Update, May 23, 2017 - Following Destiny 2's official, full-scale reveal in LA on May 18, we now have a great deal more (probable) answers to the questions thrown up by the sequel's apocalyptic story scenario. And excitingly, while more questions are raised, the hard facts that we've now learned (and played through) certainly seem to back up a fair few of the theories raised in previous versions of this article.
Original article starts below.
Destiny 2 is coming. And after the first game’s ‘intriguing’ mix of dense world-building and highly variable storytelling confused as much as it enticed, one of the biggest questions has to be “What the hell is it going to be about?”. After all, Crota and Oryx are both dead, the Fallen have been pushed back, and with the Cabal kicking us out of the Tower and destroying Earth's last city, there's scope for anything to happen. Especially given that the bigger lore hinted in the vanilla game has still never really been addressed, leaving many major loose ends dangling.
But Bungie’s hiring of Mass Effect writer Christopher Shlerf implies that the studio intends to make pretty impressive sense of the whole thing. And you know what? With a bit of digging, I’ve found that there’s a hell of a lot of good material for him to start with. In fact, after a good old excavation of lore, some consultation with a few brilliant theory threads on the excellent Destiny Reddit, Myelin Games' also-excellent Destiny lore videos, and a fair bit of tie-up work using my own several hundred hours’ experience of the game, I think I have a pretty good idea of where things are going. And if I’m right, oh boy, is everything we think we know about to go bye-bye.
Let’s start with the very likely possibility that…
The Traveler isn’t the saviour we’ve been sold
We’ve been told that, with the gift of ‘Light’, the Traveler once elevated Earth to a new golden age. We’ve been told that the Traveler was followed through the universe by The Darkness, and nearly killed. We’ve been told that, with its last remaining effort, it created the Ghosts so that the Guardians could stand and fight eternal. But as for who or what the Traveler really is, and why and how it did any of this? We don’t, to put the finest of points upon it, actually know shit.
Interesting theory that I increasingly find myself subscribing to: The Traveler is an irresponsible jerk. Not strictly malicious, but definitely irresponsible. We know, from various Grimoire texts and a fair amount of explicit Destiny lore, that the Traveler had been chased by The Darkness for countless years. Regardless of any good intentions, the Traveler led it right to our doorstep. But there’s a more interesting factor to consider, too, which takes us into the realm of Greek mythology.
Mythological imagery is everywhere in Destiny. Heck, the very idea of ‘destiny’ itself is fundamental to Greek myth, where fate is such a powerful driving force that it’s frequently personified. None of this can be a coincidence. In fact, Destiny starts to make a whole different kind of sense once you start relating it to stories of the ancient world.
Remember Prometheus? He was the guy who stole fire from the gods, and gifted it to humanity in order to raise them past their then-current state of evolution. Just, in fact, as the Traveler did. Prometheus was eventually chased down and punished by the gods for his actions. Fire was not his to give, and in gifting it he had broken the natural order of things. In retribution, he was chained to a rock – but kept alive indefinitely – so that an eagle could eat his liver every single day. And is that not pretty much the Traveler’s fate at the beginning of Destiny, as it sits in a state of near-death, a shard of its body held on a Hive altar so that its Light might be fed upon?
So does that mean that The Darkness is not be a force of malevolent evil, but simply something trying to reset the balance that the Traveler has thrown off? After all, from humanity’s point of view, Prometheus was a saviour, but to the gods he was just a thief screwing with their authority. In fact, if you analyse some of the lore relating to Destiny's alien species, there's a good argument that this scenario - whereby the Traveler arrives at a new world and ascends its civilisation, ostensibly as a gift, but really in order to raise an army - has happened many times before, the act of 'benevolence' really one of self-preservation, performed in order to defend itself against the Darkness. In fact there's a good chance that's how the Vex threat rose in the first place.
