As Destiny 2 enters its second year, developer Bungie has promised that the game will be much darker with its next expansion, Forsaken. To demonstrate this change in tone, Bungie released a teaser trailer at E3 2018 that showed Vanguard Hunter Cayde-6 getting gunned down – permanently – by Awoken Prince Uldren Sov.
Cayde’s death has already shocked fans. The event will undoubtedly be players’ driving motivation to run through the Forsaken campaign. However, the lovable Exo’s demise doesn’t actually change anything in-universe for Destiny players.
Light And Darkness
Here’s a quick rundown. The Destiny franchise’s basic premise is that the forces of Light and the forces of Darkness are at war forever. The Traveler represents the Light. It’s the source of every Guardian’s powers. According to various Grimoire entries, the Traveler is sentient, but its will is unknown to us. The Speaker, a self-appointed high priest, claimed to be able to interpret the Traveler’s will, but as of the end of the Destiny 2 original campaign, we’re pretty sure he’s dead now.
The Darkness is… everything else in the universe. It has been chasing the Traveler across space for billions of years. It infects alien races and subjects them to its will. The armies of Darkness act with a singular goal: destroy the Traveler and any of its agents.
At least, that’s what we’re told. And for the first game, at least, we don’t have time to question it. We have to fight, first for our own survival and then for humanity’s. We take on hordes of Fallen Eliksni, followed quickly by the murderous Vex hivemind and the militaristic Cabal. Then, after a moment, we have to rush off and defend our Awoken allies from the horrifying Hive scourge.
All around us, the Darkness. And if you’re only interested in loot, or completing all the side quests, or getting leveled up for Crucible matches, you’d never stop to think: is what I’m doing okay?
Those Who Became Legend
Destiny and Destiny 2 suffer from a major problem. Much of its story is only barely in the game franchise itself. With Destiny, you had the Grimoire. In Destiny 2, your ghost will point out various areas to investigate and provide us with more story or mood-setting. Legendary and exotic weapons sometimes come with lore tabs.
If you just play the game, you get a slightly dull, yet still enjoyable military space shooter. Your character literally can’t die. Your missions alternate between fighting Fallen, Vex, Cabal and Hive. You get to beat quests, get loot and go home. It’s the ultimate gamer power fantasy realized, and it’s so damn easy. Story doesn’t matter.
But if you read the lore, Destiny becomes so much more. The history of humanity pre- and post-Collapse is fascinating, and more importantly, it’s nuanced. Through the Grimoire, and later the Lore Tabs, we learn about humanity’s faltering first steps in meeting the Traveler. We get to know Ana Bray, the Bray family, and the Clovis Bray Corporation well before her appearance in Warmind. After reading the Books of Sorrow, we understand the Hive’s abhorrent motivation better.
One lore-specific story that has captivated Guardians of all classes is the story of Shin Malphur, Jaren Ward and Dredgen Yor.
Darkness For Good, Light For Evil
Palamon was a post-Collapse settlement in the wilds of Earth outside the protection of the Last City. Initially a town without a government, eventually a man named Loken took power and called himself “Magistrate.” Loken made the rules; the citizens of Palamon had no choice but to follow them.
As his fingers tightened on Palamon, people left. Those who stayed saw our days became grey. Loken’s protection – from the Fallen, from ourselves – became dictatorial.
At some point, a Hunter arrives in the village, to Loken’s chagrin. Malphur describes the Hunter, Jaren Ward, as “dangerous, but there was a light about him – a pureness to his weight – that seemed to hint that his ire was something earned, not carelessly given.” Ward is just passing through, but ends up staying in Palamon for months.
Finally, Loken, fed up with Ward’s presence in his little slice of hell, tries to root him out. He calls Ward to the town square, and a firing squad of nine hired guns lines up behind him. He announces all of Ward’s perceived crimes and sins to the people of Palamon, who say nothing out of fear of both men. As Malphur remembers it:
“This is our town! My town!” Loken was shouting now.
Jaren spoke: clear, calm. “Not anymore.”
