With the Destiny 2 Lightfall release date just a month away, PCGamesN takes some time to sit in on a Q&A session with narrative designers Liz Baker and Nikko Stevens from Bungie to discuss what Destiny 2 year five looks like, how the team looks to shake up the distinction between enemies and allies, and what success looks like for The Witness, who’s shaping up to be the next primary antagonistic force for the FPS game.
What makes a villain? Oryx, Dominus Ghaul, the Witch Queen Savathûn, Xivu Arath – Destiny has seen its fair share of antagonistic figures over the years. How does the team distinguish between them, with everything set up for The Witness to take to the forefront in Lightfall? Looking towards year five, Nikko says, “The Witness is the big bad, but I think these villains inhabit different spaces.”
The attack led by the Witness, Nikko explains, is “a multifaceted attack that has a lot of redundancies and it’s really subtle and insidious. It’s not a direct attack; it’s a way to delete our strength from under us.” As a point of comparison, he points to Xivu Arath in the currently ongoing Season of the Seraph: “It’s tactical, she has strategy there, but there’s a lot more brute force. There’s a lot more concentration on attrition and overwhelming numbers and doing things like killing our champion, killing our leaders.”
“You can look at the threats that each one of [the major antagonists] provides and they feel like different threats, even though ultimately The Witness is the one calling the shots.” Liz adds, “As we think about the dynamics between our characters on the good side, we’re also thinking about the dynamics between the characters on the bad side. I think we’ve been able to use those differences in tactics and strategy to play into their characters, and vice versa. And I think that dramatic tension is really going to build up as we go into this year.”
What, we ask, does ‘success’ look like for the Witness? The pair remain understandably coy, though Liz gives an excited grin: “We have a very clear and cool idea for what’s going to happen with The Witness that I am in meetings about right now – not to tease that too much!” She notes that, while there’s no specifics yet, “I will say that we have been seeding this all along in Destiny and hopefully it won’t feel like it comes out of left field. I’m very excited about this upcoming story, and I’m gonna shut up because I’m going to spoil something crazy.”
Nikko chimes in with a thoughtful smile. He compares the plans to the way The Witch Queen expansion adds new context to the world and lore that recolours your perception of certain events. “When and if The Witness reveals their plan to us, I think people will see it in much the same light – where it all makes total sense, it goes all the way back to the beginning.” He’s clear on one thing, though: “We actually have a very clear and detailed idea of what success means for The Witness and, I guess I’ll say, we should hope it never comes to that!” Liz nods emphatically.
It’s not all about villains, though – Destiny 2 has made great strides in shaking up what the distinction between enemies and allies looks like. One of the most striking moments in early Destiny 2 is an encounter with a Fallen Captain who appears to help your Guardian and depart peacefully after you assist him in a fight with a Hive Knight.
That Captain would later be revealed as Mithrax – and become a key ally. From Cabal Empress Caiatl, daughter of exiled Emperor and herald of The Witness Calus, to Mithrax’s Fallen House of Light that took refuge in the Eliksni Quarter, Destiny 2 has continued to throw the notion that other species are inherently antagonistic under the proverbial bus.
“I think a lot of this is about being pulled back from the edge,” Nikko muses, noting that Calus makes a distinct choice to never pull himself back while pursuing the darkness. “I think one thing we’ve tried to show with redemptive characters is that they’re saved not solely by their own actions – they obviously have to decide to want to change – but by their social connections, their personal connections, their ability to make themselves vulnerable to other people, their ability to face their own deeds.”
These qualities, Nikko explains, are driven by hope. “Hope is a massively resonant theme within Destiny. Many of the characters who are on the side of ‘good’ are hopeful – even in the darkest times, they’re willing to light up that torch and try to illuminate something at least a little bit.” Conversely the villains are mostly driven by selfishness: “They don’t have hope. They just have ambition. Characters who, despite being reached out to many times, choose to continue.”
Two major story players who’ve been on the brink over the years are Eris Morn and the Drifter, and we ask how the team feels about their past interactions and how they might play into year five’s events. Nikko laughs about the ‘flirty’ interactions picked up on by fans in Season of Arrivals. “That wasn’t necessarily the intention, it just kind of organically came out of what was written.”
He adds that the performances from Morla Gorrondona (as Eris) and Todd Haberkorn (as the Drifter) “felt like they had some energy, some sparks going between them. So we leaned into that for sure.” He also says the pair are a great example of how “people who are at the precipice of falling off a cliff can really pull each other back and find their humanity within people who are willing to be vulnerable with them.”
Finally, the pair take a moment to address everyone’s favourite Destiny 2 easter egg, the lovable exo-dog Archie. Nikko laughs, “Of course, as soon as someone comes forward and says, ‘We want to make a robot dog,’ everybody in the room goes, ‘Yes, please, can we make a robot dog?’ So it caught traction very quickly, and narratively we wanted to support that.”
In response to a query whether Archie could become more of a companion in the future, Nikko smiles. “I won’t speak to that part any more than just saying, I mean, I would love that! That sounds cool. But also – Ghost! You have a mechanical companion.”
Be sure you’re up to speed on all the Destiny 2 classes ahead of the Lightfall expansion, as well as the best Destiny 2 builds right now and the best Destiny 2 exotics that you’ll want to be getting your hands on as Season of the Seraph continues. We’ve also got more of the best free games on PC to keep you busy until the Lightfall release date arrives.