We’ll become less reliant on the Traveler
You know how it looks like the Traveler is on fire in the Destiny 2 promo art and trailers? There’s a strong theory that it isn’t. Rather, that pulsing red glow – in conjunction with the huge metal structure that unfolds to grasp the orb during the Cabal attack on the Tower in Destiny 2's opening cutscene - has led many to believe that it’s under the control of some sort of Cabal holding device that the invading force is using to lock down its powers. And there is good cause to believe this.
After all, how could any enemy faction suddenly manage to take the Tower after generations of failure, unless the Guardians’ powers and regenerative abilities were somehow shut down? We know via several Grimoire cards that the Cabal are aware of the connection between the Traveler’s Light and the Guardians’ abilities, so it makes sense that they’d eventually attempt to break the link. We also know that they’re aware of Hive attempts to subdue the Traveler, so it’s not a great leap to imagine that the start of Destiny 2 is the product of their stealing and harnessing said technology to make that key assault possible.
We now know that the opening of Destiny 2 will see the Guardians losing their Light (and related powers), before the main story focuses on the search to rebuild and reconsolidate their strength. Rather an ominous and fundamental shake-up to both world and systems, but also a great explanation for the big Destiny 2 progress reset.
As for how this will affect us directly in Destiny 2, I wouldn’t be surprised if the first part of the campaign saw us trying to liberate the Traveler in order to restart business as usual (albeit with new class abilities), but at the same time, the game’s fresh start might lead to us finding new ways of harnessing Light, or in fact ignoring it altogether. The Taken King’s third subclasses all come from harnessing elemental energy out in the world, rather than gaining gifts directly from the Traveler, so questing for new abilities, independent of the big, magic golf ball, might be a major new element of the game.
But at the same time…
We’ll get a lot closer to the Darkness
Bungie made Destiny 2’s guns, powers, and gameplay... but this is really a sequel built by its players
Thus far, we’ve been told that the truth is simple. Light good, Darkness bad, Traveler friend, everything else resolutely bloody awful. But in reality, there have been seeds of uncertainty scattered throughout Destiny’s first couple of years. Consider Toland the Shattered, for instance.
The long-lost, long thought-dead Guardian was an enthusiastic student of the Darkness, eventually thought mad by his colleagues, but ultimately rather useful during the first, abortive campaign against Crota. His obsession with Hive rituals eventually led him to attempt to commune with Destiny’s most hellish species on an amicable basis. This seemed to kill him, but it’s probable that he still survives in the Hive’s Ascendant realm. A full copy of his journal is with Tower helper Eris, and he’s also responsible for one of Destiny’s more famed Exotic weapons, Bad Juju, which is built around a Darkness-infused frame.
Can knowledge of – even intimacy with – the Darkness be helpful and non-corrupting? It seems so. The Awoken race were born of a run-in with it while trying to escape during Earth's Collapse – details currently unknown. They came out unscathed (in fact possibly stronger and more knowledgable, as implied by their name) and now openly reject the dichotomy of Light and Dark.
How will this affect Destiny 2? Expect the true nature of the Darkness to be revealed as less malicious, or at least more nuanced, than we’ve been led to believe. Toland's teachings will become more relevant as the newly disempowered Guardians rebuild in new ways. After all, if Destiny 2 truly is set in "a world without Light", as Bungie has suggested, then we might need a few alternatives. But Toland won't be the only influence changing the way we look at the world. Because...
Osiris is coming back, and he'll rewrite the rulebook
Think the ultra-hardcore Trials of Osiris PvP challenge just has a cool, mythic name? No. It's named in honour of a venerated old Warlock, once the Speaker's apprentice, but long since exiled (voluntary or involuntary nature of this currently unknown) due to his experimental, unconventional, and 'dangerous' ideas about the true nature of Light, the Darkness, and the Traveler. Basically, Osiris operated on a different intellectual and philosophical level to the Speaker, and was concerned with giving Guardians full knowledge of their situation, rather than being content with the the simplistic 'Fight Darkness, protect City' mantra spouted by the man in the white mask.
