Ghaul is the Villain Destiny Has Always Needed
“Welcome to a world without light,” Ghaul says as he motions towards the Traveler, allowing me to witness the moment that my Titan was cut off from its power. His voice is deep; imposing yet intelligent. There’s a cunning to Ghaul that we’ve yet to see from Destiny’s villains, something that makes him far more scary than any threat we’ve faced so far. He’s not an otherworldly god or a time-traveling robot, but he has the strict military acumen of the Cabal and his mission against the Traveler and those who wield its light is personal. It takes Bungie less than 30 seconds to make Ghaul feel like a worthy villain at the conclusion of the opening mission, Homecoming.
I detailed Homecoming and its emotional impact when I played it at the reveal event, but the Destiny 2 Beta added a fair amount to the beginning and end that I hadn’t seen before. It turns out that Cayde has a presence in the mission too, so you’ll be interacting with all three members of the Vanguard in combat roles, a desperate yet fruitless play to fight off the Red Legion. You’ll see familiar areas in a place you once called home, now riddled with flames and rubble. Finally, after a unique sequence destroying the Cabal’s shield generator, comes the scene we didn’t see. Ghaul himself, in all of his long-suffering and calculated capacity.
As the Traveler is captured, my Titan stumbles, the pale visage of light fading from his body. Ghost shudders and falls to the ground, cut off from the power of the Traveler. My Titan reaches out and grabs the now lifeless Ghost shell, more the corpse of a longtime friend than the husk of a robot. He pathetically looks up at Ghaul. My once powerful Titan that had rended gods, manipulated time, and felled an artificially intelligent space virus was crippled by the cold prudence of a vengeful warlord.
“Do not look at me, creature!” Ghaul sees us a bugs. We’re not remotely on his same level, and he’s won this moment. Ghaul does not feel that we are worthy and we are powerless to rise against him. At the end of Homecoming, we are nothing. We’re pathetic. We’re incapable. We’ve lost. We’ve watched the Tower burn, our friends and those we’ve been tasked with protecting forced from their home, and the ever powerful Vanguard fail. It’s meant to be an emotional scene no matter who you are, but as a player with over 1300 hours in Destiny, the way they’ve structured this opening hits especially close.
Ghaul continues to berate and beat my incapacitated Titan closer to the edge of the ship, and one hit sends Ghost careening over the edge into the abyss. Now judging by other content we’ve seen, we obviously know that Ghost comes back, so this isn’t as emotional as it could be, but it’s still a pretty devastating moment. Bungie is not only capturing a narrative emotion, but they are culling emotion from things used as gameplay mechanics. Players are used to using Ghost constantly in Destiny, and we just watched our Ghost die and disappear. It’s poignant.
Fear of Death
“You’ve merely forgotten the fear of death. Allow me to reacquaint you,” Ghaul calmly murmurs as he casually kicks my kneeling Titan from the edge of his ship. It’s not a “this is Sparta” type of kick. It’s a simple nudge. We’re not even worth his effort, and he tosses us aside as easily as trash. His line about death isn’t just a throwaway. It’s an important note about how powerful Destiny players feel they have become. For years we’ve laughed in the face of every challenge thrown at us. As much as that line is Ghaul talking to our Guardian, it’s also Bungie talking to us about what Destiny 2 really means for every player. Prepare to become reacquainted with feeling powerless. Prepare to fear death once more.
As an avid Destiny player, these opening moments really struck a chord with me. Just last weekend I was blasting through yet another hard mode raid, and this week I tasted death as the light I draw power from was sucked from my body. I watched a close friend become a metal husk. I witnessed my home in flames. I hate you, Ghaul. It took only moments to create a picture of vengeance in my mind, and it centers on an image of his bloody head. Bungie gave me an enemy that I found myself hating more in a single minute than any villain during all three years of Destiny.
If Bungie wanted to give returning players a good reason to not only despise, but also to fear Ghaul as the villain in Destiny 2, they’ve succeeded. It sets a powerful narrative tone as everything familiar is torn down, and then a single figure is shown to be responsible for your loss. Forget Atheon. Forget Oryx and Crota. Forget Aksis. None of them triumphed where the Red Legion did.
“I am Ghaul and your light… is mine.”