Destiny, Bungie's controversial multiplayer shooter, is famously addictive yet notoriously grindy and disrespectful of players' time.
Its game systems are also incredibly intricate, and sometimes counterintuitive, so even experienced players can often use some tips on how to collect the game's shiniest rewards without pouring unreasonable amounts of their life into the game.
Five Hours of Loot
All it takes is between three and five hours per week of playtime to get the best loot, if you're a competent player and all your characters are at level 31.
If you need to get to that point, I'll discuss the best ways to do so as well.
That's about how long it takes to do three Crota's End raids, three Nightfall strikes and three level 30 weekly heroic strikes. These are the most lucrative activities in the game, and they can only be done once per week, per character.
The raid drops legendary armor that can reach 36 Light when fully upgraded; legendary guns with excellent perk loadouts and higher stat budgets than vendor guns; as well as exotic guns and the radiant currencies that are used to upgrade all the good stuff.
The Nightfall is a special level 30 strike with a bunch of difficult modifiers, as well as some fun ones that make elemental attacks do bonus damage. It has a high chance to drop exotic gear, and if it doesn't award that it will give you a legendary weapon, a legendary engram and/or some ascendant materials.
At the very least you'll get some Strange Coins, a currency used to buy exotic gear and exotic upgrade materials from Xur, a special vendor who only appears in the game's social hub area on weekends. No matter what you get, it will be worth your time. This is a high-value activity.
If you complete the Nightfall, your character will get a buff called Radiant Light, which gives you a 20 percent bonus to all reputation and experience gains until the next Tuesday reset. However, Nightfall strikes have a special "nightfall" modifier that causes you to return to orbit if all members of your fireteam are knocked out, so a failure in this activity means you have to start over from the beginning. You'll have to work for your riches.
The weekly heroic strike is a second special level 30 strike that is easier than the Nightfall, and rewards 9 Strange Coins and some rare engrams.
You can do them all in three hours if you have a short strike for the Nightfall, like the Nexus, that you can clear in less than 15 minutes, and if your raid groups are very competent and can fully clear Crota's End in half an hour. If you fail the Nightfall once or twice, or if your groups struggle to defeat Crota, it may take closer to five hours.
If you don't have a regular group of friends to do raids or Nightfalls with, I recommend using a third-party site to find groups. The best way to assure that you can quickly complete the Nightfall each week is to collect a set of weapons for each of the three elements to make sure you can take full advantage of any elemental burn modifier, and to try to group with players who have done the same.
Once you find a group like this, it's probably most efficient to stick with them and do the weekly and Nightfall strikes on all your characters in a single sitting.
Finding a good group and sticking with it for multiple clears in a single sitting is also a good way to avoid getting stuck in a raid group that can't kill Crota.
You may have noticed that I have assumed, up to this point, that you have three characters in Destiny. This is because you really need to have three characters in Destiny.
All your characters can share a single set of guns by swapping gear through the Tower's vault, so if you have three characters, you get triple the loot rolls in raids and Nightfalls, and triple the Strange Coins from weekly strikes. Because these activities are so much more profitable than anything else you can do in the game, there's no way to keep up if you don't have three characters.
You could play 30 hours a week on one character and still get less loot and make less progress than a player with three characters will earn in three to five hours of weekly activities.
If you aren't interested in collecting more than one set of armor, you can roll second and third characters who are the same class as your main character, and they can share armor as well as weapons through the vault. That way, when you collect a set of level 32 armor, all your characters will be level 32, which is really nice. However, you won't have any character slots left to play with any other classes.
Changes since The Dark Below
There are several activities that used to be profitable, but are much less important since the launch of The Dark Below last month.
Daily heroic story missions were fairly necessary in vanilla Destiny because they awarded Ascendant Shards and Energy, which you needed to upgrade your legendary gear. Now you don't need as many of these currencies, so once you reach level 31 you can probably ignore this activity unless you feel like running a story mission.
