Everything newcomers need to know before playing Destiny 2

PC gamers still have to wait until October 24 to play Destiny 2, but its recent release on consoles means we can finally dig into the game and prepare a landing strip for newcomers that missed the first game entirely. We don’t blame you—it wasn’t on the PC after all. But Bungie’s first game on the PC in a decade won’t be as simple as anyone familiar with Halo or Marathon expects. Destiny is still about shooting creatures in first-person, but they’ve since wrapped a damn RPG around it.

To help out, here’s an introduction to what Destiny 2 is and a few things to keep in mind to make your first experience with its maze of modes, currencies, and progression systems a good one. 

Don't worry about sprinting to level 20

If you’re unfamiliar with Destiny 2’s leveling system, then don’t let it intimidate you. The inventory screen shows a lot of little icons and numbers that won’t make sense without context, but just know this: the higher the numbers are, the better. Your first goal is to hit level 20, which you achieve by killing bad guys and completing missions—pretty standard stuff.

Playing through the campaign and the Adventures (side missions) will almost definitely get you there, so don’t worry about grinding out levels or anything. I’ve yet to finish it, but the campaign is a big step up from the first game already, echoing Halo left and right with some of the best sci-fi landscapes I’ve ever seen in a game. The journey from 1 to 20 will breeze right by, don’t worry. 

Loot is your water, your life force—drink deep, and descend 

All the while, shooting and leveling, you’ll be collecting gear, each piece of which is imbued with magic space power called Light. You might know it from such places as ‘lamp’ or ‘sun’. And in the Destiny 2 canon, these people have figured out how to reduce an abstract power to another number. The higher that number? That’s right, the better off you’ll be. To raise your power level, just equip your most powerful gear. The higher your power level, the better the loot you find will be too. Eventually, you’ll hit a cap, at which point you can truly min-max, swapping out different weapons and armor for particular buffs and behaviors at will. Me? I just go with what looks coolest. 

I mean, fashion is probably why you’ll be playing Destiny 2 for dozens, maybe hundreds (or Tim’s thousands) of hours. Loot is expressive and detailed, with attached lore bits that evoke Dark Souls and Destiny’s more ‘serious’ epistolary background story.

If you don’t like how the shooting feels, it’s probably time to bail 

While all loot and progression systems in games can be criticized for being long halls leading to brick walls painted to look like more hallway, Destiny at least makes the journey to endgame’s end a tactile joy. Imagine the dopamine high from Cookie Clicker, but the act of clicking is itself a reward, not a chore. 

If you had time to try out Destiny 2’s PC beta, it’s clear Bungie’s trademark gun-feel has made a smooth transition to the PC, with snappy ADS, gorgeous viewmodels, adjustable FOV, and—thank goodness—mouse and keyboard controls. With enemies and encounter design that engage you in a tug-of-war with your regenerating health bar, the combat feels distinct from and more satisfying than most shooters out there. It’s enough fun on its own that repeating the same missions over and over (which is fair to criticize) never gets old. That said, if you aren’t clicking with the combat, it’s safe to say Destiny isn’t for you. As lovely as the loot is, it probably won’t sustain hundreds of hours of combat you don’t enjoy. 

Catch up on the story! There’s some great stuff you’re probably missing 

Listen, all you need to know going into Destiny 2 is that there’s a giant orb in the sky that brings people back from the dead and gives them little robot friends. Everyone loves the big ball dearly, and a militaristic species of bulky bad guys with horrible teeth want to take the beautiful sphere for themselves.

But, if you want to get down and dirty with some weird world-building, the original Destiny’s codex entries work as scaffolding for a much bigger, far older conflict. Hell, with the The Taken King expansion, Bungie’s writers essentially wrote a novella detailing parts of the history and culture of the hive in such depth that I can’t look at them as videogame bad guys anymore. 

To get caught up, I recommend our Destiny lore primer or the above video, a compelling hour-and-a-half history of the series. A lot of it is dopey fantasy and sci-fi hybrid nonsense, but even if you hold onto 10 percent of it, your experience with Destiny 2 will make quite a bit more sense.

Planets can be a confusing mess of activities—here’s what you need to know: 

Planetside, you’ll get bombarded with stuff to do. The open world bits are huge maze-like areas. It doesn’t help that the maps look busy and confusing at first glance, littered with confusing icons and nomenclature that doesn’t really paint a clear path forward. The thing with Destiny is that every path takes you forward—some are just more inviting than others. They all earn you zone-specific coins that you redeem with each area’s resident NPC. Give them up and your reputation with them will level up and you’ll get an engram out of the deal (but not until you’re level 20).

Adventures: Consider these sidequests. They’re shorter, stranger missions that tell smaller stories on each of Destiny 2’s worlds. Once you finish them, they’ll disappear until you complete them all. I recommend doing them as you play through the campaign the first time; they’re fun and a bit more playful than some of the main quest melodrama. Also, I can’t imagine going back to some level 20 quests as an overpowered power level 200 monster.  

Lost sectors: These are basically mini dungeons poorly hidden on each planet. You’ll run across a strange sigil (two spooning upside down Us with a dot in the center) at or near the mouth of every Lost Sector. Dive in, kill the bad guys, defeat the boss, and earn a key that opens a chest at the end. They’re a fun, rewarding distraction while exploring each planet the first time through.  

