As we inch closer to the conclusion of Destiny 2’s light and darkness saga, Season of the Wish also built up to its own climax. While content is usually pretty front-loaded in Destiny 2 seasons, Wish’s extended length and lead-in to The Final Shape means there’s still quite a bit to look forward to over the coming months. Between Riven’s Wishes and Into The Light, there’s going to be no shortage of things to do before we confront The Witness in The Pale Heart.
While there’s an air of uncertainty around the game due to current events, there’s no denying that Season of the Wish has largely delivered on its promises. An enticing story setup surrounding the nebulous 15th Wish, an excellent dungeon in the form of Warlord’s Ruin, and some of the best seasonal activities we’ve seen yet have made for a strong start for one of Destiny’s most pivotal seasons yet. We got to sit down with Bungie to talk all about the return of Riven, the 15th Wish, The Coil, and much more.
The Return of Riven, Bringing the Ahamkara back into Focus, and the Dreaming City’s Curse
In all the explorations we’ve had of deep Destiny lore in recent years, the Ahamkara have remained a mysterious blind spot for some time. Space dragons with the ability to grant wishes seems like an instant win in a sci-fi setting like Destiny’s, but we’ve received scant few details in the years since Riven’s slaying. Narrative lead Jonathan To discussed the process of fleshing out the Ahamkara and bringing them back into the limelight for Season 23; “We work from a player experience first perspective, even when it comes to narrative. Once a character leaves the infinite possibility space of prose lore, you have to start collaborating hard with design, art, and engineering to present lore characters in a way that fits into the player fantasy of any given release.”
“The Wishing Wall works as a kind of gameplay conceit for the player to interact with Riven by shooting symbols to form a code. Cheat codes can be seen as a gaming metaphor for wishing for what you want. Games always have constraints in how to present things, but hopefully the Destiny team has done a good job of representing the theoretical space that Destiny’s lore occupies in a fun way.”
Senior narrative designer Nikko Stevens expanded on these ideas in regards to Riven specifically; “When we were looking at the Ahamkara and specifically Riven, we knew that she’s at the end of the storyline for the Ahamkara in the present moment. From her perspective, they’re extinct and she’s dead at this point – her species is gone. This is a definitive end, but we looked at it from the perspective of what if this allows for the seeding of new stories and story threads?”
“That’s represented by the Ahamkara eggs that we’re rescuing every week, there’s this new generation of Ahamkara that’ve been let loose into the world. I think that’s also representative of one of the ways we try and tell narratives at Bungie, which is having smaller character-focused stories like with Riven, while interweaving greater plot points and the more open-ended aspect of Destiny’s universe through things like the eggs themselves and their potential in future narrative beats.”
Johnathan doubled down on the aspect of sowing seeds for future stories and narratives surrounding the Ahamkara, teasing that the wish dragons may be needed to break the curse on the Dreaming City that’s been plaguing it for all of these years; “There’s characters like Petra and Crow who still care a lot about the Corsairs that are stuck in the Dreaming City. One day, they might need something as powerful as an Ahamkara to help them. Right now, there’s still no solution for breaking the curse.”
Coming Full Circle on the Ever-Elusive 15th Wish
The 15th Wish is perhaps one of the most discussed aspects of Destiny lore since the Wishing Wall was introduced in Forsaken when it launched in 2018. The community is constantly on the hunt for secrets and easter eggs, and the 15th Wish was one thing that players always kept their eyes peeled for. It’s a fittingly full circle moment to have it be the core focus of Season of the Wish alongside the return of Riven and the Ahamkara.
When asked whether or not the team had this planned all along, Nikko elaborated on how the narrative got to where it is now; “There was a moment way before Season 23 that we realized we could loop back into the 15th Wish. It’s something that we’ve been talking about for a long time, and is one of those things that’s on the backburner with ideas around it. We were just waiting for the best opportunity to bring that forward.”
Jonathan also commented on how the difficulties of live development can limit the possibilities of storytelling; “That’s one of the challenges of live development – you don’t always get to do everything you want to right away. It takes a lot of collaboration. You need the right timing, the right release to have the right mood for an idea that you’ve had cooking for a long time.”
Brian Frank, design lead for the raids and dungeons team talks about how revisiting the 15th Wish has high stakes due to its notoriety and interest within the community; “There was a lot of caution there about what it would mean to revisit the 15th Wish and how high the stakes were to pay that off for players. I love how it came together, and it was something that was given life by the community in a lot of ways. Sort of like how we had the loot cave lead into Grasp of Avarice. It allows us to bring things back into the story of Destiny in a way that is really satisfying for the community, to have them feel like they’re a part of it.”
