Moving into High-Level PvE: Armor/Weapons Guide (Part 2)

Content of the article: "Moving into High-Level PvE: Armor/Weapons Guide (Part 2)"

see Part 1 of the guide here:

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.

  1. 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. Oppressive Darkness, for instance, is a crucial last-row mod that, when available, is essentially required for void-class PvE work. Similarly in season 10 Passive Guard was very important for a number of sword-based strategies. Having at least three, and sometimes four, of the first row champions modes for Unstoppable, Barrier, and Overload champions is always important.
  2. Exotic weapons that affect champions matter a lot: Eriana’s Vow (affects Barrier champions) and Divinity (Overload) and Leviathan’s Breath (Unstoppable). Of these three Eriana’s and Divinity are really important.
  3. High burst DPS (single-shot) weapons will be important. Right now these include, among exotics, Izanagi’s Burden and Wardcliff Coil. But really mainly just Izanagi’s.
  4. 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.
  5. If an important weapon has a catalyst, you need to have it and complete it.
  6. Certain perks are far more useful in PvE than PvP. These include auto-reloading holsters, especially for special and heavy weapons, Overflow, which helps with auto rifle barrier breaks, and Disruption Break, again useful for Barrier champions.
  7. High-end content will often 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 primary weapon type that governs the current meta, as for instance Auto Rifles in Season 11—is part of being a flexible and good teammate. Only being able to run one loadout is … suboptimal.

For right now, season 11, here are the top five must-have exotic weapons:


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 and Mountaintop to quickly bring down Barrier, Overload, and Unstoppable champions.

How to get it:

What replaces it: the debuff function of Divnity can be replaced with Oppressive Darkness/void grenades or a hunter tether; the overload stunning function can be replaced with Overload/void grenades or a seasonal weapon mod.

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:

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.

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: you can use your exotic cipher from the season pass to get it from Rahool. Otherwise you’re out of luck.

What replaces it: anything with anti-barrier rounds. This season when anti-barrier is on auto rifles Eriana’s is not as critical as it used to be, though I have a friend who loves using it during the boss phase of SotP, where it does surprisingly good damage.

Without the catalyst Eriana’s does not autoreload and only has 6 (instead of 9) in the mag, making it much worse.


Why it’s good: it’s basically a grenade launcher 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.

How to get it:

What replaces it: Whisper of the Worm, in situations requiring sustained boss damage (last two bosses of Garden of Salvation, e.g.). Also fast-firing grenade launchers with autoreloading holsters (like Wendigo, soon to be sunset).


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.

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How to get it: drops from final chest of Scourge of the Past.

What replaces it: Witherhoard can do similar DoT and low-level add control work, though it’s much less powerful.

Some other weapons are important to have and very useful in limited situations. These include:

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, 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.

How to get it:,The%20Whisper'%20within%2020%20minutes

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.

Wardcliff Coil

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.

How to get it: world drop

What replaces it: a grenade launcher with auto-loading holster, kind of.

Useful Legendary Weapons

For now Mountaintop (Crucible), Wendigo (Zavala quest), and Loaded Question (also Zavala) are three really great weapons; Mountaintop in particular is critical for some high-end content. But they’re all being sunset in November.

Having an Auto Rifle with Overflow (The Summoner or Gnawing Hunger) is useful against Barrier champions; having one with Disruption Break (Uriel’s Gift) is useful for the same reason. But that’s only in season 11; who knows what weapons will break barriers after November.

The other absolutely critical weapon to own is the sword Fallen Guillotine, ideally with Whirlwind and Relentless Strikes. You get it from the Season 11 season pass.

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. Rat King can also be used to solo the totem encounter in the Pit of Heresy.

Weapons Mods

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, if you’re not running anti-champions mods of some kinds.

When it comes to champion mods, note that they come in two types: one-shot, and damage over time. The seasonal artifact has included two varieties of Overload and Unstoppable mods, one that stuns the champion after several shots, and one that stuns the champion after you aim down sights for a bit, and then land a single shot. Knowing which is which is important, and can save your life. Remember also that the season artifact may make it possible for a weapon to be modified by an armor mod, as are pulse rifles by the Unstoppable Pulse mod—which goes on the shoulders of your armor—in Season 11.

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.

The Current Metas (Season 11)

These are the dominant strategies, not the only strategies. But they’re what you can expect when joining an LFG group.

