Destiny 2 Still Has A Major Story Clarity Problem In Season Of The Witch


Warning: Spoilers for the conclusion of the Season of the Witch’s story to follow.

The conclusion of the latest Destiny 2 story arc, Season of the Witch, had some pretty high stakes going in.

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After channeling Hive magic for weeks, Eris Morn resisted succumbing to temptation and permanently becoming the Hive God of Vengeance. Instead, Eris severed the immortality of Xivu Arath, the Hive God of War, and stopped herself from becoming humanity’s new worst enemy, despite prophecies of that dark future from Elsie Bray. Meanwhile, the Ghost Immaru resurrected Savathun, the Hive God of Cunning, who is now back and more menacing than ever. But as a show of good faith and in an attempt to foster at least some kind of alliance with the Guardians, Savathun gave up Immaru as a hostage to Eris, pledging to fulfill her end of the bargain she struck with the Vanguard to help Guardians traverse the portal into the Traveler and take on the universe’s greatest threat, the Witness. Oh, and Xivu Arath has disappeared thanks to Eris’s efforts, which seemingly takes the Witness’s greatest lieutenant off the board until after The Final Shape expansion.

If you missed any of that in the final cutscene, though, you’re not alone. Some of the best parts of this latest Destiny 2 story, and every Destiny 2 story before it, didn’t happen on-screen. Of those that did, a few wouldn’t make sense unless you read the lore books and item flavor text that provide a large amount of additional context.

This is a problem Destiny has always faced, but it’s one that Bungie really needs to solve as it quickly approaches the end of the game’s 10-year story arc, the “Light and Darkness Saga.” The Season of the Witch had a lot of really cool stuff take place within it, and it was especially good at providing character conflicts and struggles, as well as and interesting moments in cutscenes, mid-mission dialogue, and monologues. The trouble is that Bungie doesn’t always seem to know what to show to players or how to show it in a way that’s easy to understand and follow.

The final cutscene of the Season of the Witch is a prime example. In it, we watch as Eris Morn uses Hive magic she’s been storing up all season to make a play against Xivu Arath. After some discussion from various characters that players’ efforts to power up Eris all season haven’t been enough to stand against the God of War, Eris executes a surprise plan with the help of Ikora Rey. The pair allow Immaru to resurrect Savathun and then Eris quickly kills her, and that act of vengeance, along with all the power Savathun represents as a Hive god herself, gives Eris the juice she needs to strike a major blow against Xivu Arath.

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Given what we’ve seen throughout the season, the major beats of the scene are fairly easy to understand, and there’s enough dialogue surrounding the situation to follow Eris’s attack on Savathun and her move with Xivu Arath’s Throne World. But the scene ends abruptly immediately afterward. Our next bit of story is a message from Ikora running down all the important things that happened immediately after the cutscene.

Most importantly, Immaru again resurrected Savathun–Destiny’s scariest, most interesting and best-developed villain. But Savathun is still interested in being trusted by and working with the Vanguard, so she left her Ghost, Immaru, with Eris Morn as a hostage.

The revelation that Savathun is back, fully alive and now fully able to influence events in the Destiny universe, is presented as little more than a post-mission summary from Ikora. In fact, the cutscene leaves so much uncovered that there’s an entry in this season’s lore book, Rites of Passage, that picks up at the end of what we see on-screen and fills in the details of what happens in the next five minutes. You can find all that story–and it’s pretty good–but it’s not part of the core Destiny 2 experience.

It’s an approach that continually undercuts what has become a really deep and interesting story in Destiny 2–one that spends a lot of time each season fleshing out the game’s myriad characters and exploring the hardships they face as they stare down their potential extinction. This is exemplified with Eris Morn herself this season, who has been channeling the Hive’s dark, corrupting energy for weeks and has repeatedly discussed how tempting that power, the power of a literal god, has been to wield. A key piece of lore from way back in the Beyond Light expansion details how, in an alternate timeline visited by Destiny 1’s Exo Stranger Elsie Bray, Eris was completely corrupted by just such a power. In that timeline, she went fully evil, took over the Hive, and basically helped wipe out humanity.

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What’s more, another lore entry this season features Savathun discussing Eris taking on the power of the Hive and noting that, at some point during this season, Eris would realize the only way to gather enough power to kill Xivu Arath would be to kill us, the players, along with the rest of her friends. So the stakes with Eris taking on the Hive’s power were really high, and her choice to use that power the way she did at in the final cutscene–giving up her godhood to strike a strategic blow against Xivu Arath rather than retain all that power and take her full vengeance no matter who it harms–was a really major character moment. Just how important all of that was doesn’t come through in the story we see on-screen.

There’s no bigger example of Destiny 2’s struggle to convey its story as we play it than the end of the Lightfall campaign, however. In the final moments of the story, the Witness uses the Veil, an object no player understands, to make a connection to the Traveler, a threat that is never explained, by taking over the player’s Ghost, an ability that is completely opaque. The Witness then creates a portal and seemingly goes inside the Traveler, and the story more or less ends.

It’s true that part of the post-Lightfall story is characters figuring out exactly what happened during the Lightfall campaign. But the expansion’s story was panned by fans and critics thanks to its complete lack of clarity. We weren’t sure what the Witness was up to in Lightfall, so we didn’t know why we should be worried about it.

To be fair to Bungie, it’s clear that improvements have been happening over time and developers have clearly taken this note, especially post-Lightfall. While some important elements of the Season of the Witch story happened off-screen, Bungie mitigated the issue significantly with a ton of extra dialogue between characters, much of which now shows up in the seasonal activities players can continue to mess around with until Season 23 drops in two months. And Destiny has always been a game in which you get as much story as you want, with lots more available if you’re interested in reading lore books and flavor text. The context is there for players to seek out.

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And one last benefit of the doubt to bestow is that Destiny 2’s story can be really, really dense. It’s full of its own internal logic, features all sorts of weird space magic forces that are only partially understood by the game’s own characters, and trades in esoteric concepts that mix real science, theoretical science, science fiction, fantasy, and occultism. So it’s understandable that “Eris Morn just used Hive power tithed through the Sword Logic to sever Xivu Arath’s connection to her Throne World, robbing her of her immortality, while Immaru resurrected Savathun” can be tough to get across in a cutscene. Throw in budget concerns for cutscene creation and length, and you get the sense that this is no easy problem to solve.

All that said, a real solution to the issue is going to be necessary for The Final Shape. Destiny 2 is nearing its climax, with 10 years of stories and gameplay experiences funneling down to one last campaign and one big showdown, and it has to be immediately clear to every player what’s happening and why it matters, not just the lore-pilled ones. Lightfall is a good example of how much Destiny 2 can struggle when its big ideas don’t come through in its storytelling, and no amount of well-written and fascinating text dumps will save the final chapter of the Light and Darkness Saga if the on-screen storytelling isn’t up to the task.

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