Destiny 2 Exotic Hand Cannons Tier List

Ranked for PVE and PVP

By Ric (aka Prim)updated Updated Oct 29, 2020

Hand cannons have always been the most popular primary weapons in Destiny 2, especially for PVP.

All the best players use them and many will argue they are, hands-down, the most lethal and efficient weapon type in the Crucible. Even in PVE, their popularity has dramatically increased, mainly thanks to Eriana’s Vow, the latest and greatest exotic hand cannon to join the game.

In this post, we will guide in the detail all the Exotic hand cannons currently in the game. We will cover their unique perks, where to get them, and more. And as Hand cannons will receive some buffs (and nerfs) when Beyond Light is released, you can expect some of these to become top tier for PVP.

And if you’re looking for other exotics, you should definitely visit our complete Exotics tier list including all 70 exotic weapons.


Destiny 2 Exotic Hand Cannons: Ranked

These are the different Tier levels used for the list:

  • S Tier – Best: Highest ranking weapons in our Tier List.
  • A Tier – Strong: Very strong weapons, but not on the same level as S Tier Choices.
  • B Tier – Average: Decent choices that can be lethal in the hands of a skilled player.
  • C Tier – Weak: The middle of the pack, somewhat mediocre.
  • D Tier – Worst: Lagging behind the competition, these don’t have much to offer.

The list starts with S Tier and moves down until it reaches the bottom Tier:

WeaponTierExcels inDrops from / DifficultyExotic Perk and VerdictTypeSlotDrops fromRequirements
Destiny 2 Ace of Spades art
Ace of Spades
| Hand Cannon
Best

S

PVPExotic Kiosk

Average

Slot: Kinetic | Ammo: Primary

Exotic Perk: "Precision kills increase reload speed and cause the target to explode. Reloading after a kill increases damage. Grants radar while aiming down sights."

► With a combination of Rampage, Dragonfly and great stats, Ace of Spades is a monster in PVP. It used to be overshadowed by 150 RPM hand cannons, but now that they're gone, Ace of Spades can shine again.
Hand CannonKineticExotic KioskForsaken
Hawkmoon Destiny 2 art
Hawkmoon
| Hand Cannon
Best

S

PVPExotic Quest

Easy

Slot: Kinetic | Ammo: Primary

Exotic Perk: "Final blows and precision hits with Hawkmoon grant stacks of Paracausal Charge. The final round in the magazine deals bonus damage based on the number of stacks. Stowing Hawkmoon on the final round removes this bonus."

► Many don't like it that Hawkmoon is not the same weapon it was in Destiny 1, but with an extremely lethal Exotic perk and off the charts stats, Hawkmoon is perhaps the best hand cannon we have ever seen.
Hand CannonKineticExotic QuestSeason 12
Destiny 2 Eriana's Vow art
Eriana's Vow
| Hand Cannon
Best

S

PVEExotic Kiosk

Average

Slot: Solar Energy | Ammo: Destiny 2 special ammo Special

Exotic Perk: "Fires special Shield Piercing rounds shield-piercing ammunition. Bonus damage when aiming down sights on the opening shot of an attack."

► Able to deal with Barrier Champions intrisically, Eriana's Vow can also dish serious damage. This makes it an excellent choice for high-end PVE content and has the community asking for more Exotics like this.
Hand CannonEnergyExotic KioskShadowkeep
Destiny 2 Sturm art
Sturm
| Hand Cannon
Best

S

PVPExotic Kiosk

Average

Slot: Kinetic | Ammo: Primary

Exotic Perk: "Kills fill the magazine of the equipped Energy weapon from reserves. Kills with Drang reload this weapon and provides bonus damage."

► Sturn is perhaps the most surprising weapon this Season. It went from completely forgotten to a top tier weapon in PVP overnight, largely thanks to the huge buff to 120 RPM hand cannons. And as the only 120 RPM exotic hand cannon, it also has insane stats.
Hand CannonKineticExotic KioskFree-to-Play
Destiny 2 Sunshot art
Sunshot

| Hand Cannon
Strong

A

PVE + PVPRandom Engram

Average

Slot: Solar Energy | Ammo: Primary

Exotic Perk: "This weapon fires explosive rounds. Targets killed with Sunshot explode in Solar energy."

► One of my personal favorites, Sunshot is not only stable and consistent, but it can also blow up entire waves of ads and make you feel like a god.
Hand CannonEnergyRandom EngramFree-to-Play
Destiny 2 The Last Word
The Last Word
| Hand Cannon
Strong

A

PVPExotic Kiosk

Average

Slot: Kinetic | Ammo: Primary

Exotic Perk: "This weapon fires full auto. Hip-fire shots deal bonus precision damage while increasing reload speed and accuracy."

