Dark or Light

Destiny 2: Going Beyond Beyond Light

Diving into Destiny 2's Narrative Thread

Damien Gula Posted:
Editorials 0

*SPOILER WARNING: Some of the content in this article covers the final mission, Exorcism, from Season of the Lost*

One of the components of long-running MMORPGs and MMO-adjacent titles that I find captivating is the development of narrative threads that ground characters in worlds not unlike our own. For me, the narrative weavers at Bungie have covered some incredibly delicate ground with the stories of Destiny 2: Beyond Light. In this article, I want to trace some of the edges of those threads with you. 

Why? Because any good art form should evoke something in us - calling us to respond to it and, in some cases, to be changed by our experience with it. In this same vein, video games give us an interaction medium to engage with topics or concepts that we might otherwise struggle to articulate. For Destiny 2: Beyond Light and its seasonal content, there are some motifs that present themselves as worthy of this kind of attention. They serve as both a warning and a call to respond. 

Would you join me in a thought exercise? If so, let’s go beyond Beyond Light together by looking back over some of the stories beats from this past year.

When we first step into the icy tundra of Europa, we are not simply stepping onto a new planet, we are stepping into a Golden Age monument of humanity’s past glory… and atrocities. On Europa, Clovis Bray, while giving birth to the Exo, committed unspeakable horrors with his experiments. Even his own family members were not exempt from his despicable, inhumane acts. And all of this in the name of scientific progress and for legacy. Both Elsie and Anna Bray are confronted by the twisted machinations borne from the ego of their grandfather, but they are not the only ones haunted by their past.

The Eliksni (or Fallen) are just as tragic a presence on Europa. This ruined monument of humanity’s once great and terrible progress echoes of their past and present as a race. Abandoned by the Traveler, known to the Eliksni as The Great Machine, and desperate to return to grace, the Eliksni have hardly thrived on this icy moon. The species as a whole has diminished into crippling dependence on life-sustaining ether produced by Servitors - a hollow replacement of their dependency on The Traveler’s blessings. They are broken. Desperate. 

With the promises of a new home and freedom by Eramis, these tragic people found a glimmer of hope, only to find themselves trading masters. Much like Clovis Bray, she would ransom her people’s future for promises of unfettered power found in the Darkness, both convinced that no sacrifice was too costly to secure salvation promised in dark whispers. And in the end, both Clovis and Eramis became effigies - monuments destined for destruction by their ambition.

As we progressed into the Season of the Hunt, we saw return of Uldren Sov: estranged Prince of the Awoken, former Father of the Scorn, murderer of Cayde-6, and, now, chosen by The Travelers as a Lightbearer. He was not resurrected as Uldren Sov, but a man with no memory of his past - a past that would make him the target of unspeakable acts of violence carried out in the name of justice-clothed vengeance. Even the name he was given, Crow, was a mockery of his former self. With each moment of mistreatment, each account of abuse, Crow receives them with a meek humility. The first genuine moment of warm humanity he would ever experience came long after his resurrection was shared in a secluded corner of nowhere. The “little bird” was reborn to a people who did not want him. While he would eventually find his way, the price paid for his new direction has yet to be fully tallied. 

In the Season of the Chosen, we had a face-to-face encounter with Caiatl, the Empress of the Cabal. With the legions scattered by her father’s madness and her homeworld overrun by the Hive god of war, Caiatl attempts to rally allies the only way she knows how: conquest. Fortunately for her (and the rest of the galaxy), she runs into the unstoppable force that is Commander Zavala. She would have destroyed ten thousand worlds to win back her capital world of Torobatl. For now, she must settle for an armistice with the Vanguard.

In the Season of the Splicer, we partnered with the House of Light - a band of Eliksni on the run from Eramis’ forces. Led by Mithrax, the House of Light is given a refugee camp within the Botza District as they assist in shutting down a Vex simulation that threatens the City. Though this Eliksni house has pledged their loyalty to assist those chosen by The Great Machine, it doesn't take long for tension stoked by suspicion and fueled unresolved hatred to reach violent ends. 

This is also the moment that terrible secrets come to light: one of our own sowed the seeds of corruption. Or, so we thought. In the Season of the Lost, the great warlock Osiris - trusted advisor to the Vanguard and mentor to the newly arisen Crow has been the Hive god of trickery, Savathûn. With unfettered access to all of our secrets she caused incalculable harm, sharpening people against one another. And, yet, she runs to the one person who might be her match in cunning: Mara Sov. 

Weaving a woeful tale of her sister’s deadly pursuit and wanting to be free from her worm that drives her to dark deceit, Savathûn strikes up a deal with Mara: free her and she will return Osiris alive. Mara, considering herself more clever, puts Savathûn on ice while sending players to recover her lost Techeuns. They are needed to repair the ley lines required for an exorcism ritual, a ritual that would separate from Savathûn the ancient worm she has been feeding with her guile for tens of thousands of years. In the meantime, Savathûn toys with Mara by restoring Crow’s memories, sending him into a state of confusion. In the end, Savathûn does what Savathûn always does: lies, manipulates, and misdirects for her own ends. 