Leviathan: until the final encounter, almost anything goes, with the proviso that in most PvE content you want to combine a short-to-midrange primary weapon (auto, sidearm) with a hard-hitting special weapon like a shotgun or a fusion rifle. Having a pulse rifle or scout rifle is useful for Gauntlet, a sword is good for Dogs, and for the final boss Xenophage works just fine, as do most grenade launchers. For final encounter having a couple wells makes things easier but is not required.

Eater of Worlds: anything goes until the final encounter, when Xenophage or Whisper of the Worm are very useful. Having one well Warlock is very useful, and a Titan bubble can come in handy but is not necessary. If you have more than one Hunter one can tether the harpies and the others can run Celestial/Golden Gun.

Spire of Stars: anything goes until the final encounter, where Wardcliff Coil makes short work of the boss. A well for final encounter is useful.

Last Wish: right now Fallen Guillotine works for essentially every encounter. With Shuro Chi it’s nice to have one person running Thunderlord for low-level add clear. 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 (Oppressive Darkness, Divinity, or a hunter tether) is very important.

Scourge of the Past: anything goes until the end, with swords being very useful in the first encounter. For final boss damage my groups use Whisper. Xenophage not good here because it doesn’t crit, and somehow Divinity doesn’t seem to affect this boss. Oppressive Darkness is very helpful for boss damage as a result. Hunters run Celestial/Golden Gun. A fun off-meta strategy is to run Outbreak Perfected (with catalyst) which used to be able to two-phase the boss but now requires at least three phases.

Crown of Sorrow: For the first encounter, anything goes, though you want hard-hitting heavy weapons to make short work of ogres, and having a bit of range (pulse instead of auto rifle) is nice for the boomers on the balconies. For the third encounter, the easiest strategy is to have one person with Anarchy and the other five with swords. The final encounter is easiest with a combination of one Divinity and five Xenophages, and a well. Loaded Question does wonderfully here and in Last Wish for general add clear and for taking out Ogres. For a fun off-meta strategy, try six Rat Kings.

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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.

Shattered Throne (solo): Taken Barrier/Armaments/Repurposing all very useful; Hive Barrier stacks with Taken and helps with Knights and Ogres. 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: It’s a bit out of date as the reload mechanics have changed, though most of it still applies.

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:

Prophecy (solo): The easiest loadout involves Mountaintop and Anarchy; if you don’t have either then many other things can work, including Xenophage, Witherhoard, Riskrunner, Fallen Guillotine, and even Trinity Ghoul for certain sections. Jotunn can also work especially in groups. Taken mods are a must here; remember that Knights are Hive/Taken so Hive Barrier or even Hive Armaments can be used as well.

GM NFs: The key here is to adjust loadout and mods to mob type. This makes Vex strikes (like Garden World in Season 11) more difficult than Fallen, Taken, or Hive strikes, since you do not have access to Barrier/Armaments mods. 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. As a special weapon that does solid damage to champions and erases low-level adds, Mountaintop is fantastic during these strikes. It is being sunset, so we’ll have to find something else to use after November 2020.

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 bow with Overload mods can be a godsend; in fact the Overload Bow can keep a champion from healing and kill it eventually, as long as you can dodge its shots. For Unstoppable champions in season 11 you’ll want a pulse or hand cannon (and probably two people with this). Since Unstoppables don’t heal they are in some respects the easiest champion to deal with. As for Barriers, the Divinity/Izanagi combo works well as long as you have Auto Rifles (season 11) to break the bubbles; you can also run an Izanagi, Eriana's, Anarchy trio as long as you have an auto rifle or two. In seasons where bubbles cannot be broken at range (like in season 10) Eriana’s Vow is a must.

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’s especially true because of the presence of the Oppressive Darkness buff, but even in season 10 you didn’t see much else. I've found that having a middle-tree void Titan with Ursas makes many champions relatively easy to handle.

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 minutes of the strike.

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.


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. 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.

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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 with crystals in EoW); 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 crit 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 Oppressive Darkness—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 (top tree) in PvE—they can be critical in mob 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?

The easiest thing to do is to farm the final encounter of the Pit of Heresy three times a week. Dismantling the crappy armor you get there will give you 18 enhancement prisms, the equivalent of 1.8 ascendant shards (10 prisms + 50k glimmer + planetary mats gets you one shard from the Gunsmith). Since masterworking one piece of armor costs 1.5 shards (1 shard plus 5 prisms) that will allow you to masterwork six pieces of armor every five weeks.

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 6,800 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.


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