Building a Medieval Dungeon in Warlord’s Ruin
If there’s one thing that Destiny 2’s raids and dungeons always deliver on, it’s the fantasy. Intricate environments, eye-popping skyboxes, and impeccable art direction always coalesce into visually unique and thematic endgame experiences that feel unique from one another. Warlord’s Ruin is a particular highlight in the way it explores a location in Destiny lore we rarely get to see. Looming medieval castles caked in frigid frost are environments we’ve only ever seen with the Iron Lords, so it’s been a joy to revisit a less hospitable version of these locales in Warlord’s Ruin.
When asked about what goes into creating a setting as unique as this within the context of Destiny’s world, Brian spoke to how something like Warlord’s Ruin finds its place in the game; “We’re always trying to play off of the seasonal themes, but we also want to have a novel experience – we’re looking for differentiation as well. Destiny is such an amazing opportunity for this, because the breadth of possibilities that it offers allows us to explore variations on themes from sci-fi to fantasy to mystery.”
“We’re intentionally looking for ways to blend genre archetypes because I think that’s where we get things that feel novel, things that people haven’t encountered before or encountered recently. For Warlord’s Ruin, we wanted to take an extreme dark fantasy tilt and try to make the setting feel really grounded and very physical. Where necessary we can use magic and inscrutable fiction as the premise for the encounter mechanics and so on.”
Senior environment artist Ryan Baker echoed similar points; “Right from early preproduction, the team became really aligned on wanting to take the dark fantasy aesthetic further. We brainstormed a lot of amazing ideas, and part of the art direction process was taking those ideas and focusing into clear themes. We could communicate the main themes of exploration on a large scale to the player. You’re climbing this mountain, sieging a castle, and finding secrets.”
Test engineer on the raids and dungeons team Amanda Baker also chimed in on the topic and how it influences encounter design; “Learning how to communicate gameplay mechanics to the player but also fitting it within the theme of the dungeon where the narrative comes into play is tricky. The blizzard in the second encounter was lifted out of Europa, but we had to think about how we make it all match the theme and art direction of the dungeon. We could’ve used anything for the warmth, but we chose these torches that match the Scorn theme and still capture the fantasy we’re aiming for in the dungeon.”
Evolving Seasonal Activities through The Coil
While the seasonal model has undoubtedly become tired over the years, recent seasonal activities have been experimenting with new gameplay frameworks and ideas that are entirely new to Destiny’s gameplay loop. Lightfall’s seasons in particular, have flirted with rogue-like design elements that grow player power in runs and encourage mastery for maximum rewards. It’s all coalesced into one of Destiny 2’s best seasonal activities in The Coil, which will be sorely missed when it’s vaulted as The Final Shape launches in June.
When asked about how The Coil was conceived and created from lessons learned in past seasonal activities, staff designer Clayton Kisko shared how it all came to be; “The Coil was conceived on multiple years of learning. You can see the DNA of Battlegrounds, Deep Dives, all kinds of stuff is wrapped in there. We tried to improve on the little bits we took from those activities while creating a dungeon crawling fantasy.”
“We wanted to improve a lot of the rogue-like elements. Revive Tokens were originally in Deep Dives, but got removed because we didn’t think it was the right time. We wanted to create something that has a level of tension that a lot of players probably haven’t experienced before unless they’ve done Grand Master Nightfalls. We tried to improve the purchasing of buffs versus what you see in Deep Dives and I’m really happy with what the team was able to create. The whole thing is proof that we can take educated risks within the seasonal production timeline to build and iterate on activities like The Coil.”
Clayton also briefly spoke about the rewards structure of The Coil and how that’s impacted the way the team thinks about activity rewards; “With how long it takes to get to the Wish Chamber and the difficulty there is in mastering it, we’re wanting to respect the time and skill of players. We want to pay you out accordingly, and giving players other ways to earn certain rewards feels good.”
When asked if there are any plans to implement a more permanent version of an activity like The Coil, Clayton expressed interest in toying with the idea in future content; “There’s no plans currently, but the reception of The Coil warrants this activity framework to be discussed for future episodes and content offerings if the theme, story, and timing feels right. I think The Coil has shown that this framework should be on the table when we’re picking and choosing what we want to do.”
It was also briefly elaborated on that episodes will bring episodic activities outside of the regular ritual playlists.
There’s still a bunch of time left for you to jump into Season of the Wish and all of its content offerings, with more to come in the form of Riven’s Wishes and the still nebulous Into The Light content drop that leads into The Final Shape. Lightfall and all of its seasons are available right now, and The Final Shape is concluding this decade-long saga when it launches on June 4th.