A Beginner’s Guide to the World of Destiny

By Kirk Hamilton on at

So you want to play Destiny 2 but are a little foggy about the first game? No worries, I got you.

If you’re new to the series and want to catch up on what happened over the last three years, this article is for you. Likewise if you’ve got a friend you want to get into the games but don’t want to spend an hour explaining everything for the first game, let me help. If you’ve already played a lot of Destiny, most of this won’t be new to you, but hey, maybe you’ve forgotten a few things over the years.

Before we start, big ups to the folks who contribute to The Destiny Wiki for keeping such an orderly database, as well as to YouTuber Byf, who made an entertaining and informative 90-minute recap video that I had a really good time watching. Okay, here we go.


BIG PICTURE LORE STUFF


Destiny has accumulated a space barge’s worth of lore over its three-year run, though most of it was relegated to Grimoire Cards that players unlocked in-game but had to read on the web. Those who took the time to piece everything together were rewarded with a surprisingly well-constructed universe filled with interesting backstory. Which, yeah, rarely actually got shown or talked about in the game. It was still neat.

Let’s go through a few of the biggest, most important people, places, and events. We’ll start with some general history, then go over the stuff that played out over the first three years of Destiny.

The Traveller, The Light, and The Darkness

At some point in the 21st century, humans discovered a huge sentient sphere on Mars that came to be known as The Traveller. It brought with it the secrets to huge technological enhancements and lifted humanity up to heights we would have taken thousands of years to reach through ordinary evolution. After the Traveller’s arrival, humanity entered a peaceful and prosperous period known as the golden age during which human lifespans tripled, technological progress hugely accelerated, and we set out to terraform the other planets in our solar system. No one quite knows what the Traveller is, but it appears to be some sort of huge sentient robot that goes around waking up civilisations and winning them to its side in an endless war between good and evil.

Above: Your Ghost

Things were great for a while, and then at some point a vague, sentient malevolent force known as The Darkness turned up to ruin everything. It’s not entirely clear what happened, but everything went to shit during a period known as The Collapse. Lots of people died, and in the end the Traveler sacrificed itself to win the battle and send the Darkness packing. As it died, the Traveler settled over Earth, releasing a horde of tiny Ghost robots, each of which carried a bit of the Light energy the Traveler held within it. Those Ghosts went on to use that light to resurrect an army that would protect the remnants of humanity.

The Rise of the Guardians

Using the Traveller’s light, Ghosts are able to revive long-dead people and turn them into unkillable warriors known as Guardians. Guess what? You play as a Guardian in Destiny. There are a bunch of notable Guardians in Destiny lore, some of whom are historical figures and some of whom play major roles in Destiny 2. We’ll go through the most important ones a little later. First let’s go through the races that played a major role in the first game.


THE MAJOR RACES OF DESTINY


Humans are, obviously, humans. A few survived The Collapse, living in ragged encampments around the wasted surface of Earth. Eventually a large group of humans gathered in the shadow of the now-dormant (dead?) Traveler. With the aid of the Guardians, they set up The Last City, a bastion of civilisation on an otherwise lawless planet. The Guardians lived above The Last City in a huge tower creatively named The Tower. The Tower was the player’s hub in the first game; it was where you went to buy stuff, cash in rewards, get bounties, and do dance moves while waiting for your squadmates to hurry the hell up and get ready to raid. Humans are one of the three playable races in Destiny.

The Awoken are a mysterious race of blue-skinned people descended from human colonists who attempted to escape the Darkness during the Collapse. They hesitated to get involved with the Humans’ plight after The Collapse, but eventually they went to war with some of our mutual enemies. They live in The Reef, a massive ring of destroyed colonisation ships. They’re kind of all dicks, but they’re very good looking. You can also play as an Awoken in Destiny.

The Exos are some robot people who were apparently made by one of Earth’s massive golden age research conglomerates. Basically, they’re robot humans, and they maybe used to be real humans but were transferred into robot bodies? Even the Exos don’t know their own full story. They’re cool looking, though, and they have neat “hair.” They’re the third playable race.

