Starting Tips for Destiny: The Taken King

It’s February 2016 as I write this, and Destiny is in ‘Year Two’.

I only started playing last month, and along the way I’ve learned why Year Two makes a significant difference along with other things that would have been nice to know that first exciting week.

Oh, and what is the significance of Year Two? The Taken King massively upped the end game power level, also called ‘light level’ of gear. Drops you get as Year One story/quest rewards or from Year One reputation vendors are going to be far lower light level than Year Two Taken King quest and story rewards. The good news? All random drops from mobs you kill in all content is balanced to the Year Two power/light levels. Even the original content monsters drop Taken King items. It’s important because it explains why you got a 185 light level shotgun from a random kill but the quest reward was a 35 light level auto rifle.

Anyway.

Here, in no significant order, are some of the things I wish I’d known that may help you out if you’re just getting started.

Using the ‘Boost to 25’.

The Destiny: The Taken King Legendary Edition is an outstanding purchase. It comes with all current DLC, the core game, and also an inventory item that, when used, boosts your chosen character to level 25 instantly.

I was excited to get that boost when I started, but I had a lot of questions, too. I play on the Xbox One, and my son and I both have our own unique Microsoft Xbox accounts and gamertags so we can keep our playing and friends lists separate.

After installing the game on the Xbox One, what happens if my son uses the boost to 25 token? Do I get one also, or is it one per game machine?

Answer: Each account on the Xbox that has the Taken King Legendary is handled as though that is the only account playing that copy of the game in terms of content. When I logged into my account and started the game, I also had the one time level boost to use on whoever I liked. Same with the special pre-order weapons pack that came with my game purchase.

What if I used the level boost and it turns out I hate the character? Answer is, you can’t get that boost back, but you can buy another boost. In the Xbox One store, you can purchase specific character class boost packages that come with a level boost and also a bonus item that you don’t get with the Legendary package, a special token that instantly unlocks all your special abilities for one chosen sub-class. To be clear, I think the price for that boost package is $30 and a boost to 25 is NOT WORTH IT. But, fully unlocking a single sub-classes abilities in one shot? That might be. It might very well be.

Which leads me to the next question. I boosted to 25, why don’t I have ANY of my special abilities unlocked except the class defining special one? The answer to that is you only unlock sub-class abilities by playing. They are not linked to a specific activity I can find, you just have to be playing and shooting and killing. So if you played from level 1 by the time you hit around 25, you’d have unlocked things naturally in ‘Year One’. With a boost to 25, good thing you’ve got 15 levels before the max of 40 to unlock some of them.

How long does it take to unlock all of the possible abilities of a sub-class? Well, as an example I boosted to 25, reached level 40 using one sub-class exclusively (Gunslinger Hunter), have been leveling my light rating (gear rating is measured in ‘light’, but it’s totally gear item level rating) and have reached 265 light, considered good enough to unlock all content except the top raids. I still haven’t unlocked 100% of my abilities yet. Working on the last two.  I haven’t looked at my time played, but I’d say I’ve got about 16 hours of fun in, and still haven’t unlocked them all fully. See why I think that for your wealthy player that wants to tear things up right away on an alt, a $30 class boost might be reasonable? MIGHT be. Then again, if you’re in such a rush to get to max, why play an MMO? Unless your friends all want to PvP with you, they’re all higher level, and you really want to have all the tools in your kit when you go after other players in arena (Crucible) matches.

About those three character classes. Each one has three possible ‘sub-classes’ to spec into. Level 1 characters only have 1 sub-class available to start. You unlock your second ‘Year One’ subclass at level 15. The good news is, once you have hit level 15 on your first character, your alts can choose from either of the two right at the very beginning and switch back and forth at will. Only downside is you only unlock abilities in the sub-class that is active at any given moment.

“But wait”, I hear you ask, “What about that 3rd sub-class?”

Ah, so glad you asked.

The Taken King is the only true ‘Year Two’ content so far, and it added the third sub-class for each main class. They’re really cool, too. They’re generally considered to have well thought out special abilities that reward smart players. The catch is, the only way to unlock the third class is to play through and complete the first three Taken King story missions on your character. After your first two Taken King story missions, you will get a new class-specific mission that is extremely cool and unique to each class. Completing that mission unlocks your third sub-class.

As you might guess, that means that you cannot get the third sub-class on an alt until that alt reaches a high enough level to complete the Taken King class mission. The good news is, you can start your Taken King story missions at level 25, so if you boost your original class and want to go straight to that third special sub-class, go for it.  You don’t have to wait to 40.

Leveling the normal way

Warning. This is a no shitter. If you’re going to level your character up, quest and do Bounties. you get XP from doing story missions and completing content, such as Bounties. Another very fun way to log in and knock out some leveling when you don’t have time to take on a challenging story mission is to go to a planet and do a ‘Patrol’ mission. Every planet has a zone that says ‘Patrol’, and what those are are areas you normally quest in, but instead of being there for a specific purpose, you are there to wander around, explore, and have fun at your own pace in your own way.

To e clear about this, trying to level by grinding away killing mobs just does not work. You either get zero xp for a monster kill, or so little it’s meaningless. I watched my son play multiplayer for two months without ever hitting level 40. I say down and quested and it took me two, maybe three days. QUEST.

Patrol Missions Rock!

A little more about patrol missions or patrol areas. I love these things.

The zones in Destiny are beautiful. Lush, vibrant, expansive, massive, multi-layered. Lots of buildings and caverns, lots of paces to go and big enough to give you a damn good reason for that Sparrow air scooter you can summon.

A Patrol Mission, which every planet and even the Dreadnaught has, sends you to that place to wander around at your own pace. There are Bounties that will give you bonus reputation and XP if you do a Patrol mission and kill x number of bad guys there, but you can do them anytime, you don’t need the Bounty.

When you are sent to a planet to do a Patrol, you can seek out green flashing markers. These are random quest givers that will send you on missions to kill bad guys, kill bad guys and loot stuff from them, seek out plants or minerals and collect them, scout out specific areas, recover documents, send radio signals, or even go on a kill mission to take out a super powerful enemy leader.

Other than the assassination missions that can be really tough and will have a recommended light level for you to use a guide when sooing, the rest can all be done by you and nothing in the game is timed. NO annoying timed missions, no irritating escort quests with stupid AI ‘companions’. Just fun do at your own pace mini missions.

Those all give you XP as quests. You can also gather materials found from plants and minerals in the zones as you are patrolling. If you have a Bounty to kill, say, 50 Fallen then those can be found in large numbers on Old earth in the Cosmodrome. If you have a mission to Vexx, they’re found on Venus and sometimes Mars. So patrols are nice to go knock those out.

Did I mintion I love Patrol missions? I can log into the game, get a new weapon, and go experiment with it for a while without worry or pressure. Also, I can indulge my love of sneaking around tactically looking for Scout Rifle headshots. In a multiplayer Strike or Crucible match, everyone runs like hell and bounces a mile a minute so it feels like there is less time to enjoy setting up that perfect shot on an unsuspecting target.

They’d only be better if you could come across a Deng standing guard duty leaning against a tree, cupping a lit cigarette in his hands. Pow!

Gear Quirks and Abilities

Speaking of abilities and unlocking them, your gear has abilities as well. And you unlock them the same way, by using the item. For armor it’s automatic, but each weapon has special abilities you unlock by using the weapon. They level significantly quicker if you use them, but then again you’re constantly seeking and getting upgrades, so you’d better hope you unlock abilities faster, right?

Just as in other MMO games, the gear you get is color coded as to rarity of drops. There are whites, greens, blues, purples and oranges.

After you get reasonably leveled, you will never see white drops again. But you will see the items the Gunsmith (mentioned later) sells as weapon missions be white in power. This means that, aside from one special ability, the weapon has no other extra featured or unlockable bonuses.

Just to screw with us World of Warcraft players, purples are specifically called ‘legendaries’ and oranges are called ‘exotics’. Ten years of playing WoW make that feel like an intentional fully extended middle finger, but I’m slowly losing my sense of ‘OMG a legendary dropped’ when I see those words and I’m starting to relax a bit. Me and Pavlov’s dog, we both are trained to salivate when certain triggers are pulled. Legendary? Where? Where? <pant pant>

When you’re playing, you will occasionally see monsters generate glowing hexagonal orbs and drop them to the ground. Those are your loot, and they are color coded. When you pick it up, it’ll either be a fixed type of named gear, or a generic ‘engram’ that you take to a vendor in the capital city, and the vendor randomly generates something for you.

