Destiny Dictionary: Here's Your Cheat Sheet

Image: Bungie

Image: Bungie

Bungie's massively successful shooter, Destiny, can be overwhelming to casual gamers. Now that its biggest-ever expansion pack, The Taken King, is out, there's even more to digest.

Destiny has some similarities to the average sci-fi first-person-shooter, but under its shell is a wealth of systems that make it as complicated as your average massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). You're almost required to do some online research to fully understand this game's dense world. From Raids to the Reef, from the Awoken to Xûr, there's a lot to take in here.

To help you get your bearings, here's a collection of the most important terms in Destiny, a dictionary that should have been around when the game first launched. We'll be updating this from time to time, as Destiny is an ever-evolving game that aims to remain relevant for the next decade.

MORE: Tom's Guide Gaming Glossary

The Basics

Clans: In-game alliances that players can apply to join. Clans regularly run missions together and compete in player-versus-player (PvP) and player-versus-enemy (PvE) events.

Experience Points: Experience Points (XP) are gained by doing just about anything in Destiny. XP is now the dominant means of taking your Guardian all the way to level 40, and your character level is no longer dependent on finding rare, Light-imbued armor. 

Fireteam: A squad of two to six Guardians that players can form themselves, or find via matchmaking. Fireteams can work together in any of Destiny's various game modes. Limits on Fireteams vary by game type: For example, Strikes allow a maximum of three players, while Raids encourage up to six.

Guardian: Your character, which can be further grouped into one of three selectable classes (Titan, Warlock, Hunter). Guardians are tasked with defending Earth, which means exploring the solar system and destroying hostile aliens. You can create up to three Guardians, and share resources among them. Each of the three main Guardian classes has three subclasses, which players can unlock and switch among for use in various scenarios.

Leveling: By accruing Experience Points (XP), Guardians can advance their levels from 1 to 40. Certain gear (including weapons and armor) can only be used by Guardians who have reached certain levels.

PvE: Player-versus-Enemy game play, in which Guardians team up to tackle AI (game-controlled artificial intelligence) opponents in Raids, Strikes and Story missions.

PvP: Player-versus-Player game play, in which Guardians fight in teams or for themselves. This mode can be found in the Crucible, which is unlocked after a Guardian has reached level 5. In PvP game play, the damage that weapons inflict is more balanced and flattened, so that all players are on a more equal footing — except in the hypercompetitive Iron Banner mode. 

The Tower: The central base for all Guardians, where you can buy new weapons and gear, accept bounties (challenges), or simply hang out and dance around with other players.

MORE: Brianna Wu Takes on 'Destiny: The Taken King'

Guardian Classes

Hunter: An expert with knives and bows, the Hunter specializes at dealing large amounts of damage from short and medium distances. The Gunslinger subclass has the Golden Gun Super Ability, which has three rounds to fire. The Nightstalker subclass has a Shadowshot Super Ability that tethers enemies, slowing and silencing them for you to take advantage. The Bladedancer subclass has the Arc Blade Super Ability, which charges your blade with energy and turns your Guardian into a dashing, hacking and slashing machine.

Hunter, Titan and Warlock (left to right) Image: Bungie

Hunter, Titan and Warlock (left to right) Image: Bungie

Titan: Deals blunt-force damage based around punches and hammer blows. Has a Lift ability, similar to a flying jetpack. The Defender subclass uses the Ward of Dawn Super Ability to create a protective bubble. The Striker subclass has a Fist of Havoc Super Ability, which allows you to punch the ground and damage enemies within a certain radius. The Sunbreaker subclass has the Hammer of Sol Super Ability, which summons a flaming hammer that you either throw as a projectile (and throw again and again until your Super Ability timer runs out) or hack and slash with as a melee weapon.

Warlock: Deals damage with kinetic and fire-based energy. Can float in the air. The Stormcaller subclass has the Stormtrance Super Ability, which fires chained arc lightning from the Guardian's hands. Its Sunsinger subclass has the Radiance Super Ability, which allows the player to reduce incoming damage, self-resurrect and reduce waiting (cool-down) time for allies' abilities. The Voidwalker subclass has the Blink teleportation ability, as well as the Nova Bomb Super Ability that allows a Guardian to blast a bolt of Void light at enemies.


Cabal: Found on Mars, a gigantic race that resembles rhinos or turtles. Aim for their heads.

Fallen: Four-armed alien humanoids scattered across the Earth, the moon, Venus and the Reef. The first race you'll come across in the game, Fallen include the aptly named cellar dwellers known as Dregs.

The Hive. Image: Bungie

The Hive. Image: Bungie

Hive: Moon dwellers living in underground cities, the Hive are a mix of several different classes. Their Cursed Thrall will slowly walk toward you until they explode; their floating Wizards can poison Guardians, and their Shriekers are living, attacking turrets.