The Fallen are a race of four-armed, bipedal hardasses who run around with big knives. Before the Traveler came to Earth, it lifted up the Fallen. They worship it, and mounted an offensive on Earth to try to get it back. The Fallen have a vaguely Nordic culture, each pledging loyalty to a house (House of Devils, House of Wolves, etc.). The first Guardians fought a long and difficult war against the Fallen as they laid siege to the First City, and won a number of legendary victories against them. That whole part of Destiny history sounds super cool and it’s too bad we’ve never seen any of it happen.

The Hive are a breed of chitinous undead monsters that tunnel through planets and build huge underground monuments to their dark gods. They have magic abilities, and their most powerful members are witches and wizards who use their power to kill lots of people. They overtook and burrowed into the Moon, leaving it uninhabitable in the process.

The Vex are the coolest race in Destiny, in this author’s humble opinion. They’re a race of machines with goofy names like “goblin” and “minotaur,” and they have the ability to shift space-time and rewrite history. They take over planets and convert them into massive machines, and actually managed to do that to Mercury. Their time traveling abilities open the door to all sorts of interesting challenges and conundrums. The Vex were the closest thing to a primary antagonist in Destiny’s story at launch.

The Cabal are a race of technologically advanced jackholes who go around conquering civilisations, strip-mining resources, and blowing up planets. They follow a social order that’s suspiciously similar to that of the Roman Empire. Who knows, maybe they picked up some ancient transmissions of 300 and decided to base their culture on it. The main bad guy of Destiny 2 is the leader of a Cabal army, and the game begins with a Cabal assault on the Last City. Expect Cabal to play a major role in Destiny 2’s story.


THE STORY SO FAR


Starting with the base game and moving through all the expansions, here’s what’s happened in the world of Destiny so far.

Destiny at launch in September 2014 told a hard-to-follow story about a renewed threat to the Traveler that took the form of… well, first, the Hive, then some Fallen, and then the Vex. In the end, it was the Vex who were the closest thing to a Big Bad. You followed them around the solar system and eventually transported to an extra-dimensional space known as the Black Garden to kill three big statues. Apparently the Vex had taken a pure sample of the Darkness and infused it into the statues? Anyway.

The Dark Below was the game’s first expansion. It came out in December of 2014. A new Hive demigod named Crota turned up on the Moon, and you and your friends had to kill him. Which you did, over and over. Sometimes by pulling out your LAN cable.

House of Wolves was the second expansion, which hit in May of 2015. It got more into the relationship between the Awoken and the Fallen, who had fought a massive war a long time ago that the Awoken won, leaving the Fallen houses in Disarray. The Fallen leader Skolas wound up being set free, using his power to unite the scattered Fallen clans and become a threat once more. The fallen queen Mara Sov enlisted your aid in tracking Skolas down. You eventually captured him and then went… into an Awoken prison to kill him? While he was still locked up? It seems kind of messed up when you spell it out like that.

Oryx, The Taken King

The Taken King was the closest thing the first Destiny had to a coherent story. Crota’s father, a Hive god named Oryx, arrived on board his massive ship The Dreadnaught and began an invasion with his army of Taken. The Taken aren’t exactly a new race, they’re just shade-ified versions of Cabal, Vex, etc., with spooky powers and spooky looks. In the process of Oryx’s attack he appeared to kill the Awoken queen Mara Sov, though it was later revealed that she’s probably still alive. In the midst of the Taken attack, a crew of Cabal attacked and attempted to take control of Oryx’s Dreadnaught. The good guys fought them off, and in the process discovered a signal beaming information back to Cabal high command. We didn’t follow up at the time, because surely no more Cabal would ever attack our system, right? It’s fine, everything is fine. Eventually the Guardians mounted an assault on the Dreadnaught and killed Oryx and his daughters, bringing an end to his line. Hey man, he started it.

Rise of Iron was the final expansion for Destiny, and it came out in September of 2016. It told the story of The Iron Lords, legendary Guardians who were among the first to protect Humanity back just after The Collapse. Turns out The Iron Lords were killed by a nanotechnological compound called SIVA, which became sentient and started self-replicating. It would’ve wiped out all life in the solar system if the Iron Lords hadn’t sacrificed themselves to stop it. At the end of Rise of Iron, the SIVA outbreak spread across the whole galaxy and killed everyone, the end. Just kidding. Actually, a bunch of Guardians stopped it from spreading and saved the day yet again.

