One of the most crucial aspects of storytelling is world-building — that is, filling your universe with characters, locations, history, and mythology. It’s what hooks a person’s interest beyond the main plotline and provides the basis for all kinds of scenario discussions, fan fiction, and side character spin-offs. Sometimes, though, there are gaps and unexplained phenomena. And that is where the mysteries lie…
The lore for shooter-MMO hybrid Destiny covers all aspects of its universe, from humanity’s rise and fall, to strategic battles and mythological warriors, to the origins of specific weapons and armor. All of it provides much-desired context for our actions as players, as well as explaining why our enemies do what they do. Some of the best examples of this lore, largely explained through collectible “Grimoire” cards found in-game, detail the epic showdown between two weapons and their owners, display how befuddled your enemies are with the players’ behavior, or even provide the tragic origin and motivations for the evil god-king you’re tasked with destroying.
Not every question players have has been answered, however. There are still lingering threads that we’re continuously exploring, searching for pieces of information that can complete the puzzle.
For this article, I’ll be diving into arguably the first major mystery of the game: the Traveler, the planet-like being that brought about unimaginable progress for humanity.
Since I’ll be talking about major plot points/characters, spoiler warning is go. You’ve been warned, Guardians…
When Destiny first begins, we’re in the present day. We witness a shuttle landing on Mars, and three astronauts venture out to explore the surrounding area. What they come across defies explanation: a massive sphere in the sky, with clouds, rain, and energy crackling around it. This is… the Traveler.
The subsequent cinematic explains that this being helps lead humanity into a Golden Age through its Light: lifespan is tripled; planets such as Mars, Venus, and Mercury are terraformed and populated; artificial intelligences (Warminds) are created to help defend humanity; and we begin to push out and explore the stars.
But where there is Light, there is always Darkness. As quick was the rise, so to was the fall. In what became known as the Collapse, numerous alien races attacked humanity with terrible ferocity and swiftness. Entire planets fell, with the Traveler expending the last of its energy to protect the last bastion of humanity and create Ghosts. These sentient companions led to the creation of the Guardians, the player-characters who can wield the Light as a weapon and confront the Darkness.
The Traveler: Friend or Foe?
That’s the general story that’s told to us as players within the game. When the game launched, there was plenty of text and subtext to the Traveler’s benevolent nature. However, with all the added DLC/updates/expansions to date, players have discovered new lore entries that provide some surprising insights that challenge what we know. The earliest lore indicated that the Traveler selflessly fought back the Darkness on our behalf, expending the last of its energy to protect us. But as the game’s world-building has expanded, the Traveler’s motivations have become less easily defined.
In the game, one of the major enemy races that we fight against are the Fallen. They’re nomadic scavengers and pirates, with a semi-feudal system of multiple Houses (think of them as mini-kingdoms). We as players at first fought against them because they were deemed our enemies, and they sought to destroy all that we held dear.
However, with the “House of Wolves” DLC, developer Bungie provided more context that gave us some shocking insight into the Fallen’s history and motivation for their continued fight. What we initially thought of as mindless, semi-organized savages were actually a race that the Traveler had also elevated and had experienced their own form of the Collapse (their mythology refers to it as the Whirlwind).
This is a huge revelation, one that paints a much more sympathetic picture of this race. They’re not just attacking us because of simple greed or blind rage, they’re attacking us because they feel we have stolen their Light — that we have robbed them of their own Golden Age. The lore talks about how they rose up and accomplished much, but once the Traveler wordlessly left without explanation, their race scattered to the winds, lost their honor, and became what we know them as now: Fallen.
A major question that spins out of this new information is: Could that have happened to us? Rather than saving us, could the Traveler have abandoned humanity in our time of need?
While the in-game plot and earlier Grimoire entries indicate no, newer ones from “The Taken King” expansion show that there was at least a high probability this could have happened, since not only had the Traveler fled from the Fallen, but we found out that it fled from fighting another hostile race, the Hive, many millennia ago as well. So another prevailing theory as to what saved us was intervention from another source, this one much closer to home.
The Abhorrent Imperative
As I mentioned above, the Warminds were created during the Golden Age to help defend humanity via a series of interconnected war satellites (“Warsats”) in the solar system as well as planetside military installations. During the Collapse, it was initially thought that all the Warminds were destroyed or taken offline by the Darkness. Yet during the main story of the game, players rediscover and help reactivate the last Warmind on Earth, Rasputin. We encounter Rasputin again sporadically throughout the content that’s been added in the game, but it’s with “The Taken King” that we receive a crucial bit of information about Rasputin and its relationship with the Traveler.
Rasputin had come up with numerous contingencies and plans in order to defend humanity, but it had a devastating final program as its trump card: “Abhorrent Imperative.” The program was set up to activate on a two-factor scenario: humanity had to be close to extinction, and the Traveler must be about to flee Earth.
If both factors occurred, Rasputin was programmed to fire on the Traveler via planetary defense proxies and damage it enough to prevent it from leaving. The lore is actually worded in a programming language format, and it doesn’t indicate whether or not the Abhorrent Imperative was actually initiated. So for now, the debate is whether or not Rasputin actually fired on the Traveler, or if it actually was the Darkness that wounded the Traveler and it made a willing self-sacrifice to save humanity.
But all this speculation brings us no closer to answering our initial questions: What is the Traveler’s true purpose? Where did it come from, and why did it come to us? Is it a benevolent god, looking to help humanity along in its evolution? Or is it an objective scientist, content to simply watch and observe before leaving for a new experiment?
For now, there can be no definitive answer. The texts and stories we’ve discovered are from dreams, interpreted second-hand sources, or are the biased observations of other races. The only certainties we have are that we as Guardians are children of the Traveler’s Light, and that we have a mission to protect humanity at all costs. Maybe the simplest truths are the ones that we actually need…
Thanks for reading; and eyes up, Guardians.
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