part 1 of the guide is here: https://www.reddit.com/r/DestinyTheGame/comments/lwu5t4/moving_into_highlevel_pve_a_guide_season_13_update/
Part 2: Weapons and Weapons Mods
Though the weapons meta changes season by season, depending on buffs, nerfs, and other changes made by the Bungie gods, you can expect a few things to stay consistently true.
For both raids and nightfalls/nightmare hunts, you will want to fill out your seasonal artifact to make sure that you have access to any important mods that it makes available. For Season 12 the champion weapon mods are in the first row (except for the shotgun mod, in the last row). Thermal Overload (fourth row) is important, and Surge Eater is also quite good for grenade refresh on champion disruption.
Exotic weapons that affect champions matter a lot: Eriana’s Vow (affects Barrier champions), Lament (Barrier), and Divinity (Overload) and Leviathan’s Breath (Unstoppable). Of these three Eriana’s and Divinity are really important; Lament does great single-burst damage, but requires you to be awfully close to champions to use it.
High burst damage (single-shot) weapons will be important. Right now these include, among exotics, Izanagi’s Burden, Eyes of Tomorrow, and Wardcliff Coil, as well as the swords Fallen Guillotine and Lament.
Sustained DPS weapons will be important. These are weapons that do significant damge per shot and have a large magazine or reload perks that allow them to maximize the DPS they do. Given the current reload meta, Xenophage is crucial to have; Whisper of the Worm fits in this category as well. Prospector is a slightly off-meta weapon that also does good sustained DPS. Many slug shotguns are also very good—Bonechiller (void), Heritage (kinetic) were both new in Season 12 and do excellent damage. And snipers, especially snipers with large magazines and perks like Triple Tap, can also be viable in certain situations.
If an important weapon has a catalyst, you need to have it and complete it.
Certain perks are far more useful in PvE than PvP. These include auto-reloading holsters, especially for special and heavy weapons, Overflow, and Disruption Break, again useful for Barrier champions. Recuperation is a great perk on slug shotguns like Heritage as it can give you up to 12 in the magazine.
High-end content will usually include the Match Game modifier, which means that enemy shields must be broken by weapons of the same type (void, arc, or solar). Having a reasonable range of weapons in these types—especially in the weapons that help you deal with champions (autos, hand cannons, scouts, and pulses in Season 12)—is part of being a flexible and good teammate. Only being able to run one loadout is … suboptimal.
For right now, season 13, here are the top five must-have exotic weapons:
Why it’s good: Set it and forget it! Anarchy is the best damage-over-time (DoT) weapon in the game. Put two grenades on a boss, walk around a corner, and emote as the health goes down. More generally Anarchy allows you to do boss damage while paying attention to your surroundings and dealing with adds. It’s especially useful in solo content as a result, where you can lay two Anarchy shots on a boss and then hide behind cover or deal with other adds. Anarchy also allows you to control space and quickly deal with low-level mobs by tracing patterns on the floor for them to walk into.
How to get it: exotic vendor in the Tower.
What replaces it: Witherhoard can do similar DoT and low-level add control work, though it’s much less powerful.
Why it’s good: it’s basically a grenade launcher combined with a machine gun. It does very good sustained DPS over the magazine, but suffers from two drawbacks: incredibly slow reload speed and a lack of critical damage. That means that Xeno combines well with the Titan exotic Actium War Rig (which reloads it as it fires) or the Hunter dodge reload, and also with Divinity, which gives it a nice damage boost. Xenophage is sustained boss DPS king right now, not because it does the absolute best damage but because it does great damage and is very easy to use.
What replaces it: Whisper of the Worm, in situations requiring sustained boss damage (final boss of Garden of Salvation, e.g.). Also fast-firing grenade launchers with autoreloading holsters.
Why it’s good: Divinity stuns Overload champions and produces a 30% damage debuff on any mob it hits. It combines very well with snipers since the damage field it creates means that you do not have to hit critical spots on mobs to get critical damage (especially nice on console). In six-person content having a Divinity effectively adds about 0.7 people’s worth of damage to the fireteam (5 people x 30% = 150%, plus the damage Divinity does which is worth another little bit). In three-person content Divinity allows hard-hitting weapons like Izanagi’s to quickly bring down Barrier, Overload, and Unstoppable champions.
