Destiny 2: The Witch Queen finally fulfills the series’ dormant potential

Destiny 2: The Witch Queen finally fulfills the series’ dormant potential

Bungie’s sci-fi shooter series Destiny has always been good, but loving it hasn’t always been easy.

The games have seen a lot of turbulence, with a rocky launch in 2014, a rocky sequel in 2017, and design hiccups throughout. There have also been glowing periods, but they’ve all been in service of fixing past mistakes, rather than building something better down the line. So Destiny has always been a series about potential, and faithful players who continually hoped for something genuinely great around each corner.

Nearly eight years, two full games, and six expansions later, Destiny 2 is finally living up to that potential.

The Witch Queen starts with a new and intriguing mystery. A longtime villain — Savathun, sister of Oryx, the villain from the original Destiny’s beloved Taken King expansion — has somehow acquired the Light, the force that gives Guardians their power. The Hive, enemies I’ve been battling for nearly a decade, suddenly have the same magical space powers that I do, including the most video-gamey of all powers: the ability to respawn. The only way to keep them down is to rush their bodies on the battlefield, crushing their spiky Ghosts — the living machines that supply Guardians with the Light — in my hand.

Three Hive Lightbeaers pop their Supers Image: Bungie

Killing these evil Guardians and their Hive Ghosts is a foundational gameplay mechanic in The Witch Queen, but it comes with a moral quandary as well. Since Destiny’s beginning, the Light has only blessed humanity with Ghosts. There’ve been some bad-egg Guardians in the lore, but we’ve never seen enemies wield the Light against us in game. Bungie is clearly pulling at a classic thread here, asking “What makes the good guys good, and the bad guys bad?”

But as trite and nonsensical as the Destiny story has been in the past, I got deeply invested in the tale Bungie is telling with The Witch Queen. With this story, Bungie has bridged a massive gap. After years of working to establish surrounding lore and make up for the first game’s poor storytelling, it feels like the studio is finally free to tell a compelling narrative. For example, Guardians are finally questioning mysterious beings like the Traveler in-game (rather than on a Grimoire card), and we have great characters on both sides of the debate.

The story is just one piece of Bungie’s magnum opus — the first link in a chain that connects the entire expansion. The central mystery — how the Hive got the Light — centers around the new Throne World location, letting players dive into the mind of the most interesting villain in the series’ history. Secrets that players find in the world grant new currencies, which in turn lead to new weapons, which then play into the new weapon-crafting system. I’m constantly using new weapons so I can add them to my crafting repertoire, or leveling up weapons I’ve already crafted to improve them further.

Guardians gather around the crafting table in Destiny 2: The Witch Queen Image: Bungie

The new evidence board found in-game on Mars — one of those classic detective boards with string tying loose ends together — becomes its own metaphor for what the expansion does so well. The additions, from the new glaive weapon type to the Void 3.0 ability overhaul to the weapon-crafting system, don’t exist to fix past problems. Instead, they help breathe new life into activities I’ve been playing with since 2017. It’s Destiny with the baggage stripped away, and every piece flows together beautifully.

Every other major Destiny success — The Taken King for the original Destiny and Forsaken for Destiny 2 — was born from catastrophe. After the original Destiny launched as a hodgepodge of boring campaign missions and bad gearing systems, The Taken King showed players the series’ potential. Bungie fixed the gearing system and built the Dreadnaught, a foreboding location laced with secrets. After Bungie made all-new mistakes with Destiny 2 (such as PvP-focused changes that hamstrung PvE players), Forsaken came along to put the series back on track with a new weapon system and an excellent campaign. Both expansions were major steps forward for the franchise, yes, but primarily because they fixed the game in a crucial make-or-break moment.

The Witch Queen, on the other hand, follows one of Destiny’s quietest years. (2021 was the first year without a major expansion since the original Destiny’s launch.) The seasons that followed Beyond Light and proceeded The Witch Queen all told compelling stories, offered awesome rewards, and even gave players a few surprises. Which is all to say that Destiny doesn’t need saving in 2022, so Bungie focused on quality and quantity over bandages and salves. The Witch Queen is the first major expansion to feel less like a reaction, and more like a proactive step forward.

Guardians run around in Savathun’s Throne World Image: Bungie

This isn’t Bungie reinventing the wheel — it’s watching it evolve from spokes and wood to metal and rubber. It still adds a new campaign, new location, and new weapons — but all of its offerings reach series highs, with the campaign being a particularly excellent standout. It’s like if Blizzard dropped a World of Warcraft expansion so good that it easily blew The Lich King — which many view as the “golden age” of WoW — out of the water. The Witch Queen demolishes the quality bars set by The Taken King and Forsaken, and have left me even more excited for the upcoming Lightfall and Final Shape expansions.

As a longtime Destiny player, I had an emotional experience with The Witch Queen. I’m feeling something akin to pride. Like watching a toddler taking their first steps, I’ve seen Destiny succeed and stumble for years now. But The Witch Queen is like watching that toddler run for the first time on their own. Destiny 2 will almost certainly lose its footing again, but my timid hope has turned to exuberant confidence, and I know Bungie will pick itself back up, dust itself off, and keep moving forward.

Eight years after those first clumsy beginnings, the series isn’t about Hope for the Future anymore. The Destiny I’ve always wanted is here.

Destiny 2: The Witch Queen was released Feb. 22 on Google Stadia, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on PC using a Steam download code provided by Bungie. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.