While I’m about a year late to the party I have recently started playing Destiny, an action role-playing first person shooter for last and current generation Microsoft and Sony consoles. The game is set in the far future after a “Golden Age” of colonization in the solar system by humanity, thanks to the technology granted to us by The Traveler, a gigantic sphere of extraterrestrial origin.
While there is a lot more explained about the circumstances of the world the game inhabits that I enjoy, and I am enjoying Destiny mechanically as well, I am continually dumbfounded by the lack of tangible world-building that was put into the game’s storyline and world. This was a criticism I’d heard before from friends and family as well as people in gaming media, but it’s been a whole other matter to experience it firsthand. The reason for this is the apparent fact that lore does actually exist, but you have to go out of your way to learn about it.
I was struck by this disconnection from lore right at the beginning as I created my character. There are three different races to choose from: human, Awoken, and EXO. While human is self-explanatory, neither of the other two are explained. Awoken appeared to be humans that have been changed (which they are), and EXOs are machine people. The situation with the EXOs, which is the race I ended up choosing, particularly irked me.
I have put a fair amount of time into the game, yet if I had to explain what EXOs are based solely on what information the game has given me I would have no idea what to tell you. They are obviously robots of some kind, but not the same as other robots (Frames) you see around the main hub area in the game. There is a clear distinction, but we’re not told what that is beyond appearance. EXOs are sapient and seem to be considered as alive as humans, which had me wondering if they were androids augmented to the point of appearing almost completely machine.
I had to look up on the Destiny wiki to find what little information I could. Apparently this race of machines was created during the “Golden Age,” are of very complex make-up, and their purpose has been forgotten by humanity as well as erased from their own memory banks. This idea echoes something my brother — who has been playing the game over a year — told me about the game’s world: since the collapse at the end of the Golden Age a lot of knowledge has been forgotten, and this is reflected in the story.
This leads to a lot of “How?” questions being left unanswered, which is actually fine for me from a world-building perspective. Even not knowing the origin of the EXOs is perfectly fine. It’s actually very tantalizing to explore a world full of ruin and mystery without a lot of answers for what happened. In that sense, I’m not that frustrated there isn’t enough lore in the storyline explaining the world. The problem is that the story is responsible for telling us that nobody knows. It’s fine that they don’t know, but if I don’t know that they don’t know then a lot of world-building falls apart.
This is especially frustrating because your character, who has been “dead a long time” before their Ghost (a companion machine made by The Traveler) revives them, is told that they will see a lot that they don’t understand. That is a textbook setup for exposition and the game never exploits it. The player character should be full to the brim with questions, yet they never really ask anything.
I want to love the world, and in many ways I do, but I feel like information is being deliberately withheld. Enemy factions are introduced without much explanation either, especially The Fallen, making the stakes of each encounter more confusing that compelling. Destiny stands as a powerful example of the need for proper world-building: the mechanics of the game are great, visuals are stunning, the music is beautiful, but all of that amounts to little when I can’t make a strong enough connection with the world.