Destiny 2‘s Season of the Wish is the last time Bungie will use its seasonal content system, switching instead to a new episodic story format between its major expansions. Part of that change is a response to feedback from players that, after four years, the seasonal approach of weekly short story missions had become stale. Each season’s story followed a model that Destiny fans started to expect and anticipate, and while Destiny 2’s seasonal stories have largely been thoughtful and engaging, they were also getting repetitive in their structure.
“Speaking for the narrative team, we hear our audience loud and clear that the structure of our story may have become predictable, even if the story quality is still high,” said lead narrative designer Jonathan To during a roundtable discussion of the Season of the Wish. “We’re working on a number of things right now that we can’t explicitly share, but that involves changing up the structure so that we can pleasantly surprise you guys more frequently in the future.”
Instead of four seasons per year, each covering about 10 weeks (although sometimes more when expansions are delayed), the year after Destiny 2’s next expansion, The Final Shape, will see the periodic release of three episodes. Each episode will be broken into three acts, with larger chunks of story to go with new weapons and armor, activities, and the other content that seasons have included.
But while Bungie has provided some information about the episode format, it still isn’t spilling too many details as to how they’ll work. The developers did note that they’re trying to find ways to keep things fresh, though.
Senior narrative designer Nikko Stevens explained that part of the problem with the predictability of recent seasons is due to dealing with live-game development. A repeated structure gives Bungie a baseline to follow, allowing the studio to create content more efficiently over time and get it out to players at a consistent clip. You get better at a pattern the more often you do it. But that can have unintended side effects, like making the content feel predictable.
“When you create a framework for how content should be made, it makes it easier to produce that content quickly because everyone’s on the same page, but it can also be predictable because everyone’s on the same page,” he explained. “So injecting more variability into those frameworks is something that we’ve been talking about and learning about.”
The balance between building frameworks that speed up development, but making sure the game doesn’t become too predictable, isn’t just a story problem, either, design lead Brian Frank added.
“Those frameworks that we’re talking about are a survival skill for us, as developers who are on tight timelines….” Frank said. “We’ve identified that, and across disciplines, that that’s the main danger of them, that they become predictable. And we talk frequently about ‘surprises and delighters,’ it’s something that comes up as terminology and discussions about what we’re planning for surprises and delighters, making sure that we’ve covered that player expectation.”
With the Season of the Wish, Bungie had another challenge to deal with: The Final Shape. The Season of the Wish’s story concerns the Destiny characters’ efforts to find a way through a giant, spooky portal created by the game’s major antagonist, the Witness. But trailers for The Final Shape have made it clear that players will get through the portal, making the season’s story a foregone conclusion.
Since Bungie reveals information about the expansions well ahead of their release, this isn’t the first season the narrative team has worked on with an ending players can see coming. Writing a satisfying story with its ending already known meant recalibrating its focus to be on the characters and their relationships, Stevens said.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working on all of those seasons that have the ending revealed for the DLC. It is difficult to not have that climactic moment at your disposal,” he said. “But you have to change your perspective a little bit on how you’re telling that story. I think if you don’t view that final season, despite it being the final season of a year, as an ending, and more as like a ramp into the DLC, it structurally starts to make more sense as you’re creating it, because really you’re treating that DLC, Witch Queen or Lightfall or Final Shape, as that climactic moment that all of this has been leading to.
“So in terms of, yeah, we know we’re going through the portal, and we’re gonna go confront the Witness at some point, but we didn’t know about Taranis, and we didn’t know that Mara was going to change her mind about keeping her hands wrapped tightly around Crow as possible. And we didn’t know that Riven was going to be a lot more amenable than she probably previously could have been. So I think to call back to telling those smaller stories relating to the characters, making sure that that step into The Final Shape feels meaningful because all of these characters that you have been fighting towards that goal with are right next to you, I think those are the things we try and focus on more.”
Despite not having much in the way of a climactic moment in Season of the Wish, Bungie did take the opportunity to tie off some plot threads that have been dangling for years. One of those was the 15th Wish–a story element the Destiny 2 community has been wondering about since the Forsaken expansion launched in 2018 with its raid, The Last Wish.
The 15th Wish is related to Riven, the final boss of the raid and one of the Ahamkara, the strange, powerful, wish-granting creatures that populate some corners of Destiny 2’s lore. When the raid was launched, players discovered 14 different wishes (essentially cheat codes) they could enter into the “Wall of Wishes” hidden in the raid. But while Destiny 2 alluded to the 15th Wish, it remained a mystery until the Season of the Witch finally revealed it near the end of 2023.
“The 15th Wish is something that we’ve been talking about for a long time, and it’s been one of those things that’s on the back burner, where there are plans for it–or ideas, I should say, rather than plans,” Stevens said. “And it’s something that has been in the back of our minds for a long time and we were just waiting for the best opportunity to bring that forward.”
One of the struggles of live-game development, To said, was that ideas sometimes have to wait.
“You don’t always get to do everything you wanna do right away,” he said. “It takes a lot of collaboration. It takes the right timing, it takes the right release to have the right mood for doing an idea that you’ve had for a long time.”
Bringing back the 15th Wish wasn’t something Bungie did on a whim, though.
“There was a lot of caution there about what it would mean to revisit [the 15th Wish] and sort of how high the stakes were to pay that off for players,” Frank said. “And so yeah, I love how this came together, and it was something that was given life by the community in a lot of ways and sort of fourth wall-breaking for us to weave it back in. There’s the example of the Loot Cave in Grasp of Avarice, where the community’s interest in that topic sort of drove us to bring it back into the story of Destiny in a way that I think is really satisfying for [the players] to feel almost like a part of it.”
But while the Season of the Wish brought answers to some long-standing Destiny 2 questions, it opened up new possibilities as well. The Final Shape will conclude the story Destiny started when it launched back in 2014–now called the Light and Darkness Saga–but there are plot threads that will carry it into the future, like those that will feed into the game’s upcoming episodes.
Though the Season of the Wish took players back to the Dreaming City and dealt with characters related to the time-looping curse that first befell the location at the end of the Last Wish raid, the curse is still in place–even though Riven, the curse’s creator, is once again dead and gone. The Ahamkara’s wish is so powerful that nothing Destiny 2’s characters have yet found can break it. But that’s a story Bungie can still address in the future, To said.
“There are two extra plot threads that Season 23 left us with, which are that Riven and Taranis have children–they are the most obvious route for other Ahamkara stories, should we choose to pursue them in the future,” he said. “There are also a couple of characters in our cast, like Petra and Crow, who still care a lot about the Corsairs that are stuck in the Dreaming City curse, who might one day need something as powerful as an Ahamkara to help them.”
We have some idea where Destiny 2’s story is headed in The Final Shape, but we know a lot less about where that story is headed afterward, whether in this year’s episodes or beyond. Season of the Wish highlights that there are lots of stories Bungie has yet to tell in Destiny 2, leaving a lot of possibilities for the future.