Destiny 2 Exotic Hand Cannons Tier list: PVE and PVP ranking

by | Apr 26, 2022 | Weapons

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 only special ammo hand cannon available.

Today, we’ll focus on the Exotics only, because some of them happen to be the absolute best hand cannons in the entire game.

Destiny 2 Exotic Hand Cannons Tier list

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:

NameWeaponsTypeArchetypeAmmoElementRequirementsAvailable?RankSourceObtainable?Tier rankSource ❘ DLCFinal VerdictReleasedPerks
SunshotDestiny 2 Sunshot art
Sunshot
Hand CannonExoticPrimarySolarFree-to-PlayYesS › BestExotic Engram
Best

S



Excels in:
PvE + PvP
Exotic Engram

Free-to-Play
Slot: Solar Solar | Ammo: Primary ammo Destiny 2 Primary | Archetype: Exotic

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

► The only remaining lightweight frame (150 RPM) hand cannon in the game, Sunshot is a one-of-a-kind weapon that destroys ads. While there are non-exotic options that could replace this, there's no question that Sunshot is extremely fun to use and nice to shoot.
Season 1
Slot: Solar Solar | Ammo: Primary ammo Destiny 2 Primary | Archetype: Exotic

Exotic Perk: "This weapon fires explosive rounds. Targets killed with Sunshot explode in Solar energy."
Ace of SpadesDestiny 2 Ace of Spades art
Ace of Spades
Hand CannonExoticPrimaryKineticForsaken PackYesS › BestExotic Kiosk
Best

S



Excels in:
PvP
Exotic Kiosk

Forsaken Pack
Slot: Kinetic symbol Destiny 2 Kinetic | Ammo: Primary ammo Destiny 2 Primary | Archetype: Exotic

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."

► Arguably the best 140 RPM hand cannon in the game, Ace of Spades has a lot to offer. With excellent base stats and some of the best perks around, namely Momento Mori, which is like Kill Clip on steroids and the ability to see your radar while zoomed in, this weapon has a bit of everything.
Season 4
Slot: Kinetic symbol Destiny 2 Kinetic | Ammo: Primary ammo Destiny 2 Primary | Archetype: Exotic

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."
LuminaDestiny 2 Lumina art
Lumina
Hand CannonExoticPrimaryKineticForsaken PackYesA › StrongExotic Kiosk
Strong

A



Excels in:
PvE + PvP
Exotic Kiosk

Forsaken Pack
Slot: Kinetic symbol Destiny 2 Kinetic | Ammo: Primary ammo Destiny 2 Primary | Archetype: Exotic

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."

► Ever since it received a wide variety of stat and damage buffs in Season 16, Lumina has become an amazing hand cannon. It feels great to use, and the 35% buff it gives is rare to come by. Plus, with Solar 3.0, you can expect to see some new builds with this weapon very soon.
Season 7
Slot: Kinetic symbol Destiny 2 Kinetic | Ammo: Primary ammo Destiny 2 Primary | Archetype: Exotic

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."
Eriana's VowDestiny 2 Eriana's Vow art
Eriana's Vow
Hand CannonExoticSpecialSolarShadowkeepYesA › StrongExotic Kiosk
Strong

A



Excels in:
PvE
Exotic Kiosk

Shadowkeep
Slot: Solar Solar | Ammo: Special ammo Destiny 2 Special | Archetype: Exotic

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

► Previously a no-brainer in activities with Barrier Champions, Eriana's Vow now sits in the shadow of its main competitor: Arbalest. While still an extremely fun and unique gun that's worth using once in a while, this weapon just hasn't been able to keep up with the meta.
Season 8
Slot: Solar Solar | Ammo: Special ammo Destiny 2 Special | Archetype: Exotic

Exotic Perk: "Fires special shield-piercing ammunition. Bonus damage when aiming down sights on the opening shot of an attack."
The Last WordDestiny 2 The Last Word
The Last Word
Hand CannonExoticPrimaryKineticForsaken PackYesA › StrongExotic Kiosk
Strong

