Destiny expansions always make a good first impression. Destiny 2: The Witch Queen makes the strongest first impression of any expansion from developer Bungie to date. It delivers the most memorable campaign in the series, and its story is the best thing Bungie has ever written. Ironically, this makes it more difficult to review.
Release date: February 22, 2022
Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X | S, Xbox One, PC, Google Stadia
These behemoth updates are measured in impact and longevity. It's not just how I feel 10, 20, 40, or – as I am now – even 80 hours in, but how I feel after several weeks or perhaps months. At 10 hours, The Witch Queen felt peerless, like no other live game could pull off something this ambitious. At 20 hours, it was overwhelming, the sheer variety of new activities and goals pulling me in a dozen, equally tantalizing directions. At 40 hours, it was engrossing. Weapon grinding and character building have been casually rewritten once again. Only after 80 hours and a run through the Vow of the Disciple raid do I fully understand the enormous impact of The Witch Queen. I don't know exactly how I'll feel about it in a few more weeks or months, but I know I'll still be playing it and watching the game's future with eager eyes.
Every time a new Destiny expansion drops, the hype kicks in and many players are quick to assert that this, surely, is the best the game has ever been. And yet again, it is. But then out come the comparisons. Is it as big as Forsaken? No, but I don't think it needed to be. Is it as good as The Taken King? Listen to me, forget The Taken King. Forsaken and The Taken King were about fixing Destiny. The Witch Queen is about celebrating it. This is the expansion I've wanted for seven years.
The gold standard campaign
We've never seen Destiny 2 so unified. The Witch Queen doesn't have a weak link across all of its core activities, and they feed into each other in meaningful ways. The initial premise of the expansion is pretty straightforward: Savathun, the Hive god of deception, has gotten her hands on the Light, presenting a clear threat to humanity's Vanguard and sparking conflict within it as Guardians question their connection to the Traveler. Between the campaign, missions in the open world, the raid, and seasonal developments, Savathun's plot becomes a catalyst for The Witch Queen to simultaneously fill gaps in the game's universe, flesh out the best villain in the franchise's history, and frame the rapidly escalating threat that will define the next three years of Destiny 2.
The Witch Queen has done more for Destiny 2's narrative than any expansion or season before it, and that's saying a lot after the past year. It is a new peak for the series, and it's only possible because of what it is. Destiny is absurd. It's incredible, and sometimes a mess. It's an ever-growing pile of growing pains. It's the best-feeling first-person shooter you can play. It's one of the richest universes in games, and that universe shovels stories at us but we usually catch them with a teaspoon. All of that – the lessons, the messes, the successes – is right here in this expansion, collected, polished, and presented like never before. The Witch Queen isn't just paying off story threads that Bungie's been planting for years. It's cashing in on everything Destiny is and could be.
The campaign fashions years of lore into an enthralling plot that doesn't require a video essay explainer, and it has clearer stakes and stronger momentum than any previous storyline. This isn't some expansion-exclusive side story; it's now the heart of the entire game. We don't hit the same abrupt stop that we did with Eramis in Beyond Light; Savathun can't be compartmentalized so easily. Bungie's playing some big cards here, cards I didn't expect to see for another year at least. Now that they're on the table, I can't begin to imagine how the next year will go.
It's not just the story, either. Destiny 2's difficulty has often struggled to keep up with its sterling gunplay, but the Witch Queen campaign, particularly its Legendary mode, is a superb balance of challenge and power fantasy. Legendary feels just right. It's excellent in co-op. It's rewarding in a literal sense: missions spit out twice the loot on Legendary, which makes the Power leveling process even easier. If you could somehow separate the Witch Queen campaign missions from Destiny 2, they would make for a great standalone shooter, but the campaign's place in the bigger picture makes it exponentially more compelling.
Vow of the Disciple
This is also true of the new raid, Vow of the Disciple. The mysterious pyramid ships that first appeared when Destiny 2 launched in 2017 have officially arrived, and in Vow we get some first-hand experience with what lies beyond them. Past the swamp of Savathun's Throne World are obsidian halls strewn with arcane glyphs, vibrating oddities born of unthinkable engineering, and the most intimidating final boss of any raid yet.