Taken: An army of Cabal, Fallen, Hive and Vex that Oryx (see below) has twisted and corrupted for his war on humanity. The Taken were mutated by the Darkness (see below), giving them new powers and abilities.

Vex: Robots that can teleport and do some serious damage, this is one of the more, if not the most, difficult enemy species to eradicate. 

MORE: Destiny: The Taken King - Here's What's New

Gameplay Modes

Crucible: Destiny's competitive multiplayer mode. Crucible is unlocked after level 5, and includes variations such as Clash (team deathmatch), and Control, which has teams battle to secure specific parts of the map.

Image: Bungie

Image: Bungie

Iron Banner: A special Crucible variation that opens periodically. Unlike standard Crucible matches, Iron Banner doesn't balance weapon and armor power, meaning you'll need good gear to succeed. Iron Banner requires you to be at level 20 or above.

Patrol: A free-roam mode that lets you wander around a planet, fight enemies and take on small quests.

Public Event: Randomly generated mini-missions in which players work together to complete a common goal, such as taking down a boss or defending an objective. Public Events dole out different awards based on performance.

Prison of Elders: A cooperative mode in which Fireteams take on wave-based challenges. Players with Treasure Keys in their inventories can open special loot chests upon completing this mode.

Raid: Arguably the most beloved and notorious part of Destiny, Raids are cooperative missions for up to six players that feature a high level of difficulty and little explanation. Destiny's Fireteam matchmaking is disabled for Raids, as groups need to communicate in order to survive.

Story: Missions that advance the game's plot, and can be replayed on the harder Heroic setting to earn better gear. These missions can be played alone or with up to three guardians total.

Strike: Cooperative missions built for three-person Fireteams that culminate in challenging boss fights.

Trials of Osiris: An Elimination-style PvP event available in Crucible every Friday through Tuesday. Players have only one life each in this mode, and your Guardian's level advantages are key to victory. Players compete for a chance to win gear including exotic armor and legendary weapons, and those who go through the Trials undefeated can access a special in-game area called the Lighthouse. The House of Wolves expansion is required for this mode.

Key Characters

Crota: A Hive prince who is worshipped like a god. Serves as the main boss of Destiny's The Dark Below content.

Cryptarch: The vendor who will decrypt your engrams (see below) and reveal the prizes inside. If you have him decrypt enough items that you reach a rank classification of 3 in his books, he'll start giving you bonus engram packages.

Eris Morn: A former Hunter, now a vendor in the tower, who will offer bounties and sell gear related to The Dark Below story content. She was the only Guardian to survive a Fireteam that attempted to kill Crota.

The House Banners of Five Factions. Image: Bungie

The House Banners of Five Factions. Image: Bungie

Factions: Organizations of Guardians within the Destiny world, such as Dead Orbit, Future War Cult and New Monarchy. You can gain a reputation for your Faction by wearing Faction-specific items in battle, which will earn you special marks for buying special gear.

Ghost: A Guardian is not complete without a helpful, floating companion that examines objects and unlocks doors (with some delays, while you fend off hordes of enemies). Formerly voiced by Peter Dinklage, the Ghost is now voiced by Nolan North, best known as the actor behind Nathan Drake from Uncharted.

Oryx: The titular Taken King himself, Oryx is father of Crota. He is a Hive king who, just like his son, is worshipped as if he were a god. He's a vengeful king, leading an army of Taken to wipe out humanity because the Guardians killed Crota in The Dark Below story line.

Petra Venj: Located in the Venetian Outpost, Petra Venj (try and spot the hidden pun) is a vendor from the Queen's Wrath faction. She will hand out bounties that task you with fighting the Wolves, a Fallen faction introduced in the House of Wolves DLC.

The Tower's Most Wanted Vendor, Xûr. Image: Bungie

The Tower's Most Wanted Vendor, Xûr. Image: Bungie

Xûr: The most sought-after merchant in the game, Xûr shows up on the weekends to sell some of the game's best Exotic items. Xûr switches his storefront each week; you can track his location at

Items and Currency

Bounties: Goals to be accomplished in addition to quests, raids and matches. The Taken King allows users to gain the spoils of their bounty without returning to the Tower.

Engrams: These mysterious items need to be decoded by one of the game's Cryptarch characters, and will give you a random weapon or piece of armor.

Exotic equipment: These golden items are Destiny's rarest and most powerful tools, and can be both earned in battle and found for sale by Xûr. Your Guardian may have only one exotic weapon and one exotic piece of armor equipped at a time.