Public Events: Occurring on a timer, Public Events mark group events that anyone can take part it. You might have to destroy a spider tank or interrupt a mining operation. Like all things in Destiny, most boil down to shooting a lot of mean-spirited aliens. You get some decent rewards from each and they’re fun to do with a big, emergent group of other guardians roaming the map, but the real challenge is in their Heroic articulations.

New to Destiny 2, if secret conditions are met during a Public Event, a more difficult Heroic version of that event will kick off with more and/or deadlier enemies thrown at you. Of course, better rewards come with the difficulty. I recommend trying to meet the conditions on your own, but if you’re too curious or impatient to resist, the video below has some answers. 

Patrol missions: These are the second birds you’re going to kill with your gun stones. They’re not fun, in my opinion, because patrol missions are small tasks that make you look at a place for 30 seconds, kill an elite enemy, or farm mobs for special drops. They’re pretty easy to pick up and finish without trying, so I’ll activate one if I’m passing by then do something more important. If the task is on the way or set in the same area I’m heading, then I’ll complete it. Otherwise, they’re not worth focusing on. 

Strikes: These are longer, focused missions set on each planet you can play after unlocking a strike playlist that shuffles through them one after another. Think of them as Destiny’s equivalent of World of Warcraft’s dungeons. More challenging than the average mission, they require a fireteam of three to complete (though it’s possible to do them as a duo or solo, if you’re talented), stacking up terse, chaotic combat encounters until culminating in a big boss fight at the end. Personally, they’re my favorite pastime from the first game. Just hop into a strike playlist with some friends, zone out, have a beer or two, chat, and shoot the aliens.  

You’re going to get a lot of coins 

Nearly everything you do earns you vendor-specific coins. Give each vendor enough coins and you’ll level up your reputation with them. Currency doesn’t matter much until level 20 when you can finally get an engram for each vendor level, so don’t worry about grinding out coins yet, or ever. Be sure to disassemble any weapons or armor you’re not using too. Some will drop weapons parts, which function as the farm weapon vendor’s coins. Feed him the delicious parts.

Crucible (PvP) rewards fold into the PvE experience and vise versa 

Your guardian as it exists in the PvE adventure will bring everything in their inventory to the Crucible PvP modes. That means the weapons you have equipped and the subclass abilities you’ve unlocked will all show up in your next match. Players are leveled out to make it a somewhat even playing field, of course, but it’s important to keep in mind when vying the top spot on your team’s leaderboard. No prepping in a loadout screen here.

The exchange goes both ways though, including your rewards. For completing PvP matches, you still level up your guardian and earn loot that you can carry back into the PvE mode. Down the line, we might get custom matches and modes, but if you want a focused, competitive PvP game, Destiny 2 probably isn’t the best place to start. But if you like a little competition with friends and want a treat for your great (or awful) work, it’s a good time. 

Raids might be the sole reason to play Destiny 2 

Austin detailed every raid in the original Destiny and what made them special, but I’ll try to do the same here in a few short sentences. They’re like The Goonies, but space and shooting—a long descent into the unknown with five friends where you solve puzzles, make daring leaps across abyssal gaps, and take out the big bads. 

Really, they’re one of the most interesting experiences you can have in a first-person shooter today. I haven’t completed them all from the first game, but the few I’ve finished felt like elaborate, self-taught synchronized dances. Shooting is important, sure, but puzzling out how to move from one section to the next usually requires as much wit as it does reflex. They’re like playing new games entirely using Destiny’s verb set against unique, one-off mechanics that Bungie never explains. To see what I mean, I’ll point you to Austin’s write-up again, but trust me here. Raids are the towering, mysterious mountains you train for, and with the right people, they’re so gratifying to climb. 

Destiny 2’s first raid will be completely figured out by the PC launch, but as platforms move toward parity, someday we’ll get our own blind run at a monumental challenge. Hopefully it doesn’t take long, but either way, the expanded clan support and Guided Games features means finding people on the same page to team up won’t be nearly as difficult as the first game made it. I nearly resorted to the Craigslist personals. Don’t be like me. 

What’s all this about I keep hearing about mods and cosmetic shaders? 

But how does it run?

Luckily, we did a complete performance analysis of the Destiny 2 PC beta. See what you'll need to run it here. 

Once you hit level 20, anytime you earn a set amount of XP, you’ll get a Bright Engram instead of another level. Decrypt these to get a handful of assorted cosmetic items, vehicles, and weapon and armor mods. Mods are items that you can slot into weapons and armor to give them certain perks and buffs. They don’t become necessary until the endgame, but feel free to get wild experimenting with them. Treat them as an expressive tool. 

Because you can get them through Bright Engrams, which you can also purchase through the Eververse vendor with real money, Destiny 2 has received some criticism for being pay-to-win. That hardly seems to be the case; mods make minor adjustments to how your weapons and armor behave that primarily articulate when needed in the tougher PvE challenges. And the frequency with which you receive mods and Bright Engrams through natural play means you’ll never be short of them. 

Shaders are a bit more divisive. They’re cosmetic items that color your armor, weapons, ship, speeder, and ghost according to their color scheme, but they’re also consumables. We’ve covered them at length already, but unless you’re coloring every object you find, chances are you won’t be short of shaders. You just might be short of a complete set of shaders to color an armor set with. 

And that's the basic gist. Destiny 2 might barrage you with systems and tasks, but all you really need to do is keep shooting. And for PC players, all we need to do is keep waiting until October 24 when the definitive version finally drops.