What replaces it: the debuff function of Divnity can be replaced with a hunter tether or a top-tree solar Titan shoulder charge. The overload stunning function can be replaced with Overload grenades or a seasonal weapon mod. Debuffs caused by stasis do not benefit the entire fireteam, only the caster, and so replace it only partially.
4. Izanagi’s Burden
Why it’s good: with the catalyst, an Izanagi’s Honed Edge shot does the damage of six single shots instantly. Paired with Divinity this makes Izanagi’s the fastest/best burst damage weapon in the game. Unfortunately a major nerf in season 10 means that the weapon’s reload speed is not fast enough to make it ideal for sustained DPS damage. But it’s still good. Two Izanagi’s shots plus Divinity is enough to kill a champion in a master nightfall, and to bring one down to about 20% health in a grandmaster.
How to get it: from the exotic vendor in the tower.
What replaces it: nothing, though on PC, where controlling weapons is easier, you can get off six or seven shots on a Vorpal sniper fast enough to come close. Whisper of the Worm if you hit all your crits (to trigger auto reload) does very good damage but nothing like the instant burst of the Izanagi’s. Izanagi’s was for a while the meta for many raid boss fights but has been replaced by other weapons on this list, though it’s still pretty good.
Note that without the catalyst Izanagi’s only does 5x damage on Honed Edge shots, making it less good.
5. Eriana’s Vow
Why it’s good: it breaks barriers on Barrier champions at range; the buff it gets from hitting crits on your first and subsequent shots makes it a pretty decent damage-dealer as well. In seasons where anti-barrier mods are associated only with short-range weapons (as in Season 10, when they were on sidearms and SMGs) Eriana’s is a must for dealing with Barrier champions.
How to get it: from the exotic vendor in the tower.
What replaces it: anything with anti-barrier rounds. For season 12, that’s pulse rifles, or you can use the heavy attack of the Lament exotic sword.
Without the catalyst Eriana’s does not autoreload and only has 6 (instead of 9) in the mag, making it much worse.
Some other weapons are important to have and very useful in limited situations. These include:
Why it’s good: Lament is a very fun exotic sword-slash-chainsaw that does the highest burst damage in the game. Over time the need to wait for the heavy attack to recharge brings its overall damage down, but if you need to do max damage in a second or two, then this is a great weapon for you. It’s useful, for instance, in the Atraks encounter of the Deep Stone Crypt raid for that reason.
The downside of Lament is that it takes up an exotic slot that might better be used on something else. At reasonable light levels (1250 or so, relative to the 1230 Atraks encounter) Fallen Guillotine does enough damage in similar situations so that Lament can feel more like a luxury than a necessity.
What replaces it: Fallen Guillotine or possibly another slightly less good sword with Whirlwind Blade perk.
Whisper of the Worm
Why it’s good: it’s a hard-hitting, three-round sniper that reloads automatically from reserves if you hit all three crit shots. That makes it very useful for sustained boss DPS in situations where you can be pretty sure of hitting your crits: Morgeth encounter in Last Wish (or, in season 11, the boss in Scourge, or the tanks in the Zero Hour mission). It also comes from doing one of the most fun missions in the game, which has now sadly been moved to the content vault.
How to get it: the exotic vendor in the Tower.
What replaces it: any number of things in the list above.
Without the catalyst Whisper is less good; with the catalyst you get a significant damage bonus after aiming down sights for a few seconds before firing.
Why it’s good: it’s basically a shotgun rocket launcher that does great close-range damage. It’s very useful when you can tackle a boss at short range, and when you don’t blow yourself up with it. A couple seasons ago it was great in the Strange Terrain GM NF. This season, with the buff to rocket launchers, it may shine again.
How to get it: world drop
What replaces it: a grenade launcher with auto-loading holster, kind of.
Eyes of Tomorrow
What about this weapon? It sounds amazing but early data seems to show that it will not be great for boss damage. In general it’s a cool weapon but it’s not clear that it’s really the best at anything, though Season 13 rocket launcher upgrades may change this situation.
