Moving into High-Level PvE: Armor/Weapons Guide (Part 1)

Content of the article: "Moving into High-Level PvE: Armor/Weapons Guide (Part 1)"

This is a guide for players who are comfortable with the game, but have not yet moved into high-level PvE content–mainly master/grandmaster nightfalls, flawless raids and raid challenges, soloing dungeons, and the like.

This is part 1, for part 2 of the guide (on weapons and the current meta), see here:

Why you should trust me

I’ve got a few hundred raid completions, including flawless completions of the post-year 1 raids, and I’ve soloed each of the dungeons flawlessly as well. But also: I’m not an amazing player; I’d say I’m above average but I am nowhere near as talented as some of the people whose videos you can watch online, or indeed who are in my clan. I am someone who has to work hard to get good and who makes up for a lack of talent with stubbornness and a willingness to learn from my mistakes.

So this advice is not for the amazing D2 player. It’s for someone who’s just starting to move into raiding or is thinking about working on raid triumphs, or soloing a dungeon for the first time, or maybe dreaming of earning the Conqueror title. My main goal is to help you become a better teammate—to know what weapons, mods, and armor you need in different situations, and to learn how to use them. Hopefully I’ll answer your basic questions and give you a starting point from which you can learn more.

What do I mean by high-level PvE content?

  1. Raids: multi-encounter structures that require team coordination and adaptation to/knowledge of various raid-specific mechanics (ball throwing, buff swapping, tethering, cranium charging, etc.)
  2. Sublight challenges: master and grandmaster nightfalls, master nightmare hunts, or any new content where players are likely to be 0-25 light levels below the enemies they face. This content includes raids and dungeons in their initial season of being offered.
  3. Solo challenges: attempts to accomplish 1 and 2 by yourself or with a suboptimal team (like doing a raid with three people instead of six).

General Advice

As you begin to push into more challenging content, one lesson is key: dying is not good. That’s kind of a strange lesson to have to learn, but the reality is that Destiny does not punish you much for dying in ordinary content. That makes it easy to develop habits that will serve you poorly in raids and other situations, where dying can lead to a cascading series of mishaps that will cause a wipe or an extinguish mechanic. So one of your main goals as you start playing in these situations is to try to get better at not dying.

The other thing to begin to learn—and which the game does not really force you to learn—is how to make weapons, armor, and ability builds that synergize both internally, in relation to your own character, and externally, in relation to your teammates and the environment. Understanding, for instance, not only your role in a given raid encounter but the roles of your teammates, and knowing what classes or weapons they’re running so that you can communicate with them about what to do next, are both critical to becoming a stronger team player. And understanding how your armor and weapons, your mods and class abilities, all interact is critical to your being able to maximize your impact as a solo player.

All this advice is focused on building up the basic sets of gear that will help you through difficult PvE content. I have probably forgotten many things, and of course you can always do things with an off-meta or weird loadout, either because you’re a masochist or because you want to challenge yourself. What’s below focuses on the basics.

Part 1: Armor and Armor Mods

In general a good PvE build will be a fully masterworked set of armor with high recovery and discipline or intellect. (Resilience sounds good but has no real impact on PvE combat.) For raids you might end up using melee abilities, but for sublight content you will mostly be fighting at range, and meleeing only in a panic. Grenades have a wide variety of important uses (hence discipline), and supers (and super energy) are also always useful (hence intellect), so spec into one of those if you can. In general armor stats matter much less in PvE than PvP; your armor mods will almost certainly not be focused on other things, which we’ll discuss in a second.

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For now it’s worth noting that high-end PvE content tends to feature a pretty limited set of class and subclass options, along with a certain number of key exotic armor pieces.

Hunters: (1) Top or bottom tree void, with Orpheus Rigs (especially top tree) or Sixth Coyote or Wormhusk Crown (the last two for solo especially). (2) Bottom tree solar with Celestial Nighthawk for one-shot boss damage, mainly in raids. (3) Middle tree solar with Assassin’s Cowl for heal on knife melee, for solo content.

Titans: (1) Top tree void, for the bubble, along with the Helm of Saint-14 (in some circumstances), or (2) middle tree void, for the barrier, with Ursa Furiosas for orb generation. In some situations, particularly when using Xenophage, Titans will run with Actium War Rigs for the reload benefit.

Warlocks: (1) Top tree void with Contraverse Hold gauntlets for frequent charged grenade use, or (2) Bottom tree void with Nezarec’s Sin, for a devour-focused build especially useful for soloing content (in which case you would want to be running a void energy weapon). (3) Much more often, middle tree solar with either Phoenix Protocol for super regen or Lunafaction Boots for reload benefit, for almost any content involving groups. (4) Middle tree arc with Geomag Stabilizers for some high-end content like grandmaster nightfalls.

