Yesterday, as part of Game Informer’s month-long trickle of Destiny news ahead of the release of The Taken King, they released a video that focused on some of the changes coming to storytelling in the expansion. The theme of the video is “a hundred little things,” and as Bungie’s Luke Smith and Mark Noseworthy explain, that encompasses a bunch of smaller changes to Destiny to make story better in the game.
Story has been perhaps my longest-running frustration with Destiny since day one. As an avid sci-fi enthusiast both in gaming and elsewhere, Destiny’s almost entirely empty plot has left me unsatisfied for the better part of a year.
If I’m being entirely honest, I wasn’t terribly moved by many of the changes mentioned in the video. Destiny has huge storytelling problems, not minor ones, and I think it needs more than small or obvious fixes to pull itself out of that pit. So while showing the name of who is talking during a given voiceover is useful, that’s more common sense than really anything else. The same with say, using the enormous stable of actors they have at their disposal like Nathan Fillion and Gina Torres in actual cutscenes. I’m sorry, but I just can’t consider the idea of two characters actually talking to each other as some sort of storytelling revolution, yet sadly in Destiny, that’s what it feels like.
But there is at least one minor change I thought was kind of neat, the ability of your Ghost to scan objects in the environment and feed you bits of Nolan North-voiced lore that way. It’s a cool feature that reminds me of the current best storytelling mechanism in the Destiny universe, Grimoire cards.
Grimoire cards are bits of lore that players unlock by playing the game or performing various feats like killing a certain boss or finding dead Ghosts littered around the map. The long-running theory has been that they were written in relative haste as Bungie pulled out pieces of the vanilla game’s story in the year or two ahead of launch, a theory I am inclined to believe given the fractured state of the story currently in the game.
With that said, whoever was brought into the game to write them did a hell of a job. Far and away, they’re more interesting than any story element in the game itself. And yet, the biggest problem with the Grimoire cards is their inaccessibility to players. First, you have to unlock them, which can be a tedious process in and of itself, and it leaves many stories they tell unfinished if you don’t find them all. Secondly, they can’t be accessed in the game at all. You have to read them on Bungie’s website, their app, or a third party collection site. As such, I would amazed if more than 20% of players have read more than 10 Grimoire Cards since launch. I am also willing to bet that very, very few have actually read them all.
But I have.
To do so, I did not go on some giant pain-in-the-ass hunt to unlock them all. Rather, I just read them all in order on Destiny-Grimoire.info. Maybe there are better sites, but I liked this one because it just listed them all on one page and I could just through them scroll endlessly. Ninety minutes later, and it was like I’d read a short collection of short stories. Rather good short stories, in some cases.
The Grimoire paints a picture of Destiny as a vibrant, interesting, dark, mysterious universe, something rarely conveyed in the game itself, if ever. I’ll cite a few examples so you can get some idea of what I’m talking about. Here’s a short snipped about the possible origins of the Exo, one of the game’s races, an idea never even remotely discussed in the game itself.
“Why does a war machine have emotions? Why should a war machine have awareness? These are not useful traits on the battlefield. Don’t flatter yourself. They are not useful. So why should the Exo mind mimic the human architecture so closely.
You know what I smell on you? I smell the stink of anthropocentrism. I think you think that there’s only one way to think. That’s why the Exo mind is so human, you presume. Because all higher thought converges.
My friend, you should meet the Vex. There is nothing human in them.
Now. This is what I believe happened, back in the time before any Exo can remember. It explains everything.
I think someone wanted to live forever. “
Here’s Cayde-6, the Hunter Vanguard voiced by Nathan Fillion (with a larger role in The Taken King, it seems), describing the end of a battle where he accidentally found himself fighting Hive alongside a Fallen Vandal, who is eventually wounded.
“When I came down, empty on all guns, she was slumped against a bulkhead staring at me with all her tiny black eyes. Ether leaking out of her like smoke. The Knight hadn’t died easily. Downslope the last Wizard moved like fire behind another line of Thrall.
I looked at her and wondered how many innocent human lives she’d ended on those broken blades.
She did the strangest thing then. Took the last shock pistol from her bandolier and threw it between us, as if to offer it. When I went to pick it up she tried to knife me, but she was slow, and when I broke her arms and opened her throat she didn’t seem surprised.
To this day I wonder if she hated me, or wanted to make me kill her, or just felt she should spare me the choice.”
Here’s a rousing speech by Iron Banner master Lord Saladin to new Guardian recruits:
“Every world begins as a big pebble lost among trillions of pebbles. Every worthy sun was once cold hydrogen spread thin across the vacuum. Even the universe, this cosmic garden that surrounds us and awes us…this monument to Creation was once the size of an apple seed. And everything that’s splendid and great stands at the end of incalculable chance and mayhem.
Yes, you have talents. Enormous, wondrous powers. But you should put the smirk away. Do you know what a Guardian is? Not yet. Your name is another pebble. You are a cold apple seed.
But you will grow.”
And here’s part of a mysterious story about the darkness-forged weapon Thorn, which implies the Traveler and his “light” may not be all that benevolent, and its possible Guardians aren’t the heroes they think they are:
“At the end of the path grew a flower in the shape of a Ghost. I reached out to pluck it and it cut me with a thorn. I bled and the blood was Light.
The Ghost said to me: You are a dead thing made by a dead power in the shape of the dead. All you will ever do is kill. You do not belong here. This is a place of life.
The Traveler is life, I said. You are a creature of Darkness. You seek to deceive me.
But I looked behind me, down the long slope where the blossoms tumbled in the warm wind and the great trees wept sap like blood or wine, and I felt doubt.
When my Ghost raised me from the sea there was a thorn-cut in my left hand and it has not healed since.”
There are many more of these. Not all are great, but many are good, and a few are really quite beautiful. Reading the entire Grimoire and seeing all these bits and pieces of stories and theories got me thinking about what the universe of Destiny could really use to expand.
Yes, the game-based answers are obvious. A way to read these damn cards in the game itself. More cutscenes, better use of the voice actors with better scripts they can work with. That was true at launch, and it’s true now. But I’m talking about something else.
What’s clear to me from reading a zillion Grimoire entries and finding a shockingly fascinating universe, or at least the hints of one, is that Destiny could really benefit from expanded universe fiction. As in, Bungie works with science fiction authors to craft Destiny stories outside of the game itself in order to better flesh out the world, tell some of these stories that are hinted at in the Grimoire, and invent new ones to boot.
My personal preference would be a fully-fledged novel or two penned by someone talented in the genre. But it could also work with a collection of short stories (but longer than Grimoire entries, please) or even a series of graphic novels.
While it’s true that Destiny has to keep many things under wraps due to the plot twists they want to unfold in the game itself, from reading the Grimoire there’s more than enough here to build a story around at least the past of the Destiny universe, and perhaps some current events going on in “real time” that parallel the progress of the game.