clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Destiny's Gjallarhorn is everything wonderful and terrible about the game

It has many nicknames. The Jellyhorn. The Ballerhorn.

It has been immortalized in Lego bricks and YouTube videos. Like Master Chief's Battle Rifle, Assassin's Creed's hidden blade or the Lancer from Gears of War, the Gjallarhorn has become an iconic video game weapon, but possibly for all the wrong reasons.

This weapon embodies the best and worst qualities of Destiny, Bungie's controversial MMO shooter, whose second expansion launches May 19.


The Gjallarhorn is an exotic rocket launcher. It is covered in gold trim and decorative wolf-heads, and its name is derived from Norse mythology; the god Heimdall will blow the Gjallarhorn to herald the end of the world. That may sound a little hyperbolic, but this thing delivers as advertised.

The gun's regal appearance lends a certain degree of pomp and ceremony to Destiny's core business of blasting the shit out of everything that moves. If Joaquin Phoenix's Emperor Commodus from Gladiator had a rocket launcher, it would look like this, and the movie would have a much different ending.

Destiny's gunplay and weapon design are one of the game's strengths, and this is especially true of unique weapons like the Gjallarhorn, the Ice Breaker sniper rifle, the retro-futuristic Suros Regime auto rifle and the cowboy revolver The Last Word.

The Gjallarhorn is also the best weapon in the game for killing raid bosses because of its unique perks. There are several legendary rocket launchers in Destiny whose projectiles split, on impact, into several cluster bombs that create secondary explosions over an area near the site of the original impact.

The Gjallarhorn's rockets, however, split into special "wolfpack rounds," which are homing projectiles. Rather than blanketing an area around the target like regular cluster bombs, all the wolfpack rounds will hit the boss. The game's second-best rocket launcher, which drops from the last boss of the normal-mode Crota's End raid, deals only about two-thirds of Gjallarhorn's damage.

It's the difference between a battle and a slaughter

You can only equip one exotic gun at a time among your primary, secondary and heavy slots, and no other option comes close to matching the Gjallarhorn's damage premium over the best legendary-quality alternative. It's not a little bit better than everything else; it's damned near mandatory for the highest-level play.

A group armed with Gjallarhorns can kill the final boss of the Vault of Glass in seconds during a Time's Vengeance burn phase, while players without these weapons will have to clear at least two or three oracle portals. A group armed with Gjallarhorn can also instantly blast the shield off the last boss of Crota's End, allowing a sword carrier to deal maximum damage. And if a Nightfall strike has a modifier amplifying solar damage, the Gjallarhorn will melt the boss in just a few shots. It's the difference between a battle and a slaughter.

So how do you get it?

The main problem with Gjallarhorn, however, is that it is distributed by Destiny's famously capricious loot system. Exotic weapons in Destiny aren't tied to any particular boss's loot table, or any particular dungeon, but instead have a low chance of being rewarded for a variety of activities, which means there's really no way to "farm" for them.

There's an extremely low chance, probably below 1 percent, of getting an exotic as an end-of-match reward in the Crucible PvP mode, or from finishing a playlist strike. You may also very rarely get an exotic from a legendary-quality engram.

You'll have better odds of getting exotics from specific chests in the Vault of Glass and Crota's End, which you can loot once per character, per week. The best odds on exotics come from the Weekly Nightfall Strike, which has about a 1-in-3 chance of awarding an exotic item. Finally, every weekend, a special vendor named Xur shows up in the tower, selling a random exotic weapon and a random piece of exotic armor for each class in exchange for a special currency called Strange Coins.

The problem is that there are 17 exotic guns that can drop from these activities, and 17 guns that Xur randomly chooses from for his weekly sale, so when you manage to get an exotic gun, it is still extremely unlikely that the gun will be the Gjallarhorn. The random roll that determines exotic drops and Xur's loot table seems to have been weighted toward the three new exotics introduced in the Crota expansion since that launched in January, so a lot of people have received the reviled No Land Beyond sniper rifle multiple times and still haven't gotten their golden rocket launchers.

It's possible to get a legendary heavy-weapon engram five minutes after hitting level 20 on your first character, and get the Gjallarhorn that way. It's also possible to run Nightfalls and raids on multiple characters for months without getting it. And, since there's no way to trade items between players in Destiny, if somebody gets an extra one, they can't share it.

Xur, who is the only vendor who sells exotic gear, and is the main source of exotics for most players, sold Gjallarhorn only once: the second week the game was out. Only the few players who reached max level in the first few days after the game's release had time to scrape together enough Strange Coins to even have an option to buy it, and even those players who had the coins had no way of knowing how awesome the gun was.

Since heavy weapon ammo is scarce, and launchers see much less use than other guns, a lot of people, myself included, hung onto our coins in hopes of buying an exotic primary weapon. Destiny has been out for nearly nine months now, and there are a lot of players out there who are still kicking themselves for not buying it when they had the chance.

On any Friday morning, Xur might show up with a sack of them for everyone, but many players have been waiting, and hoping, for a long time.

The Best and Worst of Destiny

From a design perspective, you can argue that a thing like this should not exist in a game. The Gjallarhorn is so good that players rarely use any of the other exotics in most high-end PvE situations. When Xur shows up with anything else, players are always disappointed, even if they don't yet have the gun he's selling.

And it separates the game into arbitrary classes of haves and have-nots. Fights like hard-mode Crota have such low margins for error that many raid groups don't want to invite anyone without a Gjallarhorn, so dedicated, skilled players are being passed over for invitations to raid groups because they haven't gotten a lucky drop that increases their damage by a third in critical situations.

And tying extremely good gear to extremely rare drops is frustrating. Even World of Warcraft, the entire premise of which is a gear grind, stopped tying legendary equipment to low-drop-rate items years ago.

Players have been waiting, and hoping, for a long time

But if the Gjallarhorn weren't so rare, it would be just another gun that everyone has. And if it weren't so good, it wouldn't be so memorable or so satisfying. There's probably nothing more exciting in this game, or in most others, than seeing that thing pop up on your reward screen. And it feels great to send that rocket screaming toward a boss, and then to see the wolfpack rounds loop around to blast it again.

So if you're wondering why Destiny players complain so much about the game, yet still keep playing it obsessively, look no further than Gjallarhorn. It's the best and worst of Destiny, wrapped up in one beautiful golden package.

The next level of puzzles.

Take a break from your day by playing a puzzle or two! We’ve got SpellTower, Typeshift, crosswords, and more.