Destiny 2 beginner’s guide: joining the fight before Lightfall

Destiny 2
(Image credit: Bungie)

So you want to become a Guardian but don’t know where to start? We’ve all been there. Joining Destiny 2 and its ever-growing universe this late into the game can be a daunting experience, but both its structure and community are more welcoming than ever, and we’re here to guide you through the basics and to help you make informed choices.

Destiny started in 2014 as Bungie’s brand-new sci-fi universe/franchise, though growth plans back then were much different. In 2017, Destiny 2 continued the main story and brought the franchise to PC for the first time. Launch woes and a number of concerns regarding the expansion model made its first steps a bit slow, but Destiny 2 picked up with the launch of Forsaken (2018), its meatiest expansion so far, and several key reworks. Shortly afterwards, Bungie announced it was breaking away from publisher Activision to seek independence and total control over the IP.

Past 2019 and into the current decade, Destiny 2 has embraced the yearly model that has made several MMO games successful in the past: one paid expansion arrives each year, introducing large chunks of content and big story chapters. In between expansions, free seasons (with optional paid extras) and events keep both the gameplay loop and expansive storytelling alive. In fact, you might feel slightly lost at the start of some expansions if you haven’t paid attention to the narrative of previous seasons. As of now, Destiny 2 has become a “live universe” that permanently changes over time alongside the story and gameplay additions.

Our beginner’s guide will clarify the essentials of Destiny 2 and ease you into the game, but it’s not meant to serve as a tutorial nor a mechanics breakdown, as we believe Bungie’s looter shooter does that well enough on its own. If you want to learn about other space-set games, check out our lists of the best space exploration games, the best space horror games, and the most exciting upcoming space games.

Destiny 2: Platforms and cross-play

Destiny 2

(Image credit: Bungie)

Destiny 2 is available to play on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC (Steam and EGS). Cross-platform play is now available alongside cross-saves, though we recommend checking Bungie’s handy guide on the latter if you’re looking into jumping between platforms.

Destiny 2: New Light is the free-to-play base game, which includes all Year 1 content and access to all destinations (including those in paid expansions) and basic activities and progression. The sad catch is that much of that early content, including the original Red War campaign, has been “vaulted” for in-universe reasons – and because the game was becoming too big – though it all may return at a later date. Thankfully, the game now has a quick timeline of major past events to get newcomers up to speed as soon as they enter the game through its new introductory missions.

If you want to experience the post-Y1 campaigns, raids, Nightfall strikes, proper endgame, and much more, you’ll eventually need to grab the expansions (which aren’t too expensive on sale): Shadowkeep, Beyond Light, and The Witch Queen. Lightfall, the penultimate chapter of The Light and Darkness Saga, arrives on February 28, 2023. As of now, Bungie’s plan is to keep evolving Destiny 2 – like World of Warcraft and other MMOs – instead of releasing a new game every few years. You can watch Lightfall’s reveal trailer below:

Destiny 2: The story so far...

Destiny 2

(Image credit: Bungie)

The mythology and overall plot of Destiny are rather deep and layered if you really want to get the full picture. While Destiny 2 does a solid job of explaining the basics and easing new Guardians into the current state of affairs, the gameplay loop soon throws players against several walls of veteran characters, space politics, tech talk, and space magic mumbo jumbo. To make matters worse, you’ll be joining a grand space opera that’s been happening for a long time now instead of reliving it from the very beginning.

Around the present day, humanity discovered the Traveler, a mysterious entity that journeys the universe and empowers civilizations it considers worthy against invading forces. As a result, our civilization entered a period of prosperity called the Golden Age, rapidly spreading throughout the Solar System. Eventually, the Darkness, a force which opposes the Traveler, found and attacked humanity. After humanity faced great losses, the Traveler released a massive pulse of energy that expelled the Darkness back to the edge of the Solar System.

Since then, the Light from the (now dormant) Traveler resides inside small floating robots called Ghosts who accompany those blessed by the Traveler’s parting gift. These individuals are known as Guardians, agents of the Light who can harness its power and release it through cool space magic. On top of that, a Guardian is essentially immortal as long as their Ghost isn’t destroyed (respawning exists in-universe, yes).

As stated before, several major conflicts and events have transpired since the Traveler saved humanity from extinction. And this includes a number of alien species – each with its own agenda – and other cosmic menaces clashing against (and teaming up with) the Guardians. Right now, the Darkness and the mysterious force behind it are slowly advancing towards the Solar System, with huge, spooky, pyramid-shaped ships acting as its harbingers. To get a full recount of the events of Destiny and Destiny 2 up to the currently available content, we recommend checking out the in-game timeline and supplementary lore bits that pop up constantly.

Destiny 2: Gameplay

Destiny 2

(Image credit: Bungie)

Destiny 2 is a looter shooter action-RPG, which roughly translates into “shoot enemies to get cool equipment and loot which allows you to power up to defeat stronger enemies”. Of course, shooting isn’t everything that you’ll do when fighting off hordes of enemies, with melee (yay sci-fi swords) and magic combat also being extremely important. Beyond combat, there’s also a fair amount of exploration and talking to characters – who love to drop huge chunks of lore and exposition – in Destiny 2. There’s a lot going on which justifies all the content available, but all the storylines and ambitious lore are worth caring about, and that makes the game special.

It's also important to note that Destiny 2 is one-hundred percent online. While it’s friendly enough to solo players (except for high-level raids) thanks to solid matchmaking and seamless online areas, a certain degree of teamwork is expected from players, so don’t go all Call of Duty on the enemies. You can play solo without close friends, but you can’t ignore other players, since the entire Destiny experience is built around a sense of camaraderie.

