Hand Cannons and Current Effectiveness
Hand cannons have been a staple PvP primary of Destiny since launch, and for good reason. They sport solid damage, pair very well with most special weapon types, and are all in all very reliable (less so as of recent). Hand cannons split into 3 main archetypes: 15/94, 22/81, and 32/68. The 15/94 archetype most iconically is known for the First Curse exotic, Ill Will and the Lingering Song. They do hefty damage, fire very slow, and carry high base range stats. The trade off for this of course is their handling is very very slow, and their reload and stability stats are very low. One special trait for this archetype however is if you’re playing in a situation with light level advantage enabled, or you’re facing a guardian with a low armor stat, these hand cannons hold the potential to kill with 2 headshots, without luck in the chamber.
However, the sluggish feel that these hand cannons are known for as previously mentioned can put you at a great disadvantage in some situations, so picking these for your primary slot is better if you pick a faster, more close range special weapon to pair them with. Using these hand cannons at range is both recommended and fairly effective, as picking targets at range with the high damage (95 precision damage and 64 base damage, if you want numbers) these primaries provide can make for quick clean ups of enemies with low health, and can also allow you to bring enemies charging you down low enough for you to make a quick clean up with either a melee or a quick swap to your special weapon to secure the kill. Slower weapons means you need to plan your engagements, so pick your fights wisely when using a high impact hand cannon.
The next archetype is the most popular, 22/81 is most commonly referred to by the “Fatebringer archetype,” with the classic Vault of Glass hand cannon that dominated PvE in year 1 being the fitting title of the archetype. This class of hand cannon holds a wide variety, including the ever popular Eyasluna and Palindrome hand cannons. These weapons sport a solid balance of range and stability, slightly higher reload stats than the 15/94 archetype, and consistently kill in 3 shots across the board. The combination of consistency, lethality, and viability make these weapons very popular choices, especially for high end play. Rolling luck in the chamber or reactive reload on one of these hand cannons gives the potential to kill a guardian in 2 headshots, just like the 15/94 archetype, but with a faster fire rate. Without the luck in the chamber or reactive reload bonus however, these hand cannons have generally always been one of if not the strongest primary weapon archetype in the game.The damage is solid enough to allow you to land at least one headshot, and still make the 3 shot kill threshold for damage. More often than not, these hand cannons are the ones you will see used in competitive play, and to great effect as well.
The last of the main archetypes is the 32/68 archetype, home to the How Dare You, Exile’s Student, and Free Will III. These hand cannons offer faster handling and reload stats than the Fatebringer archetype, but with less range. Another downside to these hand cannons is that their damage isn’t as high as the Fatebringer archetype, and more often than not it’s 3 headshots or bust with these primaries. They work very well as reactionary weapons, whereas if you miss a headshot with a sniper or don’t quite kill an enemy with your shotgun or fusion rifle, the high handling provides you with an opportunity to quick switch and still get the kill if you’re fast enough. The snappy nature of these primaries also allows you to play more mobile and aggressive, as being closer in proximity to your target makes up for the lacking range stat, and can make for some quick kills.
Before we talk stats, let’s talk history so you can get an understanding of what will be said about stats. The first change to hand cannons came in 1.1.1, with a slight reduction to initial accuracy and effective range. The exotic hand cannons Thorn, The Last Word, and Hawkmoon dominated PvP throughout all of the House of Wolves expansion, so come 2.0.0, hand cannons were hit with a damage falloff distance reduction so that long range lethality was dialed back a bit, accuracy while aiming down sights was reduced so that quick-snapping onto targets at range was less effective, hip fire accuracy was reduced, the mag size base stat on all hand cannons was reduced, and the zoom whilst aiming was reduced to give you greater field of view over depth. In 2.1.0, the aiming down sights accuracy was increased to give more reliability to hand cannons. 2.2.0 increased the starting inventory and maximum ammo inventory of hand cannons, so players weren’t starved for ammo when going on long kill streaks, and 2.3.0 brought increased initial accuracy and decreased accuracy drop off for low range hand cannons. With this came steeper damage falloff curves to better bring hand cannons into their intended ranges. 2.3.0 was the last major change to hand cannons across the board, patch 2.4.0 brought some UI fixes to properly display stats for certain hand cannons but that was all.
Due to the changes made starting in patch 2.0.0, a hand cannon’s most important stat is range. Range determines how accurate your hand cannon is at range, and how heavily bloom will affect your shots. You can manage without a lot of stability, but you may find your hand cannon a bit harder to handle in gunfights with low stability, so take the time to learn your weapon. A low reload stat can be countered by simply using hand cannon reloader gauntlets, so taking a perk like rifled barrel is more beneficial to you than taking reinforced barrel, which reduces stability in favor of range. Another thing to take note of is that spamming the trigger to fire your hand cannon isn’t a very supported tactic, as if you don’t give the weapon time to re-center, then bloom will send your shots out and about where it chooses. So be weary of that.
With our lovely valentine’s day patch looming on the horizon, hand cannons could very well see changes. What could those changes potentially be? The one that everyone seems to want but probably won’t come would be the removal of the bloom mechanic. Removing the mechanic would allow for someone to potentially roll for something on hand cannons other than range if they wanted to, but as previously stated this probably won’t come due to the philosophy bungie has with hand cannons. But philosophies change, so keep your eyes open. Unlike other weapons, changes in this category haven’t strayed too far from “remove bloom,” but a few ideas have been tossed about here and there. One would be to increase the center speed of the reticule, meaning that there would be less time between shots to wait for you to fire your second round without having to worry about the bloom taking your shot. Another was to simply increase the initial starting accuracy to 100%, so that no matter what your first shot would always hit its intended target. Some combination of these two would be a very logical and likely change for us to see, but Bungie has their way of doing things, so what may come could be completely different. Hand cannons are strong weapons, and any minor changes could have huge repercussions, so we’ll simply have to see what the future holds. “Shoot to loot, spin to win, voop to voop. All tactics are viable.”