A



Excels in:
PvP
Exotic Kiosk

Forsaken Pack
Slot: Kinetic symbol Destiny 2 Kinetic | Ammo: Primary ammo Destiny 2 Primary | Archetype: Exotic

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

► While The Last Word has been crazy on controller for years, mouse and keyboard users haven't had the same experience. Luckily, this weapon got buffed on M&K in Season 17, meaning you'll probably see a lot more of it.
Season 5
Slot: Kinetic symbol Destiny 2 Kinetic | Ammo: Primary ammo Destiny 2 Primary | Archetype: Exotic

Exotic Perk: "This weapon fires full auto. Hip-fire shots deal bonus precision damage while increasing reload speed and accuracy."
ThornDestiny 2 Thorn
Thorn
Hand CannonExoticPrimaryKineticForsaken PackYesA › StrongExotic Kiosk
Strong

A



Excels in:
PvP
Exotic Kiosk

Forsaken Pack
Slot: Kinetic symbol Destiny 2 Kinetic | Ammo: Primary ammo Destiny 2 Primary | Archetype: Exotic

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. The damage over time is a pain to fight against in PVP, and it's a super fun gun to use in PVE as well. Even if the meta doesn't favor Thorn, it's still a great option.
Season 6
Slot: Kinetic symbol Destiny 2 Kinetic | Ammo: Primary ammo Destiny 2 Primary | Archetype: Exotic

Exotic Perk: "Rounds pierce targets and deal damage over time. Kills leave behind Remnants which, when absorbed, increase damage."
Hawkmoon
Hawkmoon
Hand CannonExoticPrimaryKineticBeyond LightYesA › StrongXûr
Strong

A



Excels in:
PvP
Xûr

Beyond Light
Slot: Kinetic symbol Destiny 2 Kinetic | Ammo: Primary ammo Destiny 2 Primary | Archetype: Exotic

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 didn't like 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. Despite this, Hawkmoon has a pretty obvious flaw: it’s only consistent if you are consistent.
Season 12
Slot: Kinetic symbol Destiny 2 Kinetic | Ammo: Primary ammo Destiny 2 Primary | Archetype: Exotic

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."
CrimsonDestiny 2 Crimson
Crimson
Hand CannonExoticPrimaryKineticFree-to-PlayYesB › AverageExotic Engram
Average

B



Excels in:
PvP
Exotic Engram

Free-to-Play
Slot: Kinetic symbol Destiny 2 Kinetic | Ammo: Primary ammo Destiny 2 Primary | Archetype: Exotic

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

► Effectively a Hand Cannon version of Red Death from Destiny 1, Crimson received mixed reviews when it first came out that still hold up today. Just like The Last Word, Crimson is good on a controller in PVP but lacks everywhere else in the game.
Season 2
Slot: Kinetic symbol Destiny 2 Kinetic | Ammo: Primary ammo Destiny 2 Primary | Archetype: Exotic

Exotic Perk: "This weapon fires a 3-round burst. Kills with this weapon heal the wielder. Precision kills also refill the magazine."
MalfeasanceDestiny 2 Malfeasance art
Malfeasance
Hand CannonExoticPrimaryKineticFree-to-PlayYesB › AverageExotic Quest
Average

B



Exotic Quest

Free-to-Play
Slot: Kinetic symbol Destiny 2 Kinetic | Ammo: Primary ammo Destiny 2 Primary | Archetype: Exotic

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."

► One of the more interesting Hand Cannons on this list, Malfeasance still really hasn't found a solid place in the game. While it does excel at killing Taken and invaders in Gambit, that's an incredibly small niche. Plus, it's a part of the most lacking archetype, making it a poor choice everywhere else.
Season 4
Slot: Kinetic symbol Destiny 2 Kinetic | Ammo: Primary ammo Destiny 2 Primary | Archetype: Exotic

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."
SturmDestiny 2 Sturm art
Sturm
Hand CannonExoticPrimaryKineticFree-to-PlayYesC › WeakExotic Kiosk
Weak

C



Exotic Kiosk

Free-to-Play
Slot: Kinetic symbol Destiny 2 Kinetic | Ammo: Primary ammo Destiny 2 Primary | Archetype: Exotic