How to get it: chance to drop from final encounter in DSC
What replaces it: ???
Useful Legendary Weapons
Having a good slug shotgun for damage in the Deep Stone Crypt raid is very nice. Options include Bonechiller and Heritage, as well as First In Last Out. Look for reload perks or perks that increase magazine size.
Likewise, a good sniper with Vorpal Weapon and Triple Tap can come in handy for certain boss damage situations. Against barrier champions, weapons with Disruption Break are useful; the Ikelos SMG can drop with this, as can the Jian-7 pulse rifle.
The other absolutely critical weapon to own is the sword Fallen Guillotine, ideally with Whirlwind and Relentless Strikes.
Finally, this season you may want to consider having a rocker launcher handy. They’ve been buffed and a couple of the new nightfall strikes involve large bunches of mobs. We won’t know for a while whether rockets are viable, but they might be. A good place to start is with Bad Omens, which is available for purchase from the Drifter.
Exotic Primary Weapons that Heal
For raid encounters where you don’t need boss damage (Gauntlet in Leviathan, first and second encounters in Garden of Salvation, many others), you can also run exotic primary weapons that help keep you alive: Crimson (heal on kill), Rat King (heal/invis on kill, with catalyst), Suros Regime (occasional heal on kill, especially with catalyst), or Vigilance Wing (heals when a teammate dies). In general you don’t want to waste an exotic slot on a primary weapon but if you’re not doing boss damage that’s fine. These can all be useful for the first three encounters of Deep Stone Crypt, if you’re having trouble staying alive. In sublight content (1280 lost sectors, grandmaster nightfalls) you won’t kill things fast enough to make these kinds of weapons worth it, but they can be very useful when soloing dungeons (Rat King is great for the Totem encounter in the Pit of Heresy, for example).
The only enemy-specific weapons mod is Taken Spec, which comes in handy in all sorts of high-end content involving Taken enemies (it does 10% more damage). Other than that a good selection of Boss, Major, and Minor spec (each does 7.5% more damage) will tend to be the most useful.
Remember also (and see above) that your weapons are very much affected by your armor mods, and that you will need to set up your armor mods with reload, reserves, and/or dexterity perks that affect your current loadout.
Also, an important note: champions, though they are yellow-bar enemies, count as majors. So Major Spec is the way to go here.
The Current Metas (Season 13)
These are the dominant strategies, not the only strategies. But they’re what you can expect when joining an LFG group.
Last Wish: right now Fallen Guillotine or Lament work for essentially every encounter. With Shuro Chi it’s nice to have one person running Thunderlord for low-level add clear; the Necrotic Grips exotic on a Warlock is also fun. Having at least one well is useful. For Morgeth encounter you can also use Whisper, especially if you are on a Petra’s Run and don’t want things to be as risky as they are behind the back. For the final encounter (not legit, but cheesed) having a debuff of some kind (Divinity, or a hunter tether) is very important.
Garden of Salvation: For the first two encounters anything goes, with swords doing some good work. For third encounter use Xenophage or Whisper plus a Divinity; for final encounter same thing, except that you can just tether the boss and skip the Divinity. Warlocks are better off using 1000 Voices for final encounter instead as the Xenophage reload is too slow.
Deep Stone Crypt: This raid is nice because it accepts a wide variety of loadouts. For the first encounter, fuses can be broken by one Celestial Nighthawk shot, by Xenophage, or by any slug or pellet shotgun (especially one with autofire; Fourth Horseman is great). In the second, swords like Lament or Fallen Guillotine are the way to go for quick replicant damage; Jotunn is an easy way to kill servitors from afar. For the final stand encounter (upstairs in space) one Celestial Nighthawk shot is almost enough to end the encounter on the first replicant, saving you lots of panicked running around. For the third encounter anything goes; for the final encounter someone needs to be running Divinity, and then damage can be done with Xenophage, slug or pellet shotguns, and snipers (including Cloudstrike). It’s nice to save a Celestial for the final stand mechanic.
The easiest way to run the raid is to run shotguns/swords for every encounter until the last one. Thanks to Sundering Glare/Focusing Lends mods multiple Thundercrashing Titans can also make the final encounter fun.
