I’ll miss the story that never was.
On Tuesday, Kotaku reported a couple of big rumors about Destiny 2. According to the site’s anonymous sources and a poster on NeoGAF, the game will come to PC (in addition to PS4 and XBO) and tell a new story completely unrelated to the current game’s narrative. “D2 is a completely different game,” an anonymous source told Kotaku. An “overhaul.”
Again, this is just a rumor, but it’s kicked off a conversation that has been brewing for a while. Should or shouldn’t Destiny 2 allow the player to keep their original characters? Should it have the same vendors and NPCs as the first game? To what degree should it follow the same plot?
There are valid arguments for either continuing the current story or starting from scratch. An overhaul would allow Bungie and Activision to hang on to their core players, but also clean up a muddled story that itself suffered from last-minute changes. As a fan more focused on lore than on gear, I was unsettled by the idea of an overhaul for reasons I couldn’t quite define at first. Why would it be so hard to let go of these characters, and what would be the best way for Destiny to transition into a sequel?
At Forbes, writer Paul Tassi expressed a lot of good reasons for Destiny to go in a new direction. Starting out fresh and adding PC could draw in a potentially larger eSports community and put the story on more stable footing. According to Kotaku‘s sources, the overhaul was compared to Diablo 2, which featured both new characters and a new gear system, while also improving on the original’s core gameplay. A clean slate would allow Destiny not necessarily to be a completely different experience, but to be an improved and more cohesive one.
But what happens to the story? This is where Bungie’s already impressive team of lore writers comes into play. There are plenty of ways to revamp the game world without sharding the player characters like so many green engrams.
Lots of games implement story beats just to get the player to a new beginning from which they have to climb back up. Mass Effect 2, while a different genre, did this well. The player character died and was rebuilt in the opening scenes, allowing the player to change his/her appearance and class.
There are a lot of possibilities where this could work for Destiny, too. The lore is full of stories about reality or perception being altered. Maybe the player’s Guardian was caught in an experiment on Vex networks and was sent to the past or the future. A time-jump could explain new social spaces or new characters. Maybe the Traveler itself woke up or was attacked, and moved further out into the Solar System. This could change the way the Light works, rearrange the Solar System, and cut the Guardians off from the people they knew. The Tower could fall in a world-shaking event like World of Warcraft‘s Cataclysm.
Why is it important to keep the same characters at all? While thinking about this I was reminded of this post on tumblr about emotional continuity. Specifically, it’s about how fan fiction writers are good at it. Tie-in authors do a great job of this type of continuity, too. They write stories about their own characters, or about the established ones, and maintain a unique voice for those characters no matter what situation they might find themselves in. To use another example from Mass Effect 2, think about Garrus Vakarian’s arc from the first game to the second. Although he’s moved on from C-Sec to become the mercenary commander Archangel, he’s still a familiar face, a character players spent a lot of time with in the first game, and therefore a waypoint into the sequel’s plot. His change in attitude and motivation illustrates how things have changed in general for the galaxy between games.
Fan fiction writers have something called “fix-it fic,” writing to repair something they think went wrong in canon. With Destiny 2, the developers are also trying to improve an already enjoyable story. Within that work, emotional continuity is still key. Even if the setting is vastly different, the character’s voice has to be the same in order to make the tone of the story match (or intentionally change) what came before.
Look at the fan reaction to Cayde-6, for example. Powered in part by Nathan Fillion’s charisma, this character made the player care more about what was happening in Destiny, especially in The Taken King. People noticed when he was missing from Rise of Iron. A common criticism was that Rise of Iron didn’t have enough to do with the overarching story. It would have felt more like part of that overarching story if some of the older characters had been a part of it.
Familiar characters also help the game feel more immersive. It’s a basic thing that Destiny doesn’t always get right. Players want to get attached to the characters and want to know what happened to them specifically or what they would think of certain situations. Connecting the sequel’s story with characters like Cayde would help solidify Destiny as the nostalgic experience Rise of Iron wanted to be. Although Rise of Iron was meant to be a nostalgic, digging deep into the past of the Iron Lords and revisiting the Cosmodrome, there wasn’t enough of the familiar to make it a particularly sentimental walk down memory lane. Aren’t most of your nostalgic memories not so much about specific events as of the people you spent time with?
Continuing the established story in the sequel would also reinforce Destiny‘s theme of hope. It would portray resilient characters who survive and thrive, even through change. We’ve already seen this with Lord Saladin and Eris Morn, and even more so in the optimistic, immortal Ghost. To have the same characters return in any capacity, either as vendors or just mentioned in a Grimoire card, would reinforce that theme as well as allow for more exploration of the Destiny lore fans love. There are so many stories that could be continued, both in terms of the Guardians and their enemies.
Ultimately, I hope that Destiny‘s story, one I enjoy very much, doesn’t get a clean slate. We don’t know whether the rumor is even true, but it certainly made me think about why emotional continuity and character continuity are as important as the memories attached to favorite gear. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how the best lore in Destiny is hidden. The player character is the window into that world, and holding on to them while turning that hidden lore into a more overt story could make Destiny 2 the game it was always meant to be – without breaking the continuity that already makes it immersive.
Megan Crouse is a staff writer.