Tech. Science. Culture.
We may earn a commission from links on this page

A Quick Guide to the Worldbuilding of Destiny

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Destiny is out! And whilst it might be the most-preordered new property in gaming history, not everyone who'd be interested in a new scifi story is necessarily interested in playing a shooter to find out about it. So let's take a look at a little of what we know about the universe of Destiny and its inhabitants so far.

A preface: The actual storytelling of Destiny is pretty barebones. Personally I'm only about half way through the story missions in the game, and so far there's virtually no major characters or real impetus to push a story outside of shooting all the things. Whilst there's no problem with that - shooting things is most definitely enjoyable - it's not exactly the best way to discover things about this new universe. Good job that there's these things called Grimoire Cards then, collectable items found in the game that give you little lore dumps that make Destiny's world an interesting landscape to explore. Most of the information in this post comes from those cards.


Any way, let's get started!

The Golden Age

Destiny might be all about the future, but first, we have to start in the past. Well, present. Sorta.


Destiny takes place in an alternate universe where, in 2014, Humanity is capable of, and is actively sending, manned missions to Mars. Also, their astronauts apparently carry space-M-16s. After detecting a strange signal on the Red Planet, an unnamed international organisation sends the Ares-1 mission to find out what it is - and they discover it's a gigantic, white orb floating in the atmosphere. The orb, known as 'The Traveller', was a mysterious pseudo-technological entity that was capable of not only granting Humanity incredibly advanced technology to kickstart the colonisation of other worlds in the solar system, but also of biologically augment them, increasing their strength and lifespans threefold and terraforming worlds to suit Humanity's needs (There's also something vaguely religious about its existence - its arrival supposedly shattered theological debates on Earth, and a leading figure among the NPCs you encounter is The Speaker, voiced by Bill Nighy, a clerical figure who symbolically represents the will of the dormant Traveller). The human race spread across the Solar system, building settlements on planets like Mars, Venus and Jupiter, and an age of enlightenment known as the Golden Age began.

It didn't last.


Centuries of happiness later, swarms of alien creatures, powered by a nebulous entity that had been chasing The Traveller across the universe called The Darkness (you'll begin to see that Bungie loves itself some mysterious Nouns) caught up with it and Humanity's space empire. Humanity was almost wiped out, pulling back from its colonies to Earth, constructing sentient technological constructs called the Exo to fight for them. Humans not completed destroyed by the Darkness' corruption were mutated into blue-skinned humanoids known as the Awoken. Eventually, all that remained was a single city on Earth, where the Traveller fought the Darkness - I don't know about you guys but I think I'd like to see the ridiculousness of a giant white space sphere somehow duking it out with nebulous cloud of darkness - and sacrificed itself to push the Darkness back. In its dying breath, the Traveller creates small A.I units called Ghosts, imbuing its powers and advanced technology within the tiny robots to aid the remnants of Human civilisation, before going dormant above the last City on earth. Most records of the Golden Age have been lost by the time the game's events roll around, only the remains of what was, past events talked about in hushed tones - Destiny may be set in the future, but compared to this 'Golden Age', it's practically a medieval dark times.

That's where you come in.

Guardians (of the Galaxy)


The Ghosts, tasked with protecting the last of the humans and the Awoken and Exo refugees arriving in the City, have the power to instill part of the Traveller's energy (known as 'the Light' - like I said, nouns!) into a person, granting what are essentially superpowers and transforming them into warriors known as Guardians. The Guardians started appearing shortly after the Traveller's battle - one of the first was a human male called Jaren Ward, for example. Also, they're usually dead. Considering there are so many dead remains around from the Darkness' attack, it means there's plenty of material for Ghosts to resurrect soldiers to protect the Traveller from - some Guardians are actually hundreds of years old, and they know it. Except for the Exo, who had their collective memories wiped when they died, and know nothing of their origins or nature outside of the fact that they were created for war, with only vague recollections of their past lives. Some Exo's have even attempted to kill themselves, knowing that their Ghost could revive them, in an attempt to access their past memories and learn more about their existence.

Guardians are divided into three sects - Titans, big brawly heroes who use their powers to fling themselves into close quarters combat and punch things really hard, Warlocks, who channel their powers through studies of arcane texts to cast magical energy spells, and Hunters, who... well, Hunt things. Their powers grant them a keen ability for tracking and stealth. Guardians are basically a special judiciary force for the City. Normal people revere them as great heroes, and they're humanities first and last defence against extraterrestrial threats - going out and patrolling the ruins of Humanity's lost empire.