Shattered Throne (solo): Sniper rifles for first encounter and second. Be patient! Vorgeth is the difficult piece here. Part of soloing dungeons is recognizing that Bungie puts in sections with trash mobs that are specifically designed for you to fill your special and heavy ammo reserves; use them accordingly. My warlock guide is here: https://www.reddit.com/r/DestinyTheGame/comments/cohz2w/solo_shattered_throne_flawless_onephase_vorgeth/. The guide is out of date as the mods have all changed; I would make sure you’re running Concussive Dampener and Sniper for the first couple encounters. The Stomcaller/GL/Izanagi combo still works for the final encounter.
Pit of Heresy (solo): The difficult encounter is the third one. Having a way to heal (devour Warlock, punchy Titan) or be invis (Hunter) or both (use Rat King with catalyst) is crucial. Xenophage makes short work of boomers, as does Izanagi. For boss damage in final encounter groups use a well or bubble and swords; for solo I prefer Anarchy and Loaded Question. Hive mods a must. My guide for Hunters is here: https://www.reddit.com/r/DestinyTheGame/comments/f5lo0p/solo_flawless_pit_of_heresy_hunter_guide_for/ The guide is out of date as the mods have all changed; I would make sure you’re running Concussive Dampener and Arc Resist for the first couple encounters, as the loss of Hive Armaments and Hive Barrier are going to make life a bit more difficult.
Prophecy (solo): The easiest loadout used to involve Mountaintop and Anarchy. Since Mountaintop has been sunset you will have to try other things, like Xenophage, Witherhoard, Riskrunner, Fallen Guillotine, and even Trinity Ghoul for certain sections. Jotunn can also work especially in groups. Begin with a plan to use Solar and Concussive resist mods, and work from there.
Hawkmoon (solo flawless): The easiest week to do this in is week 1 (with the single boss who shields up and disappears between damage phases). For the first part be prepared to switch weapons to deal with miniboss shields (there’s one of each) and try to damage minibosses quickly so that they move to the next area—this despawns all the adds that surround them. The hardest part of this is the fight against the Unstoppables; make sure you can stun and move around the arena; you can find cover on both sides behind a box that has two pipes attached to it. The key here is to use Xenophage to take down snipers from cover as quickly as possible. For the boss fight I recommend Gnawing Hunger, Xeno, and a sniper. On the right side once adds are down there are rocks you can use to avoid the boss’s fire attack and snipe from safety. Once adds spawn in jump up, put down a rift if you have one (I ran a top-tree void Warlock with Contraverse), and immediately destroy the solar-shielded knight. Then clear out the void-shielded adds on that side, then the same thing on the other side. Be patient and calm.
Presage (solo flawless): Until the boss fight Xeno, a shotgun, and gnawing hunger work well. There’s no match game in the regular version (which is where the triumph comes from) so the arc shields you’ll encounter in the hangar are easily dealt with. For the boss fight I ran Trustee (but anything solar would be fine), Anarchy, and a shotgun. Since there’s no time limit you can really take your time here. I ran a Contraverse Warlock for the first part, and a Well for the boss fight.
GM NFs: The key here is to adjust loadout and mods to mob type. Depending on the nightfall boss damage can involve Fallen Guillotine (Lake of Shadows) or Wardcliff Coil (Strange Terrain) or Izanagi’s Burden (Festering Core) or Xenophage (The Corrupted) … or something else. Plan accordingly. In Season 12 the meta really became a combination of Xenophage and Anarchy; you could practically run that loadout for every single GM.
For season 13, much of your loadout consideration here will depend on the type of champions. For Overload Champions, Divinity is incredibly useful. It combines well with Izanagi’s Burden so you’ll often see a two Izanagi’s, one Divinity loadout. Having a second person run a scout with Overload rounds can be a godsend here. For Unstoppable champions you’ll want a pulse r hand cannon (and probably two people with this). Since they don’t heal they are in some respects the easiest champion to deal with. As for Barriers, the Divinity/Izanagi combo will probably work well, both because it synergizes with Sundering Glare and because you can run anti-barrier sniper and then run whatever energy weapon you’d like.