He might be gone, but Osiris left a hell of a legacy. Guardians of all three classes now follow his teachings and theories, the Trials continue, and he's quietly cropped up on the periphery of the main story for a while. He's the one who warned the Awoken that Oryx was coming. An unnamed Warlock has also been reported as discussing large-scale quantum experiments on Mercury, seemingly looking into harnessing Vex time-travel technology (Osiris had an interest in the Vex's nature akin to Toland's obsession with understanding the Hive).
The thing that makes him very important for Destiny 2? The 'box art' for the season pass, which includes logos for the first two expansions. One is the mark of warmind supercomputer Rasputin, the other is the yellow eye logo associated with the Cult of Osiris. It very strongly looks like Osiris is getting his first, 'present-day' story, and that in turn means that we're probably going to get some of the biggest revelations yet in regard to the true nature of just What The Hell Is Actually Going On.
Osiris' return - or at least some greater, more explicit contact with his teachings - will be a huge deal given the situation in Destiny 2. With the Tower gone and the City fallen, Earth's forces are homeless and in disarray. We know that Guardians are going to lose their power (at least temporarily) at the start of Destiny 2, and we now have it confirmed, as of Destiny 2's hands-on story campaign demo, that the Speaker is missing, presumed dead. Also, the Vanguard leadership of Zavalla, Ikora Rey, and Cayde is split, broken and scattered across the solar system, coping with existential crisis, trying to regain composure, and leading an ill-thought-out, knee-jerk counterattack, respectively.
That leaves a major power vacuum, and the need for fresh guidance to help Guardians build a new path through this more dangerous world. With Osiris' followers long having labelled the Speaker a "charlatan", and implied that only Osiris knows the true nature of the world and the struggle Guardians find themselves in, the door is wide open for a returning Warlock genius to reboot, refresh, and reteach everything we (think we) know. Couple that with the aforementioned Rasputin campaign (Rasputin has been around since before the Collapse, and crippled the Traveler in order to stop it from doing a runner when the Darkness arrived to challenge us), and you have a stage set for sweeping away all the facade and presenting us with the long-masked reality of what's really been going on. So yes…
The Speaker's lie will be revealed
But what's wrong with the Speaker's message? After all, it's kept Earth in the fight for long enough, despite overwhelming odds. Well there's long been an implication that things are not as clear-cut as he professes, and that his straightforward version of events is actually holding us back, treading water when we could be pushing forward.
The Speaker is set up as the Earthly conduit of the Traveler’s will. He explains little, has absolute authority, and is trusted blindly by Earth’s greatest warriors. Obviously that kind of set-up has always worked out well throughout Earth's history, but is there any actual evidence that he is up to no good? Tangentially, yes, or at least that he's holding us back while believing he's keeping us safe. Notice that he’s the only major Destiny NPC who continues to wear a mask in the Tower? That’s a bit of an alarm bell right there, particularly when you consider that the use of masks was a fundamental element of Greek theatre, primarily used to allow actors to change personas very quickly, and enforce uniformity within the Chorus. There's some interesting thematic symbolism there.
And then we have the opinion of the aforementioned Cult of Orisis. In particular, Brother Vance (the Cult’s representative in the Reef) has little but disparaging remarks to make, stating an explicit desire on the Speaker’s part to forget the past, in addition to making that 'charlatan' comment. “'Out of sight, out of mind,' they say. The Speaker wishes this was true.” In fact if you read through all of Brother Vance's dialogue, you’ll find multiple, stacking references to the Speaker as a liar.
So yes, ut seems that the Speaker has indeed been actively trying to hide the true nature of Light and Darkness. Significantly out of the picture at the start of Destiny 2, if he does return later, he'll likely find that the new, rules-free, wild west set-up sees the regulations of his doctrine fall by the wayside. But it's just as likely that his death or long-term disappearance will be the catalyst for a real, explicit exploration of all that bigger picture lore that Bungie has been holding back since the vanilla game.
