Destiny: The Taken King was released earlier this week, which gave me a great excuse to dive back into the game and replay the old story missions.
After going through them a second time, I’ve found that I have a much greater appreciation for how it all ties together (especially given the quest restructuring done for the new update). While a lot of the storytelling is still bizarrely hidden away, there’s a ton of worldbuilding that’s going on behind the scenes, contributing to one of the most compelling sci-fi/fantasy settings I’ve experienced in a long time.
So if you need a refresher on the events that lead up to The Taken King, or if you just want to explore a bit of the Destiny lore that you might have missed, here’s our guide to the story so far.
So where do things begin?
The story begins thousands of years before your own journey, when a mysterious white orb roughly the size of a small moon arrives in our solar system, settling in above Mars. We send three astronauts out to investigate, who witness rain falling on the barren planet. It turns out that this giant orb is actually a sentient being called the Traveler, capable of terraforming entire planets, and carrying ancient knowledge of the universe.
After this “first contact” incident on Mars, the Traveler helps usher in a Golden age of technological progress and culture for humanity. During these centuries, we expand our reach into the rest of the solar system, and master AI technology, creating an entire new race of sentient, mechanical beings called the Exo.
Then everyone lived happily ever after.
No, not really unfortunately. It turns out that the Traveler has an enemy that’s just as ancient, and far more dangerous. It’s called… the Darkness.
The… Darkness? Is it going through some teenage angst?
Possibly, the Darkness is weirdly, irrationally evil. For millennia, it’s basically followed the Traveler around, wiping out any life it comes into contact with. It’s already responsible for annihilating at least one alien civilization that humanity is aware of: the Eliksni, with the survivors of that event thereafter being known as the Fallen.
Is it another giant orb?
We have no idea. Absolutely no physical descriptions of the Darkness exist, and we’re honestly not even sure if it’s a physical being, an amalgamation of multiple distinct entities, a force of nature, or just some kind of loosely defined impending threat.
Got it, so what’s so bad about it then?
Same answer. In the present day, the threat of the Darkness is spoken about in often allegorical terms, representing a sort of non-specific end of all life and things. We do know that it’s possible to actually harness the power of the Darkness in certain ways, but more on that in a bit.
Whatever threat of the Darkness is though, the Traveler has been fleeing from it for untold ages. However (for some yet-to-be-explained reason), the Traveler decides to stand and fight this time. Sadly, this doesn’t turn out to be such a great idea.
We lost the war?
That would be an understatement. Humanity’s defenses, led by AI’s called Warminds, were completely obliterated. One particularly clever Warmind actually calculated that we stood no chance at all, and shut itself off to avoid detection, hoping to be reawoken in the future.
A faction of humans attempted to flee the solar system in the wake of this destruction, but were caught in the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars, and massacred. Some of them survived though, but were mysteriously transformed. We don’t know exactly what happened in that belt, but in the aftermath, their skin turned blue, and they began calling themselves the Awoken. They now reside in the Reef, built out of the wreckage of that failed exodus, and are ruled by a monarchy pursuing some unknown agenda.
The rest of humanity meanwhile was pushed all the way back to Earth, where we prepared for a final stand. On the brink of defeat, the Traveler used its last bit of Light, a sort of space-magic energy that gives it its powers, to hold back the Darkness. It works, and the Darkness disappears (for now), but this event leaves the Traveler in a near-death state.
Out of all of this destruction comes a ray of hope though. The Traveler gives humanity one final gift: independently sentient pieces of itself called Ghosts. These Ghosts have the power to imbue fallen soldiers with the Traveler’s Light, bringing them back to life as beings called Guardians.
Back to life? How does that work?
We don’t really know (aka, space magic), but the process wipes that individual’s former memories. They’re basically brought back with only one purpose: to fight humanity’s enemies. There are definitely some disturbing connotations there that the story has only hinted at so far.
So what do Guardians do?
Initially, they help to gather the remnants of humanity on Earth. The survivors settle beneath the Traveler, now hovering just above the surface of the planet, creating a settlement appropriately named the Last City.
Unfortunately, even with the Darkness gone, things don’t look so bright for humanity. The Fallen have been tracking the Traveler since their civilization fell, and have finally caught up to it on Earth. Determined to retake its power, they attack the Last City in what becomes known as the Battle of Six Fronts (referring to the six entry points to the Last City).
The defense, led by the Guardians, manage to push back the invaders. The peace doesn’t last long though, and soon after, the Last City is thrown into a civil war as various factions vie for control. The Guardians are eventually forced to step in, and a system of leadership is put into place.
The ruling body is known as the Consensus, a de facto alliance of the surviving factions of the civil war. Leading this group is the Speaker, who for unknown reasons (space magic), is the only one capable of communicating with the Traveler to some extent. The Guardians themselves are overseen by the Vanguard, a group of elder Guardians who organize the city’s defenses and mentor trainees (think Jedi Council, to some extent).
What are the Guardians up to during peace time?
Kind of whatever they feel like. Guardians are sort of an independent military force, bound by only the loosest system of organization and hierarchy. They’re basically free to roam about, working on whatever they feel is in humanity’s best interests.
Because of this, there is a lot of divisiveness among the Guardians in terms of what their focus should be. They’re roughly split among three groups: the Titans, who built and man the walls of the city, the Hunters, who explore the wilderness outside the walls, and the Warlocks, who focus on studying the Light and its powers.
The Guardians work to shore up the city’s defenses during this time, and learn what they can of the Collapse; but peace doesn’t last too long (because of course it doesn’t), and soon, the Fallen reemergence.
Yeah, and they’re back with a vengeance. They launch a second invasion of Earth with nearly the full force of every Fallen “House” behind it. This conflict becomes known as the Battle of Twilight Gap, and while the Guardians ultimately persevered a second time, they did so with heavy, heavy losses.
To date, the Guardians have never managed to regain their full strength, and the present day incarnation of their order is just a shadow of its former self.
Meanwhile, more threats to humanity have emerged, as other alien races arrive in our solar system.
Who else is crashing the party?
Shortly after the Collapse of the Golden Age, an army of hostile aliens known as the Hive landed on the moon, led by a monster named Crota. The Hive are arguably the most important villain in Destiny, given they’re a species that has direct ties to the Darkness. It’s not clear though whether they’re simply harnessing the Darkness’s power, or if they’re actually working for that enigmatic entity.
In any case, after the wars with the Fallen and the relative peace that followed, the Guardians decided to take back the moon, sending thousands of warriors in an all-out assault on the Hive’s fortifications. This was a mistake.
Crota and his forces crushed the offensive, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of Guardians. In the aftermath of this disastrous attack, the Vanguard abandoned any plans to retake the moon, and for centuries afterwards, it was declared off-limits to official Guardian operations. During this time, the Hive burrowed into the moon’s surface (cracking off a chunk of it in the process) and created a complex labyrinth of underground corridors and chambers, preparing for… something.
Meanwhile, two more alien races are warring over Mars, and neither of them are very keen on humanity. They are the Cabal, a civilization focused entirely on military expansion (they’re like the love child of a Klingon and a rhinoceros), and the Vex, hive-mind robots that have the power to control time itself.
We’ll come back to it…
Basically all you need to know right now is that humanity is on its last legs, protected by an ever-dwindling number of Guardians, and surrounded by enemies. The various factions of the Fallen still inhabit several planets (including parts of Earth), the Hive have begun to spread from the moon, the Cabal are cutting a warpath through the system, and the Vex are busy building some very ominous looking machinery on Mars and Venus.
Whew, you still with me? Because we’ve just gotten to the actual game itself. We’ll continue with that on Page 2.