Bungie never had any idea what ‘The Darkness’ in Destiny actually was

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Bungie’s upcoming Destiny 2 is going to be more than just a fresh start when it comes to the game’s quests, multiplayer structure, and expansive list of guns, armor, and other collectibles. In a brutally honest interview with Kotaku’s Jason Schreier this week at E3, game director Luke Smith says the development team is effectively rebooting the core narrative pillar of the Destiny universe. It’s all starting with a complete scrubbing of any mention of The Darkness, the ominous yet vague unifying force players fought against in the first game. It turns out that not even Bungie knew what it was supposed to be or even stand for.

“So, I think that at a point, just totally candidly? We had no idea what it was. Straight up. We had no clue,” Smith says of The Darkness. It’s a surprising admission from the typically tight-lipped public-facing members of Bungie, but it shouldn’t really shock any hardcore fans of Destiny. The Darkness always felt like a lazy stand-in for evil or the bad guys — it started as the underlying reason to fight back, but it was never fully fleshed out as a narrative tool. “We didn’t know what it was, and we, for a period, we chose [that] we’re going to lump all the races [in together], and you see this in the tooltips in the game — ‘minions of the darkness.’ And we had taken all the races and said, ‘Ah, they’ll just be The Darkness.’ But that’s not what the IP deserves.”

Smith makes a good point. When taken collectively with the rest of the game’s terminology, players were left with a plot that sounded shallow and silly. You were “Guardians” of “The Light,” protected and revived by “The Traveler” to fight “The Darkness.” None of it really made all that much sense, despite Bungie doing a rather fantastic job post-launch of filling out the back stories of the game’s main villains and crafting interesting histories for the evil alien races you fought against.

So it makes sense that those alien races are sticking around. Destiny 2 will start out with players facing down Dominus Ghaul of the Red Legion, a militaristic force of the antagonistic Cabal race that takes the Traveler hostage and robs you of all your powers and gear. Bungie isn’t referring to Ghaul as a servant of The Darkness. Rather, he’s an oppressive villain who appears to want more power, and he’ll destroy Earth’s last line of defense in order to do so. “What we’re doing with Destiny 2 is, we are deliberately telling a story about the Light,” Smith says. “And what it means to be chosen. And as such, we’re in the process of removing the term ‘Darkness’ from the game.”

This narrative retconning of The Darkness makes good business sense, too. Bungie was never going to be able to continue building out the Destiny world if it all catered to a dwindling user base of existing players. And a sequel wouldn’t make any sense if it put players new to the franchise at an unfair disadvantage, or if it were designed only to please seasoned Destiny veterans. By starting fresh both from a system and story level, Bungie is able to create a brand-new entity that should, hopefully, reach far more players than if it were just another piece of tacked-on downloadable content.

This isn’t the absolute end for The Darkness, Smith says. After all, the Traveler — that big and seemingly sentient planet-sized orb that hangs over Earth — is still a giant and enticing mystery, as is the reason so many alien races want to destroy it. Yet Bungie is just being more considerate about how it tells stories, and it’s taking the necessary steps to rebuild its world with more care. “Because when we’re going to talk about Darkness next, we need to know what it is and have a plan for it,” Smith says. “And we do.”

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