The Fallen will be our friends, and the Reef will rise again
While we're in 'Shake up everything we know, nothing is real any more' mode, let's consider the very real likelihood that the Fallen are now our friends. It's long been rumoured that an expanded Cabal force are going to be the primary enemy in Destiny 2, and with the reveal trailer seeming to confirm that, we need to consider what's happened to the rest of the antagonist factions. And while it's all-change for the Guardians, it seems equally big shifts are coming for the Fallen.
As detailed in some new Grimoire cards dropped into Destiny for the Age of Triumph - which seem to set up story elements for Destiny 2 - the various Fallen houses are disbanding. Ground troops are withdrawing, and bonfires have been found made of armour and House banners. Either the majority of the Fallen are backing out of the fight entirely (which is unlikely), or the separate factions are putting side their differences and uniting under the House of Kings, the only group not reported as cashing out. So, a big, united Fallen front to fight, as we drag ourselves out of the dirt and try to forge a new frontier? Well no.
Elsewhere in the new Grimoire offerings, it's revealed that while the vast space battle against Oryx at the start of The Taken King saw Mara Sov, the Awoken queen of the Reef, missing and presumed dead, her brother, Uldren survived. He escaped the fight and crash-landed on Mars, and from there he's been enacting a new plan. Long story short, it seems that with the Reef's forces battered and in need of a new leader, he's allowed the Fallen to track him across the solar system and capture him in order to get close to their Kell. It's not explicitly stated (because when is it ever?) but there's a very strong implication that all of this was to the end of killing said Fallen leader and taking over himself.
With good-guy Fallen Reef-dweller Variks in tow, this seems very plausible indeed. Friendly Fallen working alongside the Guardians to build a new world and fight back against the newly empowered Cabal? Almost definitely. And their being led by the Light/Dark ambiguous Awoken adds further credence to the idea of old boundaries dissolved. Need any more back-up that this is the case? The Fallen are notably absent from Destiny 2's story and Strike gameplay demos. We've battled Cabal and Vex, but seen absolutely no sign on the four-armed marauders. An interesting no-show from possibly Destiny's most iconic 'enemy' race.
Though the idea of established allies reaching out to established enemies doesn’t stop here. Because…
Eris Morn will leave, but she’ll trigger major events down the line
Following the punishment of Prometheus in the original Greek myth, the gods turned their attention to humanity, and started royally screwing with us. They sent down Pandora, along with her box (or jar), which eventually filled the world with calamity when opened. That’ll be Destiny’s post-Golden Age Collapse then. Interesting point though: One of those released calamities was the goddess of Strife, whose name was Eris. While not necessarily good or bad, she was the harbinger of some darkly chaotic times, and instigated some serious goings following her arrival.
Now, following the events of The Taken King, we can be pretty sure that Eris has been quietly working with Mara Sov, the currently lost queen of the Awoken, presumably to bait out and destroy Oryx with the help of the Vanguard. But between the Awoken’s neutral alignment and Eris’ years spent living among the Hive, there are also questions to be asked. In fact, Eris’ actions in The Taken King’s end cutscene – in which she claims a fragment of Oryx’s sword and ‘accepts her fate’ – make her future plans a matter of great interest. It’s entirely plausible that with Oryx out of the way, Eris might now be planning to reinstigate her relationship with the Hive in order to further her side of the fight. Let’s not forget that Eris was on Hive/Darkness obsessive Toland’s fireteam when he was lost. Dancing close to the fire is very much her thing.
As for the specifics, some more new Grimoire information (again, added for Age of Triumph) reveals Eris preparing to leave the Tower, having realised that she cannot destroy the ancient and endless Hive from within its safe boundaries. She’s all set to venture out into the wider world in order to enact a dangerous mission in an attempt to make a real difference. As for the nature of that mission, a good bet is that she’s going after Oryx’s surviving sisters, who Grimoire cards and item descriptions have established to have fought for his throne before he was even destroyed.
