Destiny for the Uninitiated

promo art of destiny 2: lightfall, coming feb 1

(CW: This is going to be all about the video game Destiny)

Lightfall is right around the corner. Only 6 weeks away, by my count! The new-expansion time of the year is always a really good, hype-train moment to try out Destiny if you haven’t yet, or if it’s been a while! The thing is, though, Destiny is a massive game with a lot going on, both story-wise and “there’s just so much on the screen”-wise. That said, this post is going to try and bring all that down to bite-sized pieces so you can just get to enjoying the game.

promo art of destiny 2: lightfall, coming feb 1


So what the heck is the game even about? It’s been out for years and years now, isn’t there just too much to catch up on? Here’s the gist:

In Destiny, you play as a Guardian, someone who keeps coming back to life when you die thanks to your witty little drone buddy, a Ghost. Humanity is really close to being extinct, with only one safe city left. You spend the game defending them, fending off various alien ne’er-do-wells with space magic and also lots of guns.

An ongoing theme in the game is the source of the space magic: it comes from either light or darkness. Light powers come from a giant ball in the sky above the last city and is generally regarded as the good guy mojo – what’s been keeping the city safe. Darkness powers were introduced in the last couple of years and the overhanging question since then has been “Is there inherent good or evil in light and darkness, or are they just two sides of the same coin, a necessary cycle?” If the themes of ambiguous nature, source-based morality, duality, and other mysteries from space interest you, you would enjoy the story of Destiny. Especially all the in-game lore you can discover that spends a lot of time pondering those themes.

While the game is free to play, most of the best content out there comes from buying an expansion or a season pass:

Each year we get a new expansion, which includes a campaign, usually a new location, and a bunch of related co-op activities to do for various groups of 1-6 players. There’s generally enough stuff there to keep an active player busy for months. These are the currently available expansions you can get, and while they do have a chronological order, it doesn’t exactly matter. Grab what seems interesting to you. If you feel so inclined, the first three are bundled together on Steam for some savings.

  • Forsaken – In which a beloved leader named Cayde-6 is killed, and vengeance on his murderers is sought. The home realm of a mysterious people called the Awoken is opened to you, and you hunt down the paracausal beast that enticed Cayde’s murderer. (Due to Destiny being a live game, the campaign and one of the locations are no longer available – the best activities and the more interesting of the locations is still there though)
  • Shadowkeep – The Moon’s haunted. Go there, see what the stirring Hive are up to, and put a stop to nightmares of past enemies invading the system. Discover the ruin of one of the black fleet ships that attacked Earth in the Collapse, and help a friend find peace with those she’s lost.
  • Beyond Light – The Fallen have a new weapon. They wield the power of darkness itself. Go to Europa, stop their plans, and take that power for yourself. Explore an old space station above Europa, hunt down enemy lieutenants, and command a new power called Stasis.
  • The Witch Queen – A god of cunning that has been working from the shadows for years suddenly shows her face. And she and her army are wielding the Light against humanity. Stop her from taking the source of all Light, discover her plans, and stop a threat of darkness that even the Witch Queen Savathรปn couldn’t hold back.
  • Lightfall – Coming up next in February! Go to a neon city at Neptune, and protect it from the Darkness-Ascended Emperor Calus and his Legions. Discover a new darkness power in Strand as well.

Also, between each expansion, we get four seasons, which are self-contained bits of story coming out every week. They will also have a small host of activities to keep you and 5 friends busy too. They can be purchased individually, but so that there’s one purchase per year and because its a bit cheaper, I recommend getting the version of the expansion that comes with the Annual Pass, which bundles all that year’s seasons together with the expansion. Something to keep in mind is that unlike the expansions, all the seasonal stuff leaves the live game once the next expansion releases, providing room for the following year’s worth of seasonal content. (This means if you get this year’s seasons now, you only have until February 1 to play though them! If you would rather wait to buy seasonal stuff I totally get it).

