When Destiny first shipped it didn’t have much of a story to speak of. Years later, that’s definitely changed. There’s still plenty of ridiculous jargon, but also characters, conflicts and histories Bungie has spent nearly a decade diligently cultivating. With Destiny 2: The Witch Queen, it’s all coming to fruition, and a lot of what players through they knew to be true about the game’s world has been turned on its head.
In the conversation below, Kotaku weekend editor Zack and I get into some of our thoughts about what the latest expansion’s big reveals mean for the story and the series. But first, a quick recap of what recently transpired in the universe of Bungie’s loot shooter MMO.
Hive god Savathûn is reborn with the Light and tries to hold the Traveler hostage in her Throne World. The Vanguard kill her and free it, but in the process discover that the Hive were not always evil, but in fact tricked into becoming so by a Disciple of the Witness named Rhulk for the purpose of waging war against the Traveler.
While Guardians manage to kill Rhulk in the Vow of the Disciple raid, the Witness is still at large and massing his army of Pyramid ships to possibly destroy the Traveler for good. At the same time the Vanguard are questioning everything they thought to be true about the Light vs. the Darkness and turning to ever more questionable means to achieve their goals. And with that out of the way, let’s get to it!
Ethan Gach: So Zack, where do we even start? The end of the Witch Queen campaign, and especially the new Vow of the Disciple raid, is the biggest update to Destiny’s ongoing space opera since The Taken King and also completely changes the meaning of so much of what came before.
Zack Zwiezen: Boy howdy are things getting exciting! I fully admit that I bounced off Destiny 2 around the first expansion/season. I came back briefly for Shadowkeep and have now been back since Beyond Light. And the way Bungie has really kicked the narrative into high gear these last two or three years has been exciting. And Witch Queen’s campaign and ending are just increasing the momentum of it all so much. I’m honestly pumped to see what happens next. That wasn’t always the case in the past with Destiny 1 or 2.
Ethan: Yea it’s a big change, and I’m curious if it will ultimately be for the better. For so long Destiny’s most interesting stories were in its ancient history. But the biggest events are now about to go down in Light Fall and Final Shape.
Zack: Right! And I do wonder about that too. But it’s awesome that now all that stuff from Taken King, those tomes of old shit, are finally relevant in a big way in-game. It also feels like Bungie paying off story threads that were established years and years ago. Which I never expected because of it being a live game.
In my head, Destiny 2, GTA Online, WoW, etc are games that just...never end. But it seems like Witch Queen and recent seasons are actually building to a big end. A finale. That’s really interesting to me.
Ethan: We’ll see! Promises of building to something have been made for years, and even now Final Shape is a way of kicking the can down the road (Bungie’s official line is that it needed more time to tell the story).
Zack: That’s a fair point. Perhaps I’m just too naive. Too hopeful. But the ending of Witch Queen has me pumped. I can’t help it!
Ethan: I do think the future feels more open than ever, because with these new twists, there aren’t really the same established rules. What had you most pumped coming out of the campaign?
Zack: Well, before we go any further, and I assume this will be made clear above this but: SPOILERS!
Anyway, I’m excited about how Beyond Light and Witch Queen have really destroyed the idea of Darkness being an inherently evil force and the Light (and Traveler) being a force of good. Instead, we see that these are just two things that have always existed and can be used for good, bad or anything in between.
The Hive can use the Light. We can use the Darkness. And Witch Queen really does a good job of tossing curveballs at Zavala and other characters who, for so long, seemed to know it all. They got how this all worked. No more. And that isn’t even touching on The Witness and what that all means for Destiny 2 moving forward. How did you feel about Witch Queen’s twists/turns and narrative?
Ethan: I think it definitely helps add stakes the game has never quite had before. Destiny has always had this front-of-the-box problem. A friend picks it up and asks you what it is and there’s no one character you can say it’s about. There wasn’t even a defining antagonist. It was like Star Wars if you took out Luke and Vader. Now we have that, sort of. It’s you vs. The Witness and his army of disciples and Black Pyramids.
Zack: Yup. The Darkness was always this vague, hard-to-care-about threat. Now, we have The Witness and his army and the Guardians and their allies. We have a war coming. And that feels big.
We also got some interesting lore revelations about Savathûn and her connection to The Witness. That she was ultimately tricked by The Witness into becoming what she became. It also means that our new bad guy is responsible for creating The Hive, in a way. So he feels more established already. A real threat that Destiny has lacked.
Ethan: Yeah, the Hive have always been in this weird position. Unlike the Fallen and the Vex, which are alien races with lots of factions pursuing their own agendas, the Hive were the closest to the Darkness and driven by pure evil. It’s satisfying in a way that there’s actually a pretty good (as far as Destiny goes) explanation for that now.
What do you think Savathûn’s end game was? The campaign shows that the Traveler gave her the Light willingly, but then she tried to capture and hold the Traveler hostage, to what end it’s still unclear. Do you think she’ll come back (her ghost Immaru is still at large)?