Afraid you missed seeing one of those hexagonal engrams drop in the crazed heat of combat? Even worse, did you finish a quest and the timer begin counting down 25 seconds until you are automatically removed from the phased zone you are in, and you SEE that loot right there across the room but you don’t reach it in time before you vanish?

Never fear. In capital city there is a mailbox vendor, and if you missed any of the engram loot drops along the way, a nice big icon will be glowing to let you know it’s right there waiting for you, safe and sound. Don’t panic.

You will quickly come to LOVE these colored engrams. You see, a named drop is what it is, you can either use it or dismantle/destroy it for the component parts you use to activate your gear’s newly unlocked abilities.

But an unnamed colored engram… it holds the untapped potential of nearly anything.

You see, when you use an engram, what it turns into is randomly rolled. It becomes something new with a name, a gear type, a light/power level and special potential abilities. And while the engram might be colored, say, green, it won’t necessarily BE a green.

Green engrams have a chance to be a green, be some kind of crafting material instead of an item… or a blue!

Likewise, blue engrams could spawn materials or a legendary item instead, and legendary engrams can spawn crafting materials or… possibly, maybe, super rarely an exotic weapon or armor!

How powerful the item you get is also controlled by you! It’s insane but this is my favorite part of gear. How powerful the items are that you get are determined by how powerful OVERALL your current equipped light level (World of Warcraft players will recognize light levels as ilevel or item level) is.

The number always represents the light level of the item. For weapons, it is also the attack power. For armor, it is the defense.

When you’re playing out in the universe, you are using your equipped gear, and it might not be the best light level stuff you own. There are armor slots, and there are also three types of equipped weapons; primary, secondary and heavy weapons. There are several choices for each, but you can only have one of each type equipped at a time.

Each type of weapon handles incredibly differently, and each of those has it’s own stats and special abilities that can tweak their handling and feel even further.

What you like depends on your playstyle, so try everything, and switch things up because a bad experience with a sniper rifle may be from having a bad rifle with a crappy scope.

But as an example, you will likely be using the best light level armor you’ve got, but maybe you have a 225 light level sniper rifle as your highest light secondary weapon, but you are playing pvp in the Crucible and against other players you love the power of the short range shotgun. Your shotgun is only light level 215. For your overall light level, only the 215 shotgun you have equipped counts, not the sniper rifle in your bags.

How is this relevant? When a monster drops loot, be it a named item or an engram you activate at the capital city, the range of it’s possible light level is determined by your equipped gear’s overall light rating.

From what I’ve seen, the over/under seems to be a range of anywhere from -10 to +10 of your equipped light level OR MORE.

So out in the galaxy hunting baddies, your named item (fixed item) drops will possibly be of a lower potential light level than what you could normally get because you might not have your highest light level weapons equipped in all slots.

When you get back to the capital city, the key is to pause and equip your highest light level of everything BEFORE you talk to the engram vendor and activate them. Your new random items will then have a chance to be the best they can be.

I have frequently, maybe 15% of the time, gotten a blue when I activate a green engram and a legendary purple when I activate a blue.

I have only had maybe 20 legendary engrams drop so far, and sometimes they are crafting materials instead of items, but just last night I was lucky enough to get a legendary engram activate into an exotic, and that feels so, so sweet.

The biggest difference I have seen among the different rarity types is how many special abilities you will be offered that you can unlock. What abilities an item may have are randomly rolled. Greens and Blues, you’re stuck with what you get. You might also be stuck with what you get for a legendary, at least I am pretty sure you are. That is one reason the Gunsmith is so nice for weapons, as each work order for the same weapon rerolls the stats anew.

I know for a fact that with Exotic items, there is a way to re-roll the special abilities. Not sure where you get the item used to do it, might be a consumable purchased from Xür. It hasn’t come up for me yet. 🙂

Learning to Love your Legendary

With this constant search for items that have the all important higher light level, should you spend your materials and resources/glimmer currency on improvements? If you’re just going to destroy it in a few levels anyway when you get better?

I mentioned before that when you have unneeded items, you can dismantle them to get back weapon or armor parts used for buying gear abilities.

Legendary items have an extra option, called Infuse. With a legendary, especially one you really like, when you get a future item of the same type (Auto Rifle for Auto Rifle, or Gauntlet for Gauntlet), and that new item has a higher light level, you can enter into your legendary item options and select Infuse. You will be shown whichever items are available to be dismantled to power up the legendary. It also costs 3 Legendary Marks to do. When you Infuse a legendary with an item (green, blue, purple, the rarity doesn’t matter) it boosts the light level of the legendary to the same or very close to same light level as what you destroyed.

This way, when you find that perfect dream armor piece with special abilities that perfectly matches your favorite weapons and playstyle, you can boost it’s light level/power when you get other drops, drops that might have higher light but have crappy special abilities or appearances you don’t want.

If you play World of Warcraft, think about that interesting loot system for a moment. The random drops you get have an item level based on the average of your equipped gear, could be slightly higher, lower or the same. And if you find something you really, really like you have the option of taking the better drops you get and destroying them to power up your favorite item, keeping it fresh and relevant throughout all the content you are paying in as you raid with friends.

Instead of a transmog system to make your new drop look good but always have changing stats that might suck, you can find that perfect item and just keep using it, but still want to pursue wins because of the chance at exotic drops and improving light level / item level of that good gear.

I like that.

Legendary Marks will be mentioned more later, but for now know that while it costs 3 to Infuse your legendary gear to upgrade the power, when you dismantle a Year Two legendary, you GET 3 Legendary Marks. So, if you keep getting legendaries that aren’t as good as what you have, dismantle them and you’ll build a stockpile for future Infusion or gear purchases.

Exotic Items

So, exotics, the super special stuff.

What makes these super unique is that they have more potential special abilities than even legendaries. Some have unique special abilities, too.

You can only ever have two equipped at a time; one armor piece and one weapon. So if you have an exotic you love and another drops, you can either put it in the bank (you have vault storage in the capital city that ALL of your characters have access to) or you can dismantle it in exchange for an ‘exotic shard’.

When you find an exotic, you get the item plus you unlock pattern so you could craft that item again if you want. It takes some crafting materials and one exotic shard to craft an exotic once you know the pattern. There are large blue glowing wallscreens in the Vanguard quest giver chamber, on either side of the entrance. One has a sword on it, one has a shield. Those are where you can see all the possible exotic patterns for weapons or armor, and you can see by a little arrow icon which ones you have unlocked.

When you activate an engram, sometimes what you get instead of an item is a crafting material called a ‘Strange Coin’. On Friday and Saturday of each week, a special vendor will appear in the capital city called Xür, Agent of the Nine. He is the Strange Coin vendor, and he sells exotic gear! He will offer one class specific random exotic armor piece at Year Two power/light levels, one random weapon or exotic engram, and some interesting consumables called the Three of Coins, which increases the chance of having PvE bosses or pvp Crucible matches give you a random exotic drop.

As far as I know, the Three of Coins does not have a time limit. The bonus chance is tacked on to your normal chance until an exotic drops, then it goes away. I haven’t used one yet, but there you go.

The last item Xür sells is a Legacy Exotic Engram, and if you’re trying to get usable loot, DO NOT BUY. The exotic you will get is a Year One exotic with super low light levels by Taken King standards. It’s there for collectors to buy to be completionists.

I have so far purchased an exotic helmet that is simply amazing, and I have no exotic weapon yet. There was no exotic weapon this week from the vendor, just another helmet. But in the time I’ve been playing I have somehow racked up 63 Strange Coins, so next Friday and for two weeks after that I can go shopping. What he offers is random, but it should be cool.

Sometimes from random exotic engrams the armor type will not be usable by your class. You can either put the item in your Vault storage for an alt to use someday, or dismantle it and save the exotic shard.

Cheap Ass Sword Bitches

One thing that was added with The Taken King expansion are a brand new heavy weapon type, SWORDS.

I found this out in Crucible pvp matches.

For me, a Crucible match generally goes something like this;

Hunt players with an Auto Rifle.

Get some secondary weapon ammo.

If the zone is tight spaces and corridors, hunt players with a Shotgun. If it’s wide open, equip a Sniper Rifle.

