Bungie’s Story Team Breaks Down Destiny 2’s Silent Protagonist, Ghaul’s Motive

Destiny is a game with strong lore that does a poor job of presenting it to players. Though Bungie vastly improved the game’s story elements in The Taken King and Rise of Iron, it’s with Destiny 2 where the developer is looking to make it’s biggest strides yet. Featuring a full-fledged campaign, Adventures that tell their own sidestory and new lore items, the story team in Bellevue, Washington have had their hands busy. We got to sit down the Matthew Ward and Jason Harris, members of the Story and Cinematics team to discuss Destiny 2’s plot.

[Hardcore Gamer]: So, at the beginning of the game, we’re stripped of our powers. What was it like crafting a narrative where players begin so weak?

[Jason Harris]: It’s really an amazing narrative opportunity to strip away the powers. It’s the tried and true, “is Superman really Superman without his powers,” scenario. If given the opportunity, we would have loved to do more missions without players having their Light, but that is not the case. I looked at it as nothing more than a great story opportunity.

Let’s talk about Ghaul. He seems surprisingly more fleshed out in-game than the trailers have made him out to be.

[JH]: Like any good story, it’s going to live or die based off the depth and reliability of your villain. We put a lot of hours into developing Ghaul. At first, yeah, he seems like a guy who just wants to kick us in the balls and move on down the road after taking Earth.

[Matthew Ward]: We had the opportunity to spend time building him up in that he’s not just a bad guy. In his world, he’s the good guy with a purpose. There’s something that’s deeper to him. We wanted to make sure our antagonist wasn’t just a cliché.

[JH]: There’s two key things going on with Ghaul. One is giving him a goal and objective that he desperately wants that we as players can relate to. What do you care about? It’s your light, your progress, your powers. You care about that which the Traveler has given you. Ghaul wants that, and it’s the thing that you’re both going to fight for. The second is, when you start digging into the story, you see that he has a drive and obsession with being worthy. He doesn’t want to just take it, he wants to earn it.

In Destiny, our Guardians were able to speak, but in Destiny 2 they seem to have lost their voice. Was there any discussion of not doing a silent protagonist?

[JH]: We talk about everything, top-to-bottom, with all our creative partners. The first Destiny had a non-silent protagonist. In Destiny 2, we put an emphasis on the player’s story and we feel that, when it comes to the balance of how much should you talk vs an NPC, it should be more NPC. This isn’t Master Chief or Nathan Drake, this is supposed to be you. We don’t want to be presumptuous about the words we put in your mouth as you’re exploring. Ghost is there to help guide you through the story.

It does feel a bit awkward, especially when we’re called out by other characters for not speaking.

[MW]: We’re just aware of it as you are. It’s harder for us to tell a story, but it has it’s moments. There’s one part in the story where you’re told to speak and Ghost cuts you off. So, we have fun with that.

[JH]: I think there’s a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that we tried to add to the story. We try not to take ourselves too seriously this time.

Where’s a new, fourth class? In the four-player PvP, everyone is supposed to have a unique role, but there are only three classes. Why not introduce a new class?

[JH]: So, that’s kind of outside the scope of where we have our involvement. We’re super dedicated to story, and the high-level development decisions based on classes or specializations happen amongst other teams. We try our best to have a good narrative wrapper around that decision-making. Our involvement in the PvP is to develop a strong character in Lord Shaxx.

Back in May, DeeJ implied there was a lore reason for why there was no fourth class. Is there not a lore reason?

[JH]: No, there is not a reason.

There was an interesting moment when we finally run into the Taken again. As new players, the game acted as if The Taken King never happened. With the possibility of a lot of these moments popping up, how have you handled the whole new player vs. returning player conundrum?

[JH]: We have lots of contextualized moments in target locations where there are moments that, when you go back and play with your returning character, you get a series of lines that will acknowledge the experiences you’ve had. When we tackle the story, one of the challenges we had was about how serialized we wanted to be. We want to bring new fans into this franchise, but in doing so we need to make it accessible. So, the experience of a new player in this sequence is to introduce the Taken as if you’d never heard of them before. We wanted to make sure a new player got who they were without being bogged down with too much lore. For a returning player, however, you’re going to see it’s pretty different.

Are Grimoire Cards gone? Is there some form of in-game library where you can read up on the lore?

[JH]: Grimoire Cards as you knew them the past few years are gone. Who’s to say how we’re going to make that content more accessible outside of the game. However, what I can say is that it was a goal for us to take all that Grimoire content and get it into the game so that it was more accessible to players.

There are no new enemy species in Destiny 2. We still have the Fallen, Cabal, Vex and Hive, which are all returning from the Destiny 1 era. From a story perspective, how do you make enemies players have fought so many times over the past three years feel fresh?

[MW]: Well, let’s look at the Fallen. In our Age of Triumph Grimoire Cards, we’ve taken the time to advance their story and key into the current state of the faction. The Fallen have completely lose their house structure. The idea of the Kells and the different houses are gone now, and they’re just a broken people. Some of them have gathered together in the EDZ, and others are roaming the solar system. We’re able to really progress their story following the events of the previous games and expansions. Then we have the contextualized dialogue system to hint back to what you’ve done to them in the past.

Thank you for speaking with us!

[JH]: No problem!