Destiny: Delving into The Dark Below

By Brenna Hillier, Friday, 15 May 2015 08:07 GMT

We continue our Week of Destiny coverage with a look back at The Dark Below, including a chat with the voice of the Hive herself.

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Destiny launched with a storyline touring all four Destinations and introducing each of the enemy races of the Darkness in turn. While this romp across the solar system gave players a chance to get to know the game world, the overall story was of necessity fairly unfocused.

Bungie had the chance to remedy this with its first expansion. The Dark Below picks up on a story hook from early in vanilla Destiny – the return of the Hive to Earth after a long absence – and ran with it, telling a tale of a potential major incursion led by the Hive god Crota, son of Oyrx.

The Dark Below’s the careful framing of events into a cohesive narrative made the journey significantly more compelling than the main story slog of the base game. It was greatly helped along in this by the inclusion of a central quest-giver NPC: Eris Morn.

Preparations for Crota’s manifestation in out universe were spearheaded by Omnigul, a wizard and general known as the Will of Crota. Leading her army of Knights, the Blades of Crota, and relying on her aides, the Hand, Heart and Eyes of Crota, this shrieking fiend aimed to pave the way for the ultimate destruction of humankind.

She was thwarted, of course, by Guardians. The warriors of the Tower not only took out her deputies one by one, they foiled her plan to take control of Rasputin, Earth’s last known Warmind, and even ended an elaborate ritual to call Crota’s soul to this universe, shattering the painstakingly-constructed vessel designed to hold his consciousness.

Finally, Guardians banded together to take down Omnigul herself, and put paid to the Hive’s plans by taking the fight to Crota himself, entering another world to battle him sword to sword.

It was a memorable journey, and a lucrative one, punctuated by the introduction of new gear which rapidly became some of the most sought-after in Destiny – Murmur, the two-element fusion rifle, and the Crota’s End weapon set, are top-tier equipment.

The story missions and bounty-like quests played out much as Guardians had come to expect, but the careful framing of events into a cohesive narrative made the journey significantly more compelling than the main story slog of the base game. It was greatly helped along in this by the inclusion of a central quest-giver NPC: Eris Morn.

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Who is Eris Morn?

A former Guardian, Eris Morn shares her name with an ancient Greek god of war – not the honourable aspect embodied by Athena and Ares, but the chaos, strife and discord that it causes. Perhaps more pertinently, Eris is the name of the largest dwarf planet in our solar system; it it bigger than Pluto, was once considered one of the main planets, and is one of the two most distant objects in our system, along with its single moon.

Like the celestial body, Eris Morn was once considered part of a system but has since lost that sense of belonging – and she’s certainly been further from our solar system than most Guardians will ever travel.

Bungie seems to like Destiny players to gradually uncover story material on their own, rather than having it forced-fed to them. Eris’s story is not told explicitly in cutscenes and dialogue, but revealed in glimpses and hints. Visiting Eris on the regular to progress quests and access her inventory of treasures, you can gather the seeds of a tragic tale.

Crota’s End

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The ultimate battle of The Dark Below is Crota’s End, a Raid in which Guardians visit another plane of existence and battle a god.

Eris was present at The Great Disaster, a battle to reclaim the Moon from the Hive which resulted in the final deaths of thousands of Guardians and the ceding of lunar space to the Darkness. Seeking revenge, Eris and her friends – Eriana-3, Omar Agah, Vell Tarlowe and Sai Mota – sought out Toland the Shattered, a venerable Guardian whose knowledge of the Hive bordered on obsession. The six descended into the Hellmouth.

Only Eris survived, hiding for years in the warrens of the Hellmouth by “using the shadows as the Hive do”. The Hive took her Light, her Ghost and her eyes, but Eris took the eyes of a Hive warrior in place of her own.

Eventually escaping back into our world, Eris returned the Tower only to face uneasy dismissal of her concerns regarding the movements and intention of the Hive. Of humanity’s leaders, only Ikora Ray, the Warlock Vanguard and master of pre-emptive strikes, took Eris seriously. Recruiting her to a secret agency called the Hidden, she sent her to investigate the Hive’s activities.

Eris returned with terrifying news: the Hive planned to bring one of their gods into this plane of existence, an act which would almost certainly end in humanity’s total destruction at last – if not that of all Light – if they could not be stopped.

That’s where you come in.

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Bringing The Hive to life

Eris is the face and voice of The Dark Below. Even more than her battered and darkened appearance, it is her words that convey the threat of the Hive. The agony of trauma rings cleanly in Eris’s voice, and the determination with which she exhorts Guardians to action cannot quite mask her sorrow – and terror.