Server announces ‘Heavy Weapon ammo is incoming.’

I do not get to a heavy weapon ammo cache in time to get two shells of rocket launcher ammo.

Five seconds later I am killed by a cheap ass sword bitch.

Swords in Destiny, for me, are the equivalent of rocket launchers in Unreal Tournament 2004. What I used to call a cheap ass rocket bitch has been reborn with the addition of swords, and all it does is inspire the lust of sword acquisition in my soul.

The way swords work is simple. You don’t get one until you have darn near beaten the game. You have to play through The Taken King story mode past the point where you have taken down the Taken King himself, which is surprisingly early on. Well, you take down a version of him. You give him a momentary set back. He’ll get better. I think he returns in a raid.

But anyway, not too far into the game you will get a shard of his amazing shattered evil sword. You will then get a follow-up quest from Eris Morn that sends you to talk to the Crucible quartermaster, and he wants you to forge and purify your own sword. He sends you off to gather 25 Hadium Flakes from chests on the Dreadnaught, and use Motes of Light (a crafting material you get from engrams) to purify it of the darkness and transform it into a weapon of power and light.

From that quest you get a legendary sword. It’s classed as a heavy weapon, and each swing uses a round of heavy weapon ammo.

Yes, I know. Each swing uses ammo. Just wince and move on, nothing to see here.

The good news is, there is a reason for that. A single hit with a sword in pvp can be a one shot kill on a player, and one or two hits in pve missions can be a kill of even an Ultra. If it didn’t take ammo, it would be completely overpowered in pvp. Well, it already is, but no ammo restriction at all would be so much worse.

As it is, using ammo is the trade off you pay for the sword to be so incredibly powerful. And one pickup of ammo gives you a reasonable number of swings.

Once you have your legendary sword, that’s not the end either. You can get a follow up quest that will have you work towards upgrading it into an exotic sword.

It’s all very exciting, and I want one bad. Ever since I explained how to get one to my son, he’s advanced much farther and has 11 of his Hadium Flakes already.

Anyway. Swords. In a gun game. And oh so cool. Also, you see someone wield one and you know how far he’s progressed, which is nice.

And then you see them all come out of their sheathes the second the heavy ammo drops and you run screaming for your life.

Alternate Gear Sources

There are other ways to get gear than as random drops.

Once you hit level 40 you can start accumulating Legendary Marks, which you can use to buy light level 280 legendary gear from various faction vendors/quartermasters.

The main vendors you can buy gear from are your class Vanguard quartermaster, the Engram vendor and an optional bonus faction quartermaster that can be found inside the giant building on the east side of capital city, where the ships are all hangered and you can buy new Sparrow jetbikes and new spaceships (which are mostly visual choices without game function differences).

The two optional factions are Dead Orbit and Future War Cult. If you choose one you can’t choose the other without switching. I chose Future War Cult, my son chose Dead Orbit, and he already hit reputation level 3 with them which unlocked legendary weapon items for purchase. The two optional factions are leveled whenever you get Vanguard rep, but can also be leveled by donating materials to them. I haven’t donated but clearly it paid off for my son because he’s running around with a 280 light Auto Rifle, his preferred primary weapon type.

I’m more of a Scout Rifle player. I prefer aimed headshots, he’s the pray and spray kind of guy.

The quartermasters offer different classes of gear at different reputation levels. And there are many more quartermasters/factions than I listed, all over the place. Some offer Year One gear (low level), others offer special things like Ghost Shells, etc. I’m just hitting the obvious starting points.

I think gloves and legs are mostly rank 1, chest, ghost shell and cloaks are rank 2, helmets are rank 3 for Vanguard.

The Engram vendor doesn’t sell specific gear, he sells Legendary Engrams, so what you get will be totally random.

The optional faction quartermasters, as I said, offer specific weapons at rank 3. Very nice if you have a preference.

So you can gain Legendary Marks once you reach level 40 by doing different daily or weekly activities. At the beginning with low light levels, all you can get is a Crucible pvp match once per day for 15 Legendary Marks. You have to participate, too. If you can’t kill a single person, don’t expect any marks. This is supposing you’re playing solo; queue up with a friend in a Fireteam and I believe you are aided by their performance too.

Let me give you this caveat. I am horrible at FPS console pvp. I mean terrible. I have played mouse and keyboard exclusively for a decade now. But other than maybe two or three early matches where I was truly shit and didn’t score a single kill, I haven’t had a problem since then in at least getting SOME kills and contributing.

For one thing other players never, ever stand still. Go figure. This is a news flash, right? You know what they call a player standing still taking careful aim? DEAD. So don’t stand still.

A big part of getting comfortable in pvp is finding a mix of weapons that you feel are effective for you. For me, it’s a Scout Rifle and a Shotgun, although an Auto Rifle or a Hand Cannon is a reasonable alternate primary weapon for me. If you go in with a sniper rifle, don’t be surprised if you get taken out repeatedly while trying to line up shots at range. Then again, it happens a lot, so I just lack skill.

As your light level increases, more options for Legendary Marks will unlock for you, including PVE multiplayer Strike matches with auto matchmaking (like WoW random heroic instances) so it’s not all pvp all the time.

There is no weekly cap, but some things like the pvp matches award Marks only for the first one you do each day, and other things only award them to you the first three times that week.

One other way to get them is by dismantling unused legendaries. Each legendary item from Year Two content you dismantle gives you 3 Legendary Marks. I mentioned it before, but you probably skimmed that.

The Gunsmith

One option for getting new legendary weapons is the Gunsmith.

He’s a strange vendor/quartermaster in capital city that offers light level 200 weapons to buy once you reach level 38. The weapon itself has a quest built in; the item description tells you what you have to do to complete the quest, using the weapon in the game.

When you complete the weapon quest, you don’t have to turn it in; you get improved reputation with the Gunsmith immediately. From there you can dismantle the weapon for parts or keep it and use it for as long as you like. A nice source of early 200 light level weapons of various kinds.

What is neat is, starting with reputation level 1, the Gunsmith has weekly legendary weapon work orders you can place. He resets on Wednesday with new weapons for quest reputation and to place more work orders.

You get to place as many weapon work orders as you have reputation level with the Gunsmith, and if you do all the available weapons you can unlock rank 1 in two weeks. Or a week and a half. So at reputation rank 1, you can pick a specific legendary weapon from the five he’s offering and place an order. You get a token in your inventory representing the work order, and at the next Wednesday reset you get the weapon, with randomly rolled special abilities. Which weapons he offers varies from week to week as well, so maybe this week two of his five offerings are Sniper Rifles, but next week those are gone and there are other types in it’s place.

Keep getting ranked up with him and you can place two or three or more orders a week, trying for those special rolls of special abilities perfect for you. Use your work orders for one of each different weapon or several of the same one if you’re trying to randomly roll specific special abilities on one weapon type. Maybe you like Scout Rifles and you really, really want one that has a special ability that boosts thrown grenade range. Keep placing orders for Scout Rifles and see if you roll one.

That ain’t all, either. There is a secret exotic class weapon quest you can get from him too!

Just from playing the game, you can get possible legendary drops that are mission turn ins for the Gunsmith. Turning in four of these unlocks the quest to get out there and earn your exotic weapon from him. And I believe later on you can get a follow on quest to get an even more powerful class specific exotic.

I haven’t gotten one of the drops yet, but my son has already done two. It’s not farmable but it’s realistic you’ll see it eventually.

Elementals

There are three types of elemental damage in the game; Arc (lightning), Void (shadow) and Sun (flame).

Each main class has three sub-classes, and each sub-class focuses on one element type for it’s super and the theme of it’s abilities.

Many weapons will also have a little icon next to the light level / attack power number, a red flame, purple shadow or blue bolt. That indicates the damage that weapon inflicts is considered to also be that elemental type.

This is primarily important because many enemies have special weaknesses to one elemental weapon type. Nobody is immune, and it’s not enough to make missions impossible, but it’s there.

The other reason it’s important is that many Bounty missions that you can be offered will specify as the win condition “Kill 30 enemies with Void damage abilities” which also includes weapons with void damage.

This leads into my last point.

How Many Weapons Is Enough

You can carry lots of weapons for each of the three types.

I suggest that you try to keep at least one of each sub category.

