In addition to our main Game of the Year Awards 2022 (opens in new tab), each member of the PC Gamer team is shining a spotlight on a game they loved this year. We’ll post new personal picks, alongside our main awards, throughout the rest of the month.
The temperature of the Destiny 2 community these last few months has been set to ‘spicy’. Players are feeling burnt out on the seasonal model, PvP influencers are doomposting about sandbox changes, and subreddit threads are quick to assume the worst in regards to any communication coming out of Bungie. Given this, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Destiny 2 was having a bad year.
And yet, this year Bungie also released Destiny 2’s best expansion to date. The Witch Queen was so good that I don’t feel the need to qualify my praise of its campaign by saying “it’s good for a live-service game”. No, Bungie delivered what is easily the best FPS campaign released this year. Admittedly the competition wasn’t that stiff—sorry Modern Warfare 2, I guess.
This was a major departure for Destiny 2. For previous expansions, the campaign felt like an afterthought—a few loose missions designed to bridge the gap between more templated repeatable activities like Beyond Light’s Empire Hunts.
For The Witch Queen, though, Bungie shifted the formula, and actually allowed campaign missions to be replayed. With the campaign itself now the expansion’s main repeatable activity—missions becoming part of the pinnacle power loot chase each season—Bungie was free to invest time in fleshing it out. The result is a series of lengthy encounters, filled with memorable setpieces, boss fights and cool surprises. From the moment you shoot yourself onto Savathun’s ship, to the lengthy, dramatic final encounter, The Witch Queen is a showcase of Bungie’s arena and combat design.
It’s filled with cool, weird story moments too—fun payoffs to old locations, bosses and narrative threads once buried in lore pages. The boss fight against a psychic projection of an ahamkara. The return of The Taken King’s Alak-Hul, now resurrected as the Lightblade. The trips into the Pyramid ships lurking throughout the solar system. The final big revelations, and their ties to the Book of Sorrows, bringing Destiny’s tangential worldbuilding front and centre.
And, thanks to the Legendary difficulty option, it was hard, too. Longtime Destiny players crave challenge. Those of us who have spent thousands of hours with this series need an outlet for our vaults full of perfectly rolled weapons; for our knowledge of buildcrafting. The Legendary campaign offered that, and did it in a different way to the usual Champions and modifiers of Nightfalls and Master Raids. You were free to use whatever guns and subclasses you wanted, but you went in underpowered and outgunned—forced to deploy your best loadouts to ensure progress.
At launch, that usually meant relying on Void—the first of the Light-based subclasses to be reworked this year. All three have now received their 3.0 touch-ups, and that’s led to some absurdly powerful builds. The new system fixes a lot of my dissatisfaction with buildcrafting in Destiny by tying various components together with verbs—Blinding, Restoration, Invisibility, etc—that are consistent. New weapon perks like Incandescent, Voltshot and Repulsor Brace are more satisfying for how they interact with these subclass verbs. Armour mods feel like more meaningful choices when they can help enhance the passive bonuses you’ve built around.
Naturally there’s been a lot of feedback around the new system—Warlock players have turned whining about Solar and Arc changes into an artform, despite their new kit being generally great. But regardless of whether any individual element feels overtuned or underwhelming, I love the flexibility of this new system.
And if recent months have been dominated by discussion of how stale the seasonal model is starting to feel, it’s also had some positives. Everything in game development is a matter of resources, and, by leaning into a seasonal template, Bungie has at least given us much more in the way of weapons and activities than in previous years. For Beyond Light, players were crying out over just how few weapons were available to earn. Not so for The Witch Queen’s launch, which gave us a full world loot pool refresh, in addition to a pretty chunky selection of expansion and seasonal guns. The new crafting system, too, has been a net positive to the game. There are gaps in what you can craft, and some idiosyncrasies that mean crafted weapons are generally more desirable than random drops, but overall the deterministic chance to get the exact roll you want is far more palatable than a potentially endless grind.
And in terms of new stuff, it’s easy to dismiss just how much we’ve got. The two new dungeons are both great in their own way, and feel vastly different from each other in terms of how they play. The Vow of the Disciple raid remains one of the most visually spectacular raids in the game, and finds a nice balance between complex systems and all-out chaos. And the return of the King’s Fall raid was always going to be a winner, especially as the few changes Bungie made have done a lot to lessen some of the scant few criticisms of the original version.
Yes, there is always plenty to complain about. I’m glad that Bungie has committed to tweaking the seasonal model next year, because it is starting to feel too by-the-numbers. I remain irritated by just how many Strikes, Gambit and PvP matches I’m expected to play each season given how little attention those modes seem to get. And I’m fully over the pinnacle grind, especially as Bungie continues to find more interesting ways to enforce difficulty.
But when I look at just how much negativity the game has received from its community in recent months, it’s hard to reconcile it against a game I still love. There’s enough space in the margins of each Destiny season to fill it full of things you enjoy. This year, I’ve been taking a selection of PCG team members (and other friends) through their first raids. I’ve found a crew to properly attack the Grandmaster Nightfalls each season. I’ve been dropping into LFG groups for high-level activities to work through my wishlist of crafting patterns. It’s satisfying stuff. And yet, when I head to Youtube, the algorithm is instead serving up yet another video about how skill-based matchmaking and the Airborne Effectiveness stat is ruining the game. And sure, for them, that’s probably true. But, for me and the people I regularly play with, The Witch Queen and its subsequent year have been some of the best times we’ve had with the game.