Is Destiny 2’s story tasty junk food or hot trash?

"You are in the pain hotel...and it's time to... *check out*"

Destiny 2 is out on PC today, bringing Bungie’s space killin’ to even more folks. Matt and Brendan have been zapping aliens and robots on the sly (aka the PS4), but they’ve had different reactions to the story and dialogue of this first-person blockbuster. Matt is fond of space wizardry but Brendan is gagging at each and every line. What better place to have a constructive chat about this disagreement than The Internet?

Brendan: Hello Matthew. I’m using your full name because I’m preparing to be a condescending spoilsport who will tell you to stop liking the thing you are currently liking. Let’s go!

Matt: Hello Brendy! I’m being more colloquial because I’m hoping to inject some joy into your cold, dead heart.

Brendan: But I guess we should explain ourselves first. Destiny 2’s story is about a giant orb called The Traveler, which gets shoplifted by an angry alien called Ghaul. He wants to use its Light (the magical energy that gives players superpowers) to become emperor of space, more or less. The players – called Guardians – must stop him. What do you like about this tale? Or is it the bits of dialogue or lore in between that you really enjoy?

Matt: So, I should say upfront that I fully recognise Destiny is Dumb. I also want to say that of all the factions and characters the plot could have focused on, the imperialistic space rhinos – The Cabal – are by far the least interesting. What I’m really sold on is the broader world and history that Destiny has built up over years of expansions for the previous game, and the ways that Destiny 2 pokes at that.

Brendan: I’m glad there’s depth in the background for fans and returning shootfolk. What I found as a relative newcomer, though, is that the moment-to-moment dialogue is soaked in cliché. I get that we aren’t supposed to put too much faith in the story to begin with – this is a game about shooting heads with your best mates – but every time Nolan North or Lieutenant Daniels spoke to me it dragged me out of that zen-like state of trigger-pulling. The cutscenes aren’t much better. At one point the main baddie, Ghaul, says: “We are not so different…. Your Traveler and I.” I mean… I just… I don’t…

Matt: I… I can’t defend that line. Or many of the others.

"You MUST stop the Cabal, Guardian. It is.... your DESTINY 2."

Brendan: There’s another bit where he screams: “Witness the dawning of a new age!” Which I’m pretty sure is, word-for-word, a line by Scar in the Lion King (okay, almost) . Why do you like this stuff? Explain yourself!

Matt: Okay, so the dialogue is shonky. Some of Nathan Fillion’s lines (he plays an important robot) made me smile, but I could happily listen to Nathan Fillion do anything. That aside, the clumsy writing is enough to make my eyes roll – but I suppose I just dismiss it rather than finding myself removed from the experience. I still get a kick out of witnessing the dawning of that new age, no matter how ham-fistedly Scar Ghaul introduces it.

Brendan: You say you like how it pokes the wider world and history of the series. Do you mean there are returning characters who develop in some way I haven’t understood? Gimme some examples, yo. Help me like these people.

Matt: Kinda? The problem/appeal lies in how characters and events are explored through obscure little nods and titbits. When fighting the Hive, for example (space wizard zombies, some of which are immortal gods) you’ll encounter some enemies whose names relate to someone/something called ‘Savuthen’. Dig a little further and you’ll find that she’s one of the sisters of Oryx. Oryx himself being the dad of a Hive god you kill in the first game.

Brendan: So you are telling me you kill an entire family.

Matt: Exactly! Although, Savuthen hasn’t actually shown up yet. The thing is, I can totally see why the connections between the bad guys you’re fighting and the good guys you’re helping won’t draw a lot of people in – it really is mostly background stuff. But then you find yourself starting to think about why a Fallen Kell (leaders of the four-armed aliens) has betrayed the Kell of another house, or why those Vex (time-travelling robots) are simulating a human research team, and the world starts to feel like it contain these interesting, interconnected mysteries.

I’ve slipped into describing stuff from Destiny 1, so I guess at this point I’m really defending the Destiny universe as a whole rather than the central story.

"I'v always admired you, hooded background friend. We've been best friends since that war on Pluto. I'd hate to see you die later. I would find it very emotional."

Brendan: That’s fair. The writing of a game does include its entire world, as far as I’m concerned. I must admit, sometimes it “tricks me” into liking it. At one point, Scar-Ghaul has your boss, The Speaker, trapped in a throne room, interrogating him. The villain seems to be asking: How do I get the magic Light? The Speaker then launches into an absurdly Yoda-like speech. “Devotion inspires bravery,” he says. “Bravery inspires sacrifice. Sacrifice… leads to death.” At this point I was mid-eyeroll, when he followed up with: “So feel free to kill yourself.” Which I thought was fun, if not exactly sensible.