And that brings us up to present. Dominus Ghaul and his army of Red Legion Cabal jerks is coming to Earth to fuck shit up and steal the Traveler’s light, and I have a sneaking suspicion it’s going to be up to us to Become Legend™ once more and save the world by farming a bunch of loot and shooting a bunch of aliens in the head.

Speaking of shooting aliens in the head, let’s talk about what you do in this game.


WHAT YOU ACTUALLY DO IN THIS GAME


Destiny is basically first-person-shooter Diablo. It’s a loot game, with a bit of a first-person shooter like Halo and a bit of a massively multiplayer game like World of Warcraft. You shoot a lot of aliens, and sometimes those aliens drop weapons and armour. You get experience points for each alien you kill. For a while, you level up. Then you hit the level cap and begin to focus on your power level (this was called your Light Level in the first game), which is a number attached to your armour and guns. The better your armour and guns, the higher your power level, and the tougher enemies and challenges you can take on.

Your rewards will often take the form of engrams, which are basically little gems that you can get “decrypted” and then transform into weapons and armor. You can also get glimmer, which is just Destiny money, as well as XP and reputation points toward whatever groups and factions you’ve decided to pledge yourself to. But basically, the point is to keep getting more guns and armour, forever.

You also spend a lot of time screenshotting scenic vistas with your bros.

You play as one of three different classes, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Titans are slow but sturdy, and their abilities tend to involve shields and defensive barriers. Hunters are agile and their abilities revolve more around precision, weakening enemies, and moving quickly. Warlocks are slow moving but have powerful damage-dealing abilities. Each player has slots for three characters, and you can freely transfer loot between each one. Lots of Destiny players have one character of each class.

The first Destiny rotated activities every week. Every Tuesday night the game would hit a “weekly reset.” The weekly activities would rotate, the counters would start fresh, and you’d have another week to do all the new stuff. I’m assuming that Destiny 2 will work similarly, but don’t know yet.

You can choose to play with your friends or with strangers, and the majority of events in Destiny let you matchmake with randoms and can be completed without voice chat. The few exceptions require you to make a team on your own, because Bungie thinks they should only be played by people who are actively communicating in voice chat.

Activities in Destiny are divided into either player vs. environment (PvE) challenges that can be tackled by teams of one to three players, or player vs. player (PvP) matches in The Crucible, which in Destiny 2 will involve teams of four.

PvE Activities Include:

  • Story missions, which go in order and tell the game’s story. Each day in the first Destiny there was a rotating Heroic Story Mission that remixed one of the existing story missions and offered better rewards at the end to entice people to replay it.
  • Patrols, where you go to one of the game’s designated patrol areas and cruise around looking for sidequests, hidden secrets, and public events. There are some new sorts of patrol missions in Destiny 2 like Lost Sectors, but I’m not sure what they are, so we’ll just pretend they’re lumped in here.
  • Some sort of Arena mode where you take on waves of enemies, challenge-room style. Past iterations have been the Prison of Elders, The Court of Oryx, and The Archon’s Forge. You usually earn some sort of currency that you plug in to begin a round, and the difficulty of the round is dictated by the rarity of the currency you use. Doubtless Destiny 2 will have something similar.
  • Strikes, which are longer, more challenging missions designed for three players. Strikes can be played straight-up but also come in two additional variants: Heroic Strikes, which add modifiers to make things more challenging and The Nightfall Strike, a rotating weekly strike that further modifies an existing strike to be extremely difficult. There’s traditionally been no matchmaking for Nightfall Strikes, meaning you have to make your own team.
  • Raids, which are the pinnacle of Destiny PvE. Raids are designed for a full team of six players and will require communication, coordination and skill to complete. They typically take 10 to 20 hours to complete blind, down to three or four when you know what you are doing, and are typically where the best loot and the most interesting challenges await. Destiny 2’s raid goes live on 13 September, so you’ll have a week to get ready for it. Raids offer a mix of problem solving, puzzle solving, and outright combat. Raids also have no matchmaking, so you can’t just play with randoms. Trust me when I say it’s worth taking the time to find a good group to play with, though. Destiny raids rule.