Loken laughed dismissively. He had nine guns on his side. “Those gonna be your last words then, boy?”
The movement was a flash: quick as chain lightning. Jaren Ward spoke as he moved. “Yours. Not mine.”
After killing Loken and liberating Palamon, Ward became a fixture in Palamon. However, his immortality wouldn’t save the town twice.
The Rose’s Thorn Draws Blood
Before there were Guardians, there were the Risen. Before the Vanguard, there were Factions. And before the City, there was Rezyl Azzir, a Titan. He was one of the founders of the settlement beneath the Traveler. He fought in the Faction Wars, protected the new civilization from the Fallen and helped to change the Risen into what they are now: Guardians of humanity.
But Azzir was troubled. As a way to maintain civility amongst his newfound people, Azzir and the other Guardians had agreed to keep certain things quiet – about the nature of the Darkness, about the threats humanity still faced. The Hive had taken the Moon. How long would it be before they tried to take Earth?
Before they tried to take the Traveler?
The Hive operate on the Logic of the Sword, a series of tenets meant to codify the symbiotic relationship they have with their Worm Gods. Without going into too much detail or straying away from the topic at hand, here’s a simple description of the Sword Logic: The more beings the Hive kills, the stronger their Worm Gods become, which in turn strengthens the Hive to keep on killing.
Azzir knew that the Hive would eventually make their move on Earth. He wanted to end the threat before it arose. Without telling anyone, he went to the Moon. He fought his way to the Hive’s Hellmouth, and left his Ghost outside to warn humanity if he should fall.
A Wizard, Xyor the Betrothed, threw onslaught after onslaught of her Thrall at him. The Titan defeated them all with his hand cannon, Rose – but when he emerged from the Hellmouth, the damage had been done.
Rezyl Azzir was on the path to Darkness.
The Grimoire details Azzir’s transformation into Dredgen Yor. After grafting cursed chitin from the Hive Knight he slew during his Hellmouth expedition to Rose, his hand cannon began talking to him in dark whispers. Eventually these whispers drove him mad, and he left the City. His power twists into sadism, and he roamed the wilds dealing death to passersby. Eventually his Ghost left him.
And eventually, Yor found Palamon.
He left the settlement in ruins and killed anyone who attempted to run. The survivors, including Shin Malphur, hide and remain hidden until Jaren Ward arrived, returning from a hunt. Seeing the village burned to ash, Ward gathered the nine survivors up and set them off on a trek to the City, where they would be safe.
Yor followed the party as they trudged through the wilderness. Ward knew this but said nothing to the group, so as to make their travels even slightly easier. According to Malphur’s account, Ward told the party to decamp in a ravine on the ninth day of their trek, and left in the dead of night to face the former Guardian.
We all woke that night, closer to morning than the previous day.
A crack of gunfire split through the wood. Then more.
Far off, but near enough to pump the blood.
A familiar ring. “Last Word.” Jaren’s sidearm. His best friend.
Then another. A single shot, an unmistakable echo calling through the night. Hushed, cutting.
One shot, dark and infernal. Followed by silence.
Yor let Ward’s Ghost live, but Ward himself was gone. With no Guardian to resurrect, the Ghost returned to Malphur. It granted him Ward’s Light and became his Ghost. Malphur, now freshly immortal and in possession of Ward’s hand cannon, The Last Word, dedicated his existence to snuffing Yor out and putting an end to his atrocities. After many years, Malphur finally completed his mission at Dwindler’s Ridge.
While our Guardians may obtain the weapons characters like Dredgen Yor and Shin Malphur wielded, our own legends will never reach so far or be so morally ambiguous. Malphur was motivated by revenge. While his actions were a net benefit to humanity and by extension, the Vanguard, he wasn’t a Vanguard member. Very little in the Grimoire suggests he ever cooperated or worked with the Vanguard in any capacity. He simply roamed the wild Solar System, hunting Yor and anyone who followed him.
There are other Guardians who turned their backs on the Vanguard’s particular flavor of authoritarianism – or were turned away.