If you aren’t familiar with FPS games, don’t fret, as Bungie made sure to craft simple but immensely satisfying gunplay and ability systems to allow players of every skill level to feel powerful and useful. The basics of both PvE (player versus environment) and PvP (player versus player) activities are easy to grasp, and micromanaging overly complex inventories and numbers aren’t part of the deal. Moreover, movement through the bigger locations is made easy and smooth thanks to sparrows (speeder bikes), which also happen to look really cool. And while there’s plenty of depth to progression and upgrades in Destiny 2, it’s all rather straightforward and transparent.

Destiny 2: Classes

As soon as you enter Destiny 2 for the first time, you’ll be asked to create a character and select a player class that will define your role and overall playstyle. While there’s a fair amount of flexibility to the character-building aspect of Destiny 2, it’s important to know which class fits your style best.

Each class also has access to three different subclasses – Solar, Arc, Void – plus a special subclass introduced in Beyond Light which uses the power of Darkness: Stasis. These can be swapped and tuned on the go, as they don’t introduce permanent changes to the character, but rather different sets of powers including normal and ultimate abilities. Moreover, each subclass manifests in a different way for each class, thus a Void Titan will be quite different from a Void Warlock.

Titan

Destiny 2

(Image credit: Bungie)

The tanks of Destiny 2. Titans are built for frontline combat and crowd control. They’ll always lead the charge and be in the middle of the action. As a result, recommended stats builds for them prioritize damage output, life, and defense. The chonkier they are, the better.

Their abilities and ultimates also reflect this design philosophy with big, splashy attacks and buffs that make them even more enduring when things get extremely heated.

Hunter

Destiny 2

(Image credit: Bungie)

Hunters represent the highest level of agility and precision Destiny 2 can offer through their rogue-ish set of skills and abilities. If you want your fighting to be a stylish as possible, go with them.

The Hunter playstyle encourages high DPS (damage-per-second) and moving all over the battlefield, so FPS veterans who are into fast-paced gameplay will feel right at home playing as Hunters.

Warlock

Destiny 2

(Image credit: Bungie)

Warlocks are essentially space wizards, but since everyone gets space magic in Destiny 2, they’re differentiated from the rest in that their Light/Darkness abilities have a bigger effect on large areas and can support and buff other players.

While Warlocks should be further away from the action and not drawing too much attention, they’ve got almost unrestricted access to weapons so they can still fight up close. Their abilities can quickly overwhelm large groups of enemies and greatly improve a fireteam’s chances of success, so don’t underestimate them.

Destiny 2: What to do and how to progress

Destiny 2

(Image credit: Bungie)

The only thing denser than Destiny 2’s lore is the massive number of activities, quests, events, etc. available at all times and exacerbated by each season’s novelties and changes. It’s easy to get lost in the quests/bounties tab or to lose track of what you were gunning for in the first place as several characters give you new tasks, so we’ll try to establish some essential tips in this section.

The main hub of Destiny 2 is the Tower, a social space located atop the defensive wall encircling the Last City on Earth. It’s the perfect place to chill and meet new players, but it also serves as a base of operations inhabited by the Guardians’ key figures and other recurring allies that come and go. Therefore, most rewards from quests, challenges, and events must be received here. We highly recommend checking the quests/bounties tab often to see what is ready to be properly finished by visiting the Tower.

Bounties and engrams (equipment containers) can be acquired from many characters in the Tower, but they’re also given out by other NPCs across all locations. Be sure to check in regularly with the main ally in each planet/moon/station in order to get secondary tasks to fill out as you progress through questlines, tackle public events, fight PvP matches, and grind strikes (dungeons) or raids. This will accelerate your Light Level (overall power) progression and provide you with the stuff necessary to upgrade your arsenal and armor pieces, as well as pushing the seasonal level, which has rewards of its own.

Destiny 2

(Image credit: Bungie)

Enemies will often drop items and crafting materials, effectively filling up your inventory with clutter that can often be essentially worthless. In typical RPG fashion, be sure to sort through your inventory from time to time, as you’re able (anywhere) to “recycle” unneeded weapons and equipment to get glimmer, the basic currency that is useful in almost every situation and transaction, and other key materials.

Progression isn’t limited to the character’s Light Level, which will eventually hit a cap until the next expansion comes around. Each weapon and equipment piece can receive improvements and upgrades too. The material and glimmer requirements go up as the items are leveled up, so this means it’s good to eventually focus on improving a certain set of armor and weapons that you’re comfortable with. And even though PvP doesn’t pay attention to Light Level outside of the Trials of Osiris for obvious balance reasons, it's still advisable to have a PvP-oriented build, since armor stats and weapons of choice will still affect how your Guardian plays against other Guardians.

The recommended gameplay loop for someone coming in fresh should be to prioritize all the story campaign stuff first – not forgetting about completing bounties and challenges meanwhile – and later moving on to public events, small activities, strikes, PvP, and raids depending on what upgrades or pieces of equipment you’re gunning for.

Of course, doing all the grind across all modes at once is nearly impossible, so the sensible thing to do is to focus on two-three activities at a time and cycling through them to spice things up and prevent Destiny 2 from becoming a slog. And don’t forget to make new friends along the way!

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Fran Ruiz is our resident Star Wars guy. His hunger for movies and TV series is only matched by his love for video games. He got a BA of English Studies, focusing on English Literature, from the University of Malaga, in Spain, as well as a Master's Degree in English Studies, Multilingual and Intercultural Communication. On top of writing features and other longform articles for Space.com since 2021, he is a frequent collaborator of VG247 and other gaming sites. He also serves as associate editor over at Star Wars News Net and its sister site, Movie News Net.