When you are many thousands of hours deep into a six-year-old videogame, it takes a lot to surprise you. But today’s Destiny 2 season finale did just that. I’ll explain why in a second, but first here’s the obligatory SPOILER WARNING for details and discussion of the final Season of the Seraph mission and accompanying cut-scene which is embedded further down the page.
To play the content you need to visit the H.E.L.M. and pick up a quest called Final Dawn. Here the Warmind Rasputin explains that Eramis, the Fallen antagonist from Beyond Light, has accessed Rasputin’s ABHORRENT IMPERATIVE protocol, which involves shooting The Traveller down—that’s the enormous orbital golfball which gives the guardians their powers— using a network of weaponised satellites.
To foil the plot your guardian must infiltrate the Seraph Station in near earth Orbit so that Rasputin can destroy the network and delete himself entirely. His reasoning being that he’s such a dangerous weapon that his mere existence threatens humanity. Despite the protestations of Rasputin’s mentor and only friend Ana Bray, the mission goes ahead and sure enough ends with the AI sacrificing himself.
Before I get to the massive narrative implications, let’s note for the record that the mission is an absolute banger. Bungie was talking up how it plans to make the base game harder in Lightfall, and this felt like a positive taste of that in practice. Your power is capped below the recommended level of the mission, meaning enemies (which are also more aggressive and heavily shielded) can’t just be face-rolled. I particularly loved how my painstakingly-crafted build, using Gyrfalcon’s Haulberk and Ruinous Effigy, actually felt worth equipping.
Following the boss fight on the station’s bridge, the end-of-season cut scene plays out, and it packs as much punch as the combat. Take a look:
Seemingly aware of the jeopardy it’s in, The Traveller leaves Earth’s atmosphere and begins booking it out into space, abandoning humanity just as it had previously done to the Fallen. But at the last second, before Eramis opens fire, Rasputin self-destructs the satellites and wipes himself. That leaves The Traveller free to make its getaway but… It doesn’t. Instead it remains in high orbit. Has it had a change of heart and decided to stick with humanity to fight the coming Darkness? Or, as series big bad The Witness tells Eramis, does The Traveller simply have “nowhere else to run”. We end on the pyramid ships of The Witness closing in on earth, hemming both us and The Traveller in.
After that cutscene there’s some follow-up chat with a couple of key characters. Ana explains, like an after school special, how Rasputin transcending his origins as a weapon has taught her to overcome her own past and become the best version of herself. Heartwarming! More pertinently from a gameplay point of view, a final audio note from Rasputin confirms the existence of a hidden city called Neomuna on Neptune, thus setting up the Lightfall expansion which arrives on February 28.
Why Bungie had to kill him
Make no mistake, killing off Rasputin is a big move by Bungie, and easily the biggest character to be written out since Cayde-6 ate one of Uldren Sov’s bullets in Forsaken. Rasputin, the opera-loving Russian AI ‘tyrant’, was been one of the series’ most interesting presences, but as he effectively admits to Ana in the game, he’d become too powerful. From a narrative perspective, Destiny 2 was warped around the existence of a character who could theoretically obliterate any threat using his warsats. It was a bit odd to spend a whole season restoring Rasputin from his previously dormant state only to then see him destroyed, but this kind of big dramatic payoff feels like exactly what Destiny 2 seasons ought to be working towards.
If Rasputin’s death had been somewhat foreshadowed over Season of the Seraph, The Traveller stuff felt entirely fresh. In terms of drama, I actually think The Traveller’s attempted flit was the most exciting part of the whole thing, especially for veteran players. This season feels like it answered a lot of very old questions about Rasputin, The Traveller, and the original Collapse event.
However, actually seeing the selfish orb trying to do a bunk was revelatory. My guess is that however Lightfall and The Final Shape expansions play out, Bungie is paving the way for a universe in which the guardians, and their Fallen and Cabal allies, are no longer reliant on a silent paracausal sphere. Certainly, that’s the upshot of Rasputin’s final message: That we should look to each other rather than a big ball in the sky.
Much of the thrill here also comes from how Bungie is, if you’ll pardon the pun, pulling the strands of its decade-long storyline together masterfully with the finish line now in sight. As lore aficionado MyNameIsByf notes, imagery of The Traveller leaving earth’s atmosphere were foreshadowed in the original game’s marketing material more than nine years ago.
10 year plans… pic.twitter.com/dv2PHe4CoEFebruary 14, 2023
I’m sure it’s vastly overstating things to suggest that this was the exact plan all along. I mean, in 2017 the then game director Luke Smith was telling me that the story of the Exo Stranger (Elsie Bray, Ana’s sister) was essentially wrapped, and in other interviews at the time Bungie admitted that it didn’t even know what The Darkness was. But in the last few years the storytelling has become more and more confident, to the point that it feels like we’re heading towards a denouement that will definitely be exciting but also has at least a chance of satisfying an incredibly tough crowd. To find out whether the studio truly sticks the landing we’ll have to wait for The Final Shape, but both the action and storytelling today were easily the best of any of the seasons so far. That has to bode well.
Now, who wants to pour out a can of WD-40 for Big Red?