The State of the Solar System: Destiny’s Villains & Rise of Iron

Everything you need to know about Destiny's many villains before Rise of Iron arrives!

On Sept. 20, the next Destiny expansion brings players back to the post-apocalyptic Russian wilderness where it all began. The Rise of Iron expansion includes new story missions, new Strikes, a new Raid, and a new type of villain. The latest trailer unveiled a new group of Fallen with robot legs and wicked-looking knives known as “splicers.” They belong to the Fallen House of Devils and are unlike any faction of bad guys you’ve encountered before. 

The Fallen in Rise of Iron have a different kind of leader. They’ve unearthed an ancient technological plague known as SIVA, a dangerous piece of nanotechnology from the Golden Age—the time before “the Darkness” spread across the galaxy and brought about the collapse of the planet. The machine plague almost completely wiped out the Iron Lords, the ten legendary Guardians who first contained SIVA. Now you must join the last surviving Iron Lord, Lord Saladin, to defeat the plague once and for all.

Meanwhile, other enemy species jockey for power or establish their own strongholds elsewhere in the Destiny universe. As a Guardian, you will also find yourself up against the Hive, Vex, and Cabal, each of which rules over a specific territory in the Solar System. A lot has happened between you and all of these factions since the game launched in 2014, so unless you’ve kept up with all of the expansions, you’re probably a little foggy on the details. We’ve outlined the status of each alien race leading up to Rise of Iron, and how much of a threat they may be in the future.

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Fallen

Historically, the Fallen were organized into Houses ruled by leaders named Kells. Like humanity, they reached a high degree of technological development under the Traveler—the mysterious intergalactic artifact everyone is ultimately fighting over—before losing it all to a disaster called the Whirlwind. Unlike humanity, the Traveler never gifted them the Light. Reduced to galactic scavengers, they compete with the Guardians for the Solar System.

We’ve already fought the House of Wolves, formerly associated with the Awoken Queen of the Reef. The Fallen have a rocky relationship with the Reef, although not quite as rocky as the one with the Guardians. Instead of outright war, the Reef and the Fallen have an uneasy, patchwork history of servitude and alliances. The queen struck a deal with the House of Wolves, but they turned against her during a civil war between Houses. In the chaos of civil war, the Fallen leader Skolas aspired to rule all of the Fallen as Kell of Kells—a reign interrupted in the House of Wolves expansion. Now, the friendliest Fallen in the game is Variks, the growly-voiced vendor and Prison of Elders emcee you can find in the Reef.

Variks is the only surviving member of the House of Judgement, the group dedicated to making peace and policy between the Fallen, but other houses are going strong. The House of Devils patrols Old Russia, and are the first enemies encountered in the game. The House of Exile lives on the moon, and are outside the normal house structure. Unlike the others, they’re a new house, perhaps formed on the moon itself in close quarters with the Hive. There’s also another faction on the moon, the vicious House of Kings.

There are a few other houses mentioned in the game—the House of Winter on Venus, often found in conflict with the Vex, and extinct houses such as the House of Scar. As of Rise of Iron, the aspiring Kell Skolas is alive, released from the Prison of Elders by the mysterious Nine—an ancient race that’s still relatively unknown to all of the other characters. (Xûr, the hooded vendor you can find in the Tower or at the Vestian Outpost, is a Nine.)

The Fallen Splicers are a different kind of threat, attacking the Guardians close to the walls of the Cosmodrome, but on the Moon, a bigger threat awaits…

Hive

Bungie seems to like the Hive. These undead arthropod aliens starred in two out of three Raids and two expansions. Not only can nformation about them be found in individual Grimoire cards, but in the almost 15,000 word “Books of Sorrow,” a series of 50 cards.

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From the Books of Sorrow, we know that the Hive traveled to our galaxy from an ancient gas giant planet. They’re motivated by the worm gods, alien beings that granted the Hive power and energy while plunging them further into darkness. The Hive generate a tithe of energy that flows to the worm gods, and whoever defeats the leader of the Hive by rights receives the largest portion of it.

The first wave of the Hive attack on the Moon was lead by Crota, the son of the Hive king Oryx, who carved out a fortress on the Moon and drove humans back to Earth before your Guardian was brought back to life. Crota began to transform the Moon, using Hive magic to ensure his own immortality. However, the Guardians found a way to break through and kill Crota nonetheless. These events were the crux of the missions in The Dark Below, and lead directly into The Taken King.

After Crota’s defeat, his spot was filled by Oryx, who brought an entire destructive fleet to the Solar System. You fight Oryx twice on his massive Hive spaceship Dreadnaught before vanquishing him for good. 

