Destiny 2 has years of story-telling lessons to lean on. Will Bungie capitalise on this bounty? It’s looking good so far.
Destiny 2 comes to us off the backs of Destiny’s rubbish story and three years of hit-and-miss add-ons and expansions. In this final episode of a three-part series, we look at what Bungie has revealed of Destiny 2’s story so far, and what that says about the team’s approach.
The team responsible for The Taken King is leading the sequel. Even now, months from release, you can already see an element of continuity.
There is good reason to hope Destiny 2 fronts a decent story, and that hope springs from the fact that the team responsible for The Taken King is leading the sequel. Even now, months from release, you can already pick up an element of continuity from The Taken King to Destiny 2 – something that’s been sorely lacking in Destiny’s mostly standalone story modules to date.
The Taken King may be primarily about the Hive, but one of the more interesting things it does is present the Cabal as more than mindless baddies for the player to mow down, as they were in the vanilla Destiny campaign. Squaring off against the Taken, the Cabal have goals and motivations of their own, and throughout the campaign and Strikes we learn a little about this, and tellingly, discover a signal being broadcast back to the Cabal Empire.
That signal must have got somewhere, because the Cabal’s Red Legion arrives in force in Destiny 2 and absolutely smacks the shit out of The Last City on Earth; their leader, Ghaul, is the primary antagonist of the main story campaign, the Red War.
This sounds promising. As we saw in out look back over Destiny’s add-ons and expansions in part 2, having a proper baddie to focus on is one of the things that has really worked for Destiny, so it’s great to see that coming back again. It’s also worth noting that early trailers have focused on the Vanguard, especially Cayde-6.
Giving us an actual character to connect with is another element that has worked for Destiny, and it sounds like we’ll be given more opportunities to do so in Destiny 2. Each of three leaders (Cayde-6, Zavala and Ikora) is hanging out on a different destination in Destiny 2, and with any luck, with serve as primary questgiver and radio buddy throughout a segment of the main story campaign (or perhaps one of these layered stories Bungie is talking about now. More on that in a minute).
This character-driven narrative builds on The Taken King’s foundations, as the expansion’s campaign went a long way towards bringing the personalities of these particular three characters to the foreground. While the quip-happy Cayde-6 is a clear community favourite, Zavala’s deliberation, strength and determination make him a classic leader-hero, and the dignified, restrained Ikora is both very quietly funny and a little bit scary if you look past her reserved façade.
The Taken King also featured a great deal of Eris Morn and ended with a tease on something related to her, and given we know Destiny 2 will pick up other narrative trends and threads from The Taken King, it’s a pretty safe bet this tease, at least, will play out on the sequel – especially if you accept that Rise of Iron was a piece of throwaway filler.
That’s not hard to do: the sudden, jarring absence of the vanguard and Eris (and maybe even the Awoken) in Rise of Iron, and the lack of forward momentum in its backstory-focused plot, may be the result of the Rise of Iron team being told not to touch anything that might matter in the sequel. Hence the new NPCs that nobody cares about: whats-is-name the Cayde-6 wannabe and whats-er-name the Cryptarch who is only slightly less forgettable than the one on the Reef, and only then because she hands out a weekly quest it would have made more sense to give to an existing character. Even Saladin suddenly bossing the player around feels like a Zavala stand-in.
There are other reasons to have faith in The Taken King team: the expansion made better use of the Grimoire than vanilla Destiny by tying it into collectibles and quests in a way that encouraged players to gather together these scattered story elements (without making anybody read it if they didn’t want to). Moreover, The Taken King’s Grimoire cards feature one of Destiny’s best bits of writing along the way: Oryx’s history is told in a style that demands close reading and independent interpretation to really grok, but importantly, it is whole and complete. Earlier Grimoire tales are riddled with holes and decorated with hints at substance that never materialises – because it doesn’t exist.
We know Destiny 2 won’t have Grimoire cards, but it’s been put together by a team that understands the value of exploring the lore and maintaining mystery without being coy, even in the external materials – and what Destiny 2 does have is “layered stories”. Mini-campaigns or questlines that actually convey information in-game? That’s exactly what we’ve been asking for.
For all its flaws, Destiny really had something, and to be honest, I’m a little disappointed the Grimoire has been ditched and somewhat turned off by the Whedon-esque, MCU style of the first real Destiny trailer. But I’m also really alert to the potential for Destiny 2 to tell a story drawing on the same writing chops that brought us all this wonderful secret background lore, but in a way everyone can enjoy, and without the empty promises of substance that evaporates on closer inspection.
I’m not willing to bet Destiny 2 will answer all our questions; there are just too many loose threads for one game to tie up. I’m not even hopeful that the expected Rasputin and Osiris expansions will do a good job solving those particular mysteries, as they’ll likely be produced by secondary teams – and Rise of Iron demonstrated that filling in the blanks after the fact doesn’t work as well as we’d have liked.
But I do believe Destiny 2 will give over teasing and hinting, and tell a decent, self-contained story. Smith’s willingness to talk about the mistakes made in Destiny’s past and about the changes to how Bungie functions internally, and his comments about building a cohesive campaign but layering stories around it, all bode well for Destiny 2’s story-telling.
Most interesting is Smith’s comments about Destiny 2 telling a story about the Light and what it means to be a Guardian. This is really going back to basics stuff: Destiny did a terrible job explaining any of that, and if you dug beneath the surface, all you got was more hints and teases which, we now know, led nowhere.
In that sense, Destiny 2 really is a proper restart. It’s picking up threads you can trace right back to the moment Ghost pulls your skeleton out of a pile of corpses, makes you a superhero zombie and sends you off on a journey that you promptly forgot all about in your quest to get a Gjallarhorn. To date, the slot machine aspect of Destiny has been more compelling than its in-game story, and by returning to those first basic concepts and giving us a reason to care about them, Bungie has a good chance of correcting that.
Destiny 2 gives Bungie a chance to start again and do it right, and it’s giving off all the right signals: a strong antagonist, a followable narrative, memorable NPCs and actual engagement with the lore in-game. Talk is cheap, and we’ve been burned before.