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Destiny 2 guide: Understanding weapon classes (kinetic, power and energy weapons)

What’s the difference?

In Destiny 2, the weapon class system has seen a massive overhaul. Rather than having primary weapons (hand cannons, scout rifles, etc.), special weapons (sniper rifles, shotguns and fusion rifles) and heavy weapons (rocket launchers, machine guns and swords) like in Destiny, each Guardian can now equip a kinetic, energy and power weapon instead.

Kinetic weapons

Hand cannons, auto rifles, scout rifles, pulse rifles, sidearms and submachine guns (SMGs)
Destiny 2 kinetic weapons
Bungie/Activision

Kinetic weapons shoot bullets. That may seem fairly reductive considering the space guns of Destiny 2, but these bullets have a special purpose. Kinetic weapons are there to take down your enemy’s health bar. Basically, this will be your go-to weapon and the one that deals the highest damage to most enemies.

Energy weapons

Hand cannons, auto rifles, scout rifles, pulse rifles, sidearms and submachine guns (SMGs)
Destiny 2 energy weapons
Bungie/Activision

Energy weapons shoot energy beams and bullets, all of which can come in a unique, elemental flavor: arc (electric), void (purple magic stuff) or solar (fire). On average, these energy weapons do slightly less damage to normal enemies than their kinetic cousins, but they deal far higher damage to shields.

If you are able to match the element of your gun to the shield you are shooting (for example, if you take down a Minotaur’s void shield with your void pulse rifle), the shield will explode, dealing massive damage to all enemy targets in the area. As in the original Halo games, use energy weapons to take down an enemy’s shield so you can finish them off with your kinetic weapon of choice.

Power weapons

Shotguns, sniper rifles, fusion rifles, grenade launchers, rocket launchers and swords
Destiny 2 power weapons
Bungie/Activision

The old special and heavy weapons from Destiny are power weapons in Destiny 2. These guns fire rare ammo (a guaranteed, purple-colored drop from enemies with orange or yellow health bars) and have the potential to deal the highest damage in the game.

Aside from most Super abilities, power weapons are your best tools against boss enemies in strikes and raids. Use these weapons to clear out large groups of enemies all at once, or focus on high-priority targets very quickly.

When to use kinetic weapons versus energy weapons

As we noted above, the best strategy for fighting shielded enemies is to melt their shield with an energy weapon and then, once the shield is gone, switch to a kinetic weapon to take down their actual health bar. This is because in player-versus-environment (PvE) content, the two different gun types don’t do the same level of damage. We’ll take you through the basics, although there’s much more detail in the source for this section, which is a post on the Destiny subreddit.

The main thing to know is that against unshielded enemies, energy weapons do approximately 10 percent less base damage than kinetic weapons. (Note: That figure applies when comparing weapons of the same class — e.g., two auto rifles with similar impact stats — in the same use case, like a body shot against the same kind of enemy.)

Destiny 2 - Hunter aiming exotic hand cannon Sunshot
A Hunter aiming Sunshot, an exotic solar hand cannon that falls under the energy weapon classification in Destiny 2.
Bungie/Activision

That’s not a big difference when you’re fighting low-level baddies during Patrol missions, but every hit point counts when you’re facing hordes of strong enemies in, say, a raid or Nightfall strike. In those situations, it’s smart to stick to your kinetic weapon — even for named boss enemies — unless you see a shielded bad guy.

Against shielded enemies, energy weapons do approximately 2.8 times more base damage than kinetic weapons. (This happens to be about the same difference as between a critical hit, like a headshot, and a body shot.) Note that the specific element doesn’t matter like it did in the original Destiny — in Destiny 2, as long as you’re using an energy weapon against a shield, you’re good. The only advantage in matching the element of your energy weapon to the element of the shield is the aforementioned shield pop explosion; the explosion’s damage output is equivalent to half of the shield’s hit points.

The situation is a bit more simple in the player-versus-player Crucible. When it comes to damage output, there’s no difference between kinetic and energy weapons — except when you’re shooting at a Guardian who has engaged their Super.

Destiny 2 - a game of Countdown in the Crucible Bungie/Activision

Supers confer additional armor to all subclasses except Gunslinger, so no matter what weapon you’re using, you’ll always be doing less damage than usual to an opponent who’s using their Super (unless, again, they’re a Gunslinger). Energy weapons outperform kinetic weapons against Super-armored Guardians — just like they outdo kinetic weapons against shielded PvE enemies.

The Super armor means that if you’re firing a kinetic weapon at, say, a Dawnblade Warlock using their Daybreak Super, you’ll be doing approximately 40 percent less base damage than you’d do normally. That’s why it’s much harder to kill opponents in the midst of their Super attack.

Energy weapons offer a marginal improvement over kinetic weapons, a boost of only 10-15 percent. So the drop-off for energy weapons is around 33 percent less base damage to players in Super mode than to players in their normal state. Of course, that could make all the difference in PvP battles.