But then it introduces a tiny robot with a split personality who tries to be funny and I want to put her underneath my boot so that she will be quiet forever. I think that’s what I found most grating. There are a lot of jokes that just don’t land. Destiny the First (or what I played of it) was unfunny because it was po-faced. I feel like this is an improvement – but it still misses the mark often. How does it compare to you?

Matt: I’d probably say it still takes itself too seriously too much of the time, at least in the main plot – though I’d be more on board with that if it had done a better job of answering some of the questions it raises. How does a society of immortal warriors deal with having that immortality taken away? In Destiny 2, they keep on doing what they’ve always done – and of course it doesn’t even matter to the player character, who (spoilers) gets their powers back almost straight away.

Humour-wise, I’m reminded of the time I went to see Tim Vine. Maybe one joke in ten would be funny, but if you can ignore the clangers then what’s left is still entertaining.

Brendan: That’s some clanger-to-lol ratio though.

Matt: Which is made worse by Destiny not delivering about 60 jokes a minute. Oh well, at least we have Nathan Fillion complaining that he can’t get any hugs.

Destiny 2 - in bad cinemas now

Brendan: Okay, let’s wrap this up. We have discussed the topic like grown adults and neither of us have threatened to murder the other. I call that a success. But we haven’t reached a solid conclusion. Is it hot trash or tasty junk?

Matt: ‘Tasty junk’ nails how I’d describe the bombastic scenes from the main story, and I think I’d even go one food tier higher for the world-building side of things.

Brendan: ‘Spicy… street… meatballs’?

Matt: Artisanal street hot dogs, though maybe they’ve ran out of onions or something.

Brendan: I’m not sure I agree. I still think it’s a bit rubbish. I think we just have a clash of opinions here.

Matt: No Brendy… you see we’re not so different, you and I.

Brendan:

30 Comments

  1. Atog says:

    Someone noted that the Ghaul baddy buddy (the red one) had no upper lips and that they couldn’t pronounce a lot of the words they were using. I guess that we have an instant translation device. Also this awful exposition, “Eyh Dominus, let me sum up what you, as badass leader, already know to well as I do.”

    If their lore is good (admittedly), why not make the extra step and write good dialogue that more people will read.

    • Kolyarut says:

      Yes, I was thinking that too. Their lips still move like they’re trying their best to lip sync to their dialogue, but dude, with your upper lip six inches north of your lower lip, you’re just never going to succeed at pronouncing the letter “p”.

      To be honest they’re just horribly ugly designs in the first place. Like someone looked at Gears of War and thought the bad guys were too glamorous looking.

    • Premium User Badge

      Zamn10210 says:

      World-building and writing are distinct skills I guess. The former mostly just requires imagination, a lot of which is probably instinctive. The latter requires a feel for language and communication that has to be learned, or at least absorbed through long experience of reading and writing. My guess is that those skills tend to be in short supply in technically-oriented organisations like games developers, and there may also be a reluctance to hire really good writers who can’t code or contribute anything else to the game.

      • motoryogurt says:

        Many games hire pure writers. No real valid excuse with this games budget. Could have hired a kid off the streets, fresh out of a creative writing class to do a better job.

  2. simon.taverner says:

    Why not both?

    • LexW1 says:

      Or not either? And not in a good way.

      It’s not “hot trash”, because that would require it to be “hot”. There is nothing about D2’s story that is hot. Trash in a story context also implies something “trashy”, which is at least probably kind of fun. D2 fails there as well.

      It’s not “tasty junk food” because there’s no particular urge to consume it, to find out what happens next, to go back for more story. If the story just stopped, would most people even notice? It’s basically madlibs anyway.

      No, it’s neither of these things – it’s stupid, meaningless, devoid of emotional impact, and worst of all, worse than anything else – fundamentally boring. It makes the trite, obvious, World-Wrestling-Federation-style stories of many other MMOs look like bloody Shakespeare by comparison.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    I went “Who is Matt?” and then I went to the “About Us” staff page, and he wasn’t listed as staff OR a freelancer, and now I’m confused :(

  4. Premium User Badge

    Nauallis says:

    ***SPOILER ALERT***

    It’s a bit of both. While the story is pretty good – it’s coherent, it’s not full of holes, it’s complete even if you only play the story missions without doing lore scannables – I’ve definitely looked back from it and wondered “wait, how are we in any different of a situation and circumstances than we were before all of this happened?”

