Destiny 2’s next big expansion, Beyond Light, is out tomorrow, so it’s a great time to catch up on all of the game’s confusing lore. Clovis Bray corporation, K1 anomaly, Exo Stranger, Deep Stone Crypt—if all of this sounds like the babbling of a space wizard on e-acid, you’re in the right place.
Destiny’s universe has been built in fits and starts for over six years now, resulting in a world that’s both intriguing and hopelessly awash in nouns that begin with capitalized letters. Rather than tell a linear narrative that keeps pushing forward, Bungie has opted for a fragmented space opera that’s continually scattering off in dozens of digressions, many of which are told through low-key, mid-mission voice-overs and item descriptions rather than memorable cinematic moments.
Whether you’re getting into Destiny 2 for the first time or just want a quick refresher, I’ve tried to lay out the key things to know going into Beyond Light. This is just the tip of the iceberg; if you want to explore the rest of Destiny 2’s world in more granular detail there are no better companions than the fan-maintained Destinypedia and YouTuber Byf’s in-depth recaps.
I don’t want to waste much time recapping the basic building blocks of Destiny’s universe—former Destinyologist Kirk Hamilton already did that here—but if there’s one thing to know about the game’s story, it’s that it largely revolves around a core conflict between the forces of Light and the forces of Darkness. Yes, it sounds goofy and no, it’s not super original, but the distinct ways Bungie’s chosen to dress up this struggle are charmingly baroque.
The short version is that a long time ago The Traveler, a vessel for the Light shaped like a giant white space ball, showed up, terraformed a bunch of planets and moons, and helped facilitate a golden age of humanity filled with super fast technological advancement that allowed for the colonization of the solar system. Eventually The Traveler’s presence attracted the attention of the Darkness, which proceeded to invade and lay waste to the galaxy. In a last ditch effort to push it back, The Traveler unleashed a bunch of Light, creating little robot fairies called Ghosts to resurrect some of the dead, give them super powers, and turn them into Guardians to protect whatever was left.
This chain of events is called The Collapse, and The Traveler was dormant afterwards until the end of the Red War, Destiny 2’s main campaign, at which point it let loose another big pulse of Light and, in so doing, once again attracted the attention of the Darkness. Not everyone in Destiny’s universe buys into this binary struggle, however, believing instead that both are simply neutral powers that can be harnessed and wielded for the user’s own ends. While players have traditionally worked on behalf of the Light-aligned Vanguard, a sort of King Arthur’s court populated by space marines, the lines have blurred in recent years, and it all seems to be coming to a head in Beyond Light.
An armada of mysterious black Pyramid ships, believed to be agents of the Darkness, or perhaps even the embodiment of it, are now invading the solar system, awoken by The Traveler’s burst of Light at the end of the Red War. During Season of Arrivals, the ships have made contact on Io, Titan, Mercury and Mars, though what exactly they want and how they’ll go about getting it is still currently unknown. What we do know is this meeting has been a long time coming.
Pyramid ships have popped up in Destiny concept art for years, but it wasn’t until the end of Destiny 2’s campaign that they showed up in the game itself. Last year’s Shadowkeep let players actually go inside one that was buried deep beneath the Moon’s surface. The power of the Pyramids has been known to manifest powerful nightmares of fallen foes, and disrupt the traditional workings of time and space. Still, nothing conclusive has yet been revealed about the mysterious ships outside of the fact that they are dead set on convincing us that they aren’t opposed to the Light so much as transcend it. “We are not your friend,” the Moon Pyramid says at the end of Shadowkeep. “We are not your enemy. We are your salvation.”
What does the solar system potentially facing a second apocalypse have to do with Jupiter’s smallest moon? This season’s final story mission ends with the Darkness reaching out to the player directly on Io and telling them if they wish to no longer be a pawn of the Light they should go to Europa to discover an “ancient power” that can be used to save the ones they love—folks like big Vanguard daddy Zavala, tormented lore fanatic Eris Morn, and all those weirdo planetary vendors who are basically Destiny’s equivalent of the Breakfast Club.
Europa is also where Eramis, Kell of Darkness, is trying to claim the power of the Darkness for herself and use it to destroy humanity. The Fallen, a multi-armed alien race made up of different warring houses, have been picking the solar system clean since The Collapse. It’s been rumored that The Traveler once gave the gift of Light to them, but for whatever reason eventually decided to leave and come to Earth. They’ve resented humanity ever since, not to mention Guardians have been thwarting their plans for years, including Eramis’ effort to reclaim SIVA nanotech. There’s a lot of beef and it goes way back.
Most importantly, Europa is where one of the big black Pyramids has been buried for a long time, going back to at least to the Golden Age. It was originally discovered by scientist Clovis Bray, who used a substance obtained from the Pyramid to do some extremely unethical robotics experiments (more on that in a bit). This is why Europa is currently the place to be in Beyond Light, and why as the expansion’s main story trailer shows everyone, including surfer stoner The Drifter, good-guy Fallen Variks, and super mysterious ally Exo Stranger, headed there to investigate.
Okay, so a real quick detour on who these characters are and what you need to know about them:
- The Drifter has spent the last few years cooped up in the Tower running Gambit, a mode where players compete to harvest motes of Light from enemies in exchange for loot. He prefers to play both sides and believes firmly that the Light can never defeat the Darkness on its own. A real Third Way type, The Drifter’s heterodox views get him frowned upon by a lot of other Guardians. He’s also been around the block a few times, and for precisely this reason is pessimistic about humanity’s chances of ever surviving to a new Golden Age.
