Destiny’s story has endured an onslaught of criticism regarding its appallingly scattered plot. There have been many voices spewing into the void about how it sucks, or makes no sense, or is a disappointment when compared to the narratives of the Halo games, and to be fair to those people, they aren’t exactly wrong. With this new IP, Bungie has set the framework for a potentially vast and complex story, however, I’m not here to evaluate framework. A game’s narrative should be judged by what shipped on release day, not by the promise of future DLC or expansions, so that is what I aim to do. To avoid beating a dead Ghost, this analysis won’t simply state that the story “sucks”. This isn’t a review on whether Destiny is good or bad, but rather an attempt to parse out what the problems are with the narrative and how they could’ve been fixed. In case you were unsure… Yes, there are spoilers ahead.
The image you see above is not only me being incredibly witty, but also a direct quote from Peter Dinklage’s character, Ghost, at the beginning of Destiny. I believe this line was meant to draw the player in, make him/her invested in the plot as it unfolds, and play along with the idea that they won’t be spoon-fed every single detail of what’s happening. This, in itself, is not a unique storytelling device. Plenty of movies, games, and novels implement this to varying degrees of success, and the viewers/gamers/readers are fine with an initial amount of ignorance about the world they’re discovering because that’s exactly what they’re doing: discovering. By the end of the story, they are no longer ignorant. The details of who is who, what is what, and why things are happening have been (for the most part) revealed, and the journey comes to a close. The predominate issue within Destiny’s story is that it sets up the mystery of the narrative and then doesn’t bother to solve it. It breaches the implied agreement that by the end, the player will have a somewhat better understanding of the world they were initially thrown into.
A few examples of this present themselves almost immediately, although the player doesn’t really know it at the time. You, a Guardian, are brought back to life after having been dead for quite some time by a Ghost who has chosen you for some undisclosed reason. A moment later, you are told to run. You’re in Fallen territory, after all. While this introduction is gripping and entertaining for the player on the outset, you do what Ghost tells you with the belief that you’ll eventually be filled in, in one way or another, about who the Fallen are, why you were chosen to be revived, and what the Fallen are after. If you’re new to Destiny and have not yet finished the story, I have some bad news for you: the Fallen remain a mystery.
As far as your character knows, they are just a species of monsters hellbent on destroying the Traveler and the human race. The Hive and the Fallen appear to be mortal enemies in the game, as well as the Fallen and the Vex, but don’t bother asking me why. I absolutely could not tell you. The Fallen and the Hive are perhaps quarreling over territory seeing as how the Hive suddenly show up on Earth after having been absent for centuries, but that’s merely an inference I made off of a throwaway line by Ghost, and besides, the Fallen are on the Moon along with the Hive, so there goes the possibility that they’ve never encountered one another. There are tons of similar plot holes that, while minuscule at first, add up to create a narrative that makes very little sense overall. Destiny tends to throw around terms like “Warmind” and “Ketch” with the expectation that its audience will be able to piece together their meaning, and for the most part we can. But when the story starts doing the same thing, that window of reasonability narrows.
Through their travels, the player encounters a few flat, underdeveloped characters such as the Stranger, the Speaker, the Queen, and the Queen’s brother. An incredibly select few characters in Destiny have been given names, and their backstories are murky at best. The Queen and her brother are really the only interesting people we meet, but we learn next to nothing about them before moving on to finish the game. The brother actually has some personality, unlike the Stranger, the Speaker, or the Queen herself, but the game doesn’t stop for a moment to develop it further. What’s unfortunate is that the story can be described accurately as a list of bullet points connected by a thin line of plot regarding the Traveler being in danger. However, we’re still left with a million questions by the end. What exactly happened to the Traveler? Is its light a finite resource? How are Guardians chosen? Why was Ghost searching for the player’s Guardian at the beginning and why did Ghost not have a Guardian before reviving you? Was the final boss actually a god like Ghost implied it was? Who in world was the Stranger on the phone with when you finally meet? You can begin to see the problem here.
Overall, the problems with Destiny’s story stem from a lack of explanation on even the most basic level. Yes, the Grimoire Cards expand upon a lot of what’s missing, but as I’ve written before, forcing the player to leave the game in order to figure out what’s going on isn’t effective storytelling. A few lines of expository dialogue from Ghost or the Speaker about simple things like why the Fallen and the Hive are at odds with one another despite having common goals would resolve nearly every plot hole present in the game. There needs to be more care taken with the game’s story, a tradition that the Halo games were heavily steeped in. Believe that gamers can parse out a narrative without needing thorough explanations every five minutes, but also understand that by not bothering with any form of competent exposition, you are writing a story of substantially poor quality.