Note that the most common subclasses for group content are the ones that boost the entire team (Titan bubble, Warlock well), protect the entire team (Titan barrier), make allies invisible (Hunter smoke grenade on bottom tree), or control/manage and debuff enemies (Hunter tether). Solo players tend to focus intensely on survival abilities—the Warlock devour, the Hunter invis, or the healing melees of top tree void Titan, bottom tree arc Titan, or top tree Arc hunter.

The other thing to say is that roaming supers—arc Hunter, solar or arc Titan, top and bottom arc Warlock, middle void Warlock—are generally not good in high-end PvE, especially if you’re sublight. They simply don’t deal enough damage quickly enough to be viable. This kind of content emphasizes one-shot supers like Celestial/Golden Gun or Nova Bomb for damage, and supers like the well or Titan barrier/bubbles, for protection.

Must-have exotic armor: Hunter: Orpheus Rigs and Celestial Nighthawk (for group play), Sixth Coyote (solo). Titan: Helm of Saint-14, Ursa Furiosa, Actium War Rig (group), Synthoceps or Crest of Alpha Lupi) (solo). Warlock: Phoenix Protocol, Lunfaction Boots, and Contraverse Hold (group or solo), Nezarec’s Sin (solo).

Armor Mods

The key difference between high-level PvE content and ordinary content or PvP content is the importance of armor mods. Where PvP builds tend to focus on statistics like Recovery or Mobility, PvE armor tends to focus on damage resistance.

The Destiny mod system is unfortunately pretty bewildering. There are many many choices and it’s not clear how much any of them matters. So let me cover a few things.

The first mod slot

Though it is natural to think that this slot should be filled with mods that boost your stats (Recovery, Discipline, and so on), that is absolutely not the case for most PvE work. This slot should be almost entirely filled with resist mods: major resist, minor resist, boss resist, and concussive dampener, as well as the elemental resistance mods (solar, arc, and void). Why? Because they keep you alive.

Though these mods stack with diminishing returns after the third one, one minor/major resist mod gives about 9% damage resistance, two about 18%, three about 24%, and so on. (See for details). That’s a huge huge difference and anyone not running some combination of these mods in PvE is essentially leaving health on the table.

On the other end of the mod slots, slot four, can also include some very important resist mods: Hive Barrier, Taken Barrier, and Fallen Barrier. (These mods and all the other species-specific mods can be farmed: Hive from Menagerie and Crown of Sorrow, Taken from the two “secret” chests in Last Wish, and Fallen from the post-Sparrow race chest in Scourge of the Past.) Each of these offers a 20% damage resistance for a short time after taking damage. They stack with the first slot resist mods as well as with each other (so that a Taken mob that is also Hive will trigger 40% damage resistance, if you have both mods on).

All together these resistance mods are the basis of any successful PvE loadout. You can run a generic mix for much content (one major, one minor, one concussive, one boss, etc.) and then tune the mix for specific nightfalls or dungeons as necessary.

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One of the major exceptions to the use of resistance mods comes when you are trying to maximize a single characteristic in order to improve a certain build. For instance a Hunter with 100 mobility gets their dodge ability back every 9 seconds; in solo content that will be the difference between life or death. That’s less true for Warlocks and Titans, though a strong discipline spec will reduce grenade cooldown in ways that might allow a middle-tree solar Warlock, for instance, to heal more often.

Second and Third Mod Slots

These should be focused on one or more of the following goals, in order of importance:

  1. Seasonal mods that offer major damage buffs (like Oppressive Darkness) or damage resistance (like Passive Guard from Season 10), or that offer ways to disrupt champions (Overload Grenades or Unstoppable Pulse), or that offers ways to get charged with light (Counter Charge).
  2. Ammo Finder (helmet) and Ammo Scavenger (boots) mods. For most content you can be fine running a generic version of these but for high-end content you really want to adjust these to your specific loadout, because the points you save (Special Finder costs 4 points, but Sniper Finder costs 3) give you more points to spend on other things. On your class item, Special Finisher is very useful for nightfalls where you rely on special weapons for champion and boss damage.
  3. Ammo Reserves (chest) or Loader (arms) appropriate to your loadout.
  4. For grandmaster nightfalls in particular, finisher mods (mainly Special Finisher) that go on your class item and allow you to trade super energy for special ammo drops.

I want to make a special note about mods on your class item. Void class items allow for two very useful mods, Better Already (void) and Recuperation (solar), that boost your health on orb pickup. Paired with masterworked weapons, these can be critical to your survival in solo and group content. Other useful mods include any mods that give you super energy or class energy on orb pickup, though you may not have room for them in Season 11 as Oppressive Darkness eats up 6 of your 10 available points.