For example, for Heavy Weapons carry a machine gun, a rocket launcher, and once unlocked a sword. Then when you get a drop that is better, or a legendary that you really like, keep upgrading it and have it on hand.

As long as you have at least one weapon of some type you really like that has one of the three elemental energy types, you’ve got something to use for those Element-specific Bounty missions on hand.

I fell into a mistake early on, dismantling EVERY weapon I got except for the one Scout Rifle, one Sniper Rifle and one Rocket Launcher I liked. There was no need for that, and it limited me to being unable to do a lot of Element Bounty missions until I fixed it. There are lots of different sub categories of weapons for Primary and Secondary, so holding on to a void or arc shouldn’t be too hard.

Wrap Up

There is a lot of stuff like this in the game.

It’s incredibly fun just for the obvious game you see when you start, but the longer you play the more cool stuff you can unlock or activate and add more depth to all the things you can seek out.

I know I didn’t nearly cover everything, I barely covered anything, but hopefully some of this clears away some of the confusion as to what to focus on early and what to look for later on.

And especially how to maximize your chances to get better level loot!

If you would like to find me on Xbox One and join me in some Destiny multiplayer, my gamertag is thebigbearbutt. I would dearly love to try some multiplayer PVE Fireteam missions.

Thanks and take care!

Hey, if this helped you at all, could you please leave a comment and let me know? I’ve let the blog die down and if this post was actually helpful to you knowing it would encourage me to write more.

Good lord. Final word count 5942. I guess it’s another bearwall, folks. Sorry.

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The Grumpy Druids podcast – Episode 4 now live!

Just wanted to let you know that I’m not quite dead.

In truth, and I know this is probably confusing, but what I’ve been doing lately is talking more than writing. As in, I’m still enjoying doing the Grumpy Druids podcast weekly with Mark, aka @Relwow the Flappy Bird.

That’s FLAPPY bird, not FAPPY bird.

Make a note, call Mark the Fappy Bird on the next podcast….

Anyway, Over the course of the week those things I used to post about I’m sort of saving up and unleashing on the podcast, and then if it seems useful I can add a few extra notes or things here. Like pictures.

As an example, our fourth episode of The Grumpy Druids podcast is now live! We’re aiming at unleashing these wild animals every Wednesday. You know, so there is something to do the day after all the good podcasts came out.

I know many if not most people don’t have time to listen to someone ramble on for an hour or so. I get that. I’m not done writing by any means, but it’s nice to do something quite different to experiment and keep things feeling fresh.

You know you hate that not-so-fresh feeling.

So, if you only like reading posts, I do apologize, and I wanted you to know I haven’t abandoned you. But in the meantime, if you DO occasionally give podcasts a listen, I invite and welcome you to give The Grumpy Druids a shot. I swear to you we’re trying to keep this beast under an hour and make it march most sprightly to some form of a point.

I like to think that we’re getting better with each show.

I like to think it, I didn’t say we were.

If you do listen, and I hope you do, please let me know below what you think, what you feel works, and what you think needs MORE work. We’re still feeling our way into our own voice.

Thank you for your time, and have a wonderful Blizzcon weekend!

The State of The Transmog 2015

On our first Grumpy Druids podcast, I talked briefly about how I can’t play a character, even leveling up, unless I like the transmog.

I’m spoiled. The days of Outlands clown suits being acceptable are long gone. Fashionista, all the way.

It occurred to me that it might be nice to post all the outfits my ‘played’ characters are currently wearing, not just so you can see what a freak I am but also so a year from now I can look back and compare, see if I find something I like better or if I make a poor fashion choice.

So, without further blah blah, here are my current characters and transmogs. See if you can guess the class!

Bigbearbutt

Beartrap

Ursinerate

Hailsword

Penumbria

Kittiana

Thunderbunz

Backfire

Windshatter

Unbearable

Winterborne

Bouncybutt

Yeah… so.

One thing does stand out, doesn’t it? I clearly like looking at heroic, PRETTY, characters when I play my video games.

Also, there are only a few faces in the game I like. Used to be more, but contrary to Blizzard’s expectations I tend to think they screwed up most of my favorites, most especially the Draenei. What they did to Unbearable has darn near ruined her. She used to look unsufferably smug and condescending, and now she looks… welp.

Oh, and the closest character I have to one that I would identify with is Beartrap. I get to be a bear, and ALSO wear visible armor. 🙂

As far as Winterborne… I really did that in tribute to my two best friends in the guild, Tom and Jared, neither of whom read the blog. They both love making the most outrageous slut plate outfits to irritate the rest of the raid, and it was through them I learned the Death Knight starter belt turned your belt invisible when used as transmog. Many belly button outfits were pondered in search of the perfect complement to twin light sabers.

I’m afraid that I have revealed too much… in more ways than one.

A New Podcast – So this Is A Thing Now

A New Podcast – So this Is A Thing Now

This morning, two secret projects went live at the same time.

I say secret, but only because I haven’t mentioned them here on the blog before. If you stalk me on Twitter to see just how bloody stupid I sound in everyday conversation, you might have heard about one of them already.

Secret Project number one

The first not-so-secret project is a brand new Druid podcast being hosted by me and Rel (@RelWoW on Twitter), and the very first episode just went live this morning.

The show is called The Grumpy Druids, and that’s because I’m a Bear and Rel is a Moonkin and we’re, well… yeah.

The Grumpy Druids

The plan is to record the podcast once a week and shoot for about an hour of airtime, and if we go longer because we get carried away, oh well.

The show will be going live at 6:00 am Central time every Wednesday. Just so if you get bored mid-week, hey, there’s a couple idiots talking WoW, why not listen. At the very least we’ll give you someone to feel better than.

“My life is in the tank, but shit man, at least I’m not one of those bliterhing idiots.”

See? It’s almost like we’re providing a public service.

The podcast format is going to be about WoW in general with a “Wacky Druid stuff” segment, and no theorycrafting. As you should already know, Team WaffleCast has the badass Druid theorycrafting on lockdown. They are the shizzle for rizzle.

See? If I can say that, you know we’re idiots. And twenty years too old to be cool.

We’re starting with having segments about cool Druid stuff, grumpy WoW stuff, rays of sunshine coming out our butts so we balance the grumpy with the grateful, and what we’re calling WHY?!?, or What Are You… doing in the game. Because when someone asks us what we’re doing in the game lately, and we tell them, invariably the answer is “Dear lord, WHY?!?!?”

The goal is to have fun, talk about the game we love, and do our own thing in hopefully a moderately entertaining way. We’re not going to be a podcast that reads a news blurb from MMO Champion, and then asks each other, “So, what did YOU think of that?”

Well, we’ll probably inevitably do some discussion about news, but hopefully it’ll only be when there’s, like, actual news.

“Hey, an expansion just came out and Druids got nerfed to shit and lost cat form. What did YOU think of that?”

Yeah, that one might be a relevant news topic.

If this at all sounds like it could be interesting to you, I’d love it if you gave our first episode a listen and dropped some honest feedback. I’d sure appreciate it.

Secret Project number two

Along with the podcast episode is a blog post on the website to accompany it, called ‘Visual Aids’. We talk about a few things on the show that really could use pictures or screenshots to accompany it, so I added a post containing those set to go live at the same time.

Part of the visual aids are pictures and a description of my OTHER secret project…

A Feral/Guardian themed pistol build.

There are a lot more details on the Visual Aid post for episode 1, but here is a picture of the completed project to give you an idea of what exactly this is.

Ruger Mark III with custom modifications

Ruger Mark III with custom modifications

The family went to the range last night and tried it out, and it’s smooth as butter, and yes it turned heads and provoked grins.

Tuesday night is youth night at our local indoor range, and when I took the pistol out of the case on the firing line, a little girl, maybe 11 or 12 years old and bored as hell in the lane next to us took one look and her eyes just lit right up and she got what was almost the biggest grin ever.

Not quite the biggest grin in the world, since that would be the shit-eating grin on my son’s face when he shot it for the first time. He has a new favorite firearm for the range now. 🙂

I think the quote he made was, “I didn’t know a pistol could be that much fun to shoot, or that gentle.”

It’s a .22 LR pistol, and with the compensator and custom work I’ve done on the action, it’s just barely over 3 lbs of trigger pull and almost no kick at all. He loves it. Smooth and gentle.

as I said before, many more details on the pistol build, and the beautiful custom grip artwork that Tish Tosh Tesh designed for it can be found on the accompanying Visual Aid blog post on The Grumpy Druids website.

