When Bungie first announced that Destiny 2‘s Forsaken expansion would open with the death of the wise-cracking Cayde-6, I was genuinely unfazed. Sure, it was slightly shocking to hear that such an iconic character was going to be ripped out of the game—but that didn’t mean much to me. As Hunter is my class of choice, Cayde may have been my leader, but I never felt connected to him—or to any other character, for that matter.
Looking back on that reveal, though, I should’ve been thankful. Not because I hated Cayde and subconsciously wished for his demise, but rather for how his death would cause an emotional ripple through the narrative. The world of Destiny 2 needed a wake up call, and it took snuffing out a character for good to make that happen.
Before I get into Forsaken, let’s talk a little bit about the state of Destiny 2. My initial unruffled reaction largely stems from my feelings on the game as a whole, and more specifically, the characters and the story it tells. Leading up to the game’s launch, Bungie tried to hype up how emotionally impactful the fall of the Traveler and the Guardians was going to be. As the Tower, a place of refuge that many Guardians called home, crumbled under the attack from Ghaul and his minions, Ikora Rey was supposed to unleash her wrath on the Red Legion, while Zavala would strategize the best means to reclaim the Tower. Meanwhile, you, the player, would scour the universe to complete tasks that would affect the outcome of this new war. It was all set up to be an intense, pathos-packed journey. Unfortunately, that’s not how it turned out—at least, not for me.
Despite initially being stripped of Power, Guardians were able to reclaim their mystical strength pretty quickly in the story, and the climactic battle against Ghaul was forgettable at best. More importantly, many of the missions that led players to Ghaul’s doorstep (aka a majority of the campaign) didn’t seem to connect with or have an influence on the fall of the Red Legion. Plus, the main campaign didn’t introduce anything new about the Vanguards or side characters that we’re supposed to love. In the end, Guardians destroyed hundreds of enemies, Ikora Rey wasn’t mad anymore, Zavala was able to stand at a new perch in a new Tower, and everything was fixed. Where were the stakes? Where were the sacrifices? The same problems also abounded in Curse of Osiris and Warmind, both of which introduced seemingly important problems that were easily fixed by a barrage of bullets.
With those disappointing stories as my only reference points for what to expect from Forsaken, it made the tease of Cayde’s death seem hollow. Either he would miraculously come back to life at some point, or the narrative would be one where no questions would be answered as the Guardians mindlessly hunted down Uldren for revenge. Shoot, kill, and make Ikora Rey happy again.
However, now having played the opening few hours of the expansion, it’s clear that Bungie has finally decided to step away from blasé storytelling in favor of a more high stakes plot where the characters come to life. Before players actually get to the moment that Uldren Sov shoots Cayde, they’re tasked with completing a prison control mission with the Vanguard. During it, he throws out dozens of his typical one-liners that often don’t invoke anything more than a weak smile, but he helps get the job done. After Petra Venj realizes that the overflow of enemies was not a prison riot but a prison break, the tone shifts dramatically. Cayde, led in small part to help others and in large part by his own ego, takes on the group of Barons under Sov’s command. It’s here that he loses the fight and everything changes.
Unlike Destiny 2‘s previous DLC campaigns, Forsaken introduces a new problem and doesn’t let it go. For one, Cayde is dead for good, which is a dramatic shift from what the game has offered so far. With his Ghost destroyed, there’s no going back. Second, we know that Uldren and his Barons planned the murder, but we don’t know why. In turn, we not only have a problem to deal with, but we have a mystery to solve along the way. As the story progresses, more questions are introduced and the weight of Cayde’s death becomes more palpable. Every mission is a piece to the puzzle, making the player feel like they’re actually getting to some answers. The few “kill this number of enemies” grind missions offered in the early hours of the DLC even tie in with the story well. They give players a chance to understand the layout of the Tangled Shores and how the Scorn were formed. So far, there have even been some surprises. I won’t spoil one aspect of the plot, but it does introduce a rather intriguing character that adds a complex layer to Cayde’s death. The important thing to know is that the sadness and quest for answers doesn’t let up, making Forsaken much more engaging than anything Destiny 2 has offered so far.
The same quality is also found in the characterizations. After the player discovers the fallen Hunter, we cut to a memorial with Ikora Rey and Zavala. It’s in this moment of quiet reflection and mourning that Ikora and Zavala actually, for the first time, felt like real people. There is a discussion on how to handle an attack against Uldren, but Ikora also offers a surprisingly heartfelt reaction to Cayde’s passing. “He had the worst jokes. He had even worse timing,” she said. “I wanted to laugh. I really did.” This acknowledgement that her character has been largely callous toward others was something that I never expected, especially from someone that I had resigned to be nothing more than the archetype of “tough Vanguard.” The same goes for Zavala, who places a hand on Cayde’s body when expressing his anger over losing friends. The friendship between the two had always been played as a joke, but here, the Titan finally admits he felt real compassion towards his Hunter companion. Even side characters you come across on missions, such as Devrim Kay, take a moment to express their grief over Cayde’s death. The world has been shaken by his passing, and getting to experience it through the feelings of others only makes the story better.
While these are small and arguably simple character beats, what’s radical is that they are character beats. Every interaction with both Vanguards before this event has been watching them vent about something that felt too grand to comprehend. Yes, it was sad to see the Traveler being attacked, but we needed to know the feelings and thoughts under the surface of these characters. What did the Traveler mean to them? They’ve just been guides that players get new quests from, with their pasts shrouded in mystery. At least we now know how they felt about their friend, and that’s thanks to Forsaken.
Now, I’m well aware that there are players that have a steadfast love for this series, from the story to the characters within it. If you have that connection, then that’s fantastic, and I don’t want to take your fandom away. However, I and many others haven’t built that same affection for Destiny 2, at least not on a deep level, due to storytelling and character interactions that were, at best, surface-level. It seems that Forsaken could be a pivotal moment in changing that.
I’m not finished quite yet, but I’m optimistic the remainder of the story won’t slip into the trappings of year one’s content. Once I finish the expansion, I’m hoping I can see Destiny 2 as an epic sci-fi adventure filled with interesting characters, which is what Bungie clearly wants it to be.