It’s time for the payout. For years, Bungie teased the potential of Destiny’s most devious villain. In recent months, that plague has escalated. The Hive queen named Savathûn has infiltrated all major storylines and insinuated herself into the events that shape the story. Now, at last, the Witch Queen’s trap is opened as she co-opts humanity’s most precious resource – the Light that gives power to her Guardians – and uses that power to create her own immortal warriors.
With The Witch Queen, Bungie bets big on a narrative twist that’s been a long time in the making and uses that moment to tell the story to bring new twists to the long-standing gameplay model, including a dramatic step toward of game style customization for players. On the eve of the expansion’s release, we spoke to the project’s creative director and got the scoop on what old players, expired Guardians returning to the fold, and even newcomers can expect to discover in the coming months.
“The villain, Savathûn, the most cunning Hive enemy we’ve ever had, takes center stage,” said creative director James Tsai. “And it wouldn’t be a Savathûn story if there wasn’t a trick. She is the god of cunning.” That focus on betrayal, hidden meanings and secrets doesn’t stop because Savathûn has now revealed her true identity and stepped into the light. And it sounds like a primary focus of The Witch Queen experience is matching wits against such a cunning foe. “We actually talked about this as a mystery,” Tsai continues. “The player’s fantasy is one of being a paranormal detective this time around. You are going to this uncertain destination, this eerie, beautifully grotesque, twisted Wonderland-esque place. What’s the mystery here? What can you trust?”
That dynamic of beautiful grotesquerie can be fully seen in the play space that Tsai describes. Savathûn’s Throne World is a vast new area for players to explore, filled with secrets and possibilities for combat in several different regions. A reflection of Savathn’s mind, the Throne World is an ancient beehive realm being recreated and blessed by the light Savathn stole. “She has the Light, so she has this opulent, well-maintained castle. Cool sculptures, courtyards. It’s not the typical Hive area. Then you have this swampy, swampy kind of area that she hasn’t rebuilt with the Light yet. And then there’s this part of the underworld.” There’s even a new six-person match-made activity called Wellspring, set in the Throne World, built to convey the fantasy of storming the seemingly insurmountable castle. Conceptually, the swamps, heat and humidity represent something new and different from what we’ve seen before in the franchise.
In that new landscape, Bungie has big plans to make the new campaign particularly memorable. “We’re calling it the definitive Destiny campaign,” Tsai says. “It’s about bringing some of the awesome grandeur of some of our endgame aspirational sense into the campaign itself. Fly through these really cool environmental set pieces. Memorable encounters that require a lot of thought and understanding. Add puzzles to the campaign for players. There’s a really revived focus on the campaign in this release.”
The campaign’s newfound importance also means new ways to play. In addition to the classic experience, players can face off against a legendary version of the campaign. That translates to more enemies with bigger health pools, more modifiers in combat, and adjustments to Darkness zones that keep players from downplaying encounters. In return, players can expect commensurate rewards with gear bundles that help your Guardian get ready for raids, upgrade modules, and even the option of exotic drops.
The Legendary campaign also offers a new approach to fireteam size, adjusting content and enemies according to the number of Guardians in your playgroup. “Our intent is to make sure there’s no wrong way to play this,” Tsai says. “You want to play it yourself; you do it. Do you want to play with friends? You get the same tough experience and the same performance.”
Whether in classic or legendary difficulty levels, players can expect one key challenge to remain constant: the terrifying threat of the Lucent Brood. While players still have to face the entire group of Hive enemies they’ve fought against for years, Savathûn’s powers are joined by new variants supported by the Light. Like the Guardians player character, the Lucent Brood wields supers and rises from the dead after defeat. “It really changes the sandbox experience against them,” Tsai says. “It’s not just fighting a set of Hive with new pajamas; you have to take these skills into account.”
Players can expect to face newly empowered knights glowing with Void shields like a Titan. Arc-powered Wizards throw out electric attacks. And solar-powered acolytes wield fans of flaming knives. After death, these dangerous enemies remain inactive for a few seconds until their Ghosts bring them back to life and full health, ready to continue the fight. Your only option is to close the distance to the enemy Ghost and then tap your Finisher to grab and crush them, ending the threat.
Meanwhile, more standard Hive enemies will be powered by moths that drench them with light. “So you could fight an Acolyte charged with Light, and when you defeat that Acolyte, the moth comes flying out, and it tries to transfer its power into another nearby warrior, or it comes after you and tries explode,” explains Tsai. Add up the implications, and battles against the Lucent Brood are focused on high-intensity encounters that require close encounters to end the fight for good.
To increase your chance of survival, Guardians have a few new tricks. Appearing in both exotic and legendary variants, the glaive acts as a combo melee and ranged weapon with significant potential for destruction. “It’s our first new weapon archetype in the game since Arches, and it’s the only first-person melee weapon we have,” Tsai says. Unlike the sprawling arcs of swords, the glazing is squarely aimed at taking on one enemy. Aggressive jabs can be strung together with multiple button presses to produce a smooth combo. A glaive can also fire a burst of energy at short or medium range and has a defense shield that grows stronger when you defeat enemies.
Glaives are just one of many weapons you can build and customize with the new weapon building system. This complex new system fulfills a wish many Destiny players have expressed for years: a chance to invent their own custom arsenals and modify weapons to support a personal playstyle. Weapon making starts with a cartridge, which can be used to create the original shape of a particular weapon. Using that weapon in combat gives you levels that allow you to further customize its abilities, from intrinsic properties like a range or action increase to warehouse attributes and other more consequential tweaks. Ultimately, you can change its core features and benefits, such as Rampage or Killing Wind. You will also collect resources for crafting, both through various resources in the game world, as well as dismantling other weapons. With optional consumables, you can even unlock cosmetic changes to your weapons.
All of these weapon changes are made possible through the use of the relic, both to create and then customize your perfect destruction tool. It’s a new focus for investing in the game and personalizing your experience, and it’s treated as such: a designated place to visit with tons of options to make a particular weapon your own. “The reason we have this relic is that we wanted it to feel like a personal, sacred, and emotionally intimate moment for you and give it some importance in the universe,” Tsai says.
The Witch Queen will also see a further push towards game customization by overhauling the Void subclasses. That retrofit is the first such reorganization of Light-based subclasses planned for the year, with both Arc and Solar intended for rollouts in later seasons. To get an idea of what to expect, look no further than the recent launch of the Darkness-based Stasis powers, with their aspects and fragments allowing players to reshape the way they play. When applied to the Void classes, players should not expect all-new power arrays. Instead, it’s all about mixing and customizing the existing power trees to build the exact character you want. “We really feel like it’s a big quality of life improvement for those Light subclasses because they can just optimize the way you play,” Tsai says.
After a significant delay that pushed The Witch Queen into the new year, Destiny 2 players have high hopes for a refresh that will breathe new life into the long-running hobby game. While the full scope of that refresh won’t be clear until weeks after the new expansion, we can safely say that Bungie has a clear plan for further evolution. After all, The Witch Queen is just the first in a series of named expansions already in the books. But before that final form can come together, the full picture of Savathûn’s trickery and deceit must come to light, and those developments have caught the attention of an avid fan base.
Check out the gallery below for more screenshots showing what players can look forward to in the upcoming expansion.
This article originally appeared in issue 343 of Gaming Tech Gear.