Feature Article

Even After Eight Years, Destiny 2's Traveler Remains Its Biggest Mystery

Destiny 2: The Witch Queen dives deeper into the Darkness, but the Light has yet to shine.

"The Traveler will leave. The Traveler will fall. The Traveler is not the only one of its kind. The Hive are not the last ones to be chosen by the Traveler." A game of two truths and two lies played at the Altar of Reflection in Savathun's Throne World in Destiny 2 left us these clues about the Traveler, the giant orb-like machine that has been central to Bungie's game series since its very beginning. Eight years into Destiny's story, we're still left with more questions than answers about the Light and its traveling machine.

Destiny 1 established early on that the Traveler is humanity's savior, a universal good, a godly benevolent entity that only gives. When it arrived on Mars hundreds of years before the opening scene of the game, it gave humanity knowledge and hope that spread across the Solar System. Now, it observes in silence, hovering over the Last City, making it difficult to perceive its intentions--and the characters of the Vanguard seem as uninformed as players. We understand the tenacity and ferociousness of the Darkness, the Witness, and the exhaustive history of enemies growing more and more powerful--chasing the Light for eons. There are life-threatening dangers yet to come in the Lightfall expansion based on the final Witch Queen cutscene--yet the Traveler's origins, nature, and motives are unclear.

The Black Fleet and the Witness are positioned as the Traveler's antithesis, which leads to more questions about the Traveler, since we know so much about the enemies' intentions. Are Guardians the Traveler’s Disciples, or does this machine bear any similarities that make it parallel the Black Fleet? Destiny has had years of meticulous stories, from seasons to major expansions, diving into relationships with grief and loss, alien invasions, redemption, and many other themes. Although the Light and Dark are the core of most of these stories, the Traveler itself remains enigmatic.

What we do know of the Traveler is a bit suspect, with a lot of its backstory coming from a lore book told from the perspective of the Darkness, called "Unveiling." That book details what is apparently the creation of Destiny's universe. Predating time and space, the Light (Gardener) and Dark (Winnower) played a little game of tag, with the Gardener cultivating a variety of life and the Winnower culling all but the strongest of that life. Under those rules, the Winnower was destined to win, because whatever seeds the Gardener cultivated were either destroyed or always turned out to be the same ruthless, survival-focused kind of life. Fed up, the Gardener refused to follow this pattern, which then birthed the universe-- well, that’s what players have been told so far.

The Traveler and the Pyramid ships are physical representations of the Light and Dark paracasual forces and still follow their cat-and-mouse game: The Traveler bestows its gifts to civilizations across space, the Witness and its henchmen wipe them out, and the Traveler flees in order to survive--as it did with the Eliksni on their homeworld Riis, leaving them to fend for themselves. However, the Witness has a conflicting perspective. Referencing the Traveler, the Witness said in the final Witch Queen cutscene, "The children of Sol cry out for salvation. You promised them life but deliver only death. As you have for so many before."

The timeline of the Traveler on Earth begins with Savathun. According to the Fundament Ghost shell lore, Savathun visited Earth, possibly in an attempt to lure the Traveler down with a chant to where the Last City stands. During the Collapse caused by the Black Fleet, Savathun deceived the Witness about the Traveler's location to protect it. After the Collapse, the Traveler stood up against the alien danger by creating Ghosts with its husk. Centuries later, the dormant Traveler awakened by shattering its husk to break out of the cage placed by the Red Legion. Before the launch of Destiny 2 Beyond Light, the Traveler healed itself, returning to its spherical, pearly state, and at the start of The Witch Queen expansion, the Traveler started making new moves.

The Witch Queen dove deep into the Darkness lore and gave players bits and pieces of the Traveler's story to assemble themselves. A cutscene tapping into Savathun's memory through Dark artifacts showed how The Witness lied to Savathun to lure her and her siblings to the Dark side.

The Traveler on Fundament shown in a cutscene from Destiny 2: The Witch Queen.
The Traveler on Fundament shown in a cutscene from Destiny 2: The Witch Queen.

