’m excited to see Savathun’s part in all of it. 

And then there’s the big one: Destiny campaigns are usually super short. Smaller campaigns have the advantage of quickly turning players loose to let them rummage through the bones of expansions as they see fit, but they usually wind up being pretty forgettable. Destiny 2: The Witch Queen is betting that a longer campaign can deliver a grander story while still helping players feel out and progress through a broader collection of new content. Bungie says it’s substantially longer and more ambitious than its previous campaigns, and after seeing the second mission – apparently the shortest one – from start to finish, I’m inclined to believe them. More importantly, I’m inclined to play the hell out of it. 

The long road to The Witch Queen 

Destiny 2 The Witch Queen

(Image credit: Bungie)

It can be easy to forget that Bungie made Halo, and that the original Halo campaigns kicked ass in large part because they could be hard. That’s where The Witch Queen’s Legendary campaign comes in. This difficulty setting is available right from the start, and clearing the campaign on Legendary – with up to two buddies, since missions scale for your fireteam size – will not only deliver the kind of challenge that Destiny 2 campaigns have historically lacked, it’ll also speed up your Power grind with better and unique rewards. This’ll give hardcore players a leg up in the race to get raid-ready, and it’ll give others a taste of how end-game combat feels, complete with “major encounters” marked by rally flags, and a mission selector in case you decide to revisit specific missions on Legendary mode. Destiny 2 is a brilliant power fantasy, but its combat really sings when you’re struggling. I can’t wait to spend an entire campaign rationing ammo, hugging cover, and inevitably getting trampled by Hive Guardians. 

Finally, Bungie is doing spooky shit again.

It’s impressive how intimidating the Hive’s Lucent Brood really are. There’s inherent shock value to enemies using our powers against us, but the full implications didn’t really sink in until I saw the message “A Hive Lieutenant wields the Light!” in the in-game chat. They just popped a Super – your Super – like 10 feet away and they’re closing in. This brings the rock-paper-scissors Super countering typically seen in the Crucible into PvE, and I can’t wait to strategize around Hive Sentinels, Arcstriders, and Gunslingers as I work to master each Legendary mission. Normal enemies like Knights and Acolytes have gotten a power boost, too, with moths of Light granting them overshields and other abilities that change up the usual flow of combat. 

Destiny 2 The Witch Queen

(Image credit: Bungie)

The mission I saw showcased a lot of these new baddies in action, and most of them were dispatched by one of the new craftable glaives. As a fan of Doom Eternal’s finishers and Monster Hunter’s insect glaive, this first-person halberd immediately spoke to me, and it looks as badass as I’d hoped. Stabs, swipes, ranged blasts of energy, and carefully timed blocks ought to bring some powerful flexibility to the special weapon slot. I still want to know how glaives will perform in PvP, though. 

Savathun’s Throne World, the new destination and the main stage for the campaign, also could’ve been mined from my dream journal. The guts of the throne world are a winding, infested mess crawling with disguised Hive and secrets lurking just behind the veil Deepsight, a new sleuthing ability which reveals hidden platforms and other environmental details. Cursed Thrall spring from the ground, eerie statues give questionable directions, and the Gothic extravagance of the throne world’s interior provides a striking contrast to the burbling, boggy badlands surrounding it. Finally, Bungie is doing spooky shit again.

The long game: weapon crafting, new Exotics, Void 3.0, and more  

Destiny 2 The Witch Queen

(Image credit: Bungie)

Of course, as much as I am looking forward to the campaign, its story can only run for so long. It’ll get me to play Destiny 2: The Witch Queen, sure, but what will keep me playing it? As ever, the answer is loot, and thankfully there’s a lot of it. Perhaps a response to the limited offering in Beyond Light, Destiny 2: The Witch Queen will launch with roughly 42 new Legendary weapons, three Exotics for each class, and another heaping handful of Exotic weapons for good measure. Bungie showed off quite a few of these Exotics already, but I did see some new Warlock boots which seem to give Empowering Rift a lifesteal effect, which sounds pretty nasty. 