Ana Bray was resurrected as a Hunter and fought as a Gunslinger at the legendary Battle of Twilight Gap. After the battle, and against the Vanguard’s orders, she disappeared into the wilds on a hunt for her origins, finally resurfacing for the events of Warmind. Zavala banished an entire subclass of Titans, the Sunbreakers, from the City after Twilight Gap. Osiris – an original Vanguard member – was exiled for heresy against the Speaker.
And then there’s Lady Efrideet. A legendary Hunter, member of the Iron Lords. Presumed dead after the first SIVA crisis and confirmed to be alive during the second one. Efrideet is strong – she once threw Lord Saladin’s whole body into a Fallen Walker like a spear – she’s powerful, and she has eschewed the life of the Vanguard.
Give Guardians A Choice
Efrideet doesn’t fight anymore. According to what we know in the Grimoire, she cast aside life as a warrior to protect – and live with – a group of civilian, nonviolent Guardians. She returned to action twice – once during the Rise of Iron campaign, and again during the Red War, allegedly sniping 216 Cabal with 199 bullets. She hasn’t been seen since.
Getting to join her “faction” of Guardians instead of the usual members of the Consensus would be an interesting change of pace during the Faction Rally. Missions might involve tracking down lost lore, or stealing artifacts from Fallen or Cabal strongholds without being seen. With the focus on indiscriminately mowing down hordes of enemies removed, players might have to modify their gameplay styles in new ways.
Destiny has always marketed itself as something like an MMORPG with first-person shooter gameplay. However, we only ever get to see one side of the story. While there may be moments where the player’s Ghost remarks at the vastly unequal power dynamic Guardians enjoy over the other races, and while other characters may quip about the Guardians’ false superiority over the rest of humanity, the Vanguard remains the unchallenged monopoly in a way no other faction in any other MMO is.
Abolish The Vanguard, Free Guardians
Suraya Hawthorne was known as a bandit to the City and there was no love lost between her and the Vanguard, the Consensus or any other City authority. When the Red Legion attacked, her knowledge of the world outside the walls is what propelled her to lead refugees to safety. Her knowledge of the City’s streets below the Tower’s vision is what led our Guardian and the reformed Vanguard to victory at the end of Destiny 2‘s main campaign.
Through everything, Hawthorne was only loyal to her pet falcon, Louis, and the people she vowed to protect. She isn’t a Guardian, doesn’t care about the fight between the Light and the Darkness, and openly makes fun of Guardians to their face. In the Lore Tab for Wildwood, a Hunter cloak, Devrim Kay is quoted as saying:
Right, well… I’m afraid you won’t get far with that attitude. Hawthorne doesn’t care about that “Trials of Osiris” rubbish. Gilded armor can’t feed hungry refugees. And don’t go nattering on with that “Guardian” business either, not where she can hear you. There are no “Guardians” out here. To her, anyone that can pick up a gun and shoot is a “Guardian.”
She is later subsumed into the Vanguard power structure as a Clan Steward, but whether this arrangement will last or not is up in the air.
In a game where our only choice is the kind of stormtrooper we get to be, Hawthorne’s induction into the Vanguard makes sense. Her fiery anti-authoritarian rhetoric is dangerous, so it’s better to keep her in the Tower, where the Vanguard can keep an eye on her.
If Destiny 2 truly let Guardians choose their affiliations, it’s possible that Hawthorne would be the leader of her own faction. I’d join that faction in a heartbeat.
Becoming Our Own Legends, Choosing Our Own Destiny
Destiny’s story has always been dark. On the margins and deep in the Grimoire, we see evidence of corruption, of greed, of malice everywhere. Destiny is full of darkness. This is true textually and ideologically. When Bungie promises a “darker” story, it betrays the one they’ve already told. Without a framework that matches the potential of their promise, Bungie’s words ring hollow.
If Bungie added meaningful faction affiliations and the choice to leave the Vanguard and strike out on whatever path players want to take, they’d be a step closer to making those words ring true.