Last week, Destiny 2's latest premium expansion, The Witch Queen went live. While there was understandable hype for the features and mechanics the expansion would introduce, such as the heavily reworked Void subclasses and the weapon crafting system, the story campaign was met with a sense of obligation. Just something to sleepily work through in order to stay up to date with the ongoing space-opera narrative of Destiny. But The Witch Queen's campaign is not just brilliant -- it might just be the best campaign that Bungie has made in years.
Destiny 2 The Witch Queen - Past Expansions
Throughout Destiny 2's lifespan, the premium expansions are usually seen as major changes to the status quo of the game. Forsaken was marketed as "The one where Cayde-6 dies." Shadowkeep was seen more symbolically as the game's new era away from the influence of Activision and into its current free-to-play model. Beyond Light was the introduction of the Stasis subclasses.
However, while these expansions have kept the fanbase engaged with new content, a lot of the single-player campaigns are either seen as forgettable or perfunctory. For all of Forsaken's narrative framing of a revenge story, all it really did was bring in some new enemy types. The story revelations in Shadowkeep is predicated on a lot of tedious busywork, the kind that lessened the fan-service appeal of returning to the Moon. Beyond Light, despite the introduction of a major character from the game's lore as an antagonist and the thematic muddying of morality of The Light and The Darkness, amounted to just more of the same.
It's been a problem affecting Destiny 2 for a while. The story and background information promise big revelations and big moments, but the actual campaign experienced amounts to a handful of gun battles followed by some form of time-killing tedium (craft this armor set, find these doodads, etc.), then a resolution of the campaign followed by some obligatory endgame material.
Enter Destiny 2 The Witch Queen's marketing. Not only did Bungie declare that this expansion would radically change the world of Destiny forever, they mentioned that the expansion wasn't just heavily influenced by The Taken King -- considered the greatest Destiny expansion ever -- it was seen as a direct sequel to it. After years of premium campaigns that were just good enough, this was one hell of a gauntlet to throw down.
Destiny 2 The Witch Queen - Legendary Pacing and Variety
As first impression's go, the latest campaign starts off incredibly strong. The Witch Queen's campaign is spread across eight story chapters (about a seven hour long experience), each one of which culminates in a memorable set piece or battle. In addition, there is at least one unique mechanic that is threaded throughout each chapter, leading to engaging environmental puzzles. Most of these deal with illusions or the reshaping of certain environments and map, which fits the overarching story of diving into a god of deception's pocket dimension. The new Hive Guardian enemies only add to this dynamic variety. Their attack patterns not only perfectly imitate Guardian playstyles -- Warlocks use healing rifts, Hunters dodge roll into cover, and so on -- but blend perfectly with other Hive enemy configurations for some nail-biting scrapes.
This kind of level design has been seen in Destiny 2 before, but it's usually reserved for endgame content like Dungeons and Raids. This is the first time in a long time they have arrived fully formed in a campaign like this, and it helps add a sense of discovery and inventiveness to each new encounter and location. Comparisons have been made to the campaign of Titanfall 2 due to how much creative energy and imagination has been on display in Bungie's latest effort, and it's a solid comparison to make.
There is little to no downtime to be found either. Since the main story of Witch Queen is framed as a mystery thriller, a lot of the campaign's diversions and set pieces are explained as your character following up on leads and uncovering clues about the titular villain's grand plan.
But the biggest feather in The Witch Queen campaign's cap has to be the new Legendary difficulty. As mentioned before, a lot of prior campaigns' cinematic aspirations get blunted by the player base's familiarity with the game's overall systems. The story can go on about how things have gotten more serious, but it falls flat if a veteran player just pulls out some overpowered combination of weapons and armor then snoozes through it like another day at the space office. Destiny as a series has been moving along for about eight years now, and the player base is very set in their own respective playstyles. Enter Legendary Mode, which immediately caps your Power level so you're always on the back foot against your enemies, removes your radar, and adds additional modifiers to enemy waves.