Image: Bungie

Image: Bungie

Gjallarhorn: Arguably Destiny's most notorious Exotic weapon, this rocket launcher is regarded as the best and possibly only way to take on the Vault of Glass mission. Briefly sold by Xur, this rare weapon will not see any upgrades in The Taken King, and therefore will lose some relevance.

Glimmer: Blue cubes that serve as the main in-game currency. You gain them from kills, wins and exchanging items with vendors. Glimmer is shared among all of your guardians.

Legendary Equipment: The second most scarce tier of items, marked by purple color. Unlike with Exotics, you can carry as many Legendary items as you like.

Legendary Marks: Available at level 18, this in-game currency can be exchanged for weapons, armor and resources from Vanguard, Crucible and faction vendors. Players have an inventory cap of 200 marks.

Light: A special value attached to powerful weapons and armor. While Light formerly defined your character level, it now simply adds to your Guardians attack and defense power. Having a high Light rating will still be key for Destiny's more difficult missions, though.

Reputation Points: Reputation points from various in-game vendors improve what you can buy from those vendors. Armor can be purchased once a Guardian has reached level 2 in a faction's reputation points, and weapons can be bought after Guardians have risen to level 3.

Shaders: In-game items you can acquire to change the color of your armor.

Shard: These resource materials upgrade your gear. Ascendant shards level up Legendary gear; Exotic shards level up Exotic gear, and other shards level up specific items.

Strange Coins: Strange Coins can be found in engrams, loot chests and as rewards for completing activities, and are the main currency you'll need to buy goods from Xûr.


Dreadnaught: This vessel is a major new location in The Taken King. It's Oryx's ship and fortress. This will be the backdrop for Patrol missions and Raids, and will feature environmental puzzles that need to be solved in order to open up secrets and obtain more loot.

Oryx's Dreadnaught. Image: Bungie

Oryx's Dreadnaught. Image: Bungie

Earth: Homeworld of the human species and the Tower, Destiny's version of Earth is a ravaged, empty planet that fell victim to the Darkness. Earth includes such destinations as Old Chicago and Old Russia, and is filled with Hive and Fallen enemies.

Mars: The home base of the Cabal and several Crucible matches, you will also find the Vex while negotiating this dry, desolate wasteland.  

The Moon: The Hive have burrowed deep under the moon's surface. Led by Crota, they expelled the Guardians from their encampments. You will also find the Fallen here, because you will find the Fallen everywhere.

The Reef: A graveyard of destroyed spaceships found inside of an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The Reef is the home of the Awoken species.

Venus: You may run across the Fallen on Venus, but the Vex control the Venus tower known as the Citadel, a pivotal destination in Destiny.

Mythos and Species:

Awoken: One of Destiny's three playable species, these bluish-gray-skinned characters are descendants of humans. Something strange and unknown happened to them when they tried to escape to the far edges of space.

The Dark Below: The first Destiny DLC expansion pack, wherein a former Guardian warns of the return of the Hive prince Crota.

The Darkness: The mysterious source of power for the Fallen, Vex, Hive and Cabal. The Darkness caused the Collapse, which ended humanity's Golden Age. At the start of Destiny, the Darkness has returned with the intent of destroying humanity.

Exo: One of Destiny's playable species, the Exo were created by humans for the purpose of protecting humanity. During the Collapse, the Exo were rebooted and did not retain the knowledge of why they were created in the first place.

House of Wolves: The second Destiny DLC expansion pack, wherein the Fallen captain Skolas seeks to unite all of the Fallen Houses to take down the Guardians.

Human: The last of Destiny's three playable species, Humans began a period of prosperity known as the Golden Age when they discovered the Traveler (see below) on Mars. This period featured dramatic technological advancements and the creation of the Exo. A century after the Golden Age began, though, the Traveller's longtime nemesis the Darkness appeared, and almost brought humanity to extinction.

The Taken King:The DLC expansion pack that marks the beginning of Destiny's second year. To stop Oryx — who is leading a new alien race called the Taken in a war against the Guardians — the Vanguard send Guardians on a quest to become strong enough to stop Oryx by restoring the powers of their forebearers.

The Traveller. Image: Bungie

The Traveller. Image: Bungie

The Traveler: A giant ball in the sky that sometimes gives Guardians abilities and benefits. The Speaker in the Tower speaks on behalf of the Traveler, which sacrificed itself to stop the Darkness from eradicating humanity.


DestinyDailyGuide: A guide for the bounties that are updated daily. A developer-promoted resource for players to quickly find Fireteams to ride into the chaos alongside.

DestinyGhostHunter: A guide to where Guardians can find more of Destiny's Ghost companions.

r/destinythegame: Destiny's subreddit, which features weekly threads for when new content is made available, advice for how to get to higher light levels and other informative posts for Guardians by Guardians.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.