The Witness closeup in Destiny 2
Image via Bungie

Destiny 2: The Witness Explained

Who is The Witness? Learn some of the basics about this enigmatic being, Destiny 2's main antagonist and the architect of our end.

The Witness is the ultimate adversary in Destiny 2, the figure ultimately behind every tragedy and adversary Guardians have ever faced. For many years, we weren’t sure what it was, where it came from or, most importantly, what it wanted. Now we know as much as we’re going to, and all of it terminates in The Final Shape.

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What We Know About The Witness in Destiny 2

To grossly oversimplify, The Witness is the most powerful known Darkness entity in the Destiny franchise. It’s capable of moving planets between realities, killing Guardians and their Ghosts with a wave of its finger, and cutting a dimensional portal into the Traveler itself with the aid of the mysterious Veil.

The Witness commands the vast Black Fleet, an armada of paracausal vessels that’s chased the Traveler and its command of Light for billions of years. It’s primarily responsible for the extinction of uncountable civilizations.

What Is The Witness in Destiny 2?

The Witness looks at Calus in Destiny 2
Image via Bungie

We learned The Witness’s origins at the conclusion of the Season of the Deep storyline, and like most stories involving the war between Light and Dark, it isn’t pretty. The Witness is the collected consciousness of an entire race of beings, collectively known as the Precursors, who merged their minds and bodies into a single unit. They went through with this immense sacrifice because they were the first race in the universe to enjoy the bounty of the Traveler.

The Precursor civilization in Destiny 2
Screenshot by GameSkinny

With its power over reality, the Precursor race spent eons building what is likely the most advanced civilization in history, including their trademark pyramid ships. However, when they tried to impose their will on the Traveler via another cosmic artifact they called The Veil, the Traveler wouldn’t have it and fled into the stars.

Furious at the Traveler and cynical of the Light’s ability to bring paradise and ruin in equal measure, the Precursors merged into The Witness and used the technology their former benefactor made possible to chase it through the cosmos.

What Is The True Form of The Witness? 

The Precursor race in Destiny 2
Screenshot by GameSkinny

Art and concept art of The Witness without its trademark garb shows that it has a fairly stereotypical humanoid alien physique, not unlike the Greys of Earth’s extraterrestrial mythology. What sets it apart is its size.

While not as large as the Traveler, if you compare The Witness’s height against its ancient prey, it must be at least several thousand feet tall — taller if you include the trail of smokey faces emanating from its head. And while we see The Witness in many of the cutscenes from Lightfall and other recent material, it’s unclear if the “robed” humanoid figure it wears is its true form. The Final Wish Raid will doubtlessly showcase the true shape The Witness wears when it isn’t trying to interact with the outside universe.

What Does The Witness Want in Destiny 2?

The Witness faces the Traveler beam in Destiny 2
Image via Bungie

For a long time, The Witness and the Darkness were synonymous. What one wanted, the other did as well. That’s no longer true. Darkness as a power source is neutral, without morality or alignment, and governs the immaterial: thought, memory, and metaphysical equilibrium. All things exist in some way within Darkness, and like Light, some of it lives in everything everywhere.

The Witness, by contrast, has an agenda. When the Precursors that make it up were still enjoying the Traveler’s bounty, they came to see the chaos Light could create, and in the vast power of their empire, also desired a meaning to their existence beyond the prosperity in which they lived. Surely, they seemed to think there was more to reality than the random occurrences that make up living.

And so the Precursors came upon The Veil, the Darkness version of the Traveler, and they tried to combine its power with the Traveler’s to rewrite reality into a “final shape,” where everything had a set meaning and, therefore, purpose. Such an act would, by the admission of the Traveler’s many allies, calcify reality into something unchanging, static, and perfect by The Witness’s estimation. No more change. No more chaos. No more death.

Unveiling: Is the Witness the Winnower? Is the Gardner the Traveler?

The Witness and the planets room in Destiny 2
Screenshot by GameSkinny

Unveiling is the lore book associated with where The Witness explained, in cosmic terms, its conflict with the Traveler. It positions itself and the Traveler as inheritors of proto-forces called The Winnower and The Gardener, respectively. According to the Season of the Deep cutscene, things are a bit more cut and dry.

In short, the Precursosrs called the Traveler the Gardener, as it could alter reality in ways that created new forms of life as easily as you or I can breathe. It was a gardener in the most literal sense, planting seeds and helping them grow, though in this case, the Light sidestepped the traditional laws of physics and biology. The Winnower was the name the Precursors gave The Veil, as it could reduce and simplify the constant change the Traveler was always involved in.

As for Unveiling’s telling of the story, delivered as it is by The Witness themselves, seems to paint the picture of a conflict much grander than a race of spurned aliens and their silent god. In the lore book, the Gardener and Winnower are two personifications that played an intimate game before time began, with the Gardener creating and the Winnower culling. Over time, the Gardener wanted its creations to do more than become fodder for the culling, desiring them to grow and flourish and revel in change instead.

The Winnower, wanting to continue the status quo, objected, and once our reality came into being, this conflict from outside spilled in. While Light and Dark aren’t opposing in principle — one handles the physical, the other the immaterial — the philosophies of their servants, including the Witness, are.

The Traveler has long fled the Witness and its forces, knowing full well that with the aid of the Veil, they could use both cosmic entities to rewrite the universe in their perfect image, a “final shape.” The Witness uses anything and everything available to achieve that aim and goes out of this way to destroy any civilization that has so much as sneezed in the Traveler’s direction.

Our Guardians are thus the foils to the Witness’s Disciples. We are many and are effectively immortal — powerful in our own right but not unstoppable individually. The Disciples are also immortal but work mostly on their own, relying on their servants to deal in the day-to-day but stepping in personally, and individually, to overcome greater challenges.

The other major difference between Guardians and Witness Disciples is the power structure. The Witness can personally oversee whatever its Disciples do, as we saw with Calus in the Lightfall campaign. The Traveler has been silent for as long as humans have known it, and thus, it has allowed us to form our own hierarchies that rely on our collective strength rather than fealty to a single, defining leader.

There are dozens of smaller details about The Witness, from its seeming fascination with Guardians to its apparent pity for the Traveler, as shown at the end of Lightfall. Its ability to communicate via cracks in space is also interesting, as is its association with sharp angles and straight lines, as opposed to the Traveller’s rounded edges and softness.

In short, that’s The Witness explained. Like a lot in Destiny 2, there’s much more to discuss, but hopefully, we’ve presented enough to get you started learning about The Witness.


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Author
John Schutt
John Schutt has been playing games for almost 25 years, starting with Super Mario 64 and progressing to every genre under the sun. He spent almost 4 years writing for strategy and satire site TopTierTactics under the moniker Xiant, and somehow managed to find time to get an MFA in Creative Writing in between all the gaming. His specialty is action games, but his first love will always be the RPG. Oh, and his avatar is, was, and will always be a squirrel, a trend he's carried as long as he's had a Steam account, and for some time before that.