After almost eight years, two main titles and six jam-packed expansions, the Destiny franchise is finally starting to find its groove. This is thanks mainly to the latest expansion for Bungie’s online-only multiplayer looter-shooter Destiny 2: The Witch Queen, which was released late last month. It was nestled between the release of Guerrilla Games’ Horizon Forbidden West and FromSoft’s Elden Ring, both of which have proven to be big releases for an already jam-packed first quarter. Many may feel compelled to play either of the two major releases over The Witch Queen, but even for disillusioned Destiny fans, this expansion is well worth coming back for.
Originally the new content pack was set for a late 2021 release but was delayed to early 2022. Whether the additional time was used to add some much needed polish to the game, or simply make it to the finish line is unknown. As reported by Polygon, the delay was reportedly the result of ongoing issues surrounding COVID-19 slowing down the development. What is certain is that The Witch Queen was worth the wait.
Lore and light
Coming into The Witch Queen as a new player may be confusing. In reality, there really is no good starting place within the Destiny storyline anymore. This is thanks to the vaulting of entire sections and expansions from the game as a way to create a revolving door of content. The newest campaign picks up the breadcrumbs of lore explored in the seasons since Beyond Light. It also trades on the plot of Destiny’s original Taken King expansion, which launched almost six years ago. So, if you maybe missed this chapter or can’t remember that far back, understanding where these key plot points come from requires a fair amount of Destinypedia homework.
Once upon a time, there were three Hive siblings, whom a benevolent worm god granted ethereal powers in return for unending blood sacrifices. Now, one of these god-like siblings has become the benevolent Witch Queen and seems she is intent on destroying the Traveler. This isn’t the first big bad to show up and target the Traveler, but the big twist this time around is that Hive enemies have the power of the Light on their side. Up until now, Guardians (AKA the players) were the only beings in the known universe to have the power of the Light and Ghost companions, both of which require the blessings of the Traveler to use.
What does this mean plot-wise? Not a lot really. We’ve known for a while the Traveler is relatively shifty and will dump an entire species at the drop of a hat (see the history of the Fallen, Cabal, etc). Having more concrete evidence that the Hive has some connection to the Traveler is not that big of a surprise. This isn’t the first major connection between the two. It is however a nice surprise to finally see years of lore being used as actual plot points in a campaign.
Unlike previous expansions, The Witch Queen actually has some history to it. Many players have fought Xivu Arath and Oryx at some point in their Destiny journey. Now, players can finally meet the last of these legendary Hive sisters, Savathûn (Sathona) and perhaps even close the book on this specific chapter of the Hive’s legacy. Long time players of the franchise might recognise the name Savathûn as the sister of Oryx, the main villain in The Taken King. In a similar fashion, there have been some interesting additions to the Hive as an enemy species, including their overall look. The usual Gothic-architecture-meets-ant-colony aesthetic of the Hive has given way to a Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland look. It’s a refreshing change of scenery from every other world, with a sharper and colder colour palette than previous settings.
Point and shoot and loot
Gameplay-wise, enemies now pack a much bigger punch. At least, some of the Hive do anyway. During the course of the campaign, new Hive enemy types called the Lucent Hive begin to appear, equipped with some strikingly-familiar abilities. These new powers mirror those of the Guardians that players. For the first time in Destiny‘s history, enemies are mimicking the characteristics of the Hunter, Warlock and Titan classes. Being blasted by your own ultimate during a fight from these Light-wielding foes is a whole new kind of experience.
Those who frequent the PvP modes will be more familiar with this sensation. After unleashing your own ultimate on foes for nearly a decade now, having those same abilities thrown your way is a refreshing new way to die. Or at least it was for me.
The Lucent Hive can also revive themselves through their own Ghost units, each of which comes adorned with their own Hive aesthetic shell. Players will need to perform a finisher on the Ghost in order to permanently take down these enemies. During a heavy firefight, this can prove easier said than done. The finishing animation is also quite brutal, considering how much emphasis the series has placed on the personal significance of Ghost death in the past. Once you muscle past the moral ramifications of that thought, the satisfying crunch of crushing a Ghost in your own hand is an excellent touch, one that could be incorporated into the various PVP modes for extra spiciness.
What if the Traveler was our enemy?
While the main story in Destiny 2 tried to show players what it would mean if the Traveler was to leave humanity behind, The Witch Queen shows us an even scarier alternative: What if the Traveler was our enemy? It’s the first time that possibility has really struck a strong enough cord. Bungie has been sprinkling doubt about the Traveler’s allegiances and purpose over the past couple of years, but it seems now the story might actually be heading towards a more definitive answer.
The campaign of The Witch Queen might be the main selling point, but it’s actually only a small portion. While the story certainly sets a lot of things in motion for the ongoing universe of Destiny, there’s still plenty to explore in the new Throne World location. There’s also a new quest system based on an evidence board located on Mars. There’s even a new weapon creation system brought into play that encourages players to try out weapons that they may not have wielded otherwise. That being said, weekly goals in Strikes, Gambit and Crucible are still the best way to obtain new armour and weapons, especially if players wish to reach the new light cap of 1550 (1560 with Pinnacle gear) or take on the new Vow of Disciple Raid content.
Unlike other seasons and expansions, The Witch Queen doesn’t feel like a bandaid or patch job over the previous version. It adds to the experience instead of reworking existing aspects. It brings new elements to the fore, and breathes new life into the Destiny franchise. The result is a much-needed spark for the online community. The gameplay flows from one activity to the next. Bite-sized quests create a more streamlined experience that feels less of a slog than in earlier iterations.
The way of the future
In previous years, Bungie has relied on expansions to restore the Destiny status quo. The Witch Queen is more of a promise of what’s to come. With Bungie presumably gearing up to launch its mystery franchise within the next few years, the continuous rollercoaster that is Destiny seems to be finally finding some solid ground. Here’s hoping it doesn’t once again lose its tenuous footing, and instead move forward with the momentum The Witch Queen has given it. We will just have to wait and see how Lightfall and The Final Shape will continue the Destiny 2 saga over the next few years.