Wrapping It Up

I’m really looking forward to having this weekly podcast to do with Rel.

I’m often doing something in the ‘real world’, have an idea for a blog post hit me, and then have no time to really do anything about it anymore. But now, instead of those ideas going away unused, I can send off a quick email note to consider it later as a possible podcast topic. By recording day, that can be a lot of things to choose from.

At least, I hope it will be. And I hope some of them are interesting for you to listen to.

Thanks a lot for reading this far, and I hope you’ll go check it out!

Speculating about Class Halls

In Legion, we know that rather than continuing with Garrisons, we’re going to have what they’re calling the Class Hall. 

We’re also going to have a class-specific weapon quest chain, an expansion on the weapon quest chain they implemented from the Broken Hilt drop in Wrath of the Lich King.

That’s pretty cool sounding, but what has come before this?

We had an upgrade to our Guilds with ranks, reputation and special perks and vendor items. 

We had a character-specific zoned farm and quest hub tied to a zone/expansion.

We’ve had the guild system taken down many pegs and rewards removed or ranks flushed.

We’ve had the Garrison, a vastly expanded farm concept but still tied to a zone/expansion.

Now, Class Halls. 

Considering what we’ve seen in the past, what could we reasonably expect from the Legion Class Hall experience?

First thing we’ve seen is that a new character-specific system generally isn’t designed to be persistent. It is meant to tie into the expansion it is released in, grow with that story, and then be abandoned once the new expansion comes along.

Second, the system has a carefully crafted art theme that ties in to the concept and grows based on your efforts.

Third, there are NPCs that are tied to it that can provide daily quests and vendor items, possibly tied to new reputations.

Fourth, there are usually cute little interactive aspects you might not expect that add charm and flavor. As an example, the farm had dog and watering cans and upgradable tools, the Garrison had a special commander area to display archaeological items, etc.

So, what can we expect?

I’d say we could expect each class to have an area somewhere in the world tied in specifically to the new expansion that is zoned to your character. It is an area that will not be in a central area for whatever the following expansion may be. 

It will be populated by NPCs famous in each class who may provide lore when talked to, offer quests, have class reputation and items for transmog, mounts or toys relTed to your class.

The hall itself will be carefully designed so the aesthetic is not Horde or Alliance, but instead reminiscent of class interests. It will possibly start as one set size but can expand as you play and perhaps unlock/recruit more famous champions of your class to come and dwell therein. 

The Hall may also be customized by seeking out relics of lore associated with your class that you find by questing, interaction with items from old raids or dungeons, or as drops. Relics that you bring back and put on display. Current examples being Music, Archeology and Pepe.

Finally, we can fully expect this to be abandoned in the following expansion. Right when you’ve taken it as far as it can go and people are tired of it, a new expansion will bring new zones that we move the story to, and that area will have the next big thing. Maybe a trueGuild Hall, taking the lessons learned from Class Halls and Garrisons and the Farm and really rolling out something shared and special.

One thing I’ll be curious to see is if the Class Hall is zoned to one character, or if it’s shared to a faction, or even cross faction like Dalaran.

I’ve seen a lot of assumptions so far that I think are more wishful thinking than anything else. Like that of course all Class Halls will be large enough to hold all players of that class of both factions on a server simultaneously. 

I personally expect that it will be zoned to your one character, or that like Dalaran did with Factions there will be shared areas with smaller sub-areas zoned for you alone. 

Okay technically in Dalaran the faction areas just ported the other faction out instead of zoning.

I think we are going to be sent on a quest that leads to a fabled artifact of our class. That will take us to our first famous class NPC who will examine it, share lore and generally herald you as the new wielded of blank and the class champion. 

Alternately it will be that first NPC that sends us on a quest to track down the weapon and sets it in motion.

Either way, having recovered the class artifact and becoming the class champion, we will begin with that NPC to create from scratch a Class Hall or get access to a class related place that may have “always” been there.

From that point we can begin recruiting more class champions to our cause, the overthrow of the Legion.

I would also question whether the Bodyguard system will be expanded, allowing us to quest in the company of a true class lore champion.

Looking past the opening bars of Legion, I could see the next expansion finally seeing the coming of Sargeras, but once you’ve gathered the heroes of your class where do you go from there?

The Guild Hall, bringing together all the class champions (you) officially as a Guild with your massive fortress may be the end game.

If the invasion of the Legion is as devastating as Blizzard has suggested, dividing our forces along Class lines may not be enough to save Azeroth.

We may lose.

We’ve seen from Mists of Pandaria that in pursuit of a satisfying story, Blizzard can transform an entire zone through phasing to show the devastation of war.

What if post Legion sees our max level characters in a phased Azeroth scorched and barren, dominated by demons, and our forces thrown back into isolated fortresses where we are making our last desperate stands against final oblivion?

The fortress itself would be our new expansion capital city, and could have a Guild Hall area for the last desperate forces of light.

Where I’m going with this is kind of a cautionary tale. And a reminder.

When Legion comes, I hope everyone tries to remember to enjoy what you have as you have it, make the best of it and really dig into the gameplay of the moment. It won’t be forever, for better or worse, and who is to say for sure if it, any of it, will still be there tomorrow.

How many wish that they could have just one more day in the blessed valley of the Four Winds, to take tea in the village and camp along the golden grasses?

Seize the day, enjoy the Garrison, ride the hills, for tomorrow we go to war, and our world may never be the same.

WoW, I’m Loving It!

I’m loving WoW and feeling a little frazzled, because as usual there are too many things I’d like to be doing like RIGHT NOW and not enough time to do them all.

I blame Blizzard for adding so many awesome new systems into the game, some of which seem pretty simple but can have a subtle but powerful impact on the multi-alt player.

While the vocal part of the community seems hell bent on bashing Blizzard for any delay in flying, I’m praying they make haste a little more slowly because time, time, ask me for anything but time!

Yes, of course I’m eager to Fly Draenor and enjoy those majestic vistas and go exploring. I have my screenshots of the glorious skies over Outlands, now it’s time to see what nice scenery my tourist butt can find in da land of Orcs and Honey.

But not yet, please not yet! If flying gets released I’m going to feel guilty if I don’t start doing archaeology again, and I have enough guilt from my gaming.

Here’s the deal, buttercup.

I’m like thiiiiiis close to getting my 250 mounts for that achievement that nets me a fel green fire hawk of my very own. It would also position me within spitting distance of that future 300 mount achieve from Legion.

Getting those 250 is a done deal, I just need to consistently do the Argent Tournament dailies on my Druid each day for maybe three or four more weeks, tops, and I’m done.

In the process of working out what mounts I’m missing and where they can be found, a process that the website SimpleArmory made easy, I started messing around with the Custom Group system and made some alarming discoveries.

Now, I’m sure what I’m going to talk about is old hat to most players that are current on blogs, websites and the community.

I’m not current, I haven’t been spending any time reading blogs or WoW sites anymore except for Twitter or the front page of MMO Champion and, sometimes, following a link to Wowhead, and that only rarely. When I get home from work, I’m too busy playing the game to read about others playing the game. Kinda why I don’t watch videos or streams, either. It’s okay, if you’re a streamer, please don’t take it personally. It’s the same reason why I don’t watch any sports at all. I’d rather be doing than watching others having fun. This bear ain’t got time for that.

But the custom group thing, this took me completely by surprise when I really started looking at it and wondering what I could do with it.

See, I’ve been using the Find Group tool and Custom Groups since day one, just like many, many wonderful people in WoW to do cross-server hopping looking for rares that are up in the zones that can drop mounts (or for rare pet spawns), looking for Garrison daily commodity traders and pt quest givers, all that stuff.

I mean, everyone does that, right? You have a Blacksmith, you don’t wait weeks hoping that when the Ore Trader is in Garrisons, your character with Blacksmithing just HAPPENS to be lucky enough to have that NPC, right? No, you check Wowhead’s front page where they kindly list all of the things active in the game that day (including Garrison trader NPCs and quests), and if it’s the vendor you need, you go to Find Group and Custom Groups, and find some incredibly nice soul who has started an auto-join group so you can visit their Garrison where they have the trader up and ready to go.