The Fourth Mod Slot

This mod slot only appears on legendary armor. There are four major competing systems for building out the fourth slot.

  1. Species-specific mods: // Hive/Taken/Fallen Barrier (damage resist), Armaments (gives heavy on grenade kill), Repurposing (refreshes grenade ability on enemy shield break), and Invigoration (killing orange-bar or higher enemy refreshes class ability). Especially for soloing dungeons or any other sublight content (Grandmaster Nightfalls, e.g.) having at least two of these mods on (Barrier and Armaments) for appropriate enemies is a must.

These mods unfortunately can only be worn on certain armor sets. The Hive mods go on all Crown of Sorrow/Menagerie armor, as well as on Season 8 armor (including Garden of Salvation armor). The Taken ones go on Last Wish, Reverie Dawn, and Scourge of the Past armor. The Fallen ones only go on Scourge of the Past armor.

  1. Activity-specific mods.// Raid mods include mods for all the Leviathan raids, which drop from Crown of Sorrow, mods for Last Wish (generic to Taken enemies, except for the Transcendent Blessing mod from the Dreaming City, which boosts damage there), and mods for Garden of Salvation (which drop from the two secret chests). Nightmare mods drop from nightmare hunts and only work there. In general the most useful of these mods are, for Leviathan raids: Striking, Giving, and Shielding Hand (damage bonus, chance for heavy, and damage resist, respectively), for Last Wish, Taken Barrier and Taken Armaments, and for Garden, Enhanced Relay Defender, which gives a 10% damage bonus when you’re near a relay, and stacks (so you can wear 4 of them for a 40% damage bonus). If you have to have one mod from all of these it should be Enhanced Relay Defender, which makes an enormous difference in GoS. Of the nightmare hunt mods, I find that only the Nightmare Breaker mods really come in handy; the others not so much. You can read more about them here:

  2. Charged with Light mods. // The CwL system works as follows: certain mods (colored in green) give you stacks of CwL, up to a maximum of two stacks. Other mods (yellow) spend those stacks. And a third set of mods (white) changes the number of stacks you get or can have (increases your stack maximum to five, or gives you two stacks instead of one each time you get a stack).

The basic system is this: (1) Get CwL (2) Spend CwL. The easiest way to get CwL is to use the Taking Charge mod, which gives you charges for picking up a light orb. Combined with a masterworked weapon that drops orbs on fast kills, you can pretty much guarantee that you’ll spend most of the time CwL. You can also get charges from weapon damage (kills with a certain weapon give you charges) or action triggers (breaking a shield, doing a finisher). You can also get CwL with the important Season 11 mod Counter Charge, which goes on the second or third slot of your chest armor, and charges you when you disrupt a champion—very useful for grandmaster nightfalls.

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So now you have charges. How should you spend them? One option is to look for damage resistance or damage buffs. The best damage resist mod is Protective Light, an absolutely crucial choice that gives you 50% damage resistance when an enemy breaks your shield. I use it almost all the time. Useful damage boost mods include High-Energy Fire (generic 20% damage buff till you kill an enemy), Lucent Blade (for swords), and Surprise Attack (for sidearms).

Other CwL mods will give you chances to drop special ammo, return grenade or melee energy, heal you on grenade kills, and more.

For lower-level PvE content I tend to use damage mods like Lucent Blade or Surprise Attack. For scarier content I’m almost always on Protective Light.

One good strategy for content involving champions is to use a Counter Charge mod alongside a High-Energy Fire one; this guarantees that you will be CwL right as you’re damaging a champion, and then spends the charge on High-Energy Fire to help kill the champion faster.

If you have room for mods that increase your stacks, Stacks on Stacks (gives two stacks for each one you earn), Charged Up (increases total stacks by one), and Superpowered (increases total stacks by two) are all useful here.

TL:DR: if you do nothing else use Taking Charge (green) and Protective Light (yellow), and get more fancy once you understand more.

  1. Warmind Cell Mods // Like Charged with Light, this system involves creating an opportunity to affect the gameworld (by making a Warmind Cell), and then using that opportunity (the Cell) in a certain way. You create a cell by getting a kill using a Seraph weapon (from Season 10, or from the Prismatic Recaster this season). Once the cell exists you can either pick it up or shoot it. Shooting it causes it to explode, and a number of WC mods increase the range of that explosion or add effects to it. Picking up the cell will allow you to throw or, or will (with a Warmind’s Light mod) Charge you with Light, or have some other effect.

The most basic way to use these cells is to create them and then shoot them. A mod like Global Reach will then give your cell explosions far greater range and effect. But you can also combine numbers of mods to create some pretty cool synergistic builds, as you see here:

I have personally not used WC builds much, but writing this guide has made me want to try them out, so I’ll update at some point.

For part 2 of the guide (on weapons and the current meta), see here:


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