Hello Darkness, My Old Friend


Just as our heroic Guardians are people raised to greatness by the Light, they're mirrored by the minions of the Darkness, empowered by its taint to strike out at whats left of the Traveller and its allies.

First up are the Fallen, four-armed scavengers that are only really acquainted with the other minions of the Darkness in their widespread hatred of Humanity. After civilisation retracted back to Earth, the Fallen moved in to claim the abandoned cities of Mankind for themselves (and they certainly wouldn't mind the very last City on earth, too - years before the events of the game, a huge Fallen Army amassed and attacked the City alongside the Cabal at the Battle for Twilight Gap, which saw thousands of Guardians die to protect the City). A piratical species who value hoarding loot and weaponry, the Fallen are divided into multiple, independent Houses - the House of Wolves (who are largely under the sway of the Queen of the Awoken - more on her later), the House of Winter, the House of Kings, and finally the House of Exiles, a sect of Fallen who were disgraced and kicked out of other Houses. Although they're united in their hatred of Humans, the Fallen Houses are largely secular and individual - they're not afraid of fighting each other over territory.


The Hive are seemingly the Darkness' first and foremost servants. Created by it during The Darkness' fight with the Traveller in the Collapse, these twisted creatures burrowed under Earth's Moon, biding their time before swarming out of their caves and catching Humanity unaware. If Guardians are meant to be the pure embodiment of Light, the Hive are the pure embodiment of the Darkness, specifically created to combat the Traveller, and are even capable of absorbing the Light powers given to Guardians they capture.

The Vex are a spanner in the works of the Destiny universe, more or less. Apparently time-travellers from a distant galaxy, they've come to the Solar System to (yup, you've guessed it) take it for their own. The Vex are a Robotic hive mind unassociated with the Darkness, controlled by a central network operated by individual 'Minds'. Each individual Vex Unit is capable of its own remarkable processing power - a single Vex can simulate entire existences within its own systems in order to study its larger surroundings. Although they are a separate threat to Humanity aside from the Darkness, the Vex have come into contact with it - some of them choosing to be empowered as the Hive were.


We also have the Cabal: Huge, hulking humanoids, clad in sealed Environmental suits to survive on the surface of Mars. There's something of the Roman Empire in the Cabal, and not just because their soldiers are named Legionnaires and Centurions and what have you - the ones in our solar system have come from a distant one of their own, part of a larger Empire, perhaps one that grew without the Traveller's influence, if they have managed to spread so far (although there is evidence, or at least speculation, that they're running from something. The Darkness, just like humankind?).

Finally, thought, Destiny also features a faction of Awoken that are neither friend or foe - based at the edge of the Solar System, they are large group of Awoken and Fallen who did not return to Earth after the Collapse to assume Guardianship, instead building their own home on the other side of the system. As the City has expanded over the years, they're only just coming into contact with the Reef and its inhabitants - and the Queen of the Awoken who holds secrets that could be key to the future of the franchise.



There's no real lore involved in dancing in Destiny, or as to why Guardians of all genders and species have such styling, groovy moves. Maybe part of the Traveller's Light, not only granting superpowers and resurrection abilities but also the know-how to do the Robot? It's pretty silly and fun though.


And that's kind of emblematic to Bungie's approach to the worldbuilding of Destiny as a whole so far. It's not first and foremost their focus, the gameplay is (even if that is coming at the cost of telling a relatively bland story in this first game) - but they've built an interesting universe to play around with, gathering disparaging elements of sci-fi and fantasy to weave a unique sandbox for players to play around with. With the studio's bold claims to support the franchise for the next 10 years, what we have here is just the beginning of a whole new science fiction universe - one that, if Halo is anything to go buy, has the potential to spin off across books, comics and short films into something rather special.

As the Grimoire Cards are collectibles in the game, lets throw some more lore talk out into the comments that you might have gleamed from the cards you've found. Have you seen anything cool in your travels you want to let others see? Want to know more? Post them in the comments!


You're reading Toybox, io9's new blog for all things pop culture. From merchandise to awesome fan creations, TV recaps and critical commentary on the hot topics of the day, you can find it all here!