Destiny 2 Review: Let’s talk about ‘putting all the lore into the game’

The big problem with the approach that Destiny has taken with putting the lore into the game manifests itself in what I like to call the Brann problem. Brann the Unbent Blade was one of the first named enemies that I noticed in the campaign – both from early footage and while playing the beta. I was curious about this guy. Why was his blade so impeccably straight? Did he perhaps have three eyes and speak to birds? And why was he among the Red Legion’s elite, chosen to lead the assault on the Last City, and given a position of honour on Ghaul’s flagship? Dude probably saw and did some shit.

Before Destiny 2 launched, I was hoping to find answers to some of these questions.

In the original Destiny, killing a named enemy – such as those found in the Court of Oryx or Prison of Elders – would net you a grimoire card. You’d either learn more about the thing you just killed or how they tied into the larger scheme of the story itself. Good stuff overall, except for the fact that you had to leave the game to read the grimoire cards.

Excellent websites like the Ishtar Collective came into existence as a result, categorising and tagging cards, and making them searchable, putting related entries together for those of us that recognised how fascinating the lore of Destiny was and were willing to take the time to dig through it. So when Bungie said they were going to be putting all of the lore into the game, I wasn’t entirely sure that Bungie was going to do it the right way. And, sure enough, they buggered it up.

Right now, backstory and lore are available via in-game lore tabs on exotic armour, exotic weapons, exotic ships, Trials of the Nine weapons and armour, and raid weapons and armour. There are also more scannable objects in the game – items scattered around the world that Ghost will look over and offer a couple of lines of dialogue about. These are problems for several reasons.

To my mind, the biggest problem is that not every piece of lore in the game needs to be voiced. Especially not by Ghost. Bungie went overboard this time with his attitude – presumably looking at how much people enjoyed the humour in The Taken King – and now Ghost tries too goddamn hard to be funny. This isn’t a Nolan North problem, by the way – some of his best interactions in the game are with Ikora on Io, and his deadly serious, genuinely heartfelt tone stands out only because how much of a relative idiot Ghost seems to be in the rest of the game. The actor is capable of great things, but is limited by the script he’s given.

But my point is, not all bits of lore need to be voiced and scannables are supplementary at best. Can you imagine if the Books of Sorrow were read out to us by Ghost? Ugh. The Books of Sorrow worked because of how skilfully they were written and sometimes things are simply meant to be read. Same with the story of Jaren Ward and Dredgen Yor. The Ishtar researchers who couldn’t figure out if they were simulations or real. So many of the grimoire cards are flat. out. fantastic.

And a lot of the lore in Destiny 2 is good as well. The Graviton Surge is pretty amusing. The WardCliff Coil was entertaining as well. The Mask of the Quiet One makes me think of Toland. But all of these are meant to be read, not voiced, and the writing is really, really good. So if you have these exotics and can read, great – you can perhaps enjoy Destiny 2’s backstories.

But this brings me to my second problem. What happens if you can’t get all of the exotics in the game? If you don’t complete the raid? Or trials? You’re forced to go back to the Ishtar Collective and read up on the lore of the weapons and armour that you don’t have, which is the same bloody thing that happened in Destiny 1.

Exotic ships and sparrows are just as problematic if not worse. In my close-to-120 hours of Destiny 2, I’ve gotten precisely one exotic ship despite all of the levelling I’ve done on my Titan. One. Specifically the one that talks about Pahanin and his very particular affection for cephalopods. I still have it, sure, but others like it are locked behind an RNG gate set into the towering paywalls of Eververse.

In Destiny 1, if I wanted to learn more about the lore of the game, I had to either hunt down all the ghosts myself, or go to Ishtar Collective. In Destiny 2, I need to spend more money and hope that the Eververse engrams will give me an exotic item that I don’t already have just so I can see what little nugget of lore it has to offer.

This is unfathomably stupid.

There’s an infinitely simpler solution to ‘putting the lore in the game’ – trophies. We kill named enemies all the time. If I remember the opening story mission correctly, there are four of them in total. Kill each one and they drop an object. That object goes in your trophy collection – a separate space in your inventory, perhaps – and has a lore tab. Read the lore tab, learn more about the dude you killed. Simple.

Bungie could even have expanded this to add replayability to the end game if they wanted. Make multiple kills of certain majors or ultra necessary to get the entire lore entry – they drop a piece of a trophy each time you kill them and each piece builds on the story bit by bit. Heck, trophies can even be bound to the weekly reset and the Flashpoint. So, per week, you can only get snippets of stories from majors or ultras on a single planet and you can return to continue those stories once every four weeks.

It would be an interesting reason to return to the game and a meaningful way of putting lore into the game. Lore tabs on exotics – many of which are in Eververse of all the bloody places to put them – and a couple of lines of goofily-voiced Ghost dialogue isn’t even close to a good solution to the grimoire problem. So even if Bungie doesn’t add trophies, they need to do something – because it should also be evident by now that Bungie’s grand idea isn’t working.

When I was running through Adventures on Io with a friend, he happened to notice mini-boss names and asked me if I knew who/what Savathun and Quria were. If Destiny’s lore was actually in the game, I wouldn’t have had to answer that question.

Trevor Coelho

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