For the past week, Destiny fans have been furiously posting to message boards and making Reddit threads, venting, posting theories, and working out how best to focus their anger. They’ve been doing that for months, of course, but what’s different now is that they’re mad because the developers at Bungie want them to be. Cayde-6 is gonna die, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
Last week during Sony’s pre-E3 press conference, Bungie debuted the story trailer for Destiny 2’s Forsaken expansion, which is coming out in September. In the trailer, the beloved (or at least generally liked), wisecracking robo-Hunter Cayde-6 appears to be murdered by royal rude boy Prince Uldren. Sad country music plays. The villain takes Cayde’s gun and leaves his corpse lying on the ground. It’s all very dark and dramatic.
Normally you’d expect such a major plot development to be hidden behind spoiler warnings until several weeks after the expansion’s launch, but Bungie chose instead to put it center-stage at E3. They’ve doubled down in the days since then. The trailer ended with new promo artwork depicting a Guardian carrying Cayde’s body in a melodramatic mirror of Michelangelo’s Pietà (you can see that art atop this post). I now see that art in the launcher every time I go to play the game on PC. Cayde is going to die, the game keeps telling me. He’s going to die!! Last week’s official Destiny blog post opened with the sentence, “This week at Bungie, we revealed Cayde’s fate.”
Plenty of players were initially skeptical Cayde was really going to die, or that he would stay dead. (Plenty still are.) After all, Destiny exists in a fantasy universe full of gods with otherworldly powers, and unlikely resurrections are commonplace. Furthermore, Cayde-6 is a synthetic “Exo,” or a human consciousness living in a man-made body. Maybe he could be rebuilt as Cayde-7?
During E3, Forsaken project lead Scott Taylor seemed eager to throw water on those theories. He “emphatically” confirmed Cayde’s death to GamesRadar, saying, “He’s dead. His ghost is dead.” A Guardian’s “Ghost” is the little robot tasked with resurrecting them every time they die, and the trailer depicted Cayde’s ghost being shot. Not a good sign. In a separate interview for Eurogamer, a reporter asked if Cayde was “superhero dead,” a.k.a. the kind of death that can be reversed in some lore-twisting way. “No, he’s definitely dead,” replied Taylor.
For most of last week, the popular Destiny subreddit has been peppered with posts about the the magnitude of the loss and the sweetness of our imminent revenge. There’s been hope that we get to take Cayde’s gun off of Uldren’s body, calls for all fellow Hunters to unite for vengeance, and a fair amount of what I can only really call revenge fanfic, as players write entertaining stories of payback in the solemn tones of Destiny’s in-game lore entries. Not everyone’s on board with Cayde’s death, of course, but in general it’s all been a lot of grim fun. It’s also been nice to see so many Destiny players talking about Destiny’s story, as opposed to more granular topics like weapon balance, matchmaking, and various features people wish Bungie would add. Bungie’s intent in previewing Cayde’s death was doubtless to get everyone talking about Forsaken, so, mission accomplished.
I’ve seen plenty of theories about how things will shake out, when the time comes to actually play through the story. (Theories are nothing new for the Destiny community; players data-mined clues pointing to Cayde’s death last fall, and at least one player accurately predicted his death and his killer several days before the trailer debuted.) It seems likely that we’ll have to fight Uldren in both the story campaign and in the raid. Given that he’s less of a towering god and more of a human-sized foe, it’s possible that fighting him will be closer to a PvP fight against another player in the Crucible. (My not-that-harebrained theory is that we fight him as a Guardian-sized enemy the first time, but he pulls a JRPG villain and transforms into a massive god at the end of the raid.)
There’s also been plenty of chatter about the flavor text attached to the Hardcase Hunter Cloak from the first Destiny: “If you learn nothing else, learn this: when a Hunter takes up the cloak of a dead comrade, this is a vow.” It seems like a solid bet that Cayde’s cloak will become an item players receive in the game, perhaps worn in remembrance by Hunters or refashioned into a Warlock bond or Titan mark.
Cayde is voiced by Firefly actor Nathan Fillion, and the actor’s cocksure charm is a huge part of why people like the character. If Cayde is as dead as Bungie’s developers swear he is, we’ll no longer hear Fillion’s voice over our in-game radio. Some who played the Forsaken story demo at E3 last week reported that the actor voicing Cayde in the demo didn’t sound like Fillion, opening up speculation that Fillion’s days with Destiny are already over. (Others, notably Destiny lore maven Byf, didn’t note the actor as sounding like anyone other than Fillion). The idea of Bungie recasting or eliminating the role makes sense: Destiny has already shed a couple of its highest profile cast members, with Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage getting re-cast a year after Destiny’s launch and veteran British film actor Bill Nighy’s Speaker biting the dust during the Destiny 2 story campaign, albeit somewhat ambiguously. Fillion is arguably the most well-known actor left in the Destiny cast, and it’s possible that Cayde’s fate was sealed in part by the fact that Fillion is too expensive or too busy with other projects. I asked Activision PR whether or not Fillion had voiced Cayde in the Forsaken E3 demo, but the publisher wouldn’t comment.
The oddest thing about Cayde’s death is that Cayde… isn’t dead yet. The dude is standing there in the Tower, selling treasure maps and decrypting flashpoint engrams like nothing’s amiss. It’s an awkward side effect of announcing a character death months before it actually happens. I feel weird every time I see him now, like when I rewatch doomed characters interacting on early seasons of Game of Thrones. Dude is dead and he doesn’t even know it yet. If only there were some way to warn him.
Cayde’s death comes at a pivotal, optimistic time for Destiny 2. The Warmind expansion improved a lot of things and has given players some fun loot to chase over the summer. Forsaken’s newly announced Gambit mode, which combines PvE and PvP play, sounds great in theory, and word from those who played it at E3 (including my colleague Jason Schreier) is that it’s as fun as it sounds. The overhauled weapon system, which lets players equip any type of weapon in any slot, also sounds good, and has gotten similarly positive first impressions. While I’m actually not as militantly opposed to Destiny 2’s initial two-primary system as some, I’m definitely looking forward to once again playing with a hand cannon, a shotgun, and a rocket launcher equipped at the same time.
More broadly, it’s exciting to know that Bungie is about to shake things up, and Cayde’s death is just one more shakeup. Frustrated longtime Destiny players like me are feeling more open than usual to drastic change, which is likely one of the reasons that, by and large, the community is taking his demise in stride. For all the times we’ve smote an evil god and saved the galaxy, Destiny’s story has rarely established meaningful stakes. Killing off a major character is about the most tried-and-true way to go about doing that, because hey, it works. At least Bungie gave us enough lead time to say our goodbyes.