I won’t list out all the seasons, because most of them have left the live game, and are no more than achievements and shoulda-been-there moments. In my experience though, the best storytelling has been in the seasons. In the past couple of years, the season stories have resulted in ally-ships with multiple alien factions, one of my favorite redemption arcs ever, insights into many character’s backgrounds, and live events that literally changed the map. If you ask me, the seasons are where the good stuff is, and they bridge the gap between the expansions quite well.

If you want a more comprehensive look at the story and what’s happened from the beginning of the game up till now, there are people who have done a way better job at it that you can see on YouTube if you have a few hours:


Here we get to the meaty stuff. Once you log in, what is there to actually do? Or more accurately, there’s a ton of options and symbols all over the map, what am I supposed to do?

First off, when you begin, it will have you play a little introduction mission to teach you the basics as you explore the beginning area: the Cosmodrome, Old Russia. The game will do its best to teach you about how quests work and how to follow them, what the leveling system is like, and so on. Many players agree that it doesn’t work that well, while I’ve heard from other new players that is was really helpful, right up until it goes away. Then players are left to flail around a little as they get used to things. I’ll do my best to explain what can be explained in a blog post.

Leveling Up

Early on, the game will show you your character sheet. All around your character are all the different slots your gear goes into. You have 3 weapon slots (Kinetic, Energy, Power) and 5 armor slots (Head, Arms, Chest, Legs, Class-specific item) and all the gear in these 8 slots has a Power Level (As of this writing, the highest a gear piece can be is 1590, but that goes up a little every season and a lot every expansion). The big Power Level number on your character sheet in the top right is the average of the 8 pieces you have on at the moment.

Whenever you are about to start an activity, it will say somewhere what the recommended Power Level for that activity is. If your Power is higher, then the activity should be no problem. If it’s the other way around, you need to be prepared for a harder experience than normal. And if the activity’s power is significantly higher (like 15-20+) it’ll be pretty darn tough, even for veterans.

One of the things that can help with your power level pretty reliably is the doo-dad that goes in the slot on the bottom left of the character sheet. That’s the seasonal artifact. It’s different every season, and you’ll get it after doing the intro bit of the season that everyone gets access to for free (follow the little quest icons like you do in the tutorial). Once you have it, then you have a way of getting power levels on top of your gear level just by playing the game! As you complete activities, get kills, open chests, and claim bounties, you’ll get XP as a reward. Every so often (your artifact will tell you when the next one is), you’ll get enough XP that your artifact goes up a level. Those levels add to your regular gear. So you have two ways of getting stronger: do stuff to get XP and do stuff to get better gear.

(One thing that might be confusing. As you get XP, it’s tracked on the bottom of the screen and every 100,000 XP, you get a “Season Rank” which looks a lot like a level, but it’s a little different. It doesn’t make you stronger, but it gives you progress on the current season’s Season Pass, and it’s a general indication of how much you’ve played this season.)

Getting XP is as simple as playing the game. Whatever you like to do, keep doing it and you’ll get XP. If you bought the season, then you’ll have access to seasonal challenges as well, which are like achievements, but they award a butt-ton of XP for doing them. If you want to be extra-efficient about getting XP, those are the things to do.

Getting better gear is a little harder. Long story short, when you open the Director, you’ll see a bunch of little yellow stars. Follow those and accomplish those objectives to get the better gear. There’s two kinds of rewards for those: Powerful Gear and Pinnacle Gear. When you’re starting out, both work just fine, but you will probably notice that the Pinnacle rewards give better stuff.

Once your gear is 10 below whatever the highest possible gear is, Powerful Gear will stop giving you progress. For those last 10 points, Pinnacle Gear is the only way to get improvements. Remember to check all the yellow stars to make sure you know what kind of reward you’re getting.

Lastly, the game resets every Tuesday. After that reset, these stars reappear, different activities are available, and new story sometimes comes out.

What Else To Do?

