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

by | Jul 19, 2021 | 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:

NameArchetypeElementRankExcelsSourceRequirementsWeaponTier rankSource ❘ RequirementsVerdict
Ace of SpadesExoticKineticS › BestPVPExotic KioskForsakenDestiny 2 Ace of Spades art
Ace of Spades
Best

S



Excels in:
PVP
Exotic Kiosk
Destiny 2 Forsaken logo 1
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."

► Arguably the best 140 RPM hand cannon in the entire 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, Ace of Spades is one of the most dominating kinetic primary weapons in the Crucible.
Eriana's VowExoticSolarS › BestPVEExotic KioskShadowkeepDestiny 2 Eriana's Vow art
Eriana's Vow
Best

S



Excels in:
PVE
Exotic Kiosk
Destiny 2 Shadowkeep logo 3
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 intrinsically, 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.
HawkmoonExoticKineticA › StrongPVPExotic QuestDeluxe EditionHawkmoon Destiny 2 art
Hawkmoon
Strong

A



Excels in:
PVP
Deluxe Edition
Destiny 2 Deluxe Edition logo
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.
SturmExoticKineticA › StrongPVPExotic KioskFree-to-PlayDestiny 2 Sturm art
Sturm
Strong

A



Excels in:
PVP
Exotic Kiosk
Destiny 2 Free to Play logo 1
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.
ThornExoticKineticA › StrongPVPExotic KioskForsakenDestiny 2 Thorn
Thorn
Strong

A



Excels in:
PVP
Exotic Kiosk
Destiny 2 Forsaken logo 1
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!
CrimsonExoticKineticA › StrongPVPExotic EngramFree-to-PlayDestiny 2 Crimson
Crimson
Strong

A



Excels in:
PVP
Exotic Engram
Destiny 2 Beyond Light logo 1
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.
The Last WordExoticKineticA › StrongPVPExotic KioskForsakenDestiny 2 The Last Word
The Last Word
Strong

A



Excels in:
PVP
Exotic Kiosk
Destiny 2 Forsaken logo 1
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.
SunshotExoticSolarA › StrongPVEExotic EngramFree-to-PlayDestiny 2 Sunshot art
Sunshot
Strong

A



Excels in:
PVE
Exotic Engram
Destiny 2 Beyond Light logo 1
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.
LuminaExoticKineticB › Average-Exotic KioskForsakenDestiny 2 Lumina art
Lumina
Average

B

Exotic Kiosk
Destiny 2 Forsaken logo 1
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.
MalfeasanceExoticKineticB › Average-Exotic QuestForsakenDestiny 2 Malfeasance art
Malfeasance
Average

B

Exotic Quest
Destiny 2 Forsaken logo 1
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.

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 Destiny 2

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 Destiny 2

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:

 

Erianas Vow Destiny 2

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.


How to get every Exotic Hand Cannon in D2

The table above includes a column titled “Drops from  ❘ Requirements“.

Destiny 2 Exotic Engram

This section goes deeper and includes more detailed steps on how to acquire all the shotguns still viable in Destiny 2:

WeaponDrops fromRequires?How to get it?
► Crimson
► Sunshot
Exotic EngramDestiny 2 Free to Play logo 1Some Exotics can only randomly drop while playing the game or by acquiring Exotic engrams (most notably from the Season Pass or from Xur). Playing higher-difficulty activities will greatly increase your chances to find one (namely, Nightfall: The Ordeals).
► Ace of Spades
► Eriana's Vow
► Sturn
► Torn
► The Last Word
► Lumina
Exotic KioskDestiny 2 Forsaken logo 1This Exotic can be acquired via the Exotics Kiosk in the tower, officially called the Monument to Lost Lights. You can read all about it, including costs and requirements, here.
► Hawkmoon
► Malfeasance
Exotic QuestDestiny 2 Deluxe Edition logoThis Exotic requires you to complete a dedicated Exotic quest. For more information, check out our Exotic Quests hub.

Most of these sources are self-explanatory, but in doubt, you can always leave a comment below with your question or ask away on our Discord.


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

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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
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