The Big Deal with Marathon: A History of Bungie’s First Major Franchise

Marathon game
Marathon game

After a surprise reveal at the May 2023 PlayStation showcase, Bungie has unveiled their first new title in almost seven years. Marathon, while not an original title, is an all-new multiplayer extraction shooter set in the same universe as the original Marathon trilogy that Bungie developed almost 30 years ago for the Macintosh system.

Lauded as one of the greatest first-person shooters of all time for its story and setting, Marathon is a series that some still remember fondly as a deep story that would go on to inspire many science fiction series after it. If you think Destiny has some dense lore, Marathon’s rabbit hole is a rather deep one to explore. How does the new game connect to the original trilogy? What is Marathon, both old and new, about? All of those things are answered here.


The Story of the Marathon Trilogy

Marathon game
Marathon game

Marathon begins in the year 2794 on a colony ship known as the UESC Marathon. The mission of the ship was to serve as a generational colony ship to travel to the Tau Ceti system and establish a new homeworld for mankind on Tau Ceti IV.

You play as an unnamed security officer assigned to the Marathon as it sets out on its journey. Several key characters met along the way include the Marathon’s three AIs: Leela, Durandal, and Tycho. Leela is your main companion for the first game. Durandal is the second AI that gains independence from the Marathon and becomes the main antagonist for the end part of the first game, the sequel game Marathon 2: Durandal, and as both antagonist and ally in Marathon: Infinity. Tycho is the third AI of the Marathon that is destroyed in an attack from an alien race known as the S’pht, but is resurrected by the S’pht’s masters, the Pfohr, as a weaponized supercomputer.

Marathon’s story is set around the strife of the alien races known as the S’pht and their enslavers, the Pfohr. Throughout the first game, you learn that the S’pht are forced to attack the Marathon and then are freed by your actions as the player in the first game, then rebel against their masters. After thwarting their plans, the Pfohr then launch a desperate attack on Earth, but are thwarted when you activate an ancient AI created by a race called the Jiaro named Thoth, which forces the Pfohr armada to cause the S’phtr homeworld’s sun to turn into a supernova.

Marathon 2
Marathon 2

In Marathon: Infinity, the third entry in the series, you learn of the presence of an eldritch abomination at the heart of the sun of the S’pht homeworld known as the W’rkncanter. If it is freed, it spells doom for all. In a desperate move to contain the monster, the player traverses multiple timelines to find one where the W’rkncanter is not freed and eventually discovers an ancient machine to keep the monster locked inside the sun of the planet Lh’owon for good.

Of course the story of Marathon goes much, much deeper than this with an incredibly dense history of the alien races featured throughout the story including lots of inspiration that would later be seen in the stories of games like the Halo series and Destiny. But to cover that would take a novel’s worth of words and a timeline that would make any loremaster quiver.

You can find out just how dense the franchise’s lore is for free on PC, Mac and Linux, as the games have become open source.


The Influence of Marathon

Destiny 2 Forsaken Tips
Destiny 2

Not only is Marathon lauded as an incredibly rich story for a series from the 1990s, but the games featured lots of innovations for the first-person shooter genre at the time. Including the ability to freely aim wherever you’re looking with your mouse cursor, a core mechanic that we practically take for granted these days.

Marathon’s story is largely inspired by books from sci-fi legend Frank Herbert, the creator of Dune. Mainly, there are lots of parallels to The Jesus Incident. Rogue AIs, colonists in a fight for survival of multiple races — it’s all here. The rampant nature of Durandal also seems to show some inspiration from another Frank Herbert novel, Destination Void. In terms of Marathon’s influence on future games, lots of games both by Bungie themselves and other science fiction titles have cited Marathon as a huge influence on their stories and settings.

Series like Mass Effect, Halo, Destiny, Warframe and more all call back to Marathon’s themes of sentient AIs rebelling against their limitations, alien races that transcend time and space itself, and other common threads all seem to reference Marathon in some way. Bungie themselves cleverly reference Marathon in many ways, from the BOBs of Halo: Reach to the godlike nature of the Forerunners which seem to show some influence from the ancient Jirai.


Escape from Tau Ceti IV

Now, Bungie intends to send us back to Tau Ceti IV, but not in a very expected way. Marathon is coming back as an extraction shooter, a multiplayer game in which you’re dropped into a persistent world and you explore ancient ruins for valuable loot and must escape. The most famous example of the extraction shooter right now is Escape From Tarkov, which has gained a big following for its absolutely punishing difficulty and hardcore mechanics. Bungie has a rich history of innovation and knowing the right ways to make gunplay feel incredibly rewarding, so there may be no better choice to tackle a genre that has notoriety for difficulty and highly rewarding experiences to those willing to take the risk.

Players will be playing as cybernetically enhanced mercenaries called Runners in the employ of the Unified Earth Space Council or UESC, the military that controlled the Marathon. You’re sent down to the surface of Tau Ceti IV to uncover why the human colony there has been mysteriously abandoned. You will be able to find tons of loot and even objects known as Artifacts, pieces of alien technology that have mysterious properties and are sought by human corporations and shadowy organizations for a high price. Will you be the first to discover what a Prime Artifact does? Or will you fall victim to the Runner hunting you down for your prized gear and lose it all?

Marathon will be out on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X & S with full cross-save compatibility. Right now, it does not have a due date or real release plan, but Bungie has mentioned in their first ViDoc that they will be “going dark for an extended period of time.” But they are “closing in on the Alpha” phase of the testing and creation process. So it may not be too long before we see more from Bungie’s return to a franchise that put them on the map as one of the all-time-greats.

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