PvP Crucible Activities Include:

  • A variety of regular competitive game-types like control point domination, deathmatch, and Counter-Strike style bomb defense where you can freely pop in and out and fight against other players. You get loot drops at the end of matches, and can earn currency and reputation by winning. When you play in the Crucible, your levels and power numbers are filed down so that every player is on an level playing field.
  • The Iron Banner, a week-long limited time event that comes along once every six weeks or so. The Iron Banner removes the level playing field of the regular crucible and makes your level and gear numbers matter.
  • The Trials of Osiris, which are the pinnacle of Destiny PvP. Teams of three (likely four in the sequel) compete all weekend in best-out-of-five elimination rounds. As you go through Trials, you get a punchcard that keeps track of your wins and losses. The more wins you get, the better loot you unlock. Get three losses and you’re out and have to go get a new card. Get nine wins with zero losses and you get to go to a very exclusive area on Mercury and pick up a very exclusive new gun. Trials was intense and very fun, for the right kind of player.

THE STORY OF THE GAME ITSELF


I’ve already summarised the story that takes place within Destiny, but the actual most interesting story is the meta-story of Destiny the game. If you want the full version, check out the three-year retrospective I recently published, which goes through every piece of critical writing I did about the game since its first public Alpha in the summer of 2014.

Here’s the shorter version: The game launched and felt unfinished and empty. It had a lot of problems, and was mercilessly exploitative of players. There wasn’t actually very much to do, and most of the game’s biggest problems stemmed from Bungie attempting to stretch an hour of fun gameplay into ten hours. In 2015, my colleague Jason Schreier published a lengthy reported exposé that explains a lot of the problems the game had at launch.

Destiny hit a low point with The Dark Below, then got better with House of Wolves. 2015’s The Taken King was a superb expansion and felt a lot closer to the game people had hoped for a year prior. Throughout 2016 Destiny was at a lower ebb as Bungie shifted focus to the sequel, and while Rise of Iron failed to revitalise the game, it served as a nice goodbye and a reminder of how far Bungie and their game had come in a couple short years.


IMPORTANT CHARACTERS AND OTHER MISCELLANY


There are a ton of ancillary characters in the Destiny universe, though it’s a safe bet most of them won’t feature too prominently in the sequel. However, a few are important enough to explain here.

Ghost is a ghost, obviously. He’s also your Ghost, though of course that means he’s everyone’s Ghost. It took him a lot longer to find you than most Ghosts, though once he did you forged a strong bond through your many adventures and his many dumb jokes. He used to be voiced by Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage, until Bungie erased his weird performance from the game and replaced him with another actor, Nolan North.

Commander Zavala is an Awoken Titan who oversees a lot of the military action in and around the Last City. Zavala is a stern hardcase and is voiced by God’s Perfect Stern Hardcase, actor Lance Reddick. Like the next few characters, Zavala is on the council of The Vanguard, a pseudo-governmental organisation that oversees the Guardians’ day-to-day as they go around fighting evil.

Cayde-6 is an exo hunter played by Nathan Fillion. Which is great casting, since he’s basically an amped-up robot version of Fillion’s Firefly character Malcolm Reynolds. Cayde began as a bit player in Destiny but gradually took on a larger and larger role, eventually becoming one of the main characters of The Taken King. He’s a fan favourite funny-guy, and you can expect to see a lot of him in Destiny 2.

Ikora Rey is another member of the Vanguard, a human who represents the Warlocks. She’s a little bit distant and prizes the pursuit of knowledge over other more mundane concerns. She’s voiced by Zoe Washburne herself, actor Gina Torres.

The Speaker is the leader of the Vanguard, a man (robot? person? I guess?) who acts as the representative of The Traveler on Earth. It’s not entirely clear if he’s going to be in Destiny 2, but he was an important if little-seen character in the first game.

Xur (pronounced Zur) is a weird squid-faced dude who turns up every weekend to sell exotic items for a special currency called Strange Coins. He’s described as an Agent of the Nine, and the Nine in question are a shadowy organisation that we know very little about. It is extremely likely that Xur will return in Destiny 2, hopefully in some sort of surprising new way.

Rasputin is the name of a powerful artificial intelligence known as a “Warmind.” Rasputin is the last surviving Warmind from before the Collapse. He once existed to protect the Earth from enemies, but has become more of an enigmatic figure whose goals are unclear. He really likes classical music.