This is going to be a quick run-down of the Director and what’s what on the map.

Across the top of the map are some smaller nodes, Vanguard, Gambit, and Crucible. These are what are referred to as the ritual activities. This is the core gameplay loop in Destiny. You will likely spend the vast majority of your time in one of these. Under Vanguard there is a playlist of Strikes (one-off story missions), and options for the Nightfall, a harder version of a Strike. You can pick from various difficulties with the node on the left, or challenge yourself and your team of 3 with the Grandmaster difficulty with the node on the right. (Grandmaster difficulty is only available in the second half of the season, and it’s nothing to sniff at. Super hard, these.) Under the Gambit node are options to play Gambit, either on a team or in a matchmaking pool that avoids premade teams (the smaller, “Freelance” node). You can also start a private match for you and/or friends. The Crucible node is where all the main PvP modes are. There’s a main node which randomly picks between a couple common game modes, there’s a spot for a private match, and a spot for a rotator mode, which is different every week. There’s also a node for Competitive play as well. Depending on a number of factors, there’s a handful of other nodes that may appear or replace others, like Iron Banner, Trials of Osiris, etc. There is a streak mechanic as you’re doing things in the ritual playlists. The more Strikes you do in the row, the more reputation for strikes you’ll get, but that streak goes down as you do other activities. It works the same for Gambit and Crucible as well. Get those reputation ranks high enough, and the vendors associated with those activities in the Tower will give you rewards. Fill up the bar entirely and you can reset that rank, enabling even more rewards.

The last of the smaller nodes at the top, Legends, is where Raids and Dungeons go that don’t really fit anywhere else.

The Tower, in the middle, was introduced in the tutorial quest. The vendors there have bounties to chase XP with if you need something to do, or give you rewards if you’ve already done the thing.

The HELM, just above the Tower, is where all the Season stuff happens. Each expansion, it’s wiped clean and as new seasons start, the related vendors and interactions are filled into one of the wings of the HELM.

Besides the Tower, the HELM, and the rituals, the rest of the director is just different locations to explore. On each map, there’s a circular icon with an arrow pointing down. These are Landing Zones, where you can set down and explore the place freely. Other icons indicate some activity that can be done. Some special activities in these destinations aren’t available to play unless you’ve bought the corresponding expansion, though. Hovering over these icons will give you information about what that particular activity is, whether it’s available, what its recommended Power Level is, and so on.

What I do

Here’s what I try to do in a given week as I play the game:

  • Play through any new story content. This only comes out in the first half or in the last week or two of the season, and it usually involves playing a little of the Seasonal 6-player activity, followed by a mission and some dialogue.
  • Easy Pinnacle rewards I can get on my own – at the moment that’s the Preservation mission from Witch Queen, the Vox Obscura seasonal exotic mission, and the Legend difficulty of the Seraph Station seasonal exotic mission.
  • Ritual activities – Usually, there’s some reputation bonus in a given week, so I will focus on playing a lot of games in the relevant playlist to get those bonuses. At this point, I’m multitasking by also going for any available Seasonal Challenges or bounties for the XP.
  • Dungeons – The most recent dungeon to come out awards Pinnacle awards, as does one other dungeon, which rotates every week. Usually I have a buddy to do those extra hard missions with, but if he’s not around, I will take it as a time to practice doing them on my own. (Dungeons are mini-raids, built for 3 players)
  • Whatever else needs done – There’s usually a Seal that I’m going for. If I have the time I will try to do whatever that requires. Seals are a curated collection of achievements, and if you accomplish them all you get the Seal and a title you can bestow upon your character.

And that’s about it! That’s an awful lot of info I just vomited onto the page, but I hope it’s useful. I hope it made sense. I’m happy to respond to comments if there’s something that doesn’t make sense or if there’s other questions anyone has.

Don’t worry. I won’t post Destiny stuff ALL the time.

Or maybe I will. It’s my site after all. ๐Ÿ˜