Destiny 2 Exotic Hand Cannons Tier List

Ranked for PVE and PVP

By Ric aka Primatrix | 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

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 my take)SlotDrops fromDifficulty
Destiny 2 Thorn
Thorn | Hand Cannon
Best

S

PVPExotic Quest

Hard

Slot: Kinetic | Ammo: Primary

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

Thorn stats Destiny 2

► One of the few hand cannons that can compete with the infamous Spare Rations, Thorn is the most consistent and deadly exotic hand cannon in PVP. With soul devour active, it can 2 tap guardians!
KineticExotic QuestHard
Destiny 2 Eriana's Vow art
Eriana's Vow | Hand Cannon
Best

S

PVEExotic Cipher

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."

Eriana's Vow stats Destiny 2

► Able to deal with Barrier Champions, Eriana's Vow can also dish serious damage. This makes it an excellent choice for high-end PVE content.
EnergyExotic CipherAverage
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."

Sunshot stats Destiny 2

► 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.
EnergyRandom EngramAverage
Destiny 2 The Last Word
The Last Word | Hand Cannon
Strong

A

PVPExotic Quest

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."

The Last Word stats Destiny 2

► 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.
KineticExotic QuestAverage
Destiny 2 Ace of Spades art
Ace of Spades | Hand Cannon
Strong

A

PVPExotic Quest

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."

Ace of Spades stats Destiny 2 V2

► With a combination of Rampage, Dragonfly and good handling, this is a consistent killing machine in PVP.
KineticExotic QuestAverage
Destiny 2 Lumina art
Lumina | Hand Cannon
Average

B

-Exotic Quest

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."

Lumina stats Destiny 2

► Albeit an interesting weapon, it needs a coordinated team and the catalyst to be effective.
KineticExotic QuestAverage
Destiny 2 Crimson
Crimson | Hand Cannon
Weak

C

-Random 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."

Crimson stats Destiny 2

► A pulse rifle in a hand cannon body, Crimson can deal decent pain from a distance. Still, it's easily outperformed by other exotic hand cannons.
KineticRandom EngramAverage
Destiny 2 Malfeasance art
Malfeasance | Hand Cannon
Weak

C

-Exotic Quest

Hard

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."

Malfeansance stats Destiny 2

► Malfeasance used to have a little niche, but it no longer offers anything special that makes it stand out.
KineticExotic QuestHard
Destiny 2 Sturm art
Sturm | Hand Cannon
Weak

C

-Exotic Quest

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."

Sturm stats Destiny 2

► Sturn is definitely better when paired with Drang. But even then, it's easily outmatched by many other exotic hand cannons in this list.
KineticExotic QuestAverage

PS: Keep in mind that this Tier list will definitely change as soon as Beyond Light is released. We already know about several changes planned for hand cannons but we prefer to wait until we can get our hands on them before altering our rankings.


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 Cipher: How to get Eriana’s Vow

Bungie finally introduced a method to acquire exotic weapons from previous seasons. Up until recently, if you missed Season of the Undying, you could not get Eriana’s Vow anymore. With Season of Arrivals, Bungie added an item called Exotic Cipher to the Season Pass (available to all, including free-to-play players).

As soon as you reach rank 55, you’ll be able to claim the Exotic Cipher and simply bring it to Master Rahool at the Tower. He will give you in return one of the several Exotic weapons from previous seasons, including Eriana’s Vow.

Destiny 2 Exotic cipher

PS: Bungie just released a tribute quest that rewards you with another Exotic Cipher.

3. Exotic Quests: How to get Thorn, Lumina, The Last Word, Malfeasance, Sturm, and Ace of Spades

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, all hand cannons are locked behind fairly lengthy quests. This guide covers every single Exotic quest in the game. But hurry, as many quests will soon become unavailable due to the Destiny Content Vault.


The Last Word: 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?