Destiny is the Manchester City of video games: no one can talk about it without at some stage mentioning all the money that’s been thrown at its development over the past few years. That’s not about to change now or any time soon, because it’s interesting to examine how it’s been spent.
It’s fair to say that a reasonable portion will have been reserved for its cast, because Bungie has forked out for the services of several big-name actors - not that you’d necessarily notice, because most of them have a handful of lines (if that). But if you’re a regular visitor to The Tower, you’ll no doubt have heard some familiar voices, even if you haven’t been able to place them all. From cult TV favourites to celebrated character actors, it’s an impressive array of talent.
And yet it’s mostly been squandered. Peter Dinklage as your floating AI assistant Ghost has attracted the most criticism, but Bill Nighy as The Speaker is arguably as bad. Claudia Black barely features as Tess Everis (that I’ve played Destiny for well over 60 hours and had to double-check who that was says a lot), while Peter Stormare hams it up terribly as Dead Orbit representative Arach Jalaal. I’ve taken to mentally adding “Dexter” to the end of every line James Remar utters as Executor Hideo, while The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan as the Exo Stranger is okay, though she’s given precious little to work with. Only Nathan Fillion (who at times sounds weirdly like he’s essaying Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy) as Hunter Vanguard Cayde-6 makes any kind of impact. A few amusing ad-libs make him stand out next to Gina Torres’ haughty, aloof Warlock equivalent, and Lance Reddick’s charisma-free Commander Zavala.
There is one actor, though, who I think makes the most of his limited role, and that’s Lennie James as Lord Shaxx, the Crucible Handler – and, of course, its announcer. Admittedly, at first I found his presence slightly distracting, only because he sounds completely unlike any other multiplayer announcer I’ve ever heard before. He’s definitely an acquired taste, and so I’m not surprised to see threads on Reddit and Bungie’s forums calling for him to be replaced.
But for me, he’s the one person in Destiny who sounds like a human being – even if that human being is a competitive dad attending a school sports day. “You’re falling behind!” he sighs disappointedly at his surrogate offspring, with an audible note of frustration (and, perhaps, a tacit addendum: “you dolt”). When he says “you’re in the lead!” he sounds proud but cautious, wanting to encourage you yet keen that you know he’s not about to accept you resting on your laurels.
Shaxx himself. What a guy.
There’s an underlying passive-aggressiveness to most of his lines that can be faintly comical. At times, his combative streak gets the better of him, suggesting he’s struggling to contain his rage; inside is a bubbling cauldron of anger that’s he’s only just able to keep a lid on. “Enemy captured Zone A,” he fumes. “Enemy captured Zone B,” he seethes. “They’ve got them all, Guardians,” he huffs, and you can almost hear him shaking his head. “Fucking pathetic,” he mouths silently.
Because he’s such a hard man to please, it’s all the more satisfying when you do triumph and he actually sounds almost…happy? Even then, he’s not quite content, his laugh forced through gritted teeth as he lords it over the opposition. But the sense of achievement of capturing all three zones in Control is only heightened by his proud cry of “Total control!” followed by a “well done” where he sounds pleasantly surprised that you managed it.
Shaxx adds a dose of personality to a game that too often lacks it, and often feels a little too dry and self-serious. Whether you love or hate him, at least he provokes some kind of reaction. It’s a shame Destiny doesn’t have more characters like that.