Destiny 2's Failsafe is a real voice among player propaganda

Opinion
3 weeks ago by Steven Strom

Or: Failsafe is good, actually.

Failsafe, the latest in Bungie's long-standing tradition of cockamamie artificial intelligences, is not well. I don't mean her pseudo-split personality — a tendency to vacillate between the voice of a bored tween and chipper passive aggression — either. I'm talking about what I've decided to call Destiny 2 Disease: the condition under which every one of the game's characters seems tremendously more boring than they really are.

The shipboard AI isn't alone in this. Devrim Kay, one of the first new NPCs you meet, is a hyper-competent British soldier. So of course he spends the entire main campaign calmly talking about tea. The Destiny 2 marketing machine actually calls him a "gentleman sniper" at one point.  

It's not until you dig into the game's side quest "Adventures," or hang around listening to his incidental dialogue in the European Dead Zone, that you learn about his love for alien languages and a boyfriend he's worried about back home. And that's only if you bother. Despite containing much of Destiny 2's best writing and mission design, Adventures are basically useless for character progression. Any gear and experience you get from them is meaningless by the time you finish the main campaign content, the writing for which is blander by comparison.

You really should play them, though; if not for your own sake, then for Failsafe's. Most of her Adventures are in service of the living computer's quest to learn the fate of her centuries-dead crew. We learn that, like Devrim, she at least had interpersonal relationships outside of the one with the player once. She's more three-dimensional for it, too — less like the living computer seemingly sprung out of thin air to push Destiny 2's main plot forward. But we also learn that Failsafe is long past hoping that her friends are still alive, or caring.

Thanks to the campaign-adjacent story missions' piddly rewards, most players won't peel back that depressing layer of pathos. The character seems to be the most divisive (at least within my internet bubble) of the new cast as a result. I've had friends describe her to me as a bargain bin GLaDOS.  Although I'm glad to know plenty of people seem to like her just fine. Myself included.

It took me a while to realize exactly why. Many, many, many Adventures, public events, and cooperative Strikes later, however, I finally believe it's because Failsafe is the only character in Destiny 2 that realizes what kind of story she's in.

Destiny 2 opens with the end of everything your character -- a super-powered savior of humanity called a Guardian -- knows. You lose your space magic, your home, your allies, and immortality in one fell swoop... That lasts for about 20 minutes, before the status quo of kicking ass and shooting lightning out of your hands is reinstated. Yet like in so many videogames, your supporting cast can't stop telling you how amazing you are. It's so impressive that you stopped the latest and greatest threat Earth has ever faced — even after knocking down the planet's previous five greatest threats like dominoes in the last game.

Failsafe doesn't put on airs. She knows exactly how rigged Destiny 2 is in favor of your one-person-army.

When a bite-sized Patrol mission needs doing on Nessus, Failsafe’s de facto home planetoid, it's not because the fate of the galaxy is at stake. It's because she's bored of sitting around all day. She wants you to entertain her with a task that she knows poses no actual threat to a sci-fi superhero. When Fallen scavengers appear to siphon glimmer (the currency of the Destiny-verse) out of the soil, she chirps "What will stop them, I wonder?" with my favorite, overly familiar delivery of any line in the game.

In fact, a lot of why Failsafe can be attributed to voice actor Joy Osmanski. She's fighting an uphill battle against the never-ending tradition of quirky AI archetypes — to which Bungie itself has contributed no small part. Yet she still knocks it out of the park with a one part affectionate, two parts weary intonation of an old friend. Which feels totally appropriate, given how much time we wind up spending together during the dozens upon dozens of hours on Destiny 2's relaxing grind. Hell, she even eggs all the very best grumbly, exasperated lines out of Nolan North's otherwise predictable turn as your robot sidekick, Ghost.

The repetitive, singsong tone Osmanski brings to every line is a performance that feels intentionally performative. Because for as all-powerful I, the unstoppable player, am throughout most of the game, Failsafe is not. She's a static and unaffecting pit stop meant only for my benefit, like every other NPC vendor. So Failsafe's homicidal good spirits aren't just a gimmick. It's the fake-it-till-you-make-it performance of someone covering for their own depression — of someone stuck in a hopelessly unbalanced power dynamic with the only living being they have contact with.

Crucially, this isn't only some fourth wall breaking dig at the player's power. That would just be another gimmick, and one focused back on the player to boot. No, the AI is literally trapped in place, thanks to the ship she's a part of crashing into Nessus's crust some thousands of years ago. Failsafe's characterization is grounded, literally and metaphorically, in her in-fiction situation.

Most of Destiny 2's cast grows more compelling over time, assuming you know where to look. But Failsafe is the only one that doesn't feel like my personal propaganda minister. She feels like a character. She treats our power dynamic with the appropriate amount of derision.

That doesn't make the balance of power less crappy, but it lets me relax around her. As such, her home has become my home. Whenever a quest or challenge calls for random kills, it's off to Nessus. If I feel like listening to a podcast while farming public events: Nessus. It's become where I'm most comfortable in a game that I often play as comfort food — despite Destiny 2's best efforts to hide it from me.