One of the Best Quests in ‘Destiny 2’ Is an Unexpected Meditation on Grief

Destiny’s weekly quests are a touching look at grief and remembrance.
Key art from Destiny 2: Shadowkeep
Image courtesy of Bungie

Games often struggle when dealing with grief, and this is especially true for bombastic shooters. The oft-memed “press F to pay respects” moment from Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is a prime example of this, because when the rest of your game is built around the generally limited verbs of “shoot, throw grenade, melee attack,” it can be hard to involve the player in moments of emotional depth in satisfying ways. Because of this, many shooters tend to avoid this subject matter altogether. This lineage is why one of the weekly quests in Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, involving the player helping an NPC work through the grief of losing people close to her , has been a surprisingly pleasant balm to what is, on average, a more hamfisted approach.


---- Spoilers for Shadowkeep’s Campaign and Post-Campaign Quests----

Shadowkeep’s campaign begins with Eris Morn, an ex-guardian whose tragic backstory and constant black tears have earned her the title of Destiny’s Resident Goth (sorry, Peter Stormare) while exploring the depths of the Moon. Eris has a long history with the moon; her and a fireteam of five companions were the first to venture into the depths of the Hellmouth, but Eris was the only one to escape alive. She found a Pyramid ship, an ancient enemy that has been teased as being Destiny’s mysterious “Darkness,” the often mentioned but never portrayed evil that caused human society to collapse. The Darkness are the reason there are abandoned outposts on just about every inner planet of our solar system, and the only reason we weren’t completely wiped out is because the Traveler somehow managed to…fend them off? The Darkness has always been framed as a mysterious entity, a past trauma repressed by the collective psyche of humanity in an effort to focus on rebuilding.

Screenshot from Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, Eris Morn at her outpost on the Moon

Screenshot courtesy of Bungie

But now, that threat is back, and it’s using the past as a weapon. Throughout the Shadowkeep campaign, you’re tasked with taking what the game calls Nightmare Hunts, where you track down and kill physical manifestations of past enemies created by the Pyramid ship.

We even get enemies from as far back as Destiny 1, with a specific mission recreating the boss encounter from the Crota’s End raid. These hunts are pretty fun missions, but the weight they’re meant to carry fell flat for me. I’d already killed Crota a million times, and the reference was neat, but it didn’t feel like I was being “haunted by my past.” And for players that began playing with Destiny 2, I can only imagine their confusion at the encounter of a boss they’ve never met being talked up as part of “the collective pain” that the Pyramid ship is taking advantage of.


Luckily, the story’s focus becomes less about you being haunted, and more about Eris and her past. As the players go on these hunts, the ship sends phantoms of Eris’ old fireteam to haunt her. As you complete missions and quests, new ghosts continue to appear. She attempts to ignore them, but you can tell through her demeanor that the stress continues to build. Even when offered help from Ikora Rey, the only member of the Vanguard she considers a friend, Eris brushes it aside, replying that “we have work to do,” while gesturing to the player.

Screenshot from Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, Eris Morn asks the player

Screenshot courtesy of the author.

This piling of responsibility, ignoring stress, and then ignoring help is an all-too-familiar cycle, one many folks will be familiar with well outside of Destiny. Even though it feels like depression and therapy are in the process of being destigmatized, there’s still a lot of work to do before it’s widely accepted. I’ve personally seen the effects of that stigma, close friends that once refused to go to therapy for fear of being “weird.” Too many people still fall into the trap of thinking they don’t need help and can pull through on their own, and sometimes that means throwing themselves headfirst into work. Eris typifies this dangerous cycle, never stopping to take stock of her own well being as she continues to help the player with their mission while the Pyramid ship continues to haunt her.

Ikora’s response to being brushed off is also feels typical of people unequipped with responding to friends with depression. Instead of sticking around and trying to talk to her friend, she sends Vanguard robots to stand watch and protect her at her outpost on the Moon, an area she’s already warded enemies from entering. It all proves to be an unnecessary gesture that misses the forest for the trees. When the forest is a manifestation of Eris’s old fireteam that follows her everywhere, you have to wonder why Ikora thought Robots With Guns would help at all.

Screenshot from Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, Eris Morn offers the player the Memory of Sai Mota quest. It reads:

Screenshot courtesy of the author. The first weekly memory quest.

After the campaign ends, you’re sent on a quest to find an old trinket from one of Eris’ fireteam members. As you fight enemies and explore the Moon, you find pieces of an old necklace that you begin to string back together. Eventually, through completing a series of combat objectives, you’re able to recreate the necklace and bring it back to Eris. She tells you about that fireteam member, how they joined her and what they were like. She works through her grief in front of you, and then, only then, is that phantom finally dispersed. It’s a touching moment in a game made up of mostly combat and people talking in your ear.

There has been a new quest to help Eris each week since the launch of Shadowkeep, each dealing with the memory of a different member of her fireteam.The fact that they’re weekly quests not only works within Destiny’s weekly reset schedule, but also motions towards the fact that facing trauma and grief takes time. There’s no easy and quick way through, it’s an ongoing process.

This is by no means the best depiction of working through grief in games, but for a game who’s verbs are all combat-focused, Shadowkeep has managed to make such moments land with a tenderness and weight you don’t normally expect, especially so from a game whose main player motivation can be “making the numbers go up.”