There was something in this cutscene that was easy to miss and might provide some context about the Traveler. In the cutscene, the circles on the bottom of the Traveler had a Seed of Life-inspired sacred geometry symbol representing creation. Interestingly in Curse of Osiris, the Concentric Dawn sparrow shared a quote from Ikora, saying, "Study the sacred geometry of light and life." It makes sense for the Traveler to represent creation since it is the Gardener planting its seeds before the Winnower reaps. Ikora's Circles alternate reality game lore book from The Witch Queen shares a passage explaining her theory that the Light represents grace, while the Darkness is memory--essentially saying that grace helps escape the cycle of violence, but memory lets you remember the pain to protect yourself in the future.

In The Hidden Dossier lore, Ikora elaborates that the Traveler chose to give Ghosts to humanity because "the Traveler simply could not bear to abandon one more infant possibility. So it chose an act of unreasonable grace." While speaking to Misraaks, Ikora says that although the Traveler abandoned the Eliksni when the Darkness arrived, they managed to survive and live without any responsibility to the Traveler, but humanity may die in the Solar System because it's trapped in the Traveler's cosmic war zone, fighting to defend it.

She then asks her own questions about the Traveler: "Why then does it choose species to uplift in the first place? Why doom Eliksni or humans to a confrontation with Darkness? Perhaps it will not let the Darkness coerce it into abandoning its purpose. Perhaps it doesn't value longevity the way we do; maybe it values a short, bright existence more than a long, ordinary one. I don't know." Players are equally unsure about the answers to these questions, even after spending many years under the Traveler's Light.

From what we know of Destiny's long history, the Traveler is well-intentioned but ill-fated. Seeing that the Traveler helped create a Golden Age for Earth and the Eliksni--other creations of the Traveler such as the Gift Mast, Leviathan, and the Ahamkara are mentioned in the Books of Sorrow--and only created an army of Light at the eleventh hour, it seems like fighting wasn’t its main intention. The Witness, on the other hand, is a child of the Darkness who seeks the Final Shape--also the name of Destiny 2's Year 7 expansion--where the Black Fleet can drive the universe into nothingness. Players collected symbols from the Vow of the Disciple raid, which revealed a potential prophecy that The Witness wants to commune with the Traveler and drink the Light to kill something--the last image is blank, leaving the Witness's goal up to interpretation.

Bungie laid out warnings of a Dark Future through Exo Stranger's lore and dangers of another Collapse with the oncoming Black Fleet. Yet, the Traveler's exact role in that situation and its overall motivations are still a mystery. Players have spent years protecting the Traveler by killing the Black Heart in Destiny 1, dealing with the Red Legion in Destiny 2, stopping Savathun in The Witch Queen, and now preparing for the Black Fleet's next attack. In The Witch Queen, however, we saw the Traveler choose to give its power to Savathun and the Hive--essentially rewarding our scariest, most genocidal enemies with the same gifts it gave humanity. After the Traveler chose the Hive and didn't retaliate when Savathun took it into her Throne World at the end of the expansion's campaign, it raises questions about the Traveler's intentions, but the game hasn't provided enough information about the Traveler to form solid theories. Everything about the Traveler is quite open-ended. However, it's interesting seeing characters finally sharing their doubt about the Traveler--long revered as a godlike savior of humanity--such as Saladin murmuring at the Tower, "What if the Traveler is not what we thought it was?"

The Traveler has used non-verbal communication in the game, yet information on this machine is still so scarce--so far, it has directly communicated by showing Guardians visions of birds flying towards its Shards in the EDZ or the Light on Io. Still, the Traveler is clandestine and a recurring excuse to fight--a fancy MacGuffin. It healed, awakened, repaired itself, attacked the Darkness slithering into the Solar System, and expanded its Ghost army to include the Hive over the past few years in Destiny 2, but it doesn’t convey much.

Characteristics of the Darkness and Black Fleet are explicitly defined in-game, and players have encountered numerous forms of the Darkness. Curiosity about this pearly machine has sat in players' minds since the beginning of Destiny, even now with Lightfall on the way, the lore and in-game story provide inconclusive theories about the Traveler. Bungie is keeping the next expansion under wraps, although the Lightfall showcase teaser hints that the story will center around the Traveler, and the showcase may clue players in about the plot and the upcoming seasonal stories. Hopefully, Bungie finally means to tell us something about this enigmatic entity--or at the very least, give us a sense of which of Savathun's statements are lies and which are truths. Destiny 2's story could really use it.

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Saniya Ahmed

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