To unlock all the perks on a gun, it’s a pretty significant time investment

Rodney Thompson, senior design lead

A lot of the expansion’s loot is tied to crafting, though Bungie estimates players will use a mix of crafted weapons and the usual randomly rolled guns going forward. Weapon crafting boils down to collecting the patterns and resources needed to forge specific weapons, and then looting random guns that have the Deepsight property so you can extract their perks for later use. Extracting won’t destroy a Deepsight gun, and there’s some crossover between how perks can be applied – a Deepsight Rampage roll can be used to craft other damage-boosting perks, for example. Once you get the right pieces, you can make the gun of your dreams (within reason) and start leveling it up to unlock enhanced perks and traits. You can level a weapon infinitely even after you max it, too, sort of like a second kill tracker to show just how much you love a weapon. 

Weapon crafting will take some of the most painful RNG out of Destiny 2’s end-game, but it also comes with grinds of its own, ostensibly prioritizing effort over luck. Haunted by memories of collecting spirit blooms and grinding out perks in Destiny 1, I was eager to learn more about what this deterministic grind will demand of players and how it will change up end-game pursuits. Game director Joe Blackburn was quick to clarify that “Destiny is still a game about drops,” and that crafting won’t replace activity rewards. 

Destiny 2 The Witch Queen weapons

(Image credit: Bungie)

“We wanted drops to be really valuable,” he says. “Some of the things that you’re chasing here are these weapons with objectives on them. You go and complete the objectives and you get to take that weapon’s value and put it in something crafted. You’re gonna be alternating here between leveling up weapons that you love and have crafted, and using new weapons that you’ve found to get the resources out of them. It’s all forced back into the Destiny core loop. This is not a progression game in which you’re going out and trying to collect a lot of materials from destination nodes. It’s about playing activities, killing enemies, and getting into PvP.” 

The big question looming over all this is: how much time will it take to make a respectable weapon? It sounds like crafted guns will start off pretty weak until we flesh out their frames and perks, and while Bungie didn’t outline an exact time frame for leveling craftable guns, senior design lead Rodney Thompson said that playing the game normally, rather than farming Thrall in a hallway for an hour, will be the best way to progress. 

“To unlock all the perks on a gun, it’s a pretty significant time investment,” he added. “To get up to the point that you apply mementos [cosmetics], it’s even more. But we think that by just playing the game naturally, you’re going to be leveling up these weapons as you use them so it won’t feel super grindy.” 

Blackburn offered an anecdotal example of what leveling might look like: “A lot of players will be using the glaive as they go through the campaign and learn to use that new weapon, and I think by the time you go through a big investment like that, most players will be pleasantly surprised by the flexibility they have.”

All eyes on February 22 

Destiny 2 Bungie image witch queen glaive weapon

(Image credit: Bungie)

I’m cautiously optimistic about weapon crafting, but I’m outright enthusiastic about Void 3.0 – the first of three planned subclass revamps coming in the year ahead. This will give Void abilities the Stasis treatment, using aspects and fragments to break out customization, with key “verbs” like invisibility and shielding shared between all three classes but tailored to their unique strengths. I saw a Titan slam down a Void barricade and shield their entire party. A Warlock threw out seeking orbs that weaken enemies and siphon their life. The high points of today’s Void play styles have been supercharged, and classes share more DNA than ever before. 

There are over a dozen Void fragments and each class already has several Aspects available to it. Core abilities like grenades can apparently be unlocked through a quick trip to the Tower – I’ll be putting suppressor grenades on everyone – so we shouldn’t see the same growing pains we did with Stasis. Even with Solar and Arc 3.0 still to come in Year 5, this will likely end up having an even bigger impact on gameplay than weapon crafting, and as a longtime Voidwalker fan, I’m dying to get my hands on this new system. 

Destiny 2: The Witch Queen is set to launch on February 22. At this stage, I’ve seen enough; now I really need to play it for myself. Bungie is making a number of smart changes to the foundations of Destiny 2 for this new expansion, adding full-fledged crafting and modernizing the oldest subclasses. There’s clearly going to be a lot for Guardians to sink their teeth into. Being a loot goblin, I was obviously going to play it anyway just to Make Number Go Up, but now I not only have more carrots to chase, I’m looking forward to what appears to be an unexpectedly strong opening act. 

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