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

► After its time in the spotlight in Season of the Chosen, Sturm has returned to being a pretty niche pick. Even if you play into the gameplay loop of using this gun by equipping Drang, it just feels like a lot of work for not too much payoff. While unique and fun at times, Sturm just isn't a top-tier pick right now.
Season 1
Slot: Kinetic symbol Destiny 2 Kinetic | Ammo: Primary ammo Destiny 2 Primary | Archetype: Exotic

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

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 Exotic Hand Cannons for PVP

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 in a moment, but let’s focus on the Top Tier PVP Exotic hand cannons first.

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

 

Ace of Spades

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

Archetype: Exotic Hand Cannon ❘ 140 RPM

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.

Ace of Spades stats Destiny 2 V2

Why it Excels in PVP: Ace of Spades is without a doubt the best all-around hand cannon in Destiny 2. It has some of the best base stats and better versions of the Kill Clip, Outlaw, and Dragonfly perks, and as a bonus, it also allows you to see your radar while aiming down sights.

In other words, it has great stats and 4 perks instead of the usual 2. What more can one ask?

 

Heated Exchange - The Last Word Weapon Ornament Destiny 2

The Last Word

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

Archetype: Exotic Hand Cannon ❘ 225 RPM

Exotic Perks:

  • Fan Fire: This weapon fires full auto. Hip-fire shots deal bonus precision damage while increasing reload speed and accuracy.
  • Hip-Fire Grip: Increases accuracy, stability, and precision hit targeting when firing from the hip.

Why it Excels in PVP: The Last Word is a unique weapon that was made to be hip-fired. And when used right it definitely excels, offering one of the lowest Time-to-kills in the game. To be fair, The Last Word is far more lethal and accessible when using a controller. If you’re on mouse and keyboard, it won’t be as lethal nor easy to use…

 

Hawkmoon

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

Archetype: Exotic Hand Cannon ❘ 140 RPM

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 in PVP: The community was disappointed when Hawkmoon came back from Destiny 1 without its original perk. Still, Paracausal Shot is a great Exotic perk, and more importantly, Hawkmoon has the best base stats in the game.


Best Exotic Hand Cannons for PVE

Both Ace of Spades and Hawkmoon can get the job done in PVE. In fact, most of these exotics are somewhat competent in PVE, it’s just they don’t excel as they do in PVP. That’s why you’ll be better off with another weapon type as your main PVE primary, 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:

 

Eriana’s Vow

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

Archetype: Exotic Hand Cannon ❘ 90 RPM

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: Eriana’s Vow has so much going for it. It was clearly made to excel in endgame PVE content. It can deal with Anti-barrier champions intrinsically, it does respectable damage, and can use the cheaper hand cannon ammo finder mods to ensure you’ll never run out of ammo.

Ranking criteria

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

Also, even with hundreds of hours of playtime, I’m far from being neither an expert nor an amazing PVE/PVP player. That’s the whole point of this site. I’m just a blueberry who loves this game and wants to share everything I’ve learned so far!

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

  • Feel: The feel of a weapon is always important, but it makes even more of a difference with bows.
  • 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!

If you strongly disagree with some of the rankings here, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Let's keep the conversation going

Have questions about this post, Destiny 2 in general, or are simply looking for a friendly D2-focused community?

Check out our community Discord (already 500 guardians strong!).

2 Comments
  1. Rockpicken

    Sorry but Xur does NOT give you an exotic you don’t already have. I have a lot of duplicate armor, for example, that he’s handed me of which I already have several copies.

    That said, I did get Sweet Business last week. 🙂

    Reply
    • Ric (aka Prim)

      The Exotic engram from Xur will give you an exotic you don’t have from that specific pool, which excludes all Exotics except those acquired via the kiosk, quests, or raids. Once you have all the Exotics from that pool, you will receive only armor with high stat random rolls.

      Reply
Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Improve your Destiny 2 experience

Subscribe and receive all the Weekly Reset challenges, essential loot, farming tips, and more!

You have Successfully Subscribed!