This week, Destiny 2—Bungie’s long-running sci-fi shoot-and-loot extravaganza—got a thorough overhaul. With its Shadowkeep expansion, longtime players were introduced to some pretty extensive changes. For everyone else, Destiny 2: New Light took the base game and made it free-to-play, welcoming a host of new players to join in on the fight.
If you’re one of those new players, Destiny 2 can be daunting—the game tries to explain itself, but it can be impossible to figure out what you’re supposed to actually do. So I tried to sort that out, in as plain English as I can manage.
And if this seems like a lot, don’t worry—there’s a quick cheat sheet at the end.
The biggest hurdle to enjoying Destiny has always been a cognitive one. The game is an excellent first-person shooter, with satisfying gunplay and interesting weaponry and abilities to wield. But in order to enjoy it, you need some direction, and Destiny is frustratingly self-directed. You have to deliberately set your own goals, because while Destiny has had traditional story campaigns that can be replayed at any time, the meat of the experience is outside of them.
Destiny is more like a first-person shooter version of a massively multiplayer online role-playing game like World of WarCraft or Final Fantasy XIV. It’s not as varied—the mission goal in Destiny will always be “shooting things”— but the thinking is similar. You’re not necessarily playing to get to the end of a story, but rather working toward building a character with the perfect set of complementary abilities and weapons for handling different situations suited to your playstyle.
This is what is meant by the word “endgame”—it’s playing until you have the things you need to make your character the best kind of space warrior they can be.
Do you want to achieve that as a Warlock, summoning waves of lightning from both your hands and your guns? Or do you like being a support player, setting up shields and keeping your allies safe? Maybe you like to dive in recklessly, or keep foes at a distance. Maybe you like some combination of these things. Destiny 2 lets you build a character that excels in your preferred style—if you’re willing to work for it. And since “work” entails some of the most consistently satisfying gunplay in video games right now, it’s not a bad proposition.
Much of what you’ll do in Destiny 2 is divided across nine planets and moons, accessible via the Director, a menu with the map of every in-game location and quest available to you. Each Destination has an open-world Patrol space, full of enemies, treasure chests, and missions or quests you can initiate at will. You’ll rarely visit them without some sort of purpose—instead, you’ll usually start your game from the Tower, a social space full of quest-givers who you can visit to direct your play. Once you’re at a destination, there’s also usually at least one other quest-giver worth seeing for additional goal-setting.
However, a lot of Destiny 2’s content can’t be accessed from wandering around the open-world zones. Instead, you must queue into them directly via the Director. Those seeking competitive multiplayer must navigate to the Crucible menu, another game mode, Gambit, also has its own dedicated menu, and anyone seeking Strikes, Raids, or dungeons must launch them from the director.
Similarly, if you want to play the story campaigns, you either must launch them from the Director or visit Amanda Holliday in the Tower’s hanger. Free-to-play players with Destiny 2: New Light have access to three campaigns: The Red War, Curse of Osiris, and Warmind. Of those three, The Red War, which is Destiny 2’s original campaign, is the longest and easily the best. The latter two are brief expansions of little consequence and quite skippable, unless you find the game’s renditions of Mercury or Mars fascinating and want to spend more time in them.
Anyone who owns the Forsaken or Shadowkeep expansions also has access to their corresponding campaigns—the former can be queued up from the map of the Tangled Shore in the Director, and the latter by speaking to Eris Morn on The Moon. Forsaken’s campaign is a close second to The Red War, while Shadowkeep is best reserved for those interested in jumping into the thick of the current iteration of Destiny 2’s grind for loot.
Regardless of which campaign you play through, you’ll be acquiring new weapons and armor, slowly making your Guardian better.
The next thing you need to understand is what “getting better” means. In Destiny, the best sense you have of that is a number called Power. It’s the biggest, most prominent number you see next to your character in the menu, and thanks to this week’s New Light rework of the game, it now starts at 750. Your weapons and armor also have power ratings, and your Power is the average of everything you have currently equipped.
This gear also has an assortment of other stats, but initially Power is all that matters, and it’s all that will matter until you raise your overall Power to 900. So, in order to increase your Power—which you need to do in order to take on Destiny’s tougher challenges and earn the best gear—you need to find better gear.
The best and easiest way for new players to do this is to just play through Destiny 2’s original story campaign, The Red War. It’s the best, most fun campaign, it’s available to free-to-play and paid players alike, and it’s a great way to get a quick tour of most of Destiny’s (really great) scenery, while upping your Power naturally. You can kick it off by talking to Amanda Holliday in the Tower’s Hanger section. (You could also grow in Power relatively quickly by jumping straight into the Crucible and playing lots of competitive multiplayer.)
When your Power hits 900, things change a bit. That’s what’s called the “soft cap”—those loot drops you’d find just through mundane activities won’t really climb above 900, and you shouldn’t get too precious about any of them. Gear of Uncommon (green) or Rare (blue) rarity don’t deserve a second thought—scrap them the instant you have something better. Legendary (purple) and Exotic (yellow) gear is worth holding onto in your vault, as raw materials for figuring out how you want to build your character. They’re exclusively what you want to have as you work towards the actual max Power level of 960.
To climb that high and take on the game’s biggest challenges, you have to become more discerning in what you do, working towards goals that reward you with “Powerful Gear.” This is where the rhythms of Destiny get a little more idiosyncratic.
