The Hive are the most interesting faction in Destiny 2. I don’t see how anyone could disagree. The Vex are networked AI that want to turn everything into a big computer — which, fine — the Cabal are space Roman Battletoads, and the Fallen — well, the Fallen are okay. But they just can’t compare to how weird the Hive get. And Shadowkeep, thankfully, centers that weirdness in a big way.
The Books of Sorrow
Destiny is famously not great at incorporating its lore into its gameplay. The first title’s Grimoire Cards required that players actually go on Bungie’s site to read them, and even now, the best way to peruse the game’s Lore Triumphs is online. If you don’t stop to read any of this stuff, you only get a general picture of the Hive. They seem to fit into the sci-fi archetype of hive mind swarms like the Xenomorphs from Alien or the Zerg from Starcraft. Functionally and aesthetically, that’s kind of true. But it’s not the whole story.
See, the Hive aren’t eusocial bugs. They’re actually a complex hierarchical society built around a social Darwinist death cult called the Sword Logic and powered by the offspring of ancient gods that will devour them if not constantly fed by the acquisition of knowledge and acts of slaughter. They have children, plot against each other, and scheme against their enemies. It’s basically like Succession, but with more swords.
If that sounds good to you, then read the Books of Sorrow. They explain the origin and rise of the Hive, and more than just game lore, they’re good sci-fi writing in their own right.
The Sword Logic Undone
But back to Shadowkeep. The Hive figure heavily in the expansion, which centers on Eris Morn — the sole survivor of a fire team that went to the Moon with the goal of killing the Hive prince Crota years ago. Now, Eris is haunted by phantoms of her dead friends, and the Hive are back in a big way. The question is, what are the Hive up to?
The answer comes primarily from the Inquisition of the Damned lore book. Unfortunately, the entries are a little hard to come by — you have to find Hive artifacts all over the Moon to get the full picture. Or, you could just read it on the Ishtar Collective. Here’s the short version.
Ever since the deaths of Oryx and Crota, the Hive have been scattered. They’ve still got their two god-leaders, Oryx’s sisters Savathun and Xivu Arath, but the former is mysterious and reclusive and the latter left the known universe at some point. So there’s a power vacuum, and a few different factions are trying to fill it.
One group, composed of two sisters and a brother named Malkanth, Azavath, and Azrakul, believe that Hive society needs a shake-up. They think Crota’s daughters are unfit to rule, and they’re beginning to distrust the Sword Logic that the entire Hive existence is based on. And so, they concoct a plan. Using forbidden magic, Azavath will give up her body to her crippled brother, so that he might become the new leader of the Hive.
Love and Death
Malkanth, Azavath, and Azrakul are atypical for the Hive in a number of ways. First, the fact that Azrakul is alive at all is unusual — the Sword Logic demands that anyone defeated should die, and given that he now appears to be unable to fight, his existence is a kind of heresy in itself. Second, they appear to have some kind of affection for one another, in their way. To the Hive, love and death are the same thing — but these three seem different. As Azavath prepares to give her life so that her brother might fight again, he tells her: “To be reborn is a gift—one I cannot repay. In return, I offer only vengeance, dear sister. And for your sacrifice? A place in an infinite graveyard, built where stars once dared to shine.”
Meanwhile, the daughters of Crota are making plans of their own. You’d think maybe one of them would just try to take over for themselves, but they apparently lack the “brute strength” to do so. Instead, they seek someone to match Crota, whom they can shape as a new leader of the Hive. They watch as a champion named Zulmak fights and slays all comers in the Pit, but find him ultimately uninspiring. They also suspect that Crota and Oryx cannot be truly gone, that they have somehow survived their encounters with the Guardians.
The trio of heretics carry out their project, trading Azavath’s life so that Azrakul might kill again. As the Butcher Queen, Azrakul tears Zulmak apart, then goes on to murder the spectators confused as to “Azavath’s” sudden appearance and power. Crota’s daughters take advantage of the chaos to assassinate a number of their rivals, letting Azrakul take the blame.
And then… well, things kind of wrap up in something of an unsatisfying way, to be honest. It’s an unfortunate reality of the disconnection between Destiny’s lore and its in-game story — the Inquisition of the Damned’s narrative concludes with most of its compelling cast dead, leaving no possibility that we might encounter them during play.
It’s a shame, really. What if we’d intervened in the Hive power struggle, having to temporarily side with one group to take out another that might prove much more dangerous? What if we were able to work with a character like Malkanth, should we so choose, to complete quests for exclusive Hive gear? What if Destiny’s incredible storytelling was more closely integrated into the game itself?
For now, we’ll just have to wonder — but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that as Bungie leans into Destiny as a roleplaying experience, they’ll work to reduce the gap between the game’s compelling play experience and its equally well-constructed lore.
While you’re here, check out the rest of our Destiny 2 Shadowkeep coverage, including guides, features, tips, and more. Want to find Exotics? We’ve got your Exotics! Want to know what’s up with the world of Destiny 2 before you jump in? Take a look at our Lore Primer. Don’t know where to start? Check out our guide on Getting Started in Destiny 2 Shadowkeep. Good hunting, Guardian.