Over the holiday weekend, I decided to dive in to my copy of DESTINY 2. While I had fun with the first game, the mythology left zero impression on me, so I wasn’t particularly motivated to pick up the sequel. But when Blizzard made the base game available for free as part of a BlizzCon promotion, I could hardly pass up the opportunity to see what was happening in this online space shooter. For the most part, I’m enjoying my return to the series, happily blasting away robots that explode into shiny loot. But there’s one element from the first game that I was less than thrilled to see return: the voiceless protagonist.
When Destiny 2 opens, the central hub known as the Tower is destroyed by a mysterious invading force. From there, you go on the run until you meet up with fellow survivors. There’s a cut scene early on in the game where you and the director of a refugee camp receive a message from a leader who was thought killed in the opening battle. The message asks all Guardians (meaning yourself) to rally on a certain planet to coordinate the resistance. After hearing the message, the director turns and pleads with you, begging you to stay and help protect the refugees arriving daily, instead of going off on a suicide mission. It’s a powerful moment, and the camera cuts to your character who…shrugs helplessly and says nothing. Meanwhile, your sporty little flying robot flutters next to your head and apologizes, but we’ve got places to be, aliens to kill. And in that moment I wanted to shake my character. Did you take a vow of silence I was unaware of? Did your vocal cords get severed at some point? It’s so incredibly frustrating watching my mute Guardian in every scene.
Now, I’ve seen in my readings that your character FINALLY gets voicelines in the expansion that was released for Destiny 2 nearly a year later. But why didn’t they put in voicelines from the beginning? You could try to explain it away by saying there’s three races and you’d have to record a male and female voiceline for each race and that gets time consuming. But look over at Guild Wars 2, an MMORPG with constant expansions. All the critical conversations for player characters are voiced for five races, both male and female. It IS possible.
DESTINY is hardly the first game to feature a silent protagonist. I’ve played many a Japanese RPG, including Pokemon, where your character is talked at, and not an active participant in the conversation. One of my favorite games of all time, GOLDEN SUN, has a silent protagonist. But the difference with those games is that you’re reading dialogue. It’s easier to overlook that your character isn’t speaking when you’re simply reading text on a screen, where the implication is that your character asked a question to push that dialogue text to appear in the first place. DESTINY 2 is a kinetic game with cut scenes, cut scenes that imply to be showing you what’s “really happening” in key moments. It’s much more jarring when everyone else on the screen is an active, vocal participant, and your character just stands there and shrugs.
But the root of my annoyance comes from the disconnect between function and story. This choice isn’t explained in terms of story or the character. There’s no wink early on to the fact that you don’t talk. A throwaway line to express “I don’t think I’ve heard more than three words out of you in the two years we’ve known each other” would have helped at least establish that my character is known for not talking. But what’s worse is that the game has your friendly robot buddy to talk FOR you. It was clearly important enough to the designers to have a voice to speak to the player’s motivation, but for some reason didn’t give it to the actual player character. In the cut scene example above, it would have been one thing if my Guardian had silently clasped the director on the shoulder to empathize with her burden. But my robot does the talking for me. So again, I ask – why doesn’t my character speak?
I’m aware that this is a relatively minor problem in the grand scheme of things, and I’m hoping to enjoy many more hours of DESTINY 2 in the future. I know, however, that every time my Guardian pops onto screen and nods in silence during a cut scene, I’m going to be suppressing a sigh of frustration. Well, at least the aliens explode in a satisfying way, right?