The Three Factions also get a fair amount of play, so it’s worth at least knowing what they are. Players could pledge to one of them at a time, and earn reputation points for that faction by doing well in the game. The factions are:

Future War Cult, who spend every waking moment preparing for what they see as an inevitable second war with the Darkness.

New Monarchy, a group obsessed with bringing order to the Tower, and who want to replace the Speaker with a more traditional leader.

Dead Orbit are the goth kids of the Tower, obsessed with a sort of manifest destiny drive to go out and settle on other worlds.


THE MEMES AND JOKES AND REFERENCES


If you really get into Destiny 2, you might find yourself hanging around various fan communities online. Chances are good you’ll hear a lot of talk of things you weren’t around for. If you want to know what everyone’s talking about, here are some of the big ones:

The Loot Cave was a famous semi-exploit from the first few weeks of Destiny. Players discovered they could stand in front of a cave and mindlessly shoot enemies for hours on end, eventually earning loot without having to really do anything. It was a silly phenomenon that people still talk about today.

Randal the Vandal was a random Fallen vandal enemy that would occasionally spawn on the Earth patrol in Destiny 1. He had way more health than a normal enemy, though there was no explanation for why. He became a beloved mascot and will hopefully turn up somewhere in Destiny 2.

The fucking Cryptarch is the dude who decrypts your engrams and turns them into loot. When Destiny launched, it was possible for him to give you worse loot than the color of the engram indicated, and he’s long been seen as a vaguely trollish character.

Sweeper Bot is a robot who lives in the tower and sweeps the floor. Fans understandably fell in love with it and it became something of an in-game meme. It even has an appearance in the first story mission of Destiny 2; it’s hard to miss. Way back when Destiny came out, I actually found that Sweeper Bot captured an essential truth about Destiny itself.

There is a sad, lonely robot in the hallway between the town plaza and the lady who sells ships. He stands there all day and night, tirelessly sweeping the same spot on the ground. When you pass him, pause to consider the robot. See how he ceaselessly repeats the same activity over and over, how unaware he is of his own insignificance? Perhaps we’re more like the robot than we’d care to admit.

“Bungo Pls.” A common refrain from players asking Bungie to change something. Imagine, a gif of a person getting owned by a hand cannon at impossible range. The caption: OP. Bungo pls nerf.

No time to explain” references a laughably bad line of dialogue from the first game uttered by a hot robot who apparently knew more than she was letting on. “I don’t have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain,” she says, before leaving the story basically forever. The Exo Stranger, as she was called, barely appeared again in the base game and never appeared in any of the expansions. Eventually we got an exotic version of her gun called No Time To Explain, which was an uncommon bit of winking self-deprecation. We may never see the Exo Stranger again. I kinda feel like she should’ve taken the time to explain.

The Crucible Meta has changed several times over the years, and players like to fondly reminisce on eras long past. There was the early dominance of the Suros Regime auto rifle, the reign of Thorn and the Last Word, and the months when only Pulse Rifles could get a win. Doubtless there will be many more metas to come.

Dinklebot vs. Northbot is an unending debate between which voice actor is the better Ghost, Peter Dinklage or his replacement, Nolan North. (The answer is Nolan North.)

Gjallarhorn was a mighty rocket launcher that, in year one at least, was easily most powerful and useful weapon in the game. It was also extremely rare for it to drop, and some players (LIKE ME) spent months waiting in vain to get it. Many of us remember the moment we finally got Gjallarhorn like we remember our first kiss, or the time we finally realised that sushi was actually delicious. In a cruel twist of fate, Xur sold Gjallarhorn on one of the first weeks he ever appeared, which was well before most people knew they should buy it. He didn’t have it in stock again for nearly a year. Every 14 August the Destiny subreddit celebrates “Gjallarhorn Day” in memory of the day Xur finally returned with the coveted weapon.

Become Legend™ was the tagline of the first game and became a semi-ironic calling card for players who did something impressive. Common usage: “I just beat a raid boss while simultaneously eating a piece of pizza. Today I became legend™.”

“That Wizard Came From The Moon!” is an infamous clunker of a line uttered by Peter Dinklage’s Ghost back in the 2014 Destiny alpha. Bungie subsequently removed it from the game, but rumors of its return will never die.


And that’s what I got. You are now caught up on what Destiny was, what it became, and what you need to know to enjoy playing the sequel.