Tie-in universes are a staple of science fiction franchises these days. I’ve written a lot about my fondness for Star Wars and Halo books because they’re comforting adventure stories that bring new dimensions to the pop culture experiences from which they originate. Plenty of other franchises have developed their own expanded universes, including Star Trek, Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, Mass Effect, and Gears of War. There’s one big franchise that has been making waves this year but doesn’t have a comparable expanded universe, and I definitely think that it should. Destiny has just as much potential for tie-in stories as the rest of them.
Destiny has been out for more than a year now, and despite an initial wave of negative feedback from fans, mostly due to the lack of any real narrative and the repetitive objectives, it has gained a lot of momentum with further refinements and with the release of the latest expansion, The Taken King. It’s understandable why players would be irked by the game’s lack of story in the first place, especially since it comes from the same studio (Bungie) that created the Halo series, which is by far gaming’s greatest and most successful expanded universe.
Microsoft Studios and Bungie leapt at the chance to build the Halo universe. The first Halo tie-in novel, The Fall of Reach by Eric Nylund came out a month before the first game was even released. Since then, there have been many tie-in novels and comics to support the game franchise, published by companies such as Del Rey, Tor Books, Simon & Schuster, Marvel, and Dark Horse.
Activision, who publishes Destiny, hasn’t done the same with Bungie’s latest. The closest thing to Destiny tie-in stories are the unlockable Grimoire cards (which you earn in-game, but have to read on a companion app) that serve as short stories and provide a stronger foundation for Destiny‘s narrative. In fact, those Grimoire cards hold the key to the Destiny expanded universe. Many of these cards come together to form tales of the universe’s past that could easily be adapted to book form.
The Grimoire brims with stories, but one of its most complete and linear tales is Books of Sorrow. These 50 Grimoire cards can be found throughout The Taken King. They tell the history of the Hive from the perspective of Oryx, once a mortal entity and now a Hive symbiote. The story spans tens of thousands of years, and shows Oryx’s family history to be a convoluted, comic book-ish affair far, far more complex than the Guardian hero’s own story. It contains some fantastic science fiction concepts, such as a star system made up of hundreds of planets, plus hints at other places the Traveler visited as it fled the Darkness.
Like the other Grimoire cards, the Books of Sorrow are written in a poetic, close perspective, obscuring a lot and revealing some. The style sets it apart from a lot of tie-in fiction, but theBooks of Sorrow show that, whoever Bungie has writing these cards, they could certainly sustain their work for a longer-form story. Here’s an excerpt from one of the cards:
In the cold abyss of the sword world, King Aurash walked under a cloak of green fire. He walked through the sky and the sky shuddered and froze beneath his feet. He walked until he found Akka, the Worm of Secrets, who was denying a truth until it became a lie.
The Books of Sorrow even have some of the absurd, dark humor often found in the flavor text. The story made me look at Oryx differently, realizing that behind the dull creature design was a lot of history. It even might hint at future Destiny villains. What other characters might benefit from a long-form, creatively written history like this? Could these examples of Grimoire storytelling one day be bound in book form?
One example of Bungie and Activision stepping out of the Grimoire is the Treasure Island prop book found in the Collector’s Edition of The Taken King. The Treasure Island books feature Vanguard Cayde-6’s (surprisingly neat) handwriting: he used the margins as a journal and hollowed out the pages to store a Strange Coin.
The Cayde of the notes in the margins is a more solemn person than the Cayde in the in-game cutscenes, and the book brings gravitas and pathos to his character. The playing cards found near Cayde’s stash in particular have a poignant connection to the journal. Cayde’s notes line up with some other stories we’ve seen in the lore before, such as the idea that Exos might have been human some time in the past, and they give us more of that irreverent personality which was used to such good effect in The Taken King. His story takes fans to some locations that might be familiar from the Grimoires, and includes new musings about the nature of the Exos. However, it isn’t a long narrative and progresses in stream of consciousness fashion.
The same arguments could be made for a tie-in universe for Destiny as for any other franchise: fans like to get a better look at the characters they love, to see their motivations and the web of connections between them. Franchises like Star Wars have used this medium extensively. The books are both promotional and companions to the core of the franchise. Destiny would particularly suit books and comics, though, and not just because telling stories in books would make them clearer and more accessible for people who haven’t had the desire to dig into the Grimoire cards.
The game’s sprawling, mysterious aesthetic could provide for some particularly creative storytelling methods. Destiny novels could be presented as relics of the Golden Age or as records autonomously kept by Exos. Destiny’s big concepts – the Light and the Darkness, the wandering Traveler – sound like the stuff of fairy tales. Characters like the Vanguard or Eris Morn have long lives, and their tales could delve into a lot of that history. Events such as the battle at Twilight Gap could support their own war stories.
The story of Eris Morn’s doomed fireteam could be a particularly rich one. We have already seen glimpses of Toland the Shattered from The Taken King and from various Grimoire cards and flavor text, and of Eriana-3 and the other Guardians she gathered to fight Crota from cards released during The Dark Below and after. Eris’ story is just the type of narrative that has sold tie-in books and military science fiction before: a band of heroes venturing out to fight the biggest, baddest threat of their long, long generation. It could be so powerful to get to know these characters, only to read on knowing that most of them won’t survive the journey.
Eris and Eriana are the heroes of their own stories, and with The Taken King, we’ve seen how Eris could continue to be a little more than just a vendor at the Tower. The tale of their ill-fated mission brings in villains, too: Crota himself, the Raid boss of Year 1, but also other Hive heavy-hitters such as the Deathsingers. The Hive castes and rituals could be explored a little more in depth as well, in the same way that the Elites became point of view characters in Halo.
On the line between hero and villain is the exiled Warlock Eriana looked to for assistance, Toland the Shattered. Some fan theories suggest he’s still alive, building on Grimoire cards that appear to be wryly commenting on Oryx’s defeat from some unknown location. Regardless of his survival, he’s clearly a unique Guardian, one who decided that it was worth being exiled by the Vanguard to try to figure out the nature of the Darkness. Personally, I’d be interested in seeing his oddball personality clash with a younger, maybe happier Eris and the driven, ruthless Eriana.
That team might be my personal favorite story from Destiny, but there are many more that could also be told. Tie-in novels or comics could introduce the world of Destiny to a new audience, as well as give more to the fans who want to experience all they can of a universe in which the best stories are often hidden.
Megan Crouse is a staff writer.