Destiny’s cultural impact is undeniable, thanks in no small part to its extensive marketing efforts. While the game has held a dedicated following for years, there exists a less vocal segment of the community that argues the lore, or core backstory, of Destiny has been diluted, isolated from gameplay, and relegated to a level of insignificance. As a dedicated player who has delved deep into the game’s foundations, I empathize with this sentiment, particularly when considering the original concept of the Destiny universe.
Joseph Staten, the catalyst behind Destiny’s original vision, intended for Destiny to revolutionize the gaming industry. His concept of the narrative was not a mere means to an end, but a story designed to challenge the norms of gaming narratives. Staten’s stories were intended to push boundaries, intertwining metaphors and allusions with an unrivaled complexity that was more than just a backdrop for another sci-fi action shooter. The narrative was constructed to evoke critical thought, prompting players to question established norms and delve deeper into the contrasting concepts of good and evil, light and dark, civilization and savagery, East versus West. His goal was to challenge our understanding of these dualities, not just explore them, pushing us to consider their historical and cultural origins.
However, where Staten envisioned a game that fostered active engagement, we were served “grimoire” that, while sort of deep, seemed tangential to the game’s central mechanics and narrative. Rather than having players unravel the mysteries of the post-apocalyptic world, actively engage with underlying themes, and question the nature of destiny, we were handed superficial storylines and a quasi-postmodern narrative.
A glaring example is the portrayal of the Speaker, a futuristic alchemist posing as a prophet of the traveller. Contrary to popular belief, Staten’s narrative didn’t merely cast him as another false prophet illustrating the dangers of zealotry. It was intended to be a commentary on modernity and the ever-changing yet persisting definitions of Destiny throughout history. The story was meant to be more than a post-apocalyptic tale; it was designed to challenge our understanding of destiny, modernity, and our faith in recorded history.
In many ways, Destiny’s original story was reminiscent of legendary games like Fallout 3, except where the primary mission was to discover the cause of society’s downfall, or the first Mass Effect game, where the vastness of the universe was constrained to our solar system, making it more personal and introspective.
When it comes to the vast and complex universe of Destiny, there’s no denying that the lore was once as rich, deep and consistent as the Halo trilogy. However, as a longtime player and someone who has explored the depths of the game’s ancient and recent writings, I’ve drawn a controversial conclusion: Destiny’s lore is an unfinished and irreparable mess, intentionally segregated from the actual game. Here’s why…
While many players accept the lore presented in the game and on the Ishtar Collective website as the truth, very few stop to question the authenticity and evolution of the narrative. Let’s take a step back in time. There’s a compelling theory suggesting that the Vex, mysterious and powerful aliens, were originally created by humans. This is supported by early concept art that portrayed Vex with human-style weaponry and architecture and similarities to the tower frames.
Staten’s original narrative for the Traveler is even more controversial. Traditionally seen as a benevolent force, in Staten’s vision, the Traveler was the mother or progenitor of The Darkness, manipulating previous humanity’s technology, possibly even the Vex, for its own malevolent purposes. This would have added layers and dimensions to the storyline, far surpassing the binary narrative of Light vs. Darkness we’ve been fed.
Characters like Osiris and the Crow were initially designed to be more nuanced and pivotal to the story. However, many of these intricate narrative threads never saw the light of day. Why? Speculation suggests that the game’s management believed such a mature and complex narrative with religious undertones might alienate their average player seeking a straightforward shooter experience, while also realizing that it would be too extensive to monetize into DLC slices. This decision has significantly diluted the richness of Destiny’s world, obliterating what made it uniquely Staten’s creation.
Bungie’s approach to the game’s factions also leaves something to be desired. Originally, they were meant to represent philosophical debates from the real world. For example, New Monarchy’s proposition of centralized power versus FWC’s idea of inevitable conflict. Yet, these factions were dismissed, indicating Bungie’s reluctance to delve into diverse perspective storytelling.