Eris is voiced with superb skill by Morla Gorrondona, a veteran voice actor whose credits include BioShock, Resistance, Halo, InFamous and Crackdown. This wasn’t Gorrondona’s first contribution to Destiny; her interest in diction and dialect, and aptitude for “vocal gymnastics”, made her a perfect fit to provide the voices of the Hive.

In addition to signing her on to provide the eerie shrieks, roars and mutters of Thrall, Wizards and Knights, Bungie used Gorrondona’s voice as a base for many of the sound effects related to the Hive, including weapons and environmental effects.

As the voice of the Hive, nobody has a better understanding of this particularly fearsome arm of the Darkness – which made Gorrondona the only choice to voice both Eris and Omnigul.

We were lucky enough to be able to ask Gorrondona a few questions about her work with Bungie in building the soundscape of the Hive and The Dark Below. Paying tribute to the direction of Bungie’s “brilliant” sound designer, Stephen Hodde, Gorrondona said she was asked to aim for something “simultaneously terrifying and ancient”.

“Think of a cavernous library filled with really dusty old books. What is the sound of those books being shot?”

“The most effective imagery Stephen offered, the one that really resonated with me, was ‘think of a cavernous library filled with really dusty old books. What is the sound of those books being shot?” she said.

“I loved the concept! Usually when we think of monster and baddie sounds they’re either slimy and wet, tinny and mechanical or are a louder, scarier version of a creature with which we’re already familiar. Ours resulted in a parched whisper that developed into a scream that developed into a shriek.”

Gorrondona described the process of producing the voices of the Hive as “unhinging the jaw and letting sounds and voices flood out”. “I’m sure I look and sound possessed when I’m in the zone,” she added.

To produce the sounds of the Hive, “one of the most creative” roles she has ever performed, Gorrondona had to use the full range of her voice, including very low and high sounds; she had to be careful to warm up thoroughly and focus on breath support to avoid losing her voice over the course of a recording session.

You can catch snippets of Gorrondona performing monster sounds and her eerily genuine baby cry in this music video by Mike Gordon, produced entirely from recordings of the human voice made at GDC 2011.

Gorrondona said she learned to produce such amazing vocalisations from “fearless singers” like Ella Fitzgerald, Björk, “and probably most of all Mike Patton”.

“I grew up making funny voices and crazy sounds for fun – so it’s not so weird for me,” she added. “Finding the place where sound design and voice acting overlap is a lot of fun for me.”

The voice actor was surprised and gratified to be asked back to voice Eris and Omingul based on the strength of her work with the Hive. For the Will of Crota, Gorrondona and Bungie pushed for an effect “different enough to stand out and be even more bone rattling”. The resulting screeches have given some players nightmares, Gorrondona said. Powerful player reactions to the terrifying Wizard are “quite an achievement”, she added.

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As for Eris, Gorrondona describes Crota’s Bane as “a damaged survivor” or perhaps “a heroic victim”.

“She walks a fine line between being driven and being possessed. What she has seen and what she has experienced would break a lesser character,” she said.

“But she survived and even chose to delve deeper into the Darkness that consumed her colleagues and nearly consumed her – so that she could return armed with a keen insight and knowledge of the enemy and use it to destroy them all.”

Remaining ambiguous on Eris’s motivations, Gorrondona said that Eris “definitely” has secrets and we should be very glad she’s on the side of the Light; an intriguing comment coming from someone who knows Crota’s Bane better than anybody else outside Bungie.

“The line I always came back to that really set the tone for who Eris is and where she is emotionally was ‘He took everything from me.'”

“The line I always came back to that really set the tone for who Eris is and where she is emotionally was ‘He took everything from me,'” Gorrondona said.

“It’s a simple line – but in it lies her heartbreaking loss. She has nothing left – so she has nothing left to lose.”

Other Eris lines that stuck with Gorrondona include her comment about taking the eyes of a Hive and the dark little nursery rhyme “One little, two little, three little Hive/I’ve killed so many now none are alive”.

“They give glimpses into the madness just below the surface,” Gorrondona said.

Destiny: The Dark Below opened our eyes to Destiny’s potential for focused storytelling and compelling characters, as well as opening our eyes to the hidden depth of Bungie’s worldbuilding. Follow up House of Wolves is set to evolve on that base; join us on Monday as we put a capstone on our Week of Destiny by recapping everything you need to know about the May 19 expansion.

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