Magical Mondays: Destiny and How Not to Write Magic

I’ve done it. I’ve finally done it. After a couple of weeks, I’ve finally beaten the campaign mode of Destiny. I could have completed it quicker—true enough, the campaign isn’t exactly what one would call “expansive”—but I couldn’t find a reason to. After landing on Mars (the final planet in the storyline thus far) I left the story behind and did other things for about a week and a half.

Destiny Warlock WallpaperI understand you must be scratching your heads right now, wondering what this has to do with magic. This problem with Destiny’s lack of exposition is the same problem it has with its magic; in fact, it’s even worse when taking its magic system into consideration. That is to say: no matter how cool your magic system is, or no matter how much it doesn’t actually factor into the universe, it needs to have some weight to it. Your magic must actually be a part of your universe.

As someone who mains a Warlock (“magic user”), a Sunsinger if I’m being specific, it’s struck me on several occasions that within the game’s narrative, there is no reason for this class to exist, and especially not these powers. Destiny focuses around the player character fending off the impending “Darkness” (in the form of the three enemy species and the final boss) and bringing light back to an entity called the Traveler. The Traveler offers the remaining people on Earth protection from the Darkness, but it’s not something you ever get to interact with; the only character that seems to know what’s up with the Traveler is the Speaker (akin to a mystic or otherwise figurehead), and even then he neither tells you about the Traveler nor shows any inclination toward having magic himself. In fact, we don’t even know if the Traveler is magical (and are never told either way), so the fact that the characters can have magic from seemingly nowhere is confusing. There is no weight to this magic because it doesn’t mean anything: there’s no measure by which we can determine how dangerous/powerful it is. It’s just there to look cool, and honestly, for a franchise, that’s not a good or an engaging enough reason to have it.

In general, when playing this type of RPG in which the classes don’t matter nearly as much as the main plot, there are still reasons given so that the audience understands what the implications of the battle systems are, especially in concerns to magic. In Borderlands the Sirens are very few, are fabled, and thus are revered and feared. In Skyrim and other Elder Scrolls games, people who practice magic are not rare. However, certain types of magic are looked down upon and forbidden (ie: necromancy). Even if the fact that you’re a mage/Siren never comes up in the plot of the game, the background and implications of your chosen class are still clear to players. Looking more in-depth, in regards to Skyrim, everyone has the ability to learn magic (although different people and races are better at specific magics than others) and because of this, technology hasn’t flourished—why work on improving technology when you can have magic that does everything that man-made objects could do? So in this way, magic is completely normalized. On the other hand, in Borderlands, the Sirens are a myth as old as the planet Pandora itself, and so they’re seen as a mythical beast, but also as a treasure to put on display. Sirens are seen as above human; almost as some form of living art. In each game respectively people may not find magic a big deal, or people may try to kidnap you and use you to charge an ancient key, but in both cases the player knows what’s up. The difference between these games and Destiny is that Destiny hasn’t only poorly expanded on their magic or failed to integrate it well, it’s that Bungie has chosen to ignore it entirely. What do people think of magic? We don’t know. What effect does it have on the people who use it? It’s a mystery. Audiences are able to suspend their disbelief for any magic system, but it shouldn’t have to be in a way that’s basically like throwing up their hands and saying “whatever”.

Look, it's the college where the mages study. ...I'm not asking for much here, I'm really not.

Look, it’s the college where the mages study. …I’m not asking for much here, I’m really not.

As a final point, the Warlock class is explained as thus:

Warlocks have long studied the Traveler, mastering some of its arcane energies. Its true purpose still remains a great mystery, but discovering truth has always driven you into the unknown. Now, our enemies are the only thing that stands between you and the lost wonders of our Golden Age.

So it stands to reason that Warlocks are scholars. Yet if this is the case, where are the others? There is only one other Warlock in the game, and that’s the woman who sells the Warlock armor. No one else within the game even talks about magic, much less uses it; every NPC and almost every enemy type uses guns and other technology. This being a shooting game, it makes sense. However, given that the only other being in the game to utilize what seems to be a similar magic to the Warlocks is an enemy (called a Wizard, because they’re really creative), I would have to fathom that being a Warlock is not actually looked highly upon. Yet, no one ever makes mention of these powers. Ever. At all.

Tell me you wouldn't be shitting your pants if you suddenly saw this happening out of nowhere with no explanation behind it.

Tell me you wouldn’t be shitting your pants if you suddenly saw this happening out of nowhere with no explanation behind it.

See, magic is a beautiful tool to have in any aspect of fiction. It can represent so many different issues and make people think about distribution of power, or just be fun to think about the intricacies of how it works. However, you need to show the audience the repercussions and effects this magic has on the universe, and not just info-dump on some off-hand comment that actually isn’t reflected narratively. Yes, any given audience is smart enough to connect the dots without mechanics and such told to us in excruciating detail, but storytellers, you have to give us those dots first. Otherwise, it’s just a waste.

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About Tsunderin

Greetings and salutations! Feel free to just call me Rin—we’re all friends here, or nemeses who just haven’t gotten to know each other well enough. I’m a video game lover from the womb to the tomb, and Bioware enthusiast until the day they stop making games with amazing characters that I cry over. And while I don’t partake as often as I used to, don’t be surprised to find me poking around an anime or manga every once in a while either. A personal interest for me is characterization in media and how women in particular have been portrayed, are being portrayed, and will be portrayed in the future. I’m not going to mince words about my opinion either.

4 thoughts on “Magical Mondays: Destiny and How Not to Write Magic

  1. Sadly there’s a lot of plot that was left by the wayside or thrown into non in game grimoire cards. Some things we want to know more about, exos, awoken, the stranger, Rasputin and the war constructs, and many more that we will probably have to pay for and have a 6person raid group to experience

    • Ugh, don’t even talk to me about the fact you have you pay to do raids. I don’t have multiplayer right now and I feel like I’m missing out on so much of the miniscule plot just because I don’t want to give them more money. But please! Please Bungie at least tell us about the races in-game. At the very least.
      Those grimoire cards are so useless, too: why would you make something the player has to access from outside the game to understand the in-game story? It’s just bad, well, everything.

  2. I was so looking forward to this game but after all the honest reviews I have seen as well as there being no actual gameplay on the commercials, I am not going to be getting this game.

    • Unless you enjoy fighting the same things over and over to get loot, or are really enthralled with the graphics, I can’t recommend getting this game. The gameplay is great, but there’s not enough of it to warrant the price tag.

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