This right here, this feature and how people are using it, has restored my faith in the actual players of WoW. No matter how many angry twits are spewing venom to community managers or Blizzard Developers, the fact remains there are a lot of people, all the time and every day, who go out of their way to form Custom Groups just so others can come and use their Garrison for vendors, traders and pet quests. God bless them, they are magnificent people.

But I hadn’t gone any further than that, not until I started working on making Custom Groups so that I could get my account and my son’s account both grouped up to run some old raids for mounts, and came across the most amazing thing.

You can group up with your own alts, and share raid lockouts!

All internal to your one account!

This is insane, and I love it, and it’s caused my gaming to explode lately.

It’s really simple.

Say, like me, you don’t have the Pureblood Firehawk that has the potential to drop from any version, heroic or normal, of Ragnaros in the Firelands.

Well, Ragnaros is the last boss in there, and even at level 100 a full clear of 25 normal can take a half hour to forty five minutes. Lot of loot drops, sure, but time! Ask me for… you get the idea. 45 minutes per character clear across, what, I’ve got 7 alts to level 100 now, that’s a lot of damn time.

But with Custom Groups, what you can do is go in on a character, in my case my feral Druid, and clear all the bosses in 25 normal Firelands through Majordomo Staghelm. So, everything except Rag.

Then my Druid leaves the instance, sits down and logs out just outside the entrance.

Now, I pick one of my alts, log in, fly out to Firelands and stop outside the entrance. I open Custom Groups, start a group, name it ‘test run’, and list it. Then I make sure it’s set to ‘auto join’.

I log that alt out, I log in the Druid that cleared Firelands, search for Custom Groups, and right there is my ‘test run’ sitting there. I join it, and then log out again.

When I log my alt back in, I’m still the group leader because I started the group, I’ve got my Druid in the group but offline, and maybe there are other players who are joining groups to server hop that are in there as well.

I edit my group so that it no longer lets you auto-join. Then I remove other players besides me and my Druid, if there were any.

Then my alt walks into Firelands, and no shit, the warning pops up, “You have joined an instance where 7/8 are killed, if you accept you will be saved to this instance.”

I accept. I am now the raid leader in a Firelands that has everything but Ragnaros killed.

Then I boot my Druid from the group. 🙂

Boom!

I go on from there to go straight to Ragnaros, kill him, loot him, and hearth to my Garrison. Elapsed time on that character for a Rag kill from first log in to return, about 10 minutes, max.

Log in to my next alt to run it, repeat the process.

The next time I enter Firelands with my offline Druid in the group, it gives me the same warning, 6/7 or 7/8, whatever it is. I’ve run it so many times, and so many others raids, they’re all blurring together.

I don’t even have to reset instances or any of that on the alts, as the group leader that booted the Druid, the Druid was never in the raid when the last boss was killed.

Now, there has been a learning curve. I’ve been working on this for weeks, in multiple raids.

For one thing, you have to clear a normal raid, not heroic, on your original clearing character. And you have to be set to normal on the alts when you’re entering the raid for the boss you intend to kill.

Only after you have booted the Druid (or clearing character) from your group can you choose to convert raid from normal to heroic, from inside the raid. And of course, if your alt has never killed the raid on normal before, he can’t convert it to heroic. You’ll have to get at least one normal clear under your wing first on every character in order to do heroic bosses.

Also, you can do this the other way. You can start the group with your clearing character, have the alt join, then wait around for a while and the offline druid will eventually time out and lead will automatically pass to you. I don’t like that because the whole time you’ve got the auto-join setting on and other people will be popping in and out to see what’s going on. That’s great if your group is going to be up long enough for them to do cross-server stuff, not so good when you’re trying to farm a raid, or hoping lead passes to you instead of someone else. I personally prefer my alt to form the group, and have the character that cleared the raid join it and later on be booted after sharing the raid ID.

This whole thing has been transformative to my play.

As I said, I’ve got seven characters at level 100.

Thanks to Apexis Crystal upgrade gear, Garrison missions, LFR and Shipyard mission drops, all of them are at least iLevel 645, and three of them are over 675. ALL of them can clear Ragnaros 25 normal easily. Ridiculously easy.

Last night, I killed Ragnaros on EVERYONE.

I didn’t get the mount, but my Druid and my son’s Death Knight both got Sulfuras, the two handed mace, to drop. And both can use it for transmog. well, the Death Knight can when in Unholy, which happens to be my son’s favorite spec. He’s INSANELY excited.

I can’t wait to level up my Warrior to 100 just so I can start farming Ragnaros weekly for Sulfuras, JUST to Titan’s Grip the mace and dual wield it. I’m almost in tears, that vision is so glorious.

The night before last, on server reset, I killed the Lich King on almost everyone. It turned out to be a bit too difficult for me to do on my Rogue, I kept getting bounced off the top to my death by those glowing balls of shame.

I was killing the Lich King on Heroic 25, which is the only mode that Invincible can drop from.

I didn’t get the mount, but again, my Druid cleared the place on 25 normal, and then my alts all started groups, the Druid joined them, the alt walked in, booted the Druid from the group and then converted it to Heroic. Boom, a Heroic 25 Lich King only run, instantly. This only works, as I said, if the alt has cleared the full normal mode before. can’t convert it to a Heroic otherwise.

I’ve run Ulduar 25 no lights a few times to try to get Mimiron’s Head to drop, but that was before I ever found out about this, and as much as I love Ulduar, doing a full clear 5 or 6 times a week was just too much.

But this… as soon as I get either Invincible or the Pureblood Firehawk, I’ll drop that raid from my weekly rotation and start up Ulduar.

Talk about a revitalized interest in running things.

And on the subject of old raids, do you have any idea how powerful we are now? I hadn’t completed the achievements for Icecrown Citadel 10 man before to get the Bloodbathed mount thingie. I only did it with blog readers on 25 man a year ago or so.

Well, I started off at zero, ZERO achievements for the 10 man version, and soloed it in two weeks with my Druid as Feral, using a hastily thrown together Resto spec for the green dragon.

It only took two weeks, and it wouldn’t have taken that long except one week I had to kill the vampire queen after getting bitten, and the second week I had to burn her super fast so she died BEFORE I got bit.

Maybe you’ve long ago gotten every mount and pet in the game, you’re sick of soloing old raids, you’re bored off your ass and there’s nothing for you to do byut wait for flying.

If so, I’m really sorry. I am. I love this game but I need goals to excite me and shape my activities. Whether it’s chasing that transmog set, farming legendary staff drops or going for mounts os achievements, I have to have a goal.

But this Custom Group thing has me running my butt off, and frankly I love seeing all these different places… as long as I only have to clear it once.

Now, I’m not even doing this as far as I could. I haven’t tried it, but I’m pretty sure I should be able to push the raid instance lock each week after reset, and never have to clear the place after the first time. Just keep pushing it every week.

I’m not doing that, because I LIKE clearing ICC and Firelands on my Feral Druid. It’s so damn FUN!

So after all my alts have killed the boss in a week, I go in on my Druid and kill him too, get that one extra chance, and I’ll just clear again next week.

Sorry, i know this is really long, and all I’ve talked about is soloing old raids, which is nothing new and has been our fall back plan when times were slow for years.

I haven’t even had the chance to talk about how easy it’s been to farm ALL the rare drop mounts in Draenor thanks to the cross-server Custom Group feature!

With most active players hanging out in Tanaan Jungle, the rest of the zones are fairly quiet.

It’s been a great time to go to each spawn point where a rare could be that drops a mount, usually three or four spots in each zone (and easily crossed if you have a Feather) and then

use Custom group to quickly check four or five servers at each spawn point to see if it’s up.

I got all of them except Poundfist and the Voidtalon portal mount within an hour of deciding to target that rare. Felt really nice to finish that up, it had been nagging me.

So much to do, so many places to go, so many mounts to get!

Shoot, I’ve even been enjoying jousting at the Argent Tournament once again. And I’ll admit, it’s nice to be able to just walk up to a Commander before the gates of the citadel and smack him a few times instead of having to mount up with a lance and try and joust them. Makes the actual doing of the quests a breeze.

My only complaint has been that I don’t like to leave my Garrison for too long… I’ve got missions to complete and more gold to get! Those 120,000 gold mounts on the Auction House aren’t gonna buy themselves, you know.

