Destiny 2: Forsaken’s campaign has been lauded as one of Bungie’s best. Its story is straightforward on the surface: Your buddy Cayde-6 has been murdered, so you go out to the space frontier with a list of names of the bad guys who are responsible and kill them all.
For committed Destiny fans, however, one of the most interesting things about the story is that it touches on a theme that has always existed beneath the surface of the series’ lore: the possibility that the Guardians may not be the good guys.
The lost story of the original Destiny
Destiny went through a famously troubled development process. The original game’s narrative made no sense. Although it took players to all the destinations and introduced all the enemy races, it left numerous story threads unresolved and had no overarching plot. It was bad enough that Kotaku investigative reporter Jason Schreier spent over a year talking to sources inside the studio to find out what the hell happened.
Schreier published an expose in 2015 that stated that, late in Destiny’s development, the studio bosses decided they hated the game’s story and wanted a total rewrite. This decision led to the ouster of veteran writer Joe Staten, and the team that succeeded him had to stitch together the existing missions into some kind of workable, but new, storyline.
While Bungie has never released details of the scrapped narrative, unverified rumors that circulated in the community suggested the original story was about the player’s discovery that the Traveler, a godlike entity that gave Guardians their power and hangs dormant over Earth’s last human city, is not the savior the Guardians believe it is.
The Traveler was reportedly responsible for the destruction of most of humanity and the creation of the monsters that were menacing the various planets to which you traveled. The player then joined a group of renegade Guardians on a quest to prevent the Traveler from being resurrected.
The leader of that group of Guardians was an Awoken character named The Crow. No analogous character ever appeared in the release version Destiny, but his model was repurposed and became Prince Uldren, who is the villain of Forsaken.
So where does this put us now?
The Destiny franchise has never overtly revisited the possibility that the Guardians are actually working in service of a malevolent force, and we don’t even know for sure if that was meant to be the original story. But it’s an interesting framework to start with, because it carries an actual arc and makes at least some kind of sense, unlike the rickety lore the series employs today.
Indeed, the Traveler and the Guardians’ relationship with it was completely ignored in all of the original expansions for Destiny. The Traveler was rarely mentioned in any of the dialogue, and it played no role in any plot developments during Destiny’s first three years. The Speaker, a sort of high priest of the Traveler, didn’t speak at all during any of the expansions. He was named well.
The idea that the Traveler is benevolent was reinforced in Destiny 2’s campaign through discussion about how Guardians are chosen by the Light due to their righteousness. The villain, Ghaul, tries to seize the Traveler’s power, but the Traveler defends itself — first by empowering the player’s Guardian with new abilities and, at the end of the campaign, by awakening from its dormant state to annihilate Ghaul.
The Speaker was a mysterious and vaguely sinister character in the original Destiny campaign. This makes sense if you believe that he was possibly conceived as a bad guy, before the game’s story was overhauled. But in Destiny 2, the Speaker is kidnapped and eventually killed by the Cabal Red Legion, and his role is to spend his captivity explaining to Ghaul that the beneficiaries of the Light have to be chosen by the Traveler, that the Light can’t be stolen, and that worthiness to be chosen is a question of virtue, not of power.
This Speaker has no secrets; he just recites the Traveler’s anodyne platitudes.
Vestiges of Destiny’s lost history remain
While the original vision of Destiny’s story was reportedly scrapped, bits and pieces of the old lore still remain in the cobbled-together missions of the original campaign, in the Grimoire cards, and in the flavor text on various weapons and armor suggesting that the Traveler has a dark side.
First of all, Guardians are zombies. There’s no way to retcon this. Destiny begins with the Ghost finding a corpse in a rusted-out husk of a car on a post-apocalyptic stretch of ruined highway, and resurrecting it to become a Guardian that you play as. The Ghost can resurrect the Guardian repeatedly, as long as the Ghost itself is not destroyed. Guardians are unstoppable undead warriors that shoot fire and lighting.
Second, the Fallen, one of the game’s enemy races, got their name because they were once favored by the Traveler, and then it abandoned them, leading to the ruin of their civilization. They were possibly destroyed at the hands of the Traveler’s enemy, The Darkness. Now, they desperately scavenge abandoned technology for traces of its power. This suggests that the Traveler is a cowardly entity that enlightens the races it favors so that they can fight its battles for it, and if those battles don’t go its way, it will flee, abandoning its worshippers to their fate.
Third, Destiny’s Grimoire cards strongly suggest that Rasputin, the AI Warmind, suspected that the Traveler might abandon humanity in its hour of need, and that Rasputin planned to use his nuclear arsenal to prevent the Traveler from getting away. It’s not clear whether Rasputin actually attacked the Traveler, but many players think these cards suggest that an attack from Rasputin rendered the Traveler dormant, and that Rasputin’s decision to nuke the Traveler saved the Last City and the remainder of humanity from destruction.
However, these Grimoire cards were added with the Taken King expansion, a year after Destiny’s release and long after Bungie retooled Staten’s story. So whatever these Grimoire cards suggest about Rasputin’s history, it’s presumably in line with the company’s current plan for the franchise.
A darker turn in Forsaken
The plot of Forsaken is the darkest that Destiny has ever gotten.
The villain this time around is Prince Uldren. Uldren’s sister, Queen Mara Sov of the Awoken, was lost after the Reef’s failed attempt to stop Oryx’s Dreadnaught in Taken King. Uldren has been hearing her voice, despite the fact that the player is meant to believe that she’s dead.
Uldren frees a bunch of weird Fallen Barons from the Prison of Elders to lead his new army of zombie Fallen. With their help, he murders Cayde-6 and steals his Ace of Spades gun.
Meanwhile, the player Guardian teams up with Awoken general Petra Venj and heads to the Reef to avenge Cayde by killing Uldren and his barons. Meanwhile, Uldren travels to the Shard of the Traveler, which restored the Guardian’s Light in the Destiny 2 campaign, and uses Cayde’s gun to shoot off a piece of the shard. He takes it back to the Reef for use in a ritual that he believes will bring back his sister.
We learn in cutscenes throughout the campaign that Uldren has not actually been communicating with the late queen. Instead, he is being manipulated by a Lovecraftian space dragon that has tricked him into opening an extradimensional portal to unleash new monsters into the game. Uldren’s not an evil mastermind; he’s a guy who was traumatized and driven to the edge of madness by grief after participating in a war against an unspeakable horror, and then his vulnerability was exploited by another unspeakable horror.
However, either the Guardian or Petra executes a disarmed and helpless Uldren at the end of the campaign. The game fades to black before the sound of the shot, so it’s not clear which of them kills him.
What does this mean for the Guardians?
This is the first time we’ve seen the Traveler’s Light used for purposes other than protecting the solar system from alien invaders that are out to kill off the rest of humanity. In Forsaken, the Guardian wields the Light to settle a score. And we also learn that the Traveler’s power — which the Speaker claimed couldn’t be stolen, but had to be given — can actually be used to open portals to hell dimensions.
The way Bungie has been developing its story has made it seem unlikely that the Guardians’ alien space god would pull the heel turn envisioned in that rumored early, unreleased version of Destiny. But after Forsaken, it seems a little less impossible that the franchise’s story is moving in that direction.
This could go someplace interesting if Bungie is willing to blow up all its lore and raise new questions about whether players might not have been doing the right thing when they were slaughtering billions of aliens over the last four years. We’ll have to keep playing to find out.