Once you understand Destiny’s mentality, you can go about navigating the wealth of activities the game offers. It can be overwhelming and extremely confusing, but let’s start with some definitions. The two biggest buckets Destiny content are sorted in are Player vs. Environment (PvE) and Player vs. Player (PvP).
PvE content is the most varied, but mostly comprises activities where you (either solo or with others) take on hordes of AI enemies. These can be story missions, strikes (like story missions, but longer and made for teams of three), dungeons, quests (multi-step tasks that usually lead to gear you can’t get anywhere else) or unique activities like The Menagerie (a gauntlet of challenges run with a team of fellow Guardians.)
PvP content is what will send you to the Crucible, Destiny’s hub for competitive multiplayer modes. It is also, blessedly, the one part of Destiny that explains itself adequately. Give each mode a try and see what you like—maybe it’s the tense 3v3 survival mode, or the more conventional team deathmatch. Playing in the Crucible can reward you with pretty good gear you can’t get anywhere else.
Once you’re acquainted with Destiny’s offerings, you need to build a ritual, a set of things you enjoy doing enough to keep coming back to them as you hunt for Powerful Gear—necessary for some of Destiny’s best challenges, like Raids.
The best way to do this is to get to know the vendors. Each activity type has a character associated with it in the Tower. Gambit has The Drifter, Strikes have Zavala, and the Crucible has Lord Shaxx. Each will offer Bounties—simple tasks you can pick up in exchange for rewards. However, Destiny 2 is built to reward ritual play, and most of these vendors will reward you with Powerful Gear if you complete eight bounties for them in a given week.That’s your bread and butter, the stuff you can count on rewarding you with gear that’ll inch you to the Power level you want to be at.
You also want to start running higher-tier activities:
The Nightfall is a weekly Strike that you can run at different difficulty tiers, each with their own set of modifiers meant to make it more challenging. Teamwork is more intensive, and on the highest settings, matchmaking is turned off and you have to go in with a team of your own.
Raids are the most intense activities you can do in Destiny, requiring you to assemble a team of six for a lengthy dungeon crawl full of puzzles and combat challenges unlike anything else in the game. You’ll get unique loot from them, but note that Powerful Gear currently will only come from the latest raid, Garden of Salvation, which opens this weekend.
Seasonal activities are exclusive to Season Pass owners, and will cycle out every season (about 70 days.) These will have unique loot, and like most Destiny content, will be meant to be highly repeatable. However, since this is a new format for Destiny that kicks off this weekend, I can’t say for sure how good a resource it is.
Stay alert. New quests, challenges, and activities crop up by surprise all the time. The rewards from these are often unique, and if they don’t boost your Power, they’ll at least be interesting, opening up possibilities for different character builds. Keep an eye out.
Manage your quests. In the absence of campaign missions, quests are essentially a to-do list meant to guide your play. Sometimes, instead of loot, you’ll find yourself with a new Quest in your inventory while playing. These often have you do a bunch of busy work for a unique reward. Based on how much time you have to play, you may or may not find them achievable. Ignore the ones you can’t possibly do, and stay abreast of the ones that seem within reach—since most of them involve going to a specific place to kill a certain types of enemies with certain types of weapons, you can find yourself with several quest and Bounty goals overlapping, multiplying the rewards you get for your time.
One way of thinking about Destiny is to compare it to being really into performance cars. You start with a make and model you think suits you and proceed to make it your own. You make big changes—adding or swapping out parts—and little ones—optimizing said parts and obsessing over stats. Throughout this process, you’re driving your car constantly, seeing how well its suited towards cities, closed courses, and races. Maybe you decide you want to get into drifting, and start working toward an entirely new spec sheet for that.
Playing Destiny is more of a journey than a destination—it’s a big, unwieldy game built atop five years of existing infrastructure and ideas that have been discarded, tweaked, or overhauled significantly across the last half decade. You have to learn its quirks, and work around them to best suit your life.
To that end, here’s some final thoughts to keep in mind.
- There’s more than one way to play. This guide is meant to give a little direction on what can be a pretty directionless game. Find what you like to do, and try out loadouts that might make it even more fun. Challenge yourself to earn the top-tier gear best suited for your favorite activity. Read through the lore. Figure out how to find more of it.
- Get social. Destiny 2’s community has a pretty solid reputation, so if you ask for help—in a forum, on the subreddit, or in-game—you will almost certainly find it. Guides like this are useful, but nothing compares to having someone teach you in person.
- Don’t forget the campaigns. Talk to Amanda Holliday in the Tower to get started. Destiny isn’t really the kind of game that’s built around story campaigns anymore, but the Red War is a good time, and if that’s all you want to do, you’ll enjoy yourself.
- Understand the menus. Destiny’s interface is a mess, but you open the menu for things you have or want—your character loadout, consumables, lore you’ve collected, challenges to achieve—and the Director is what you open for things you need to do: Planets to visit, quests to complete, and information about the current season.
- Learn the schedule. A week in Destiny runs Tuesday-Tuesday, when the servers reset at 1 p.m. EST. After the reset, weekly challenges can be undertaken again for their best rewards. Work out a schedule that maximizes the weekly rewards, and make sure you don’t play lengthy content like Raids that might run past the reset time.
- Consider reading up. A problem that comes with playing an MMO-style game like this is that they change constantly, and those changes aren’t always communicated in-game. Many times they are communicated by the developers instead. Read updates from Bungie, browse forums, check out the Destiny tag on Kotaku—everyone is figuring this game out together, in real time. That’s part of the fun.