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It’s time for the payoff. For years, Bungie has teased the potential of Destiny’s most devious villain. In recent months, that tease has escalated. The Hive queen named Savathûn has infiltrated all the major storylines, insinuating herself into the events shaping the story. Now, at long last, the Witch Queen’s trap is sprung, as she co-opts humanity’s most precious resource – the Light that gives power to its Guardians – and uses that power to make deathless warriors of her own.
With The Witch Queen, Bungie is betting big on a narrative twist that’s been in the making for a long time and using that storytelling moment to push forward new twists on the long-established gameplay model, including a dramatic move toward playstyle customization for players. On the eve of the expansion’s release, we spoke with the project’s creative director and got the scoop on what longtime players, lapsed Guardians returning to the fold, and even newcomers can expect to discover in the next few months.
“The villain, Savathûn, the most cunning Hive foe that we’ve ever had, is front and center,” says creative director James Tsai. “And it would not be a Savathûn story if there were no trickery. She is the god of cunning.” That focus on treachery, hidden meanings, and secrets doesn’t end 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 wily foe. “We’ve actually been talking about this as a mystery,” Tsai continues. “The player fantasy is one of being like a psychic detective this time around. You’re going into this uncertain destination, this creepy, beautifully grotesque, twisted Wonderland kind of place. What’s the mystery here? What can you trust?”
Those dynamics of beautiful grotesquerie are on full display in the playspace that Tsai is describing. Savathûn’s Throne World is a sprawling new area for players to explore, filled with secrets and opportunities for combat across several distinct regions. A reflection of Savathûn’s mind, the Throne World is an old Hive Realm that is being remade and blessed by the Light that Savathûn has stolen. “She has the Light, so she has this opulent, well-manicured castle. Cool sculptures, courtyards. It’s not the typical Hive area. Then you have this swampier, bayou kind of area that she has not yet rebuilt with the Light. And then there’s this underworld section as well.” There’s even a new six-person matchmade activity called Wellspring that plays out in the Throne World, built to convey the fantasy of storming the seemingly insurmountable castle. Conceptually, the swamps, heat, and humidity represent something novel and distinct from what we’ve previously seen from the franchise.
Across that new landscape, Bungie has big plans to make the new campaign especially memorable. “We call it the definitively Destiny campaign,” Tsai says. “It’s about bringing some of the awesome grandeur of some of our endgame aspirational feel into the campaign itself. Soaring through these really cool environmental setpieces. Memorable encounters that take a lot of thought and understanding. Bringing puzzles into the campaign for players. There’s a really reinvigorated focus on the campaign in this release.”
The campaign’s renewed importance also means new ways to play. Beyond the classic experience, players can confront a legendary version of the campaign. That translates into more enemies with more significant health pools, increased modifiers on combat, and tweaks to Darkness zones that ensure players can’t trivialize encounters. In return, players can expect commensurate rewards with gear bundles that help push your Guardian into raid-readiness, upgrade modules, and even the possibility of exotic drops.
The legendary campaign also features a new approach to fireteam size, adapting content and enemies depending on the number of Guardians in your playgroup. “Our intent is to make sure that there is no wrong way to play this,” Tsai says. “You want to play it by yourself; you’re doing it. You want to play with friends? You’ll get the same tough experience and that same accomplishment.”
Whether in classic or legendary difficulty, players should expect one significant challenge to remain constant – the dire threat of the Lucent Brood. While players will still face the entire coterie of Hive enemies they’ve fought for years, Savathûn’s forces are joined by new variants empowered by the Light. Like player character Guardians, the Lucent Brood wield supers and rise back from the dead after defeat. “It really does change the sandbox experience against them,” Tsai says. “It’s not just like fighting a set of Hive with new pajamas; you have to take these abilities into consideration.”
Players can expect to confront newly empowered Knights glowing with Void shields like a Titan. Arc-powered Wizards fling out electrical attacks. And solar-fueled Acolytes wield fans of flaming knives. Upon death, these high-threat enemies remain dormant 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 risk closing the distance to the enemy Ghost and then tapping your Finisher to grasp and crush them, ending the threat.
Meanwhile, more standard Hive enemies will get powered up by moths that infuse them with Light. “So, you might fight an Acolyte who is charged with Light, and when you defeat that Acolyte, then the moth comes flying out, and it seeks to infuse its power into another one of the nearby combatants, or it comes after you and tries to detonate,” Tsai explains. Add up the implications, and battles against the Lucent Brood aim for high-intensity encounters that require up-close confrontations to end the fight definitively.
To increase your chance of survival, Guardians have a few new tricks of their own. The glaive appears in both exotic and legendary varieties and acts as a combo melee and ranged weapon with significant potential for destruction. “It’s our first new weapon archetype in the game since bows, and it’s the only first-person melee weapon we have,” Tsai says. Unlike the sweeping arcs of swords, the glaive is squarely targeted at single foe engagement. Aggressive jabs can be strung together with multiple button presses to produce a fluid combo. A glaive can also shoot out an energy blast at short or medium range and features a defensive shield that powers up as you defeat enemies.
Glaives are just one of the many weapons you can build and tweak with the new weapon crafting system. This complex new system fulfills a desire many Destiny players have voiced for years: a chance to devise their own custom arsenals, modifying weapons to support a personal playstyle. Weapon crafting starts with a pattern, which can be used to create the initial form of a given weapon. Using that weapon in combat gains levels that enable you to further tweak its capabilities, from intrinsic properties like a ranged or handling increase, to magazine attributes and other more consequential adjustments. Eventually, you’ll be able to alter its core traits and perks, like Rampage or Killing Wind. You’re also gathering crafting resources, both through distinct sources out in the game world, as well as by dismantling other weapons. Optional consumable mementos even let you unlock cosmetic changes to your weapons.
All of these weapon changes are enabled through the use of the Relic, both to create and subsequently customize your perfect tool of destruction. It’s a new focus for investment in the game and personalization of your experience, and it’s treated as such – a designated place you visit that features numerous options for making a given weapon your own. “The reason we have this relic is that we wanted this 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 is also set to see a further push toward play customization through revising 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 rollout in later seasons. To get a sense of what to expect, look no further than the recent launch of the Darkness-based Stasis powers, with their aspects and fragments that let players reshape their approach to play. When applied to the Void classes, players shouldn’t expect entirely new power arrays. Instead, it’s about mixing and tweaking the existing power trees to build-craft the exact character you want. “We really feel it is a big quality of life improvement for those Light subclasses, being able to just optimize the way that you play,” Tsai says.
After a significant delay that pushed The Witch Queen into the new year, Destiny 2 players have high expectations for a refresh that invigorates the long-running hobby game. While the full scope of that refresh won’t be apparent until weeks into the new expansion, it’s safe to say that Bungie has a clear plan ahead for continued evolution. After all, The Witch Queen is just the first in a line of named expansions already in the books. But before that final shape can coalesce, the complete picture of Savathûn’s deceptions and trickery must come to light, and those developments have the attention of a rapt fanbase.
Check out the gallery below for more screenshots showing off what players can look forward to in the impending expansion.
This article originally appeared in Issue 343 of Game Informer.