Many Destiny 2 players probably don’t know that there’s a bit of lore tied to the Guardian Games each year. Last year, this lore revealed what happened to the Spider after he fled the Tangled Shore. It’s fun to see Guardians casually talking trash on each other, but what we want to talk about today isn’t the Guardian Games but something that is mentioned offhand in this year’s lore for the event, which is also one of the most interesting and least-mentioned concepts in Destiny 2: Thanatonauts.
In the lore for the Phoenix’s Ascent Bond, some Warlocks find their compatriot, Calogero, meditating in the Tower hangar, seemingly attempting to will the Witness and its Pyramid ships out of existence.
“Through my Light I impose my will upon the universe,” Calogero replied. “If I concentrate hard enough, I can reach out to the Traveler itself. It will whisper the underlying truth of existence directly into my brain, and I will sweep away the Black Fleet with a single well-aimed thought.”
“Cal, are you crying?”
“No,” he lied.
Hex elbowed Basira in the side and lowered her voice. “Be nice. Ikora revoked his Thanatonaut’s license.”
But what is a Thanatonaut? The concept was first mentioned in Destiny and refers to Warlocks who voluntarily die in order to gain visions and insight into death and the universe. Thanatonauts apparently have to be authorized for this activity, perhaps because repeatedly and intentionally causing your own death can have some kind of psychological side effects. Known Thanatonauts include characters like Osiris and Pujari, the latter of whom had a vision of the Black Garden when he intentionally drowned himself at the Shores of Time on Venus.
Destiny 2 doesn’t really get into the mechanics of or experience of Guardians dying repeatedly over and over again, but it’s one of the most enduringly fascinating parts of the world. What happened to a Guardian when they die? How do their Ghosts bring them back? Are Guardians people or more like superpowered space zombies? For the most part, the game handwaves these questions and Ghosts function mainly as an in-universe explanation for the game mechanic of respawning.
When a player dies in Destiny 2, they’re simply shown their Ghost waiting to rez them. But imagine if the game played more into the mystical or psychological elements of the lore when this happened, even just in certain areas. There could be a quest that required a player to die in specific ways or locations to gain useful information, or there could even just be cryptic and moody vibes via whispers or sounds similar to those that were present on Neomuna when Nezarec was tormenting the citizens there. A horror-themed Raid where dying created Eternal Darkness-like effects to mess with the player? That would probably never happen, but it’s fun to think about.
Aside from the quick mention in the Guardian Games lore, Thanatonauts were last heard of in Destiny 2 in the Season of the Haunted. Back then, one helped Eris Morn anchor the Crown of Sorrow in the H.E.L.M. But who knows — maybe we’ll see more of them in the Season of the Deep.