Another weapon I really recommend is a breech-loaded grenade launcher with autoloading holster and blinding grenades (Truthteller rolls with this combo). It’s an amazing useful way to control crowds and does decent damage on direct hits. (Salvager’s Salvo seems like it might be neat but the problem is that in GMs you won’t get kills often enough to proc Chain Reaction.)
The other thing to remember is that since Match Game is on you will have to be able to break whatever shields there are.
In terms of subclasses: it is very rare to see anything other than void Hunters, void Titans, and void and solar Warlocks. In season 11 that was especially true because of the presence of the Oppressive Darkness buff, but even in season 10 you didn’t see much else. In general Warlocks are the easiest classes to run through these, because they have good healing (with Wells), good single-burst damage supers (Chaos Reach, Nova Bomb), the best always-ready grenade (void, with Contraverse), and the best crowd control stasis super. If you only run one class and you want to do this content, make it a Warlock.
Last note: one of the weird things about these nightfalls is that the strategy tends to be split into two very different experiences: getting to the boss fight, which involves dealing with lots of champions, and then the boss fight itself. So for example in Strange Terrain Wardcliff Coil allows you to three-phase the boss, which makes things much easier, but it’s more or less useless against champions, so you have to figure out a loadout that works for the champions (auto rifles for barriers, e..g), which occupy the first twenty or thirty minutes of the strike.
For season 13 we have three older nightfalls, and three new ones (Fallen SABER, Devil’s Lair, Proving Grounds). The new ones seem like they’ll be especially challenging because of mob density and lack of cover in a number of places (especially Fallen SABER).
Nightmare Hunts (time-trial): Most of these don’t have void shields, so you can spec into arc and solar. If you commit to a full invisibility strategy (which probably requires two bottom-tree void Hunters) you can skip all the champions, but I always find it easier just to figure out how to kill them and move forward. Many of the hunts have a safe area in the final boss fight where you can hide or at least control the flow of enemies toward you. Having a well and a tether is very useful here, and the Nightmare Breaker mod is incredibly useful for getting rid of those pesky solar shields.
Solo Lost Sectors: Here Anarchy really is your best friend. There are other options but making sure you can break all the shields you need to break (usually arc and solar) and that you can get champions stunned or barriers broken before they heal (which often means making sure you won’t have to reload at a stupid time) will really help. I have found that stasis classes, because of the grenade mods and the fact that the duskfield grenade keeps barrier champions from popping their barriers, are easier than others. Most of these are doable, with some practice, once you’re 20 power levels below them (so, 1260 for a 1280), and become much easier as you level up.
Master Empire Hunts: With an organized fireteam of three people 20 levels below the activity you should be able to handle things. I’ve found Eriana’s Vow surprisingly useful in these; Anarchy also is great for putting damage on stuff and getting into cover. The auto rifle Overload rounds often put you too close to the action, and seem kind of finicky; I prefer Scout, at least for now, as it more reliably stuns Overloads and keeps them overloaded and not healing. Without Anarchy I think you want to look at Witherhoard as a useful damage over time weapon, or consider having someone run Lament as an invis Hunter so that you can get close to Barriers without dying. I do think that the Barrier champions are by far the most difficult to deal with. The fact that you can bait Overload champions towards you and around a corner, where they can be stunned and then quickly killed with swords, makes them much easier to handle.
What’s one thing I should do differently in PvE?
Throw more grenades! Most people underuse their grenades because normal-level PvE content means that grenades kill most stuff too slowly relative to SMGs, sidearms, shotguns, fusions, and so on. But they’re really useful in high-level/sublight content, where you’re almost always going to be at auto-rifle range, or farther.
What’s the one thing I can do to improve in raids?
Stop dying. Especially in the more recent raids, from Scourge of the Past forward (including Crown of Sorrow and Garden of Salvation) one player death during the third or fourth encounters can lead to a cascading series of disasters from which it is very difficult to recover. Likewise in DSC an Operator death at the wrong time in the fourth encounter, or a Suppressor death at the wrong time in the third or fourth encounters, can quickly produce a wipe.
Learn the map so you can use cover as you move; learn the spawns so you know when an Ogre will appear and are ready to kill it (rather than get melted because you were not aware it was going to be there); learn to avoid Taken blights and phalanxes and boss stomps that will slam you into a wall and kill you.