All of that was a lengthy (and over simplistic) recap of specific events that took place over the past year of narrative content in Destiny 2, but where are the threads? When I look at the past year, there are a few intertwined motifs that Beyond Light presents us with to consider in the real world: 

Theme 1: “The line between Light and Dark is so very, very thin…” - Uldren Sov

Regardless of what your background is, there are dark things lurking in corners in each one of our lives that have the potential to consume us. In these places, destruction waits dormant whispering with promises of mastery and control if we would just relinquish a little bit of it to the shadows. This whisper is attracted to pain and loss, amplified in lies that vengeance is equal to justice, that control can only be wrested through manipulation, and that personal value can only be won or reclaimed through caustic force. One step… one word… one move may be the last to cross over a terrible threshold and we are all prey to it. The line is so very, very thin… and there is darkness that lurks just beyond light to devour any who might venture into its realm. 

While these are extremes, there could not be a more appropriate and provocative message for us to consider. Remember: this is what art is supposed to do. It is supposed to be provocative, to confront us with the artist’s point of view. Perhaps, this is only my interpretation, but if you take a second to listen to what voices around you whisper (or, in some cases, scream), you hear (or read) words of division with no hope for unity, words of manipulation utilizing guilt, fear, and shame, words to weaponize indignation borne out of injustice and pain. Isn’t it true of all of us that this darkness has its talons?

Can you see the line? This cutscene serves as a reminder that it may not be as clear as you think:

Theme 2: “Guardians make their own fate.”

For Eramis, the Darkness drove her to vengeance against the Traveler. For Clovis Bray, the Darkness drove him to become a monster for the promise of an eternal legacy. For Crow, the darkness of his past was a reminder of the pain he had caused others… a lesson that many would remind him of. For Savathûn and Mara Sov, the Darkness is a link in an old chain, shackles meant to be broken and manipulated for their own purposes. For us Guardians, our interactions with the Darkness are filled with choices.

Beyond Light’s stories reminds us that recognizing the darkness within does not mean that we need to become consumed or driven by it. Our experiences are a part of us, but they do not define us. True power (or autonomy) doesn’t come from embracing the darkness, but learning what to do with it. Given enough time, healing, and discipline, even our deepest darkness can become a tool that can be leveraged for incredible good - to bring hope and restoration. 

In the light of this truth, Beyond Light’s narrative called on us, if we allow it, to answer a question: what will you do with your darkness?

Theme 3: “This journey into Darkness is not to be traveled alone.” - Eris Morn

The penultimate chapter of Shadowkeep, Season of Arrivals, left us rattled by the overwhelming power and presence of the Darkness. While the Traveler’s Light repelled the initial invasion, the Sol system did not leave the encounter unscathed. In Beyond Light, humanity was forced to recognize that this fight is one that we will undoubtedly lose if we fight it alone. 

This year in-game, we have been forced to empathize with those who have caused incalculable harm. We have developed alliances where there has only been grief. We have witnessed the reconciliation of and repentance for old wounds, learning to not simply live with our monsters, but embrace those we once deemed monstrous as family. None of this happened within a vacuum or in isolation, it all happened within the context of dialogue, difficult discourse, and relationship. 

The words of Eris Morn ring true of both the game’s universe and ours: this journey of life, especially when dealing with darkness, is not to be traveled alone. The longer I live, the more I am convinced that experience is better in a group. Every “Guardian” is better in a “fireteam” because humanity is hardwired for connection within the context of relationship and community. We all need to feel a sense of belonging, of value, and connection with others… and we are stronger for it.

This isn’t a new phenomena, but echoes of a far more ancient understanding of humanity. There is a piece of Hebrew wisdom literature that translates to something like this: 

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Of all of the powers in the universe Savathûn might steal, the Sister of Shapes cannot escape a terrible truth. In her observations of Crow and our Guardian sharing a drink together, she experiences laughter, sincerity, and shared humanity for, what seems like, the first time. This warmth of relationship reveals something uncomfortable within her, a feeling she finds detestable: kinship. Though the Mother-morph may have her brood, they are forever pawns not peers; they are subservient to her will. And, I believe she has underestimated the kinship found when once-enemies find common ground… and it may be her unmaking or the catalyst for her continued metamorphosis. 

Am I looking for deeper meaning in between the lines of a video game narrative again? You had better believe it, and I will be looking for more when Destiny 2:The Witch Queen releases on February 22nd.  

Until then, Guardians, I’ll see you starside. 


Damien Gula

Born in the heyday of mullets and the El Camino to a tech-foward family, Damien joined the MMORPG.com team back in 2017 to review hardware and games as well as provide coverage for press preview events. He has participated in a number of MMOs over the years, including World of Warcraft, RIFT, Guild Wars 2, and the Destiny series. When he isn't writing for MMORPG.com, Damien is a pastor by trade who loves talking with anyone interested about life, God, and video games (in no particular order). He also co-hosts a podcast dedicated to these conversation with fellow MMORPG writer Matt Keith called Roll The Level.