Destiny raids remain world-class experiences. There is simply nothing else like jumping into these multi-boss sagas with five of your friends, and they're only getting better. Here you'll find some of the finest vistas and soundtracks in all of gaming. The variety of obstacles in Vow alone is staggering, and Bungie's signature blend of method and madness is practically aerobic exercise. As ever, the secret ingredient is failure. Destiny 2 is happy to let you screw things up, but it also gives you a chance to recover, and getting things back on track through improvised roles and urgent callouts is where the real magic lies. I love a perfectly executed plan, but it's the emergencies I remember.
Just as The Witch Queen's story quickly goes beyond what previously passed for a campaign, Rhulk, the final boss of Vow, demonstrates just how far Destiny raids have come – how far Bungie has come at the helm of this impossible game. There are traces of Atheon, the boss of Destiny's first raid, in the beginning of the fight, where the boss is mostly just another piece of set-dressing that sits back while we fart around with mechanics for a few minutes. Then we get to act two. Rhulk invites us into a smaller, separate arena where we have to tango with him directly, not unlike a matador and a bull, only the bull has a glaive three times your size and knees like Captain frickin' Falcon.
You might think that after toppling titans like Oryx, Aksis, and Riven, a tall dude with a glaive wouldn't be too daunting, but that's the rule of video game boss fights. There's something infinitely more terrifying about a humanoid with a blade compared to a giant with heavily telegraphed attacks. Rhulk defies conventional raid knowledge – including the timeless strategy of idly shooting a dude while standing in a Well of Radiance – and puts yet another unforgettable face to the Darkness.
Why I'll keep playing
I look forward to running Vow several times a week for the foreseeable future, partly for fun and also for the new raid gear, and there's plenty more to do outside of it. The Witch Queen came out the gate with an impressive arsenal of guns, many available through the new weapon crafting system and many more sporting new weapon traits. One lobs a giant worm. Another is basically the edgy cousin of the Needler from Halo. The glaive, Destiny 2's new jack-of-all-trades, first-person melee weapon, is my favorite of the bunch because of what it brings to combat – mainly badass melee animations and an overpowered shield – but there are dozens of guns to pursue and just as many builds to craft.
Weapon crafting is less essential than it appeared, but its launch has gone about as I expected: with bottlenecks that needed to be adjusted. It wouldn't be a new Destiny system without them. Bungie has been good about pushing out patches to help players actually engage with weapon crafting in a reasonable time frame, but I reckon there are still a few more variables that need to be tuned.
Enhanced perks were positioned as a major appeal of crafted weapons, but most of them are pretty underwhelming. Despite early fixes, some crafting materials are still so rare, or have such low inventory caps, that you can't amass enough to fuel more than one crafting endeavor at a time. And due to some lingering RNG issues, unlocking and leveling a craftable weapon is often less appealing than just hoping for a good roll of that gun to drop naturally. Weapon crafting is a good addition to Destiny 2, but it's not as revolutionary as some might have hoped – at least not yet, but hopefully it opens up as more guns become craftable.
The newly updated Void subclasses have brought much bigger changes to Destiny 2's everyday gameplay. Void 3.0 is the first of three subclass overhauls coming in Year 5, and overnight it turned the most obscure element in the game into the most powerful. Void is now an irresistible cocktail of explosions and barriers that I can't put down. The skill tree of aspects and fragments established by the Stasis element in Beyond Light has been elevated for Void's face lift, and it's one of Destiny's sneakier time sinks. There's no telling how many hours I've spent in menus tinkering, contemplating, min-maxing stats, and combining mods. Building the perfect Guardian has never been more fun, and seasonal activities – yet more snacky hoard modes where you shoot dudes to fill a progress bar – have been the perfect testing ground for my new weapons and builds.
So, how do I say it this year? Destiny Christmas has come again? Destiny is the best it's ever been? The future of the game looks bright? All of this is true but I've said it all before, and The Witch Queen is not like anything before it. There's a change in kind here, a measure of confidence and intent that's hard to measure. All of Destiny 2 is now heading in a bold new direction informed by years of history, shaped by years of failures, and steered by years of successes. The Witch Queen is the best Destiny expansion ever, but it doesn't just build a better game; it imagines something better still.