But while other Destiny 2 activities have used similar restrictions, the Legendary campaign feels much more deliberate. In a way, playing through the story a second time in this mode brought back echoes of classic Halo campaigns -- the focus on threat management, constant awareness of your surroundings, and rewarding a thorough understanding of your build and loadout. Not to mention it helps illustrate just how entertaining and exciting it is to play through these story chapters again.
Destiny 2: The Witch Queen - The Ending and the Future
Way back when I was covering the story beats of Season of the Splicer, I mentioned that the storytelling of Destiny 2 has begun to evolve past the simple spectacle of shooting the big bad in favor of messy complicated nuance. While that it is still true, the universe-rocking ramifications of the events of The Witch Queen campaign still manage to set the stage for what will be the ultimate antagonist of the entire franchise going forward, and it does so brilliantly.
The story's central mystery is legitimately well put together and makes Savathûn one of Destiny's most memorable villains ever. Not just for her unraveling plans within plans within plans, but for her ultimate goals and surprisingly relatable vulnerability that she expresses near the end. It is thanks to these story beats and presentation that truly elevates The Witch Queen's story from just an above average Bungie shooter to something genuinely brilliant.
Warning: The rest of this piece contains spoilers for Destiny 2: The Witch Queen's campaign.
First, the set up. Savathûn has somehow stolen The Light and has begun using it to create her own Hive Guardians, leading to the ferocity of the Hive combining with the same tactics and abilities that Guardians have been using on each other in PvP maps for years. Considering Savathûn has been running around in an Osiris skinsuit for an entire year right under the Vanguard's noses, it has lead to a lot of mistrust amid the Vanguard's ranks and forms the backbone of the central mystery. How did Savathûn steal the Light? Did she uncover something in Vanguard records, or did someone tell her?
Throughout the events of the campaign, your Guardian obtains a new power that allows them to see psychic traces of objects, basically "remembering" what they once knew. Using this Deepsight, you piece together Savathûn's ultimate plan to capture The Traveler, use The Light to make her own army of unkillable supersoldiers, and leave Earth completely defenseless.
This is also how you discover how Savathûn stole The Light. The simple answer is... she didn't. To broadly summarize, she betrayed The Hive and The Darkness, died from her Worm being ripped from her body, and she was brought back as a Guardian. In other words, the only difference between her Hive Guardians and your Guardians is methodology; both of you were brought back for equally valid reasons.
Surprisingly though, this is not the biggest bombshell the campaign packs. It is here that Destiny 2 finally reveals the final major antagonist and the reason for Savathûn's heel turn. The lore of Destiny has continuously alluded to some sort of sinister presence or eldritch horror that commands The Darkness, one that predates the very creation of the universe itself. Now, that very horror has a voice and a name: The Witness.
But the introduction of The Witness brings with it one of the biggest revelations in the story so far. For the longest time, the origin of the Hive centered around them seeking power from The Darkness in order to save their entire race from a natural disaster. This led to them becoming conquering tyrants, killing trillions of lives across the galaxy in service of their cosmic master. But, in a single cutscene, it is revealed that all of this genocide and suffering was based on a lie. The Witness manipulated The Hive into creation... because they were intended to be the first Guardians chosen by The Traveler. Worse still, this is something you reveal to Savathûn during your final battle with her, leading to a pitched emotional climax to match all of the space opera bombast.
These twists are powerful. It turns the origin and history of the Hive into something closer to a grand tragedy, giving them more dimension than just the PG-13 quasi-zombie monsters they've been up to this point. It heightens and fleshes out Savathûn as more than just an unflappable master manipulator. But above all, it perfectly sets the stage for The Witness and whatever their next big moves will be, raising the stakes for what will come next.
All of this is why Destiny 2 The Witch Queen has seen so much celebration. It isn't just an alright campaign with one or two big moments; it is Bungie firing on all cylinders and hitting all of the marks. The levels are all brilliant, the difficulty perfectly tuned for both newcomers and veteran players. The story is grand and compelling thanks to a great villain and intriguing mystery. If this is the new standard for Destiny 2's expansions going forward, it is hell of a bar they have set for themselves.