It says a lot about my relationship with Destiny 2, which at this point is now multiple thousands of hours deep, that while watching a brand new mission last week, the thing that got me most excited was a menu. Mostly out of a sense of decorum, let's talk about the campaign first. The mission previewed was the second from The Witch Queen's campaign, which sees you exploring the throne world of Savathûn, who is the expansion's titular big bad. For those not waist-deep in lore, a throne world is a mind palace that reflects its owner and which you can actually explore. In Savy's case, it's a mirror of the transformation she's undergoing. The murky green swamps of her past as the Hive god of trickery are being replaced by a bone white castlery, filled with red flowers, representing a future uplifted by the stolen Light of the Traveller. Obviously, there are a bunch of aliens to kill.
In the demo, said killing leant hard into usage of the Glaive, a new hybrid melee-ranged weapon—think steak knife on a pole—which, unlike swords, are used in first-person. They also differ in that the focus is on pointy, stabby attacks rather than sweeping blows. In melee mode there's a simple 1-2-3 combo, while the ranged attack reminded me of one of Hexen's wands. Dealing damage charges a secondary shield effect, which should prove useful when trying to resurrect guardians who've died in an inconvenient spot. Each class will receive its own exotic glaive, with a spicy alt-fire effect—for instance, the Warlock variant can deploy a healing turret. Combine that with Bleak Watcher freezing turrets on Stasis and you're going to be in support class, crowd controlling heaven.
That kind of big brain strategy wasn't necessary in the mission I watched, though. It was being played on 'Classic' (ie normal) difficulty, and as such was the kind of face roll Destiny 2 players will be familiar with thanks to our power crept abilities and arsenals. We weren't shown the Legendary difficulty, but based on how Destiny 2's challenge currently scales, it's safe to expect another cheek clapper. Unlike previous campaigns, at least there will be loot on offer—sometimes dropping after tricky encounters within the same mission—and those rewards are doubled if you play on Legendary. Promisingly, the difficulty ramps up or down depending on how many co-op partners you're with (though I fear this could lead to my teammates asking me to leave, just to make things easier).
The likeliest source of sudden difficulty spikes are the Lucent Brood—newly minted Hive "guardians" who have access to similar light-enabled powers as us. Between the demo and Bungie's latest vidoc, I've seen three flavours—acolytes throwing solar knives, knights popping double void sentinel shields, and (most upsettingly) a wizard which went into full arc Stormcaller mode at the end of the mission. Again, on normal difficulty they go down easy enough, although unless you destroy their bony little ghosts you can expect them to be back up and blasting in seconds. In the vidoc (embedded below), senior producer Bonnie Burton suggests it's initially "almost a moral dilemma" because players are used to ghosts being our cheery companions. Allow me to counter-propose that having been arc blasted for several minutes by a wizard, few of us will be crying onto our keyboards as we crush its ghost like a coke can.
There is another mechanic you'll have to deal with when facing Savathûn's army: moths. These provide shields to their Hive hosts, and once that shield has been popped the moth will flit to protect another target. Thankfully, the guardians are armed with more than rolled up newspapers. Early in the campaign, you visit a new location called The Enclave on Mars, which is located right under Savathûn's ship. Temper your expectations with the knowledge that The Enclave is a confined space akin to the H.E.L.M. rather than a full explorable destination. It plays host to the warlock vanguard Ikora Rey, who has discovered a relic of the Darkness. Step inside this relic and you'll be introduced to a mysterious pendulum contraption called the Resonance Engine. And, shortly thereafter, to the menu of my dreams.
To craft a killer
The Relic is where you go to craft new weapons in the Witch Queen. Crafting might sound like an entry level MMO feature, but for Destiny it promises the biggest change to the way players grind for loot since launch. Destiny 2's gear acquisition has moved back and forth along a continuum of randomness vs determinism. In the dark days of vanilla D2, every gun had fixed perks, which to my mind was terrible because it meant there was no reason to ever seek out a second drop of the same gun. From there, Bungie swung back to almost complete RNG, which some dislike because it either requires you to get very lucky or onerously farm the same activity for your ideal combination of perks (hereafter known as "god roll").
Though crafting is mostly focused on legendary weapons, you will also be able to craft versions of the three exotic glaives and a new SMG called Osteo Striga that fires toxin-spreading bullets. Your options here will be more limited—think barrels and magazines, rather than the more flavourful perks—along similar lines to the way that Hawkmoon and Dead Man's Tale can roll with different options without reducing the core identity.
In recent seasons, Bungie began to let players "focus" engrams into specific weapons. This slightly reduced the randomness, but you're still pulling a slot machine lever when it comes to the perks. With the Witch Queen, the studio will deliver its most deterministic take so far. The grind isn't gone—in fact, you'll need to acquire the same gun many times to harvest its most desirable traits and place them on your god roll—but players willing to put that time in will be rewarded with the exact weapon they want. Initially, we'll only be able to craft weapons that were introduced either by the Witch Queen or as part of Season 16, but given that Bungie plans to add around 42 new legendary weapons, it feels like plenty to be going on with.
The crafting loop looks like this: New guns will sometimes drop with a red border around their icon. That's the sign that it's equipped with a "Deep Sight" mod, which means you can extract one of its perks. In order to do so, first you need to attune the mod—which seems to involve no more than killing a preset number of enemies with that weapon (though there may be other requirements for more sought after perks). Those hoops jumped through, you return to "commune" with the relic—which game director Joe Blackburn calls "a sci-fi fantasy 3D printer".
The relic has two options: Shape and Reshape. "Shape" is for making a gun from scratch, whereas "Reshape" enables you to alter the perks on one that has already been crafted. Again, there's no RNG involved in this part of the process, but you are bound by two restrictions: 1) What perks you've extracted so far using Deep Sight mods. 2) The "recipe" of possible perks on the gun you're trying to craft, which is essentially the template that many players will be familiar with from looking at guns on database sites like light.gg.