By the time the Iron Lords are set to rise again on Earth, the Hive are scattered but not broken. With Oryx dead, others are jockeying for the favor of the worms and a place at the pinnacle of the Hive armies. The Guardians, though, refused to take the mantle of the Hive hierarchy after they defeated Oryx, leaving the species leaderless.

Malok, a servant of Oryx, rose up against the Guardians in the April Update, but was defeated. There is another power behind him, too: Savathûn, Oryx’s sister, planted Malok in Oryx’s court in order to spy on her brother. (The Hive literally thrive on conflict, so love and hate are about the same thing when it comes to the relationship between Savathûn and Oryx.) She might be on her way to the Hive throne herself.

The deceased Guardian Toland the Shattered is also keeping an eye on the Hive hierarchy from somewhere in an astral realm, but his motive and plans are mostly unknown. So far, he has only sent missives to the Guardians mocking their unwillingness to take the Hive throne for themselves.  

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Vex

One of the most complicated and mysterious species in Destiny, the Vex have a millennia-long history like the Hive, a variety of factions like the Fallen, and a time travel ability all their own. The Vex can travel within time, as well as create hyper-realistic, sentient simulations of living people within their network. Simulations like this were created during the time of the first human occupation on Venus, when the Ishtar Academy was active. (During the Golden Age, humans colonized Venus and installed a scientific research settlement. The academy was a school located in a region called the Ishtar Sink.) However, by the time Destiny begins, the Vex have taken over and the Academy is in ruins.

The Vex hold territory on other planets, too. By the time of Rise of Iron, Mercury is still a mysterious place, completely remade by the Vex into a part of their network, and the Black Garden (Mars) and Vault of Glass (Venus) haven’t been completely explored by the Guardians.

They are the main villains in the game’s first raid, also called the Vault of Glass. The Guardians defeat Atheon, Time’s Conflux (a leader of the Vex), in the Vault, but much about this entity remaind a mystery. The Grimoire cards say, “It is impossible to say whether Atheon created the Vault or the Vault created Atheon.”

This alien race is split into groups called collectives, each assigned different locations and goals. The Sol Divisive and Sol Progeny operated in the Black Garden, while the Hezen Corrective sought out territory for the Hezen Protective on Venus. Other factions include the Aphix Invasive in the Vault of Glass and the Virgo Prohibition on Mars.

The Exo Stranger, who appeared in vanilla Destiny, may also have something to do with the Vex, since the Grimoire cards about her seem to confirm that she travels in time: she notes her location according to “When” as well as “Where,” and says “I stand here now and now and now many times…” But we haven’t heard a word from her since the vanilla campaign ended.

Cabal

The Cabal, banished warriors from a far-away empire, have been the least fleshed out of the four species. Although they’re described as “the greatest military force in the system,” players have never faced them in a Raid. We see them as part of other stories, like Valus Ta’aun on the Hive Dreadnaught, but relatively little is known about where they came from or any heroic Guardians who faced them.

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Developed on a high-gravity world, their thick armor and heavy weaponry create a wall between them and their enemies during battle. The Cabal forces are most prevalent on Mars, where they fight both the Vex and the Guardians.

Even though they’ve been exiled, Cabal warriors still defend their empire. In their culture, those individuals who choose to battle are exiled from the empire, permitted to return only when they’ve proven themselves victorious. Some of the Cabal in our solar system agree with all of the commands of their empire, while others do not. Valus Ta’aun received orders directly from their emperor to attack the Hive during The Taken King, which led to his ship being stranded on the Dreadnaught while the Cabal created a perimeter between themselves and both the Hive and the Guardians.

Ta’aun had another reason for going to the Dreadnaught, though. Frustrated and consistently defeated by the Guardians’ ability to resurrect themselves from the dead, his troops suggested that the Hive, with their knowledge of immortality and past successes against their undying enemies, might know a way to defeat the Guardians. That didn’t work out well for Ta’aun, as he was absorbed into Oryx’s forces and transformed into the Taken Ta’aun, Hand of Oryx.

In a report to one of the Tower’s faction leaders circa the defeat of Oryx, a Guardian says that “Our assaults on Cabal leadership in-system have had a devastating impact,” and that the Cabal on board the Dreadnaught are “hopelessly mired.”  

Both the Cabal and Vex discovered something on Mars in the Bastion, which later became a Crucible arena for Guardians, but we don’t yet know what exactly they found. Whatever it was, they retreated from it, leaving the Guardians to run their war games and the Cabal to yet again fail to live up to their “greatest military force” reputation.

The Cabal are described as having a “fascination” with the Vex, which means that they could be tied up with a time travel plot in the future, or with the Hive on the Dreadnaught. Either way, it’s the Fallen’s time to shine again in Rise of Iron, as corrupted as they are by the machine-plague’s influence.

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Megan Crouse is a staff writer.