- Eris Morn, the sole survivor of a fireteam sent to confront the Hive prince Crota on the Moon, managed to survive in part by using the powers and tactics of the Darkness against it. As a result of that encounter she lost her eyes and replaced them with a Hive’s, and also prefers to study the Darkness and learn from it than simply destroy it whenever and wherever possible. This is why the Vanguard have come to rely on her, even if they don’t always approve of her methods, and also why she has her own agenda in studying the Pyramids up close and seeing if their powers can be used to fend off threats from the game’s other alien races.
- Variks, Kell of Kells, is a Fallen whose sided with humanity against his own kind on more than one occasion. In Destiny 1 he ran the Prison of Elders, but in Destiny 2 he had a strange vision that convinced him he might have been serving the wrong masters all this time. He sabotaged the Prison, released its inmates, and was ultimately responsible for Prince Uldren murdering Cayde-6 during Destiny 2’s Forsaken expansion. He fled, and eventually ended up on Europa in an uneasy alliance with Eramis. Things appear to have gone south though, and Variks is once against having second thoughts, sending out a distress call. Variks is one of Destiny’s most hardcore honor bros, and is constantly struggling with his dual desires to live up to a certan code of ethics and also see the Fallen once again united under a single banner and restored to their former noble glory.
- The Exo Stranger has been around since Destiny 1 and six years later we still have no idea what her deal is. After appearing sporadically throughout the first game’s main campaign, in part due to some messy last-minute rewrites, she went dark for six years. A time traveler from a future in which the Darkness has succeeded in taking the solar system, Exo Stranger is essentially Destiny’s version of X-Men’s Cable (or Trunks for you DBZ-heads out there), a Sherlock Holmes trying to piece together the origins of their timeline’s apocalypse in order to prevent it. Like The Drifter and Variks, she’s on the sidelines of the Light vs. Darkness showdown, ready to align with whichever force she needs to in the moment to save her future. She’s also an Exomind, a race of sentient robots who originated on Europa.
Exominds, or Exo for short, are human minds uploaded into artificial shells. They were created prior to the Guardians, with the goal of making people immortal, representing both the peak of technological progress during the Golden Age and potentially humanity’s own hubris. How were they created and why is that super relevant again? Prepare for another brief torrent of techno-babble.
Scientist Clovis Bray, creator of the Clovis Bray corporation, tried to perfect Exos but found they kept losing their minds over time. After a strange artifact called the K1 Anomaly was discovered on the Moon, Bray communed with it and started getting weird messages, including one telling him to go to Europa in order to discover the secret to immortality. There Bray was instructed by the artifact to build a Vex Gate to experiment with Vex technology (a cybernetic collective intelligence like SkyNet, but from another galaxy), and in the process discovered that when Vex milk (blood, but for alien robots) was mixed with a substance from beneath Europa’s surface it could be used to make the exo minds more stable.
This solution also corrupted exominds with Vex programming, forcing Bray to introduce routine memory wipes in order to reset the exo bodies whenever Vex tried to take them over. Vex programming eventually infected Bray himself, forcing him to undergo surgery, during which he had a vision of the Light blaming him for being seduced by the Darkness. All of this points to some intimate connection between the Exo, the Vex, and the Darkness resulting from the Pyramid on Europa. Bray’s research was conducted in The Deep Stone Crypt, something Ana Bray, the scientist’s adoptive grandchild, and Rasputin (a self-aware AI defense system from the Golden Age) have been trying to locate for a long time. It seems like players might finally be able to get their hands on some of its secrets during Beyond Light.
While Beyond Light is set to focus on Europa, Season of the Hunter, which goes live at the same time, will focus on Hive god Xivu Arath’s attempts to corrupt Hive and set in motion a new set of dark rituals in the Dreaming City, a Tolkien-esque wonderland hiding out in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. To do that Bungie revealed players will be teaming back up with the apostate Warlock Osiris (another skeptic of the Light) and The Crow, known in life as Uldren Sov before players killed him for murdering Cayde-6, Destiny’s lovable space cowboy voiced by Nathan Fillion and exactly like every other character Nathan Fillion has ever played.
The Crow was resurrected by a Ghost called Pulled Pork. When Guardians are resurrected, they lose all memory of their past life. The Crow is the perfect vehicle for Destiny’s philosophy of redemption, cycle of death and rebirth, and also what it means to work for the Light as opposed to the Darkness. Uldren’s crimes were the result of him trying to restore the Awoken (asteroid belt elves) to their former glory, and also reunite with his sister. Now, as a Guardian in the service of the Light, he’s an example of the Traveler’s gifts at the exact same time players are seeking to wield those of the Darkness.
Xivu Arath, meanwhile, is the youngest sister of the Witch-Queen Savathûn and the Taken King Oryx. Players defeated Oryx during Destiny 1, and battled Savathûn’s forces as she tried to keep the Guardians from hearing the Pyramid’s message during Season of Arrivals. It’s not yet clear what Xivi Arath’s ultimate plan is in Season of the Hunt, but the Hive are Destiny’s most committed worshippers of the Darkness, and possibly its oldest.
The alien race basically has its own Book of Genesis, and is possibly an early example of what happens when a civilization tries to use its power. It’s not great, but not the worst either, depending on whose point of view you take. The Hive are cruel and wicked, but have also survived far longer than humanity and have much more to show for it than the broken solar system left behind by the Traveler’s arrival. The Hive also aren’t going away anytime soon, as their family drama (Hive culture includes a lot of sibling murder and ritual rebirth) is set to continue in 2021’s annual expansion The Witch Queen.
Like I said at the top, Destiny’s world building is as straightforward or as esoteric as you want it to be, with plenty of unsolved questions and ongoing paradoxes that have kept even the most committed lore hounds scratching their heads. But for now, this should be enough to help you get the most out of the game’s next chapter.