In the demo, Blackburn showed us Piece Of Mind—a 540 rpm pulse rifle that will be part of a Cabal-themed set coming in Season 16. He mentioned that "you're probably going to get a lot of this gun before you unlock [the recipe] to craft it". During crafting, your first option is to alter the frame. The nomenclature here is confusing in that you can't actually swap a rapid-fire frame pulse rifle to become an adaptive frame one. Instead, what you're actually doing is adding to a specific stat. The base frame confers no bonus, but once you've reached a certain level with that recipe you are able to add +10 to "Handling", "Range" or whatever.
Next up you choose a barrel and magazine, again limited by the options you've unlocked so far, which is done by leveling that weapon. The real action happens in the final two columns, where the juicy stuff like reload and damage perks live. The new expansion will ship with a new suite of these, and we'll also be getting upgraded versions of many fan favourites. Here are a few I spotted as Bungie moused over the crafting menus for the Piece of Mind pulse rifle and the Red Herring rocket launcher:
Overflow, Auto-Loading Holster, Perpetual Motion, Heating Up, Moving Target, Elemental Capacitor, Vorpal Weapon, Harmony, Adrenaline Junkie, Killing Wind, Ensemble, Field Prep, Tracking, Ambitious Assassin, Tracking, Snapshot, Golden Tricorn, Frenzy, Adrenaline Junkie, Lasting Impression.
"It's going to be a huge chase for people that are deep into crafting", said Blackburn of the enhanced perks. We don't know exactly how strong they're going to be in practice, though I did spot that the improved version of Vorpal Weapon adds reload speed. (Bear in mind that even with the 22 February launch looming, these things are subject to change.)
I also noticed that there are a lot of new materials involved in crafting. Prepare your inventories for the prospect of farming for Neutral Element, Resonant Alloy, Adroit Element, Ascendant Alloy and Ruinous Element. My guess is that most of those will be easy to come by, likely from breaking down weapons with the Deep Sight mods. However, the crafting menu does say that Ascendant Alloy, which tellingly has a gold border, is found in 'Challenging Activities'. That usually means Raids, Dungeons, Nightfall Strikes and [deep breath] Trials. If you were expecting everything to be easy to unlock, you haven't been paying attention.
Bungie describes the player fantasy of The Witch Queen as becoming a "psychic detective", as you investigate what Savathûn's been up to. In practice, this amounts to using something called the Deep Sight ability to reveal previously unseen platforms and unblock hidden routes. Honestly, it looks very similar to the Shattered Realm stuff from the current season or using the Tincture of Queensfoil item in the Dreaming City. We'll need to experience the whole campaign to see if the trickery runs any deeper.
I'm not discouraged by the prospect of another time sink though. Partly because I'm an inveterate junkie, but mainly because weapon crafting looks like it's worth it. During the gameplay section of the demo, my notes can be summarised thusly: It is more Destiny, and Destiny is good. It's the crafting stuff which has my brain racing. Those of us who've stuck with the game know that Destiny is at its best when there's a significant longtail pursuit to chase. This is definitely that.
My primary driver for playing over the last few years has been building and refining my perfect arsenal of god killing weapons. I think I might even enjoy the buildcrafting side of the game more than the actual god killing at this point, in which sense Destiny increasingly owes as much to collect 'em ups like Pokemon and Forza as it does its more obvious influences such as Halo and WoW. That shift has come with a couple of problems for Bungie. Firstly, how to deal with power creep in a game where players want to be excited about new weapons every few months, and secondly where everyone is supposed to store all this stuff. Weapon crafting takes a big bite out of both issues.
Enjoying the sunset
As described in the most recent This Week at Bungie post, all craftable guns also come with at least one Origin Trait perk, in the form of an additional column. We covered how they work in some detail, but suffice to say some sound very potent. For example, the "Land Tank" Origin Trait, which is found on all Season 16 weapons, reads: "Final blows with this weapon grant increased Resilience and damage resistance from combatants". That sounds very desirable, and therefore it's safe to say that guns with Origin Traits potentially represent straight upgrades on older versions of the same archetype.
The addition of Origin Traits, as Phil noted in his article, means that crafting should absolutely be seen as Bungie's 'soft' solution to weapon sunsetting. Rather than the cliff edge version which the studio disastrously attempted then scrapped, whereby weapons had their power capped after a certain season and thus became almost useless, in the new Witch Queen era we are being invited rather than ordered to upgrade. It feels a bit like when we moved on from Midnight Coup to Spare Rations, because the latter could run mods. Not mandatory, but desirable. Judging by the largely positive reception on Reddit so far, it seems people enjoy the carrot more than the stick when it comes to their hobbies. Who knew, etc.
Longterm, there's also going to be a substantial benefit to the overall mood of the playerbase from knowing that, if you really want a specific god roll, then on a long enough timeline you're absolutely going to get it. The other not insubstantial side effect should be that we no longer need to keep multiple almost perfect copies of guns we want stored in the vault. The fact you can visit the Relic and recraft any recipe you have access to will prevent even the most degenerate hoarders from hanging onto enough weapons to arm mid-sized militia. (It is me. I am the hoarder.)
I suppose part of me may eventually miss spending entire nights farming the Cube encounter of the Prophecy dungeon with LFG randos to get almost my exact god of the Last Breath auto rifle. But it's going to be a very small part. Crafting is coming, and Destiny won't ever be the same.
- Where is Xur: Find Destiny 2's exotics dealer is this week.
- Destiny 2: The Witch Queen review: The best expansion yet.