Geez, I also didn’t mention the new Night Elf Death Knight alt I made to level. I’m already up to 72, and having a good time feeling my way through Northrend quests again. It’s been a long time, but it’s just like coming home. These heirlooms from the new system are so nice, and the Void Tendril heirloom trinket you can get from a Garrison mission (if your character is over iLevel 675 and so are your followers) is so overpowered it’s insane. Oh, and that trinket comes in a bag, the trinket is BOP but the bag reward you get is BOE. So you can buy that heirloom trinket from the Auction House if you search for the bag it comes in! It’s called the Void-Shrouded Satchel, and the trinket is called the Touch of the Void.

So much to do, so little time….

Please, Blizzard, just hold off the patch and expansion, just… yes, bring them, I really want them, but… not yet!

Novice AR-15 Build – Black Rifle on a Budget – Part 3 (Finished Build)

Moving on to the actual build, aside from the tools I mentioned in the previous article that I bought special, here are most of the rest of the tools I found useful in assembling the components.

Standard Tools

Since fixing stuff has been a large portion of my professional life, I have lots of tools just sitting around in various boxes and covering my main workbench. When I decided to add a tool cabinet to my crafting table so I could work on firearms there, every time I needed something I went into my workshop, grabbed the tool I needed at the time and brought it back. Aside from the tools pictured above, you should also have a really good bench vice, a variety of vice jaw covers that are either rubber, plastic or soft-metal so you can get a secure grip on something without marring it. That, and a torque wrench with a 1/2″ socket drive, since that is what the special AR-15 wrench is designed to fit onto for torquing crown nuts onto the stock and other parts if you’re working on barrel and upper receiver mods.

Do you need the metal pick in the picture? No, but I find it handy for fishing in cramped spaces for o-rings, springs and such. Do you need your allen keys to be fancy T-handles? No, any set of standard allens will do fine. I just happen to have about 15 different allen sets, and when working on firearms, your space isn’t limited so there’s no reason not to use the big honking T-handles that have nice ergonomics and can give you solid torque. The red handle allens above are all standard, the blue handled one is a metric, but it’s not for the AR-15 build. I use it to loosen the stock bolt on the Ruger 10/22 when I clean it… and it’s a handy size for pushing pins through the receiver.

A small hammer with rubber or plastic heads is a must. It’s great for tapping on pins when you don’t want to mar the finish metal on metal. I even went so far as to tape mine up with blue painters tape just like the guy in the Youtube video, because again, I didn’t want to risk scratching anything before it ever hit the range when tapping roll pins into place.

Anyway, as you can see below, you don’t need some fancy workbench to do this, until you get to a point you need to apply some specific torque. If you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about… um. Okay, it never occurred to me I’d be writing this for people who may not know how to use a torque wrench, but really, if you’ve never needed to before, where or why would you learn? I just took a five second break to check Youtube, sure as hell someone made a video on how to use a torque wrench. In fact, what I’m finding is if there is something you want to do, check Youtube, someone made a video showing how to do it. Or five hundred someone’s.

As you can see below, not only did I have a book showing diagrams of parts for easy reference, but I also propped my iPad up so I could watch various Youtube videos of people doing the steps I was on, as I was doing them. Because why the heck not.

I purchased a book from Amazon, called Build Your Own AR-15 Rifle by David Strauss, mainly because I wanted a book of some kind. You know, sometimes you just like to have a book with prints to refer to. The book was okay. I wouldn’t say it was great, because if you were using it as your ONLY guide for assembling your AR-15, you’d be fucked. His descriptions of the steps don’t relate to the included pictures very well. He also makes a lot of assumptions about what you already know. If you already know how to build one, or if you’re following along with some Youtube videos at the same time, then it’s fine. It’s a nice reminder. I would NOT use it as your sole resource.

In fact, if you use Youtube videos and the following picture of what all the lower receiver kit parts look like along with their proper descriptions, you should be fine.

AR15lowerreceiverparts-small

 

There are literally dozens, maybe even hundreds of videos showing step by step exactly how to assembly upper and lower receivers out there.

I personally just picked one at random and used it. Worked out just fine, I know how to put roll pins in properly, I was concerned with the order of assembly, and following this guy’s videos worked great. And it was a different order of assembly from the book I had, so like I said… this isn’t rocket science.

The videos I followed along with were made by 2phast tactical, the Palmetto State Armory Lower Receiver Build videos. The guy has three videos in the lower receiver build, and he does a pretty darn good job of covering everything along with his recommendations of how to be super uber careful not to scratch anything up. He even covers torqueing the castle nut on the stock, which I appreciated, because the book I had didn’t talk about it at all.

A brief word on the book, the videos, and setting up a workstation.

Don’t overthink it.

If you’ve ever put together an erector set, you’ll be fine. This isn’t difficult or complicated. It’s really not, although it might seem that way before you do it. What it is, is a process that requires very patient attention to detail. You want to make absolutely certain you are placing the correct springs and pins in the correct places, from the correct angles, in the right way. I absolutely assure you my 12 year old could do this, so do not be worried about whether you can handle it. What it requires is patience and attention to detail, and a beginner’s familiarity with tools.

In that picture up above, there is a small bottle of blue Loctite visible. You may wonder wtf. Blue Loctite is a medium strength threadlocker. It’s not permanent like green, and what it is for is to put a small drop on the threads on the side of a threaded bolt, right before you screw it into a nut. The blue Loctite hardens and prevents the screw from slowly backing itself out of the nut or fastener from vibration. It’s commonly used in fastening nuts in place so that they don’t come loose from the vibration and shock associated with recoil. You can still unscrew the bolt later when you want, it just helps provide a retainer. I didn’t actually use it on internal components of the rifle, because it’s more useful for things like scope mount bolts, things that you attach on the outside of the rifle.

Internal components are designed for the most part to be fastened with roll pins and castle nuts and torqued barrel nuts and standard machine pins. So do you need to use Loctite? If you’ve never used it before, I say no. I would suggest you build your rifle, take it to the range, make sure all your bolts are snugged down firmly, and if over time you find scope mounts or others accessories are working themselves loose, then you’ve identified where you might want to apply some Loctite.

Just make sure the threads of a bolt are dry and free of oil or grease before applying, and a single drop is fine, you don’t need to soak the thing. Also, make sure you don’t get it all around on other surfaces, it’ll make a mess. Be clean and careful.

LOWER BUILD WORKSPACE

 

Yes, I know the cover for the iPad looks pink. I let my son pick it out, the color looked purple on Amazon. You’d be amazed how many people I meet at work who feel the need to mention it, I’m finding it to be an outstanding asshole detector.

So, following along with the 2phast tactical videos, referring to the parts chart I posted above, it took about a half an hour to complete the lower receiver build, and another half hour to tighten everything else together for the build below.

First complete build - small

Problems Arise

Once I had it finished, I found out that my first concern was a reality; the scope mount did NOT sit high enough on the flat top rail to allow the sight picture to clear the front sight post.

Worse, it was too low for my check weld on the stock to offer me a clear view through the scope without having to scrunch up uncomfortably.

I had figured it might end up like that, but until I had everything assembled I didn’t want to buy any accessories. If a scope on standard mounting rings or rail does not sit at the height you feel comfortable with, where holding the rifle in the correct shooting position allows you to naturally see clearly through the optic to your target, then you need to add (or remove) height to the mounts.

The easiest way to add height is by adding a riser. There are many picatinny rail risers of various heights, attachment methods (screws or quick disconnect QD twists, etc) and lengths.

The other thing you might find is that the scope is at the correct height that is natural for you… but the front A2 sight post is in the way.

If the front sight post is in the way, you can replace the entire front sight post and gas block assembly with a low profile gas block with mounting rail, and then add a folding front sight post. Leave the post folded down, scope is now clear.

In my particular case, the scope was about 3/4″ too low for my field of view, which was an easy fix requiring the purchase of a single riser. I chose one 13/16″ high, with a length long enough to accommodate the 5-slot scope mount as seen below. Mounting it that much higher also cleared the front sight, so I didn’t have to do any further messing about with it. I’d still like to replace the gas block and put in folding sights front and back, but hey, that gives me something to look forward to down the road.

Red Dot Config - small

 

The other thing I did was decide to go ahead and mount a regular black aluminum bodied flashlight to the offset mount I got, just to see if I liked it. I had a Streamlight lying around with a zenon bulb and backup LEDs, but the nice thing about these mounts is that they are designed to fit any standard aluminum flashlight with a 1″ diameter grip. Funnily enough, a lot of flashlight makers are pumping out flashlights with a 1″ grip now. Isn’t that interesting!

