With each new expansion, Destiny 2 brings new weapons for player Guardians to strive towards and adventures for them to go on. These expansions are generally pretty good, but sometimes, Bungie’s shared world shooter will put a bigger emphasis on the former, since that’s the main draw of the series. There will still be a solid story told with each expansion, but it can often feel like these tales take a back seat to focus on what you’ll use to vanquish wave after wave of enemies. (See: a grenade launcher that shoots worms.) While the newest Witch Queen expansion does offer plenty of impressive guns and armour, it also spends a suitable amount of time on building a campaign that actually feels worth the price of admission.
Leading up to Witch Queen’s release, the biggest selling point of the whole expansion (outside that aforementioned worm launcher) was the Hive Guardians. They’re a blast to fight, and the expansion does a good job of making them feel like a familiar threat, but still plenty alien. Their existence is central to the expansion’s story, and the biggest mystery surrounding everything going on with its chief villain, Savathun.
For much of the story, it feels like the answer of how she managed to give her people the Light that grants Guardians their powers is one of two options, neither of them great: either the Hive Queen learned from harvesting Guardians in a Strike early into Destiny 2’s lifespan, or came about the information more recently while posing as Ikora’s mentor, Osiris. Because the former Strike just isn’t available to be played anymore, the latter is presented as the more obvious of the two. As such, it’s more than a little satisfying to be on Savathun’s Throne World and defeat a Hive Guardian, particularly after they’ve popped their Super. It’s even more great (but still deeply messed up) to secure your victory by crushing its Ghost in the palm of your hand.
Ghosts are central to the Guardians and the lore of Destiny, and Witch Queen spends some time digging into the Guardians’ little floating friends by introducing a pair of Hive Ghosts. Fynch is the one players will spend the most time with; as the central NPC on Savathun’s Throne World, he’s more than eager to help the Guardians bring an end to the queen’s schemes. Fynch feels like a comforting presence on the unsettling Throne World, while also carrying a sense of menace as he casually hovers over the remains of his Hive Guardian. Destiny doesn’t often give multiple Ghosts the chance to interact one-on-one, which is what makes it so interesting when your Ghost frequently probes and expresses scepticism at their new ally.
Typically, Nolan North’s given the Ghost a lot of “kid brother” energy, the kind that can be either really funny or sometimes at odds with how the player feels in the moment. But Witch Queen gives Ghost a lot of material to work with, and it’s really something to hear him become genuinely angry at seeing others of his kind fight for the wrong side, even as they — like him — were created for the same purpose in finding people worthy to wield the Traveller’s gift. While players have spent the past year turning foes into friends, like the Guardian Crow (formerly antagonist Uldren Sov, before you maybe killed him), it’s a bit more of a hurdle to accept the Hive as Guardians, since this is the first time we’re seeing non-humans with the Traveller’s power. Because this expansion began not long after Savathun’s escape from her crystal prison in Season 15 (where she frequently kept calling the Guardian her “friend” and sowed distrust among the heroes), it means something when Ghost and Ikora keep Fynch and his seemingly earnest attempts to help at arm’s length.
The second Ghost is Immaru, who belongs to Savathun herself. Through probing Savathun’s memories in her Throne World, it turns out that after being freed by the Awoken Queen Mara Sov at the end of Season 15 (and now without her worm familiar), the Hive Queen was on death’s door. With her last breath, she made her way to the Traveller to monologue at it before dying peacefully…at which point, the Traveller created Immaru to bring her back as a Guardian, the same way Ghosts have resurrected countless Guardians on Earth. Lore-heavy players have likely been aware for some time that the Traveller doesn’t have the best relationship with whatever civilizations it chooses to grant its Light to, especially since it has a nasty habit of dipping out once those Pyramid ships show up. (The previous expansion, Beyond Light, focused on a Fallen who was devastated by the Traveller’s abandonment and was seduced by the Darkness.) The “why” of Savathun being turned into a Guardian doesn’t get an answer, but the revelation’s still a gut punch to the game’s heroic NPCs. Seeing Savathun’s memories forces them to confront a truth about their god — and humanity’s perceived specialness when compared to other races in the galaxy — that they’ve been ignoring for a long time, intentionally or otherwise.
“Truth” has been a big theme in Destiny 2 as of late, so it’s fitting that it serves to underpin the conclusion to this expansion. Witch Queen’s final stretch is a standard run at saving the Traveller from being yanked away from the Guardians, but its novelty comes from showing Savathun her pre-Guardian memories about the circumstances of the Hive’s birth. Manipulated by the Darkness and formerly known as Sathona, she and her sisters — Aurash, who would become the Taken King Oryx, and Xi Ro, the future Xivu Arath — were granted familiars and pledged themselves to worm gods to conquer the stars. The irony of the Queen of Lies being lied to doesn’t last long during what’s a pretty epic boss battle where Savathun puts up her best fight before finally being put down. But the threat of her is still very much in play, as the Traveller suddenly beams Immaru away before the Guardian can smash the Hive Ghost into pieces.
Narratively, Witch Queen is the best expansion that Destiny 2 has had, and may be the strongest expansion for the series overall. (Emphasis on “maybe,” given how high fans regard Taken King and the now vaulted Forsaken.) After so much table setting, it’s nice to finally get answers and play a campaign that has a real, complete story to tell and not just feel like it’s setting up future gameplay mechanics. With our first look at the Witness, a member of the Darkness with a legion of Pyramid ships under their command, it feels like the world of this science fantasy franchise is about to become alive in a brand new way. One that’ll hopefully make the eventual grind for new gear worth doing for weeks on end and tell stories that make Guardians feel like a new kind of legend.