I Dance on Grimoire's Grave
If you follow My Name is Byf, Sir Wallen or Myelin Games, you’re familiar with one of the best elements of the Destiny community. While the game lacked a tangible story, these individuals scoured the game’s grimoire cards, piecing together characters, events and—in routinely astounding fashion—a whole universe. In fact, I’ll shamelessly say it. If not for Destiny’s Loremasters (as the r/DestinytheGame community dubs them), I would have no investment in Destiny’s story whatsoever. I truly hate Destiny’s story so much that their ability to retell it remains a profoundly impressive art form.
As a fan of this redeeming genre of Destiny content, I was thus, duly, concerned upon learning that Destiny 2 will not include Grimoire Cards. After long thought, though, I still struggled to answer this question:
Is Grimoire necessary for Destiny to have deep lore? Was it ever necessary at all? Beyond the obvious issues, is there any merit to Grimoire—as a format?
As convenient as it is that story exists in written format, people need to understand that its sheer disconnect from the actual game itself turned Grimoire into barbed wire that choked the game to death. I played Destiny because I thought the story looked fantastic, before being promptly disappointing. The Lore community—through sheer reading comprehension and thinking skills—somehow fashioned a pile of shit into a masterpiece. It really is truly incredible. What’s happening now is that people are mistaking actual shit for the actual masterpiece itself.
What Bungie is doing is flexing their storytelling and lorebuilding muscles towards a more worthwhile end: a world you’ll actually want to explore. Those are Luke Smith’s words. And in case you doubt the guy, 3/4ths of the Destiny lore worth a damn—came from The Taken King, helmed by Smith. The dude clearly knows what he’s talking about. So when he says “We’re going to put the lore in the actual game,” not only does common sense back this up as “quite an excellent idea,” but the logical centers in my brain reply, “Wow, that’s quite an excellent idea.”
Guys, at the end of the day, Byf and Co aren’t great Lore Masters because they know how to read—and believe me, readability is the only imaginable benefit grimoire ever had. They’re great Lore Masters because they play the game. A lot. And they have the knowledge, writing talent and analytical skills to piece them all together. Not only is Destiny 2 making this easier for them, it’s giving them more to work with, while making it accessible to all of us.
While I understand the leeriness that Byf and Myelin are facing this news with, they’re criticizing it through both an incorrect and unfair lens. Their main points seemed to be focus on two points.
It Precludes Deep Lore
It Make Lore Hard to Access
But I have three responses to both these arguments.
Foremost, a lack of Grimoire only affects format density, not the actual depth of the lore. These are not the same thing. While Byf is a master at interpreting dense writing, he’s confusing blocks of paragraphs as necessary for delivering deep history. His expertise in this interpretation has seemingly narrowed his vision. This would not be the first time. Upon the release of Rise of Iron, he repeatedly and incorrectly referred to the Raid as “Wroth of the Machine,” rather than “Wrath of the Machine.”
His explanation was that he was “British” and “British English” dictated this usage. Subjectively, this is still an error of formality: proper nouns retain regional colloquial across nearly all modern style guides. Objectively, though, it remains a supreme misuse of British grammar, regardless, as “Wroth” is an adjective, not a noun. “Wrath” in “Wrath of the Machine,” is both an object and a noun, making it the proper word across English and American dialect.
My point: Dialectic errors are common across fields with narrow focus. Had “Wroth” been correct, and the raid titled, “The Wroth Machine,” I have no doubt Americans would insist on incorrectly naming it “The Wrath Machine.” In fact, the great G.R.R Martin himself has repeatedly made the same mistake in his own books—much to the chagrin of English majors, internationally. If anything, Destiny’s preference for dense language hinders interpretation. Already esoteric language is confused by lore-curious Guardians who waste countless paragraphs rendering opinions on interpretation of verbiage, rather than actual content.
Deep Lore can absolutely be communicated without dense language. The first Alien film presented visual storytelling within a small location—that prompted an entire prequel trilogy. Lore done correctly looks like a space jockey in a mysterious engineered structure. Lore done incorrectly looks like Guy Pearce monologuing a Ted Talk to a CGI audience. I love Prometheus, but a huge swathe of its lore is derived from over an hour of YouTube clips that Ridely Scott couldn’t fit into the movie. Destiny makes the same mistake through Grimoire, a tool that both Alien and Bungie’s own Halo have proved it unnecessary. I love the deep lore of The Book of Sorrows, but its dense language remains a flawed vehicle.
Second, I’ll skim past the obvious answer of “visual storytelling,” to what really concerns us: the Codex. There is almost certainly a Codex, per Noseworthy’s comments to Erik Kain re: “scannables.” In my previous argument, I claimed that Grimoire is inherently flawed because of its external context and text format. So why is a Codex superior? It’s both external (located in a Menu) and text—not much different than Grimoire.
The key is context.
I made a note in the previous paragraph of how I skimmed past “visual storytelling.” Bungie excelled at this, even in vanilla Destiny. What makes it such an adept tool at communicating lore concisely is context. Context is what gives a Codex based on scannables a tremendous advantage over Grimoire. The actual format of the Codex could be similar to Grimoire and it would retain that advantage. The benefit isn’t the format itself.
Unlocking lore about the Cabal by scanning a Cabal helmet crushed under a jarred blast door as you survey a silent battleground scattered with depressurized Cabal spacesuits…is far more meaningful than…unlocking that same data via the killing of 200 Cabal Legionaries.
“Chelchis, Kell of Stone, cried out to The Traveler, moments before being silenced forever by Oryx,” we discover (roughly paraphrased). Reading that from the fragments of a shattered spear or a shredded cloak—lost to time in a deep crevice of The Dreadnaught’s bowels—means something. It certainly means far more that I interpreted, reading it on an orange card on bungie dot net in Google Chrome running on Windows 10 for my Surface Pro 4.
Which brings me to the final point, the one that concerns players, not YouTubers: Accessibility.
For all its flaws, some say, Grimoire text was available to everyone. I’m not going to reinterpret this, or tell you why something else is preferable, because this just isn’t true. Grimoire absolutely is not and never has been accessible to players. All the best grimoire is locked behind fragments, shards and ridiculous, arbitrary kill counts and activity achievements. I’ve played over 1,000 hours of Destiny and I haven’t unlocked everything. I highly doubt I ever will. Grimoire was never designed to be accessible. The reason we can all read Grimoire is because someone else unlocked it, and put it on Ishtar Collective.
Grimoire that can be unlocked by clearly stated objectives and explorations of locations is far more accessible. We all have access to the same open world. We all can find everything hidden within it. And there is absolutely no reason we can’t put that stuff on the internet.
In conclusion, Destiny 2’s exclusion of Grimoire raises unique fears, and defense of an older system. None of us know the future of the game, or how effective Bungie will prove at delivering a new generation of storytelling. But what I do know is that Grimoire was an ineffective story tool. Its defenders are mistaking skilled use for a flawed tool as proof of the tool’s soundness. Grimoire’s exact flaws were its unwieldy format and incompatibility with Destiny’s strong visual storytelling. Of what we know of Destiny 2’s eventual solution, it’s far better than what we have now. I’d recommend players enjoy Grimoire while they can, while preparing move on and never look back.