Heroic story missions still award 7500 experience, but there's a bug that prevents this experience from being applied to your weapons. Since the hotfix just before The Dark Below, daily heroic story missions also award 16 planetary materials if you complete them on the hardest difficulty level. Useful, but much less necessary.
You'll want to rethink your relationship with the Vault of Glass
Public events have also changed. The first public event you complete on each character each day will send a package to your mailbox containing an Ascendant Shard or Energy, or a Strange Coin or a Mote of Light. Since you don't need much ascendant currency anymore, there's no need to go looking for public events. But picking up these packages from the mailbox does reward 5000 experience, which is properly applied to your weapons.
You'll want to rethink your relationship with Vault of Glass, too. The raid armor set from the Vault of Glass only has 30 Light per piece, while the armor added to reputation vendors in The Dark Below has 33 Light per piece. That means that full vendor gear gets you to level 31, while full Vault of Glass raid gear only gets you to level 30. This armor is pretty much useless now.
However, the Vault of Glass is still the only place to get legendary primary weapons with elemental damage, which are very useful in Nightfalls, even though these guns have a maximum damage of 300, while Dark Below guns, including those you get from vendors, can be upgraded to 331 damage.
The exotic Vex Mythoclast gun is also only available in the Vault of Glass on hard mode. When the hard mode version of Crota's End is released later this month, you'll be able to get elemental primaries with 331 damage there, but until you get those the Vault weapons will be useful.
There are some new ways to get planetary materials as well. First, they're awarded for doing daily heroic stories. Second, each day there's a bounty to do six patrol missions on a planet, and that bounty will award 10 of that planet's materials. Finally, you can now buy 10 of any planetary material for 10 Vanguard or Crucible marks. If you're level 31 already and getting raid weapons, you've really got nothing else to buy with your marks, so hopefully you can stop farming these materials now.
The exotic upgrade system introduced in The Dark Below requires you to go to great expense to upgrade your pre-expansion exotics to the new Light or damage levels. Upgrading an exotic gun is a lot of work, and there's no reason to expect that Bungie won't make you reset all your guns again when the next DLC comes out. It's not advisable to waste time upgrading any exotics other than the most useful ones.
Fortunately, there are a few ways to shorten this
For raids, you will always want to have either the Ice Breaker sniper rifle or the Gjallarhorn rocket launcher equipped. These two guns outstrip any legendary or exotic alternative by a huge margin, and they're indisputably the best and most useful guns in the game. If you don't have both of them, you should make sure you have 17 coins set aside every week in case Xur stocks one of them.
If you get a Gjallarhorn, you will be a better person and have a better life.
In Crucible, Suros Regime, The Last Word, Vex Mythoclast and the PlayStation-exclusive Hawkmoon are probably the best exotic choices. Beyond those, you have to kind of weigh the utility of upgrading another exotic against how much you value your time.
The Patience and Time sniper rifle, the Truth rocket launcher and the Thunderlord machine gun are all good for corresponding Nightfall burn modifiers, and Truth is also fun in the Crucible. The MIDA Multi-Tool scout rifle and the Bad Juju pulse rifle can also be fun, but you don't really need them.
The Iron Banner
The Iron Banner is active for one week per month. This Crucible event removes some of the gear normalization that is usually active in PvP encounters, and offers reputation rewards. Unfortunately, to get all the rewards, you have to reach rank 5, which requires a total of 8,500 reputation points. Winning a match only awards 50 reputation, so that's an incredible grind to undertake in a week.
Fortunately, there are a few ways to shorten this.
First of all, there are six bounties each day, which are each worth 100 reputation. Some of them are pretty difficult, like the bounty that requires you to kill 10 players without dying, but some are pretty easy.
The Iron Banner emblem, shader and class item also each provide a 10 percent boost to Iron Banner reputation gains when equipped. This isn't included on their tooltips, so many people don't know this.
