Iron Banter: This Week in Destiny 2 – Sympathy for the Emperor


Almost every week brings something new to Destiny 2, whether it’s story beats, new activities, or exciting new combinations of items that allow players to wreak havoc in the Crucible. Iron Banter is our weekly look at what’s happening in the world of Destiny and a look at what’s catching our eye across the solar system.

We’ve had a few weeks now to dive into Duality, the first of two new dungeons previously announced by Bungie would be coming to Destiny 2 this year, and like many I enjoyed getting stomped on by Caiatl last week (…not like that). What particularly impressed me about the new dungeon was how Bungie deployed it in service of its narrative. We literally jump into Calus’ mind and shoot his personal demons to figure out what his whole deal is. It’s quite brilliant.

Now Playing: Let’s Play Destiny 2’s New Dungeon, Duality | Direct

I’ve spoken a lot about the quality of Destiny 2’s story over the past two years to almost anyone who will listen (apologies to game journalists who made the mistake of having a beer with me after a recent preview in person an event). I do it in this column basically every two weeks. But Haunted Season sets a new bar for what Bungie’s narrative team has done and continues to do. It takes us right into the internalized trauma of major characters like Crow and Zavala in a really stark way. (Read merrit k on Fanbyte on how Fate is kind of at the forefront of the trauma conversation; the writers of this season also recently discussed these topics during a group interview I was able to attend).

But the season doesn’t just bring that depth to the heroes. This is also the case with Calus, the exiled Emperor of the Cabal, in a way that explains his story and details his motivations to make him a truly compelling target for our shooting sensibilities.

This is something worth taking a closer look at, as Bungie’s focus on Calus seems to point to a relatively new approach. We’ve talked a lot about how cool the buildup of Savathun, the big villain of Destiny’s The Witch Queen expansion is – it really grounded the game in having a believable threat operating in the world of Destiny for a long time before we finally met him and defeated him. The game felt like it was heading towards something, and the actions of characters and villains were tangible and powerful.

What I realize I love even more than being scared of a hive god enacting horrors throughout the game for years is how much time we’ve spent lately dealing with the villains as characters. We got great characterization among the heroes both in lore and on screen – but Season of the Haunted and The Witch Queen before it, focused antagonists in a way that makes them feel like more than huge new monsters to take down. The whole past track up to The Witch Queen was great, but I’m even more interested in the moments we had since so it allowed us to peer into Savathun’s mind and understand her as more than just a fearsome force that will likely kill us.

Savathun was scary as an invisible manipulator, but she's more interesting as a (somewhat) present character.
Savathun was scary as an invisible manipulator, but she’s more interesting as a (somewhat) present character.

Much of Season of the Haunted is about Calus. The Ancient Emperor was a part of Destiny 2 from the start, and we’ve spent quite a bit of time with him over the years; there’s a lot of Calus lore if you want to go read it, vanilla Destiny 2, the Leviathan raid and its smaller “raid dens”, and the Menagerie event that came with the season of opulence that followed the Forsaken extension. But Season of the Haunted doubles down by making Calus hugely present as we explore Leviathan and try to undermine any plans he seems to have. Duality is an exploration of Calus’ motivations, but Sever missions have us communicating with the Emperor weekly, and he’s an ambient presence within Leviathan when performing public events or patrols. He’s just always aroundand although we disagree with him, we have a real idea not only of what he wants and why he wants it, but also of what makes him who he is.

Duality provides a bunch of looks into past events from Calus’ perspective and gives new insights into a number of his relationships. We learn a lot about Calus’ greatest shame: the fact that his daughter, Caiatl, betrayed him, which he admits was his fault. Fate had already shown us that Calus and Caiatl were ideologically opposed, but in Haunted we discover that even Calus’ enormous love for his daughter could not eclipse his jealousy – in his narcissism and massive insecurity, he did. driven out by absence and cruelty. He still can’t overcome that narcissism, or fill the void that Caiatl’s betrayal has left within him, and that’s what drives his actions as the season’s villain. We discover in Duality that Calus wants to “transcend”, according to Eris Morn – he wants to become something else, something better. He runs away from himself, hoping that the Witness will finally make him the great man he always believed in. should be, without any of the burdens of his past failures.

Having all this glimpse of a character we’ve fought before and seem destined to fight again does a huge amount to elevate Destiny beyond the surface gameplay of wandering through exotic space locations and shooting anyone who gets there. find. And that seems like an approach that sticks around, given how much time we spent learning and investigating Savathun in The Witch Queen expansion. Although the Hive god of trickery has been defeated, the game still teaches us about her through memetic messages she left behind, and it all only deepens the feeling of antagonism we get from Savathun.

We’ve even seen this approach with Rhulk, the Vow of the Disciple raid boss. Rhulk is active throughout the raid, telling you about what’s going on, and a bunch of additional voiceovers in the Preservation Mission flesh out his backstory. Even though we only encountered the character for the duration of the raid and only actually saw him in the fight in which we killed him, Bungie still took the time to draw him as a character and put that characterization in front of players in an accessible in-game way.

Rhulk sort of came out of nowhere during the Vow of the Disciple raid, but the historical logs and audio from the world of the throne retroactively helped fill out his character.
Rhulk sort of came out of nowhere during the Vow of the Disciple raid, but the historical logs and audio from the world of the throne retroactively helped fill out his character.

Duality is a fun dungeon, but I enjoyed exploring it much more because of the work it does to develop Calus’ character. And his presence makes spending time on the Leviathan very interesting, since you can hear him during Sever missions and even during patrols. These moments fill out the backstory, but they also seem to do a shorter version of speeding us towards an eventual reveal of what the whole Calus deal is now. Last week Calus opened up about how he became one with Leviathan – he claims he is literally part of the ship. He also said some rude stuff about what it’s like to have us running around inside the giant ship, shooting things, and crawling across decks.

Calus is very much part of Leviathan in a story sense this season, and it does wonders to make him an antagonist that feels worthy of our attention. I hope we learn more about his relationship with Ghaul, his traitor, and what he thinks he gains from the Darkness, and all the ways the Witness comes to grips with his aching and broken psyche and flawed personality. .

But above all, I hope that we will eventually arrive at see Calus, and he’s some kind of meaty, fungal, semi-mechanical Cronenberg’s nightmare, fused into the Leviathan deck. I have some sympathy for Calus, but ultimately I want to see the kind of horrible, disgusting monstrosity his hubris and narcissism have created. Feel free to share your rougher Calus boss fight ideas in the comments below.

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