► This weapon is hard to rank as it could be considered S Tier on console, but perhaps B-tier on PC. Either way, it's still strong and effective in spite of a nerf last season.
Hand CannonKineticExotic KioskForsaken
Destiny 2 Thorn
Thorn
| Hand Cannon
Strong

A

PVPExotic Kiosk

Average

Slot: Kinetic | Ammo: Primary

Exotic Perk: "Rounds pierce targets and deal damage over time. Kills leave behind Remnants which, when absorbed, increase damage."

► Considered a top tier PVP weapon for a long time, Thorn shows no signs of slowling down. It may have some more competition now that 150 RPM hand cannons became 140 RPM, but it remains best in class. Plus, with soul devour active, it can 2 tap guardians!
Hand CannonKineticExotic KioskForsaken
Destiny 2 Crimson
Crimson
| Hand Cannon
Strong

A

PVPRandom Engram

Average

Slot: Kinetic | Ammo: Primary

Exotic Perk: "This weapon fires a 3-round burst. Kills with this weapon heal the wielder. Precision kills also refill the magazine."

► A pulse rifle in a hand cannon body, Crimson is dangerous weapon in the Crucible. The only reason you don't see it more often is that some of the other exotic hand cannons are excellent.
Hand CannonKineticRandom EngramFree-to-Play
Destiny 2 Lumina art
Lumina
| Hand Cannon
Average

B

-Exotic Kiosk

Average

Slot: Kinetic | Ammo: Primary

Exotic Perk: "Kills with this weapon leave behind Remnants which convert your next hip fired shot into an ally-seeking Noble Round that heals them and grants both of you a weapon damage bonus for a short duration."

► Albeit an interesting weapon, it needs a coordinated team and the catalyst to be effective.
Hand CannonKineticExotic KioskForsaken
Destiny 2 Malfeasance art
Malfeasance
| Hand Cannon
Average

B

-Exotic Quest

Average

Slot: Kinetic | Ammo: Primary

Exotic Perk: "Shoot tainted slugs that burrow into the enemy. Stacking enough slugs causes them all to explode. Bonus damage against Taken enemies and Gambit invaders."

► Malfeasance is yet another weapon that greatly benefitted from the recent hand cannon buff. With the bigger magazine, using its Exotic perk also became easier. Malfeasance definitely has a place within its niche:Taken-heavy areas and Gambit.
Hand CannonKineticExotic QuestForsaken

PS: This Tier significantly changed with the release of Beyond Light. For a detailed look into all the latest Meta changes, check this guide has you covered.


Best Destiny 2 Exotic Hand Cannons: PVP and PVE

Hand cannons are great all-around weapons capable of doing most things right, but it’s in the Crucible where they truly shine. We’ll touch upon the best PVE Exotics, but the main focus in the section will be the Top Tier PVP Exotic hand cannons.

Best Destiny 2 PVP Hand Cannons

Virtually every Exotic hand cannon can hold it’s own in PVP, but these 3 weapons are the ones that truly shine:

 

Ace of Spades Destiny 2

Ace of Spades

Weapon Type: Hand Cannon Slot: Kinetic
Ammo: Primary Source: Exotic Kiosk

Description

Stats:

Ace of Spades stats Destiny 2 V2

Archetype: Exotic Hand Cannon ❘ 140 RPM

Tier: Best S

Exotic Perks:

  • Memento Mori: Reloading after a kill loads magazine with a few extra-damage bullets. Grants radar while aiming down sights.
  • Firefly: Precision kills with this weapon increase reload speed and cause the target to explode, dealing Solar damage to nearby enemies.

Why it Excels: .

 

Sturm Destiny 2

Sturm

Weapon Type: Hand Cannon Slot: Kinetic
Ammo: Primary Source: Exotic Kiosk

Description + Much better with catalyst. It’s great because of insane stats, best feeling hand cannon.

Stats:

Hawkmoon stats Destiny 2

Archetype: Exotic Hand Cannon ❘ 120 RPM

Tier: Best S

Exotic Perks:

  • Accomplice: Kills with this weapon fill the magazine of the equipped Energy weapon from reserves.
  • Storm and Stress: Kills with Drang reload this weapon and overflow a bonus damage round into the magazine.

Why it Excels: .