Zack: Maybe this is me being too hopeful, but I think she was actually trying to protect the light. Now what she would do with the Traveler and all the death that might follow, that’s probably bad. But I do think she really is afraid of the Witness. Or at least, sees him and his army as a credible threat to the galaxy. And she wanted to protect the Traveler to give her a tool to defeat him and reshape the galaxy as she wants to via Sword Logic or what have you.
As for if she comes back, I don’t think so. She was killed on her throne world. But she also had the light. Hard to say. 50/50 on that one.
Ethan: Where do you think this leaves the Vanguard? The start of Destiny 2 saw the Tower destroyed, the Traveler attacked, and the Speaker killed. Since then we’ve lost Cayde-6 and a bunch of planetary vendors once the Pyramids moved in.
Last year showed Zavala is as reliant on the other factions we’ve sometimes fought with as much as his own people, and Ikora Rey is grappling with having dished out Guardians’ deepest secrets to Savathûn when she was disguised as Osiris, who, speaking of, is taking a really long nap and is Ghostless. It’s not looking good for that whole crew!
Zack: We are definitely entering the famous “All Is Lost” moment of the saga. I think the next few seasons may focus on Zavala and crew having to rebuild, relearn and prepare for what’s coming. I also think his faith in the Traveler and the Light is fading, and how he deals with that will be a big part of the upcoming narrative beats.
Do you think we encounter the Witness before the next expansion, during one of the upcoming seasons? Or is that a big tease that Bungie holds onto for another year?
Ethan: I think they hold it. The final showdown might not even come until Final Shape, at which point the saga of Light and Dark ends and then we’re left with a new set of possibilities. What’s your current theory on what the conflict between The Witness and the Traveler is even about? Do you think the Traveler is just a space ball or is there actually someone inside? Now I’m getting flashbacks to the end of Mass Effect 3.
Zack: Oh, I’ve been thinking about this a lot! One theory I have is that someone of the same species as the Witness is inside the Traveler. That perhaps this has all been part of a conflict between two people. Another option is that the ball contains pure light, which is dangerous if just...left out in the universe.
I also think that Destiny is building towards a finale that is all about how light and darkness together is the future. That balance between the two forces is what is needed for peace. And that we may one day play a Destiny 3 where Fallen and Cabal are fighting alongside guardians, all wielding the light and the darkness to maintain balance. (But that is a very out there theory, I know!) What do you think is inside the Traveler and how does this conflict go down between it and the Witness? Is it a war? Or are we wrong to expect that?
Ethan: I’m not sure! I like your idea of there being another person from the Witness species in the Traveler. It does feel like the Light and Dark are very shackled at the moment, and there’s a possible future where those forces are unleashed and dispersed on a much larger scale that sort of rests the universe so to speak. And instead of focusing on the conflict between them, Destiny can just tell weird stories about space wizards. The alternative is to keep pulling back a new curtain to reveal a deeper layer of intrigue underlying the world. That way seems fraught (as we’ve seen with Horizon Forbidden West) and prone to an arms race that results in multiverse stuff (there have been gestures in that direction I feel like with The Nine and some of Destiny’s more mysterious neutral third-parties).
We’ve covered Savathûn’s turn, where this leaves the Vanguard, and what could happen with the Witness down the road. Two other things before we split. What do you think of Rhulk and what are your thoughts on torturing Lucent Hive?
Zack: So I’ve not played the new raid starring Rhulk aka an anime villain transported into Destiny. But I do like the idea that we might start to learn that so much of this universe has been manipulated and controlled by the Witness and his minions of darkness. Maybe someone like Rhulk was the reason the Traveler left the Fallen?
As for that whole bit about the lucent hive and torturing them to get information, I think I disagree with Crow. The Hive have, unlike basically any other enemy faction in Destiny, been basically pure evil. They kill and destroy everything they find. So I think if the best way to get what we need is to get some Cabal psychics together and mentally torture them for a bit, I’m not against. But I also have bad memories of getting killed by Hive in the Dark Below raid. So maybe I’m just angry about that still…
Ethan: But these are Light Hive, so it remains a question! I think Saladin’s story about an orphaned thief is also a really interesting window into how might doesn’t make right even when it comes to the Light.
Rhulk is fascinating to me because with him comes an entire new alien race and history that helps give some texture to the sprawl of Destiny’s world building. It’s been roughly a billion years since he created the Hive. In the time since, they’ve obliterated and conquered countless other alien civilizations, including the Cabal. Rhulk was also a victim of the Light and its inability to make people better through advanced tech and plentiful resources. The Hive wasn’t even the first alien race he tried to subjugate.
In some ways it almost makes me feel like there’s no way a final war in Earth’s solar system could be grand enough. It really feels like a backwater. Maybe the Traveler will flee again and we’ll have to follow it this time.
Zack: Ohhhhh, now that is an interesting theory. Destiny 2 ends with us and others chasing after the light and the Witness in pursuit too, maybe licking his wounds after a big fight. Hmmmm. I think, regardless of what will happen, I’m excited to see the next chapter in Destiny’s storyline. Which is great! The shooting and looting in this game has always been fun. But now that the story is also ramping up and getting better, I find myself even more down to play Destiny. As marketing teams love to say (but it’s true now), this really is the best time to be a Destiny player.