    The raid is like that too. You’d have to do a prequel mission-ish thingyding “Adventure” on Nessus to get the intro to the raid, but then you do it and since it’s not about the next big threat to the solar system but rather an enigmatic robot on a giant starship with an obtuse sense of humor…

    But, there is a cutscene post end-credits that hints at big evil dark forces in upcoming expansions, so maybe there’ll be a credible actual threat again in the next year. There’s also more to think about and “things we didn’t know” that are revealed in the non-campaign missions, scannables, strikes, the NPC dialogue, and the raid.

    • April March says:

      While the story is pretty good – it’s coherent, it’s not full of holes, it’s complete even if you only play the story missions without doing lore scannables

      Maybe I’m misinterpretating your meaning, but those things don’t make a story good. That is the barest minimum that a series of events require to be called a narrative.

      • drewski says:

        I think you need to mentally add the qualifier “in the context of generally unhilariously bad other video game stories” to any faint praise you see of AAA video games narratives.

        Because coherent and not full of holes is actually genuinely top 5% of video game blockbuster stories…

        • LexW1 says:

          It really doesn’t. It never really has, much as people might like think it has. Only in the AAA shooter genre has that really been true, and only really in MP-aimed ones. The early Halos had stories far more solid than this. It’s only the era of later, post-Bungie Halos, CoD and it’s spin-offs, Gears of Wars and so on that that’s true.

          And only in that genre.

          In the MMO genre, which is solidly where D2 is overall gameplay and meta-design-wise, a lot of games do a better job. They do tell incredibly simple and often kinda bad stories by any wide-ranging critical standard – the touchstone for WoW appears to be the WWE for example. But unlike Destiny (including 2), they’re actual able to tell a story that might evoke some kind of rough emotion, that isn’t basically a series of Madlibs, that doesn’t peak at causing your lips to quirk slightly at a funny robot.

      • Premium User Badge

        Nauallis says:

        Good = entertaining. I’m not expecting Hugo or Nebula material in my shooter games.

  5. MooseMuffin says:

    I suspect one’s feelings about the story will depend heavily on if you played the first game or not. Not because of any preexisting knowledge necessary to understand it (lol), but because the first game’s story was either absent entirely, or just merely incoherent. Afterall, the 12 year old who wrote the first game gave us such gems as “the Light”, “the Darkness”, “the Traveler”, and “the Stranger”.

    The fact that D2 has like, an antagonist, at least 2 nameable characters, and the player character has an objective, makes it a storytelling revelation in comparison. Its both objectively bad and remarkably improved.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      The 12 year old must be about 15 by now? Destiny 6 or 7 might have some decent story!

    • BooleanBob says:

      I still find it vaguely offensive that a developer released a $500 million game with what they later admitted were a bunch of placeholder proper nouns where the story should have been.

    • RobinOttens says:

      To be fair, Joseph Staten, Bungie’s main writer for cutscenes and story stuff on the halo games left the studio about a year before Destiny was released. He had been writing on the game for a while, but I assume he just never finished the script beyond all the lore and world building. And from what I heard Destiny’s original plot was only half implemented and got changed before release.

  6. Buuurr says:

    Is it shiddy or no?

  7. Edgewise says:

    Matt wins this particular argument. I haven’t played either game, but he did two things right:

    1. His description of the world of Destiny made me very intrigued. Immortal zombie wizards? Time traveling robots? Four-armed aliens? I’m in.

    2. “No Brendy… you see we’re not so different, you and I.” – HEADSHOT!

  8. K_Sezegedin says:

    That wizard came from the moon

  9. Chromatose says:

    It’s okay, but it’s no Transformers: The Movie.

    What I’m trying to say is that the plot is very similar to that of Transformers: The Movie.

  10. drewski says:

    As someone who watched the 90 minute lore summary video on YouTube and somehow survived without my eyes rolling so far back in my head that they bored out the back of my skull, I think I can authoritatively say that Brendy is right and Destiny’s overall story is absolute nonsense.

    But then to this day I maintain that Halo’s story is A grade gubbins and that doesn’t change my love for that series, so as long as the alien heads pop satisfyingly, Bungie can write as much nonsensical fluff as they want. Purge the xenos!

    • Traipse says:

      You know, there was once a time when Bungie wrote bloody great stories. Hell, Durandal from the Marathon trilogy is one of my favourite characters in any work of fiction.

      The studio that goes by “Bungie” nowadays has very little similarity, in either game development style or currently employed personnel, to the scrappy Chicago studio which made the games we remember them for. I mean, yeah, they made Halo, but that was nearly twenty years ago.

      • LexW1 says:

        Well, that’s true and it isn’t. It’s worth noting the that same game director (the main game-development-controlling position at Bungie) directed Halo, Halo 2, and Destiny 1.

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