Rail and Light Config - small

 

Above is a closer picture of how I attached my flashlight to the left side of the handguard using the Magpul attachment rail. I placed it forward on the handguard as far as it would go on the left side, and it’s a QD mount so I can pop it off whenever I’d like without tools. It’s forward enough so that the light from the flash isn’t obstructed by the muzzle of the barrel, causing shadows, and it’s angled so that my left hand, when forward on the stock, can easily reach the ‘on’ button. You can get flashlights with cables and little remote switches so you can run the on switch for the flashlight right to your hand grip, but meh. I don’t care for the idea of a loose wire and switch on my rifle.

Preparing for range day

Having assembled the rifle, I then thoroughly lubricated it with CLP. I know there are lots of cleaning and oiling materials out there, but I’m a child of the Marines from the eighties and nineties. CLP all the way. At least I know it works. I paid particular attention to taking apart and lubricating the bolt and bolt carrier group, and checked that the three gas rings had offset gaps. Does it matter? Well, that’s what they taught me in basic so that’s what I do.

Are you unsure how to lubricate an AR-15? Again… Youtube. Yes, there are even how to demonstration videos on how to clean your rifle. Well, why not? It’s been two decades for me, a quick refresher never hurt anyone. And I liked the suggestion of adding a little high-temp lithium grease to the more serious wear parts of the bolt carrier rails. But for a quick and dirty reminder of where to lubricate the bolt carrier, this is a nice one page cheatsheet.

For sighting it in, I used a .223 caliber laser boresight to get a rough alignment between barrel and optic at 25′ before I ever headed to the range. If you look on Amazon, you’ll see there are many to choose from, but they all function about the same way.

You empty the chamber of your rifle, slide the activated laser cartridge into the rifle chamber, and slowly ease the bolt forward onto it. That gets it nice and snug, and leaves you with a laser dot being projected out of the barrel of the rifle.

Shine it on a flat surface 25′ to 50′ away, and then zero your optic until the crosshairs/dot are resting on the laser spot. Boom! You’ve got a very rough sighted rifle.

A few things to consider when doing this.

You’re not firing a laser rifle. The bullet, when it leave the muzzle, is immediately affected by the pull of gravity and begins it’s descent towards earth. This means the path or trajectory of your bullet describes an arc, not a straight line. But a laser is a straight line. If you try to sight in your optic with a laser out past 50′, you’re liable to have the actual impact be higher as the initial trajectory rises. Knowing the ballistics of your rifle based on the ammunition and caliber and rifling is part of the game. You should know what range you’ve sighted it in at so you know how to compensate at other ranges.

Also, the laser is not indicating the effects of the lands and grooves and twist of the rifling of your barrel on the bullet, or the weight (grains) of the bullet. The laser is only showing where the cartridge body and your cartridge chamber are in relation to the projected laser point.

The true zero is when you adjust your sights to the actual bullet impact at a known distance.

So why bother with a laser boresighter?

Well, even at the best prices I can find, ammo for this AR-15 costs around a quarter a shot. The closer to a zero starting point you can get before you fire off a few downrange, the less money you’re wasting chasing the bullseye. This is a budget build, after all, and an investment of $10 in a laser now seemed a fair trade for dozens of rounds zeroing later.

Speaking of Ammo

I have been looking for good prices on ammunition, and I’m really grateful for the Ammoseek website and app. I found a store selling steel cased Tulammo .223 for about .23 cents a round after shipping, so I bought a hundred rounds of it for the first range day. Came in within a couple days, great communication and tracking info. The actual website Ammoseek directed me to was Able’s Ammo, and they were certainly great, but Ammoseek brings up the cheapest specials from around the internet on any given day so your mileage may vary.

The ammo I bought was .223 FMJ in 55 grains. Now, my particular AR-15 is a 16″ barrel with mid-length gas system and a 1:7 barrel rifling. What that means is, I should really be using a heavier weight bullet for optimal accuracy at longer ranges.

If you’re interested in rifling, twist rate and comparative bullet weights, this is an excellent article from Cheaper Than Dirt about the subject.

The reality is, 55 grain seems to be the most commonly available in the cheaper categories, and until we get our membership confirmed with one of the outdoor gun ranges we’ve applied to, the longest distance I’ll be shooting with it is 50′. Might as well be point blank, for all the effect the bullet weight will have on it. But we’re gamers, and that means we love to min/max the options and know the stats.

Range Day

When I actually took the rifle to the range this past week, I only needed 8 rounds to bring it into a zero at 25′. I then fired two thirty-round magazines through at 25′ and it responded beyond my wildest dreams. No gaps or rattle between upper and lower receiver, not a single jam or misfeed, no short stroking on the gas impingement system throwing the bolt back. Just solid punches downrange.

Everything worked smooth as silk. Fucking amazing. I mean, perfect. I did NOT expect that, not at this price point, and I freely admit I probably got lucky as hell with the mating of the parts fitting so well.

After firing those two mags, I sent the target downrange as far as the range allowed, 50′, and fired off 5 slow aimed shots at dead center in the offhand to test my ability to generate a tight group.

This was my target;

5 round grouping-small

Now, that is a full size target at 50′, with a 5 shot group small enough to cover with your thumb. Well, with my thumb. I’ve got big thumbs. And you know what big thumbs, mean, don’t you?

That’s right, big gloves.

You can see that what looked zeroed and shot tight groups in the X at 25′ left me a little to the right at 50′. It needed a more careful fine tuned zero to be dialed in better. As far as being too high, remember what I said earlier about ballistics and bullet rise? I sighted in at 25′, so at 50′ the bullet was still on the upward slope of the ballistic trajectory. It hit where it should with the red dot centered as far as height, but it was a little off to the right, and that was in my zero.

But as far as accuracy is concerned, I’d rather have a tight group a little off target first day at the range than a group that is all over the place. This way, at least I know the bloody thing works.

I can honestly say I couldn’t be more pleased with how this has turned out.

Conclusion

A few words about the quality of the various components, now that they’re all put together and tested at the range.

The scope is cheap, no question. But it’s functional, and it’s still working fine. The red dot is fuzzy, you can certainly tell where the quality improvements are in good optics. Do I wish I had an Eotech 516 or something along those lines to test out? Of course, but I also don’t have $800 to $1500 to spend just on good optics. This is a fun rifle as is to go shoot at the range, so my standards are definitely beer budget all the way. Maybe someday.

The Magpul magazines are sweet, in fact everything I bought made by Magpul is really nice. I’m a believer now. Based on this, I’m thinking of replacing the generic stock that came with the upper receiver with a Magpul version that will be higher quality and more refined. It’s still okay, though.

What I did find was it feels… odd… to load plastic magazines. I’m used to the metal ones from the service, and loading these things, I could feel the plastic sidewalls give a little bit. There are load assist tools out there that hold the sides of the magazine and speed up loading, and I think buying one would be a good investment down the road.

I’ve also found that nobody else in my family wants to shoot the rifle. It’s a heavy beast compared to a Ruger 10/22, and I didn’t consider that a bipod might be a good idea to take some of the weight of the front end off for younger shooters.

There are some options out there, a regular bipod mount or even a foregrip that has a pop out bipod that seems popular but looks flimsy. I might consider one of those for next time. I talked to my mother in law about the AR-15 she has been shooting when she visits friends in Kansas, and it turns out she doesn’t hold it properly in the offhand either, she shoots from a bench rest with sandbags. So I guess maybe a bipod is a good idea if I’m going to let other people shoot it.

Everything considered, I am amazed at the results. I wouldn’t trust the optic to hold up in a 3 gun match or any kind of rugged conditions, but everything else is rock solid and feels strong and dependable. Even shooting steel cased ammo, I had no problems with the gas system or the feeding, even at the fastest rate of fire I could run through on one magazine. I also had no issues with the steel cases jamming in the chamber after the gun warmed up.

I’m not sure what else you can expect, really. It looks cool to my tastes, it fired reliably and accurately, and after adjustments was quite comfortable to attain a clear sight picture.

If you have any questions, just let me know. I’ll be sure to do a follow up review after I’ve had it to the range a few more times.

Thanks, and have a great night!