Is Eris off to finish the family line using Oryx’s sword, or a weapon forged from its remains? Is she planning to mirror Uldren’s actions, offing the warring sisters in order to take control of the vacant throne herself, by way of the Hive's 'kill it and own it' Sword Logic ascension tradition? Physically and emotionally changed by her years hiding in the Hive shadows, she’s certainly the nearest equivalent we have of a Hive ambassador. And after that lengthy period of forced intimacy with the monsters, becoming the new Hive leader would definitely fit the scope of ‘accepting her fate’. It would also create a neat trinity of Light/Dark faction blurring, taken alongside Uldren’s Fallen and the presumed return of Osiris. But whatever the specifics, we’ll almost certainly run into her and her new plan out in Destiny 2’s wider world.
And speaking of secondary character influences…
Xur's bigger role will be revealed
The weekend Exotic trader’s enigmatic nature has led many to overlook him as a big story catalyst, but I suspect the time for such indifference is over. Because there’s a major element of his identity we now need to consider. Xur is identified as an Agent of The Nine. We know almost nothing about who or what The Nine are – except that Mara Sov has communed with them in the past – but again, going back to Greek mythology, they’re a pretty big deal.
When the gods first sent down Pandora, they did so after organising themselves into the Council of the Nine. Among their number was a blacksmith. Blacksmiths make weapons. Xur sells weapons. And some of the equipment he has to hand, as we already know, is Darkness-infused. We’ve spent the last two and a half years pretty consistently excited by the new toys he brings us, but I suspect there’s every chance that he’s actually been seeding us with the tools of a new era, where the boundaries between Light and Darkness aren't so clearly defined. If the old hierarchy and leadership is indeed about to fall apart, and Osiris' less rigid, more progressive teachings are going to become an influence on the new world, then if Xur has an ulterior motive to reveal, September would be the time to do so.
In fact it's almost guaranteed that we'll start to learn more about Xur's employers almost from the off. A list of supposed Destiny 2 leaks hit Reddit the day before the game's official, on-stage reveal, all of which turned out to be pretty much correct. The only unconfirmed rumour among that list? That the Trials of Osiris PvP mode would be replaced with something called Trials of the Nine. Now please note that, while confirming that a Trials-style mode will hit Destiny 2 during the game's launch window, Bungie has only ever explicitly used the term "Trials". No "of", no "Osiris". It seems we're in line for a big lore dump on the Nine, and that Osiris' expansion appearance will indeed be story-led rather than built around PvP.
The Stranger is surely tied up in all of this
Appearing repeatedly during Destiny’s vanilla campaign, the mysterious Exo is clearly involved in whatever’s going on behind the scenes. She appears at several significant moments in the story, always operating with an additional, unspoken agenda, and notably turns up at the end to gift us a pretty damn nice pulse rifle. But whatever her appearance and seeming benevolence, she isn’t a Guardian. She explicitly tells us that she wasn’t forged in the Light. But despite her resolution to walk her own path, she does state that where it crosses with ours, “ground could break”.
So whose side is she on? Well, regardless of the ambiguity, we know that she must have a side, albeit one that she’s perhaps not dogmatically committed to. She explicitly calls out the Awoken for “wavering between the light and the dark”, telling our Ghost that “a side should always be taken, little light. Even if it's the wrong side.”
Could she possibly be Destiny’s analogue for Pandora? That would certainly cover the ‘not a product of the light’ angle, and the Exos’ mechanical nature and mysterious origins would also be a nice fit for Pandora’s manufactured existence.
Has she rejected her purpose since the Collapse, becoming the personification of rebellion against the very idea of destiny or fate? Perhaps she's even whatever the Dark equivalent of a Guardian is, a gun-toting goodie who simply gains her power from the opposing source and doesn't feel the need to commit to the Vanguard institution. That would certainly fit the other themes in play, and give her great significance given the (probably) incoming shift in ideologies.