 

Hawkmoon Destiny 2

Hawkmoon

Weapon Type: Hand Cannon Slot: Kinetic
Ammo: Primary Source: Exotic Quest

Description

Stats:

 

Archetype: Exotic Hand Cannon ❘ 140 RPM

Tier: Best S

Exotic Perks:

  • Paracausal Shot: Final blows and precision hits with Hawkmoon grant stacks of Paracausal Charge. The final round in the magazine deals bonus damage based on the number of stacks. Stowing Hawkmoon on the final round removes this bonus.
  • Transformative: Future drops of this weapon will have random rolls.

Why it Excels: PVP.

Best Destiny 2 PVE Hand Cannons

Both Ace of Spades or Hawkmoon can get the job done in PVE. In fact, most of these hand cannons are competent in PVE. They simply can’t excel as they do in PVP. That’s why you’ll be generally better off with another weapon type as your main PVE primary weapon, or if you really want to use a hand cannon, a Legendary hand cannon with tried and true PVE perks.

There is one exception though. A hand cannon that is so unique, it can do things no other hand cannon can:

 

Erianas Vow Destiny 2

Eriana’s Vow

Weapon Type: Shotgun Slot: Solar Solar
Ammo: Destiny 2 special ammoSpecial Source: Exotic Kiosk

Descriptoon.

Archetype: Exotic Hand Cannon ❘ 90 RPM

Tier: Best S

Exotic Perks:

  • Looks Can Kill: This weapon fires special shield-piercing ammunition. It comes with a scope. Strong against Barrier Champions.
  • Death at First Glance: Bonus damage when aiming down sights on the opening shot of an attack. This bonus is preserved if the shot deals precision damage or strikes an elemental shield.

Excels in: PVE, but can also get the job done on PVP and be a decent alternative to Chaperone.

PS: If you’re looking for some excellent PVP Legendary hand cannons, check out our top PVP weapons guide (which includes True Prophecy and Posterity).


Destiny 2 Exotic Hand Cannons: How to get them

These are the detailed steps on how to acquire all the top exotics in Destiny 2 mentioned before:

1. Exotic Engrams: How to get Sunshot and Crimsom

These hand cannons can be found as random exotic engrams. Exotic engrams can be tricky as you can’t actively target them. That said, there are proven ways to find exotic engrams in Destiny 2:

  • From the Season pass (both the free and paid tracks have a couple as rewards)
  • From Xur: Every week, he has an Exotic engram for sale which is guaranteed to give you an exotic you don’t already have.

Other than those only two options, Exotics can also drop as random World drops, which have a higher chance to drop from end-game activities. If finding exotics is your priority, Nightfall: The Ordeals are for you. And the higher the difficulty (Master level and above), the higher the chance to find some.

2. Exotic Kiosk: How to get Eriana’s Vow, Thorn, Lumina, The Last Word, Sturm, and Ace of Spades

With the release of Beyond Light in November 2020, several Exotic hand cannons became available via the new Exotics kiosk in the tower, called the Monument to Lost Lights. The Monument to Lost Lights includes weapons that used to be part of Exotic quests that are no longer in the game. Nowadays, weapons such as Thorn and Sturm can be instantly acquired at the Exotics kiosk, provided you have the necessary materials. We cover all the weapons and materials from the Monument to Lost Lights here.

Destiny 2 Monument to Lost Lights wide

3. Exotic Quests: How to get Malfeasance

The difficulty of an exotic quest can vary from long and hard (such as Izanagi’s Burden) to quick and easy (The Chaperone). In this case, Malfeasance is locked behind fairly lengthy quests. This guide covers every single Exotic quest in the game.


Ranking Criteria

For the record, as much as I tried to keep this list as objective as possible, it’s still based on my personal experience playing the PC version of the game.

If you’re wondering what criteria was used to build this Tier list, these are the main factors I took into account:

  • Lethality: The higher the effective DPS and usability, the higher the ranking.
  • Consistency: Some weapons may not have the highest DPS numbers, but they are so consistent, they more than make up for their lower DPS numbers.
  • Ease of use: Similar to the point above, some weapons are very effective because they are easy to use and don’t require too much skill or setup. This is also rewarded with higher rankings.
  • PVE/PVP Performance: High lethality in either PVE or  PVP is equally valuable. However, a weapon that is good at both PVE and PVP should rank higher than one that is slightly better on only PVE or PVP.
  • Fun factor: Not the most important factor, but it also helps if the weapon is damn fun to shoot with! A good example is Fighting Lion. Not the most efficient but sooooo much fun to use!

If you strongly disagree with some of the rankings here, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section. But more importantly, what is your own personal Top 3, and why?