Moreover, the game and its sequels often rely on its lore to justify in-game narrative decisions to polish something subpar to make it less mediocre. But the lore itself feels like a jumble of ideas, some of which directly contradict the game’s previous events or literally get forgotten. For instance, while the game portrays the Traveler as a benevolent force, rumors (quietly removed by Bungie) suggest it was meant to be a deceptively dangerous entity, one that would contradict the Speaker’s every word, in earlier drafts.
Guardians, it’s time to confront a harsh truth. Destiny’s lore is inconsequential, inconsistent, and deliberately neglected from the actual game, more or less intentionally to avoid alienating their average player (or benefactor) while they’re playing the game.
From the onset, several Bungie employees admitted that they did not intend to treat the final (retail) draft of the story as something to take seriously.
So, let’s move on. I say this not out of ignorance, but out of sheer frustration. Destiny’s story has always been a disappointment for me. I never anticipated it, in much the same way I didn’t care for the stories of both vanilla Destiny 1 and vanilla Destiny 2. The Speaker’s inability to share his story just underscored the lack of depth in the narrative because it has been removed and thrown in the garbage for containing intrigue (if Jason Schreier employed “leakers” are to be believed for what they claim). It’s not a story designed for the player but a story built around the whims of its creators to engage us as their perception of players rather than challenge us as thinkers.
Furthermore, Bungie’s handling of the Destiny franchise has been questionable from the start. How can we overlook the allegations of substantial content removed from the vanilla base game of Destiny 1, only to be reintroduced as “new” content in expansions? Pre-release trailers from as early as 2013 gave us a clear glimpse of the Dreadnaught and the Taken faction in its entirety, suggesting these elements were already produced as part of the original game plan. But instead, they were quietly withheld and reintroduced in The Taken King as ‘new content.’ While many hailed The Taken King as a breakthrough expansion, in reality, it was simply Bungie delivering what should have been included from the start.
Imagine if Bethesda, with Oblivion, a full year before release, had removed key characters and plot points only to reintroduce them later as premium DLCs. Suppose they removed certain monster types, landmarks, side quests, and portions of the main story from the original and later marketed them as major add-ons, thus saving them the effort and resources to develop true DLCs like the Shivering Isles. Additionally, imagine if they toned down the game’s mature elements, such as blood or vicious characters, to achieve a more accessible rating, as there was a chance that the game might have been rated M for Mature if they chose to keep it in.
This approach calls into question not only the value proposition for gamers but also the integrity of the development process.
However, many diehard guardians and casual gamers have been misled by Bungie’s tactics. When nearly all of the content promised for the first two DLCs was found on the vanilla Destiny 1 disc on day 1, it became clear that this content wasn’t a result of ambitious preplanning but rather a strategic move to maximize profits without additional work post-release.
Joseph Staten’s original narrative for Destiny was bold and revolutionary. It aimed to redefine storytelling in games, shifting from the mundane to the thought-provoking. This narrative would have offered players a profound, layered exploration of themes if they were willing to engage deeply enough. But what we received in the final cut was a watered-down version, lacking philosophical depth and complexity. We missed out on a Halo-esque storytelling experience that could have been monumental for the gaming industry.
In summary, the direction Destiny took post-Microsoft partnership, especially with Staten’s narrative, is indicative of the issues plaguing the franchise. While faint echoes of the original vision can still be found, it’s clear that the story became a liability for Bungie. Destiny’s massive development and budget overshadowed its narrative potential, and what was meant to be a groundbreaking story became an afterthought in a systematic effort to ensure their costly gamble yielded the desired profit.
In conclusion, we have a game that had the potential to redefine storytelling in the gaming industry but chose not to. Destiny’s lore, unfortunately, is a missed opportunity. It’s time to move on, Guardians. Let’s seek narratives that truly engage and challenge us…
…Not tell us we are right for at least coming up with a answer, or no answer at all.