Destiny 2 is in solid shape again with the best post-expansion stretch in quite some time. Season of the Chosen brings us back to butting heads with the Cabal. Just like one of the dullest chunks of Destiny 2 content in history: Season of the Worthy. I was skeptical at first. But I’m happy to report that Bungie is making smart design choices. Controversial concepts like “sunsetting” gear were nixed and customizable gear via Umbral Engrams is back. More importantly (to me anyway) it’s some of the best storytelling the series has ever had.
This season is all about Caiatl, usurper-empress of the Cabal race. Her homeworld was destroyed by the Hive (undeniably evil space bugs). So she packed up the survivors and moved to Earth, where she offers humanity the chance to become her vassals.
It’s a very silly decision — one that makes Caiatl look like a bit of a rube at the start of the story. On her back foot, hiding untold refugees in deep space, she takes her few remaining forces and demands that godkillers (the Guardians that players embody) serve her. Zavala, the straight-laced and de facto leader of humanity, understandably says no. So we hold a bunch of gladiator fights to has out an alliance against the less reasonable enemies of our enemy.
My headcanon, supported by a bit of background lore, is that Caiatl knows she can’t win. She lets the most militaristic, honor-bound members of her warrior race throw themselves into the grinder to save face until an alliance can be struck. Her legitimacy as a hero queen who leads from the front is cemented, and the most volatile members of her order are removed.
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Zavala happily takes up this second offer. Other corners of human leadership, however, aren’t so pleased. Longtime NPCs Osiris and Saladin periodically call for more violence — to kill the Cabal outright while they’re weak. They’re event scheming something big behind the Vanguard Titan’s back while he’s preoccupied. Meanwhile, a masked man called Crow helps you enact Zavala’s plot while protecting him from an assassination attempt.
Crow is just the absolute best. He’s also the resurrected body of Ulden Sov: the prince who murdered Zavala’s friend Cayde-6. He was brought back as a Guardian a couple expansions ago. Though the process erased the memories of his past life, other Guardians still remember the face that killed a “fan favorite” character.
Personally, I’ll take Crow over Cayde, who was a bit of a dipshit. One that gleefully murdered incarcerated aliens with a wink and a one-liner. Crow, by contrast, is deeply empathetic. He constantly tries to explain that aliens like the Cabal and Fallen aren’t monsters, but sapient beings humanity could and should live and work with side by side. All his lore is about the social anxiety he feels about meeting new people (who have, admittedly, outright attacked him for Cayde’s death). He has a cute little hovel called the “Crow’s Nest.”
Much of this character work culminated in a new mission a few weeks back. The Guardians were sent to fight Caiatl’s chosen champion. The winner would decide the nature of the factions’ new relationship: fealty or uneasy alliance. Another assassin targets Zavala at the ensuing peace ceremony, but Crow takes a sword to the face for the Vanguard leader, which is helpfully blocked by his mask. Though his “identity” is revealed once and for all.
Zavala sees that this man is — or was — Uldren Sov. It’s the face of someone who murdered one of his best friends: who the rest of existence openly spits on in the street. Or worse.
Zavala doesn’t blink. He picks Crow up off the dirt, Caiatl power bombs the disloyal assassin, and together the gang hunts for the real mastermind.
The moment of contact is pretty familiar. It’s the rough clasp of hands between comrades. But there’s a more intimate current running between it — the intersection of two things that are deeply important to these two men, expressed instantly through touch. It’s a subtle exchange that made me choke up for the first time while actually playing Destiny (not just after hearing about the best bits of lore from our Podcast Managing Editor merritt k)… maybe ever.
Nobody takes this Guardian shit more seriously than Zavala. This gives him a moment to act on that, despite his sincerity being regularly undermined by player characters who would do anything for a sweet gun. Seeing Crow on the ground, though, he still unquestioningly respects the new identity before him, as well as what it represents. Crow, meanwhile, just wants to be accepted. His deep empathy for just about everyone (even the aliens Zavala regularly orders executed) leaves him desperate for personal connection. His fear of abuse hasn’t extinguished that quite yet.
There’s a lot I like about this scene. There are some slight parallels to real-world acceptance of how identities shift outwardly over time. But mostly I just love seeing two men express themselves so deeply through companionable touch — without excuse or ritual. They each mean a lot to each other in their own ways. Nothing needs to be said about it at that moment.
Up until now, the more alienated I felt from the Vanguard that rules the Guardians, the better. I hunted Darkness powers on Europa and agreed with Crow. But Zavala has finally made an argument for the goodie two-shoes out there.