Finally, the Iron Banner vendor sells a buff called "Tempered" for one Mote of Light. The buff lasts 12 hours and provides a flat boost to all reputation gains. Each day of the Iron Banner, the buff gets stronger. It only adds 10 percent to your rep gains when the event begins on Tuesday, but it's worth 150 percent bonus rep on the following Monday, the last day of the event.
For reference, I was getting 166 reputation for winning a game on Monday during the last Iron Banner with the Tempered buff and all the reputation items equipped, and each bounty I turned in with those buffs awarded over 300 reputation.
The best way to do Iron Banner rep is to play moderately, if at all, the first couple of days, and just try to do some of the bounties. Try to work on it a little bit more during the weekend and, if you can, plan for a marathon session on Monday night.
Reaching Level 31
You have a grind ahead of you if you're not yet level 31.
In order to reach that level, you will need to buy equipment from the Vanguard or Crucible vendors and upgrade it. With The Dark Below, Bungie upgraded the gear at these vendors from level 29 to level 31, but also added new Commendation currencies that you'll need in order to buy chest armor and helms, and you have to get to rank 3 to get one of those.
You get Vanguard rep pretty quickly from doing bounties, and pretty slowly from doing strike playlists and patrols. Regular patrols are worth 10 reputation points, but you get 30 for the patrols that send you to kill a particular target enemy. If you bring up your Ghost to highlight patrol beacons, these missions appear as a circle with a star in the middle.
You also have six bounties per day, which reward 50 or 100 rep each. If you do nothing but the bounties to gain rep, and you only do four of the six bounties each day, you'll need a couple of weeks to get the rep you need.
If you plan to use both Vanguard and Crucible marks to get gear, you can do it a little bit faster, since you can earn 100 of each kind of mark per week. But Crucible bounties tend to take longer to complete than Vanguard bounties, and Crucible marks accrue more slowly.
If you're trying to do this the most efficient way, it's easier to ignore Crucible and grind Vanguard on two characters of the same class to circumvent the weekly cap on Vanguard marks.
Call it 30 total strikes and twenty minutes per strike, at least
You will also need Vanguard or Crucible marks to purchase this armor, plus experience, planetary materials and ascendant shards to upgrade it. You can get Vanguard marks from public events, daily heroic stories and strike playlists.
To get shards, you will need to do public events and daily heroic story missions. You might also want to try the Vault of Glass, which will award you a lot of shards, and is worth experiencing at least once. You can also equip one piece of 30 Light Vault of Glass armor and still be level 31, if you also have an exotic with 36 Light equipped, which might speed up your gearing process.
In total, you'll need to run about 45 minutes of bounties per day for two weeks, as well as enough playlist strikes or public events, to get your marks — call it 30 total strikes and twenty minutes per strike, at least.
Then, you'll need to collect the shards, which will take a few weeks of daily heroic story missions, at about 20 minutes each, or four or five of Vault of Glass raids, which can be completed in 30 minutes, but can also take much longer if your group isn't experienced.
All told, you're looking at about 30 hours of collecting and upgrading gear from the first time you hit level 20, and those hours must be spread over at least a couple of weeks, due to the daily lockouts on bounties and heroic story missions, and the weekly Vault of Glass lockout.
If you have multiple characters of the same class, remember that you only have to do this once for all of them, and then they can share a single set of Level 31 equipment. However, you'll have to obtain and upgrade separate sets of armor for each class if you play more than one.
A lot of fun, but also a lot of work
So, that's what you have to do to stay competitive in Destiny as of The Dark Below expansion.
If you're playing the game, hopefully you have an idea of what's ahead of you, and if you're not, maybe you have a better idea of why Destiny players are so addicted and so frustrated. It takes less time than you assume if you play the game at peak efficiency, but that may not be the most fun way to play.
But then again, excellence is a path for the few. Eyes up, Guardians.