The world of Destiny has been active in the gaming landscape for well over seven years now. Bungie's big sweeping space opera has come a long way since then, going from a game criticized for having no plot to it changing into an imaginative universe with multiple ongoing stories bursting with worldbuilding detail. One of the more fair critiques of the game and Bungie's particular brand of majestic, mythical sci-fi is the unquestioned valorization of the players and the constant framing of their actions as justified and morally correct. And that is the biggest subject that is closely examined in Destiny 2's Season of the Splicer.
The new main story missions that deliver this narrative are known simply as Expunge, and at first glance they're rather disappointing. Your Guardian is entering the cyberspace dimension of the Vex in order to find a way to stop the threat they pose to Earth. In terms of level design, they are gauntlets; frantic races against the clock full of key-hunting puzzles and platforming challenges with a boss fight at the end. Pretty standard content for Destiny 2.
But completing these missions dripfeeds the real star of the season: the tensions of making peace with long-held enemies. As mentioned before in my first impressions of the season, Earth and the Guardians are effectively working through a refugee crisis. A friendly faction of The Fallen, The House of Light, led by their captain, Mithrax, are seeking aid from the Guardians of Earth.
First a bit of context with some (heavily abridged) lore. The Fallen, once known as the Eliksni, were visited by The Traveler long ago, enjoyed an era of prosperity, then were thrown into catastrophe. This is a big deal in Destiny's world since the exact same thing happened to humanity, it's the first thing explained to players when they first start the game.
But the Eliksni didn't get all-powerful champions like the Guardians. Worse still, they lost their entire solar system, turning them into a race without a home. What remains of their people, a band of ruthless scavengers and pirates that seek out dangerous advanced technology, is a far cry from what they once were.
This frames the Eliksni as the most sympathetic alien faction in the world of Destiny. These aren't planet-conquering, "might makes right" sadists like the Hive, nor are they part of a war-mongering empire like the Cabal. These are relatable people who suffered far worse adversity than even humanity suffered at their lowest point. All of their attempts at capturing The Traveler is one heavily based on desperation; a desire to rise again to what they were at their peak.
But even with that context, humanity's relationship with the Eliksni are also shaped by centuries of ruthless battle and war. They have come close to conquering The Last City on Earth several times, in fact several major Guardians are heralded as heroes from these legendary battles.
Season of the Splicer not only recognizes this but puts it center stage. Every single week when you finish the Expunge mission, your Guardian is called back to the refugee camp to handle disputes and disagreements among several major characters.
What follows are some truly stellar scenes showing the many different ways diplomacy and peacemaking can be so arduous for organizations like this. First there are logistical issues, like the Vanguard trying to allocate resources like beds, shelter, and food rations to the Eliksni, which raise tensions between Mithrax and Saint-14. This heated argument only subsides once the bullheaded Guardian stops seeing Mithrax and his people as inherently duplicitous or opportunistic and starts seeing them as desperate survivors willing to help if it means shelter and protection.
What follows with Saint and Mithrax is the season at its most blunt. After a few more altercations, Saint laments that it might just be impossible for the Vanguard to live alongside an alien race that has waged war with them for so long. Mithrax in response tells Saint a story of how the Eliksni see him and his fellow Guardians. What follows is a dark animated cutscene, painting Saint-14, one of the most cheerful and compassionate Guardians, as a living nightmare.
He is framed as an unstoppable force that massacres people by the hundreds. The ability to resurrect with his Ghost is treated like he's a horror-movie monster, his special abilities shown as terrifying perversions of reality. Just to twist the knife further, Saint hears this story is told to Eliksni children so they know Guardians are to avoided — and Saint loves to protect children. Yet despite all of that fear and intimidation, Mithrax and his people have been making honest strides to make amends with the very demons they live in fear of.
It lead to a moment of haunting introspection for me personally as a player. What kind of horror stories do they tell about me? This leads to personal growth for Saint, and a chance to make amends, a genuine moment of growth and understanding.
Unfortunately, on the other end of the spectrum is Lakshmi-2. She is the head of the Future War Cult, and her response to the Eliksni's plight has been to reinforce the status quo. That no peace can be had, and that the Guardians' actions have always been just.
The result is not pretty. Every scene she's with Mithrax, she refers to him and his people by their hostile titles as Fallen. She marks the refugees as being part of the same group that have attacked Earth and Guardians before in the past with doomsday weapons and armies, a cruel but familiar rebranding of the phrase, “The only good Fallen is a dead Fallen.” But the biggest and most drastic of tactics have been her speaking to the people of The Last City and turning public opinion against the refugees and The Vanguard.
If you want a textbook definition of populist demagoguery, you can find it all in the rhetoric Lakshmi uses. The Vanguard are directly threatening the safety of the city by letting these known terrorists and killers into our home and giving them shelter rather than a bullet to the head. Fallen leaders have been corrupting the Guardians with the power of Stasis, as shown in the campaign for Beyond Light, therefore Mithrax's people will do the same, bringing in a helping of false equivalence. But above all, tucked away in the lore books that have been slowly unlocking during the season, it appears Lakshmi is trying to coordinate with other characters to stage a coup and overthrow The Vanguard, all under the guise of popular opinion. In other words, the out-of-touch elites are destroying our way of life, and we are the only ones who can fix it.
For a game that was once criticized for having no story at all, Destiny 2's latest season is a powerhouse of narrative. Despite the fantastical elements at play, the fundamental issues these characters are facing are just as relevant in our world today. Immigration, racism, the consequences of war leading into the complications of peace. Even when the mastermind behind the Endless Night has been revealed and destroyed, Lakshmi's ongoing campaign didn't just magically go away.
Season of the Splicer marks a pivotal moment in the story of Destiny 2. In the span of eight weeks, It asks difficult questions about its players. It takes the unquestioning heroic grandeur of its institutions and perverts them in dark and unsettling ways. With only a few weeks left of the season to go, it's anyone's guess what this will mean going forward. But something tells me it won't be as simple as killing a boss monster, not anymore.