The Paradox at the Center of Destiny
and the Guardian trapped in it.
By nearly all measures, the Taken King remains the pinnacle of the Destiny experience. At the core of that experience is the sheer focus of its epic story and volume of lore left in its wake. But while the story sets the Hive and the Taken as the central antagonists, it had fascinating stories to tell about The Fallen and The Cabal.
I've long believed that Destiny's best stories have been told when characters, factions and races are forced to adjust to the world. Unlike the Vex and the Hive who have powers that exceed the laws of physics and can seemingly bend reality to their wills, the Fallen and Cabal, like us, are bound to their reaction to this hectic universe.
The Fallen are constantly regrouping into new Houses, developing new technology and rallying behind new leaders. The Cabal are caught between the Taken and Humanity, while battling the Vex on Mars. We get to see them respond, so they're more relatable. We see the world from similar angles.
The Vex, though, do not. They're seemingly invulnerable. They're a race of sentient liquid that have insurmountable intelligence, with minds the size of planets. Add the ability to hop through time, and fighting them can seem like an idle task.
But they are vulnerable. One of Destiny's best missions comes in the mission Paradox. I'd encourage players to replay it ahead of Destiny 2.
Within the Vault of Glass, the Vex are more powerful than they are outside. They can reshape reality as they please, even erasing events, places, even people from time. Through Atheon, Time's Conflux, they can navigate any infinite number of potential timelines, pick the ones they find preferable, and sew it into a reality that suits their goals. In entering the Vault, we grant them unfathomable power over us.
So the Paradox mission is a baffling surprise. The Vanguard send you to discover the source of a Vanguard transmission--coming from the Vault of Glass. You spawn just outside the Vault…with no resistance. Vex units stand, sputtering, electrocuted and aimlessly firing the guns into the ground.
Move to the gate itself, and you're greeted by a guard of fully-functional Vex waiting for you. They don't attack. They see you, move aside, and reform--almost in salute. Then they open the Vault for you.
I was dumbfounded the first time I played this. There was no sense to this.
Journey into the Vault and you discover something urgent and intriguing: The Vex have been infected by The Taken. They risk losing their Vex minds to The Taken, reflected by the immobilized units outside and scattered within. You, the Guardian, haven't merely entered the Vault of Glass: you've entered a version of reality where The Vex serve Oryx.
In an earlier part of the game, someone comments on the reason The Vex serve The Darkness. They aren't some AI gone amok, nor is The Darkness the rational conclusion of their plans. They confronted The Darkness and the logical, the only rational, reaction was worship.
Infinitely complex minds, with the ability to exist across past, present and future, encountered The Darkness. Their logic didn't fail. Their logic saw the inscrutable will of The Darkness and determined that following its will, rather than their own, was the proper response. The Vex Minds adjusted their goals and redirected the Vex units to serve The Darkness.
This is not the case in the reality of the Paradox mission.
In Paradox, the Vex left masterless. Their goals, wills and infinite knowledge have been purged from their memories. All they're left with are the orders to serve a dead king--Oryx. Oryx, of course, defeats the Guardians, and The Cabal, and The Fallen as soon as he seizes control of the Vex. But he quickly succumbs to his worm. In our timeline, we kill him before this process is complete.
And with Oryx dead, the Vex are abandoned--unable to find new purpose. For machines whose wills are bent towards relentless, monstrous, inconceivable focus…it's almost contra-passo to watch them stutter and quiver in their dreamless coma--one that will never end.
What's remarkable isn't that the Vex call us to their aid: it's the call itself.
The Vanguard receive a transmission from within the Vault of Glass, one laced with Vanguard signatures. You, the Guardian, are sent to investigate. Once within the Vault, the signal becomes clearer and Ikora Rey recognizes the voice: Praedyth.
Praedyth was a member of one of the most infamous fireteams in Vanguard history. Led by Kabr, the Legionless, it attempted to breach to Vault of Glass, only to succumb to the Templar. The entire fireteam was trapped and gradually split across time before being erased from existence itself. The fireteam's lone Hunter, Pahanin, escaped only to be killed by Dredgen Yor.
Here's the sum of Praedyth's message, collected in pieces across the Vault.