Stop being surprised when you die… so often that I hear someone complaining that they don’t know how they died, or that it’s unfair that the stomp or the phalanx one-shot them by bumping them into a corner. First of all you need to know what killed you or you can’t improve. Second of all it should really not take too many times of being booped into a corner to realize that this kind of thing is part of the game… and it means that you need to know where the boss stomp radius is (as in the final encounter of the Pit of Heresy) and where the phalanxes are, so that you can avoid them.
What’s the second thing I can to improve in raids?
Learn all the roles. It’s very easy to get comfortable with whatever role you have the first time you run the raid, and never do anything else. But it makes it harder for everyone else if they have to adjust to you. Some roles are more mechanical or combat difficult than others (for instance holding down the fourth corner in the second encounter of Garden, or running upstairs Scanner during the Atraks encounter of DSC); you can work your way up to them. Knowing how to do everything means that it’s easier for you to cover for your teammates when something goes wrong (and it will go wrong). If you’ve never gathered motes in the GoS boss encounter, for instance, and all of a sudden someone needs to jump through the portal to get another 10 motes because you had a sacrifice, you want to be ready to do that job. And likewise if you’ve never built ground, you can’t help if one of the defenders goes down and the other one needs you. Being a good teammate means understanding other people’s jobs as well as your own.
What are the important weapons/damage synergies?
The most important one is the Divinity/Izanagi’s combo. Three people who can put a Divinity bubble on a champion and then hit it with two Izanagi’s shots within a second of each other will really be able to do well in high-end nightfall content. Less important but useful is knowing how and when to take advantage of debuffs like champion stuns or Titan Melting Points—making sure you’re in a position to use as much of the debuff time as possible as efficiently as possible.
What are some important class synergies?
Beyond the obvious super-based ones (wells, bubbles and tethers), many of these belong to Warlocks, who tend (in my experience) to underuse healing grenades and ought generally to throw them at their teammates more often. Similarly Warlocks tend to cast their healing rifts when they need them. Cast them when your teammates might need them! As for Titans, they heal their fireteam on melee kills (top tree void) or grenade damage (middle tree void); be aware that you can use these skills strategically to help your teammates survive. Likewise with barricades, which can be critical in securing a rez or keeping someone alive after they’re rezzed. As for Hunters, beyond the obvious invisibility perks, I would say that they tend really to underuse smoke bombs in PvE—they can be critical in add control by giving your group time to breathe and pick off adds one by one.
Part of the reason to get better at this game is to get good enough so that you’re not playing just for yourself, but for others—to master your class so that it not only keeps you alive and doing good damage but helps your fireteam do those things too.
Above-light raids and sublight nightfalls/nightmare hunts: which is harder?
Raids when you are higher light level than the enemies are mainly a matter of experience, teamwork, and communication. You will engage ordinary mobs at short ranges and can use a much wider range of weapons. Sublight and/or solo content requires you absolutely to prioritize your health, which means using cover and abilities to stay alive as much as possible, engaging enemies at range and using movement to avoid fire. The latter is definitely harder and requires a real focus on gear and mods to make sure you’re giving yourself every advantage you can.
That said, part of building up good PvE gear is to give you the bonuses and boosts you need to help you stay alive in raids so that you can focus on learning the mechanics and doing boss damage. So you want a good set, even if you’re above light, because that will help you focus on the important stuff you need to learn, instead of worrying about dying.
How do I get the materials I need to upgrade all my armor?
Besides the ascendant shards and prisms you get from the season pass and from the Drifter and Shaxx for leveling up your Gambit or Crucible rank, the best way to get Ascendant Shards is to do grandmaster nightfalls, or to farm master nightfalls once you’re close enough in light to that number to make those easy. The other way is go flawless in Trials. So you’re probably best off farming the master nightfalls, especially in weeks where there are double rewards.
This guide didn’t talk about something I’d like to hear more about. Or you didn’t tell people about some weapon/class/ability situation I think is important!
Well, yes. It’s already 9,000 words long. But if you post in the comments people will read them, and if I edit the document to reflect your suggestion, I’ll make sure to credit you! So please give me feedback.