I recently had the good fortune to visit Bungie and get an early look at Destiny 2, and I chronicled what I learned in a 10-page feature you can check out in this month’s issue of Game Informer, available today. In addition to plenty of game demos and explanations of the game systems at play in the sequel, I also had a chance to get some insight into the philosophy guiding the storytelling in Destiny 2, direct from game director Luke Smith and project lead Mark Noseworthy. The two discussed plans of how to focus the narrative in the new game, develop a distinct and complex villain, and unfold a comprehensible plot that carries the player through the adventure. They also spoke about the specific aspects of the broader lore that are included – and not included – in this installment of the series. 

“Destiny 2 is a game about Light, and what happens when it’s taken from you, and the lengths that Guardians will go to get it back,” Smith says. “We’re exploring the relationship between the player and the Ghost in terms of Light, and Ghaul’s coveting of the Light. As such, we wanted to carve off other things that we didn’t think were important to the release, such as words like The Darkness.” Players of Destiny 1 will recall that The Darkness was a term we heard a lot throughout the life cycle of that game, but there was rarely agreement about what (or who) the term might apply to. 

“We’ve never really said what [The Darkness] means,” Smith continues. “Ultimately, we do owe our players a story there – what is The Darkness? – but that’s not this game. We wanted to remove as much of the extra terminology as possible and focus on telling the Destiny 2 story. In so doing, allow Destiny 2 to usher in the rest of the saga. It’s going to start some threads that we intend to carry through.” 

As I spoke with the creative leads, a picture began to emerge. The first Destiny game offered a broad swath of mystery about the universe. For better or worse, that vision left a lot of questions unanswered. With subsequent entries, Noseworthy and Smith seem to suggest that Bungie is focused on communicating clear focal points. The Darkness might not be the core threat in Destiny 2, but it is still likely to be very important in later installments. Prior to dealing with that concept, the team is interested in exploring the player’s identity and his or her ties to The Light. 

“The manifestation of Light in the game is about what it means to be chosen,” Smith says. “That’s what ultimately happened. The Traveler chose humanity to wield its greatest power.” Over the course of Destiny 2, by robbing the player’s Guardian and all the other Guardian leads (Zavala, Ikora, Cayde) of their Light, players see what that power means in the Destiny universe – a concept that can fuel subsequent storytelling further down the line of game releases. 

If the nebulous threat of The Darkness wasn’t going to play into Destiny 2, Bungie needed a compelling conflict to embrace. That threat comes in the form of the alien race from the previous game that had been least fleshed out through Destiny 1 and its expansions – the Cabal. “The Cabal have nothing to do with the Darkness,” Noseworthy says. “They are not of the Darkness, or its representatives. The Hive are the closest, because they worship the Darkness – but you can worship a thing that you are not.” Those are important distinctions for lore followers, but it also points to a freedom for the team to let the Cabal have their own complexities and nuance, freed from the mythology surrounding The Darkness.  

The centerpiece of that newly deep Cabal alien threat is the villain named Dominus Ghaul. For reasons that remain unrevealed as of now, Ghaul has felt overlooked and passed over by the Traveler; he believes that the power of the Light should have come to the Cabal, and he’s eager to defeat humanity and its Guardians to prove how wrong the Traveler was. 

As Destiny 2’s story unfolds, we’ll get direct insight into Ghaul and his backstory through scenes specifically about him. One central way that story will be expressed is through his interactions with his mentor, a figure we know only as the Consul. The Consul is played by acclaimed actor Frank Langella, whose career includes everything from the role of Gabriel in The Americans to the memorable role of Skeletor in 1987’s Masters of the Universe. The Consul serves as a voice guiding the strength of Ghaul. “The Consul is like the coach on the sidelines while the Olympic runner is getting gold,” Noseworthy says. Long before the Cabal took aim at Earth, the Consul advised Ghaul in his military coup of the Cabal, unseating and exiling the prior Cabal Emperor named Calus. 

Even as the game focuses on the extreme might of the Cabal and Ghaul’s Red Legion troops, and the Guardians of Earth’s Last City are brought low, Noseworthy and Smith are both insistent that one aspect of the fiction remains sacrosanct: Destiny’s insistence on optimism in the face of dark times, along with a chance for humanity to rise about its past. “It’s been horrible for humanity, and in the beginning of Destiny 2 things go from bad to worse,” Smith says. “There may be times where the content feels dark and hopeless, but Destiny as a franchise is always going to be about hope.” We’ll see how that hopeful vision extends into Destiny 2’s full story when players finally descend on the game in September.

For some more gameplay-focused detail about the next game, you might also want to explore our exclusive first look at the new Hunter Arcstrider subclass.