"The creatures will soon reach the heart of the vault. When they do…[static]…will destroy the Vex and once they take the Vex, they’ll come for the Light. I have no idea where I am. My name is Praedyth, and I was a member of Kabr’s Fireteam. I just hope someone can hear this. I don’t know why now they're letting me speak. Now, after so long. But if anyone is listening. I came into the vault with two others. Kabr was intense sometimes. And Pahanin was always talking to himself…[static]…but they don’t deserve this. No one does. I think that’s it. They’re closing the door. I lived! Just remember, tell them I lived!"
So the call itself is a manipulation of time. Praedyth is trapped in the Vault, shifting between timelines. But he's experienced our timeline--just further down the line. The Vex can typically just select the timeline where that doesn't happen…but with the Taken controlling the Vex themselves, they can't do that. Their only hope is to prevent the Taken from taking hold in the first place.
Thus, they turn to Praedyth--a Guardian who they've trapped in the same timeline as their own destruction. He's witnessed the Taken invasion. Further, he's observed and recorded the Vex's operations in reaction to it. You find these observations in dead Ghosts scattered across the Vault of Glass. Follow the alternate mission path and discover these Ghosts and you'll be recorded with these observations woven into the mission:
"So the Vex have predicted their own annihilation. When did they believe this would happen? Can the calculations of minds the size of planets be wrong?"
"I had a friend back at the Tower. She used to say, "Praedyth, there's always room in the mind for hope. It's the crack that lets the Light in. The Vex have no hope. No imagination, no drive, no fear. All they have is the pattern. Everything must fit. If it can be made to fit, good. If it can't, it gets cut away."
"They think this is the end of them, a path with no escape. And yet, here they are, there they were, and there they will be, and there they will have been. For them, there is no paradox. There is only the pattern. And the pattern needs the Vex to see it to completion. And so the Vex must be. For the mind of Vex, is that faith?"
Were you to follow the regular mission, you would end with a morbid discovery: Praedyth's corpse. Mounted within a side-chamber, only his bones are left. This is what is left of him. Except it's not.
What we know of Vex's mastery of time tells us two things: The Vex can pick and choose timelines, and within the Vault, can merge elements of timelines they prefer. Here's what else we know: in our timeline, Praedyth survives long enough to witness the Taken invade.
Praedyth cannot have been dead for the decades it took for his body to completely decompose. After piecing all we know about The Vault of Glass and the Paradox mission, it's most likely that the Vex pulled Praedyth's corpse out of an alternate timeline where he died. In his message, Praedyth himself acknowledges that The Vex have no intention or rewarding or sparing humanity in exchange. The Vex are showing us exactly what they want us to.
Praedyth's message is bait to draw us in, and his corpse is a message to never come back.
Within the Vault of Glass, the lost Guardian is shuffled between timelines as the Vault of Glass moves between them. But this brings up another question.
I've just claimed that the bones are from a separate timeline while claiming that Praedyth is definitely from our timeline. The Vex could just as easily done the opposite, luring us in with another timeline's Praedyth when he was dead all along.
Why is our timeline unique? Why does Praedyth have to be alive in our timeline? It's the same reason the Vex invited us in the first place:
Without Crota's death, none of this is possible. Let's get something straight: within the world of Destiny, the only thing that makes this particular timeline special is that this is the timeline where you--the player--are a factor. Destiny is a game where the world naturally exists and falls to darkness without our direct intervention. In the story, every chance is seized to remind the player that we are the only force pushing us towards our Destiny.
Without Crota's death, Oryx doesn't invade our Solar System. Without Oryx's invasion, the Vault of Glass is never seized by the Taken. Without our intervention, none of this happens.
There is only one timeline where you--the player character--are determining the events of this universe. And it's in the power of the player that the Vex place their hope. They recognize that your decisions have destroyed them across time. And that only your power can save them.
So this is where the story of Destiny really shines. In this Paradox mission, it communicates the point of the game in a way it struggled before.
Destiny is a story of a universe plunged into chaos and darkness. Monsters of unspeakable shape and horror cling to the edges of our periphery. We can barely comprehend the corner of the Solar System we inhabit without descending into madness. The Vex machines travel through time, barely taking notice of our brief existence.
Until you. The Guardian, your character, is a disruption in all these plans. You are the exception, and you've made this the exceptional timeline. Gods, monsters, specters and machines all turn their heads and examine your threat. You can challenge this world and win. All you need to start, is understand it.