For years I have always sucked at Player vs Player (PvP) matches on first person shooters (FPS) and Halo creator Bungie’s new game Destiny was no exception. I got slaughtered in the Crucible just like I always did in other games. Except this time I decided to do something about it. I’d had it with losing. So, I started asking questions. What am I doing wrong? How can I fix it? Posts on the Internet didn’t help much so I had to figure it out myself. And I did. I went from finishing at the bottom of the leaders boards with consistently pathetic 0.25 to 0.5 Kill/Death Ratios (KDs) to finishing at or near the top with average KDs over 1.0 and as high as 3.5 in just a few weeks. How did I do it?

It all started with work on my new book. The first draft of my new SF war novel, The Jasmine Wars, suffered from a series of poorly written battles: long, drawn out repetitive sequences that essentially came down to “kick in the door and shoot everything” or “run like hell from an overwhelming defeat.” I needed to improve them dramatically during the second draft so I set out to learn more about strategy, tactics, and military history with a fierce dedication. I’ve studied the history of battles with books like 100 Decisive Battles: From Ancient Times to the Present, as well as comprehensive strategic overviews like Strategy: A History and 33 Strategies of War. I’ve gotten obsessed with the game of Go, amassing an arsenal of books, some of my favorites sporting incredible Japanese war paintings on the covers like Get Strong and Invading and Get Strong at Tesuji.

So what does all this have to do with Destiny you want to know?

The key to winning at Destiny PvP (and in life) is strategy and tactics. Without them you’re just a guy like I was running around like a chicken with his head cut off, getting yourself killed repeatedly. Not fun. But once you understand how to study a situation for advantages you can change your fate and that means you can get better.

After studying the game, I came up with a series of concepts that will help you dramatically improve your game that I call, Buddha’s Maxims, named for my handle in the game.

How does a person get better? It all starts with questions. Question everything. I already gave you the two most important questions: What am I doing wrong? How do I fix it? But a better one is: what are the other guys doing better than me? That last one is absolutely crucial. You can’t figure it all out on your own so the best way to learn is to find people better than you and play with them. That takes us to our first lesson for getting better at Destiny:

Make friends.

Ask yourself: how can I study with players that are better than me? I found a bunch of players while randomly adventuring and sent them friend requests. You should too. The more friends you have the more activities you can do. And as countless people have pointed out, the Vault of Glass, a six-person mega-raid, is the best content in the game. In other words, Bungie wants you to make friends, so do it. Don’t miss the good stuff. Even if you’re a friendless hermit, socialize. Message a few people. If they are shitheads you can always un-friend them and move on. I’ve met some folks on there that turned out to be crazy funny and lots of fun. So leap in headfirst and meet some people, wall followers and soloists.

From friends you will learn a whole lot. You’ll figure out the best routes to take on the board, the most devastating weapons to use, the key points to attack and defend, to name a few. That brings me to my second maxim:

Always be learning.

Take the approach that you can always get better. Let go of any pride and just admit you don’t know everything. Someone out there always has something to teach you. Accept that knowledge with gratitude and stay thankful.

As a quick aside: I met most of my friends farming the loot cave. Rest in Peace Loot Cave. It was fun farming that empty hole despite Bungie saying this was not how they intended the game to be played, before they shuttered it. I loved it. You see Bungie doesn’t want you to play that way because what they’ve built is a giant casino with no money. Instead of money, you spend time. Drops are random because they want to keep you locked in. The Loot Cave busted the game in favor of the people instead of the house. It let players’ power level, getting stacks of purple fast. Getting the top weapons and armor is hard because they want it to be hard. It’s by design. It’s an endless time trap so you buy DLC in the future. They don’t give you the best weapons based on skill. You can get to the top of the leader boards and it won’t mean a damn thing other than pride. You get nothing, while that bottom feeding chump gets a purple legendary weapon. Believe me, they want it that way.

They will not “fix” it because it is designed to sucker you into spending all your free time playing. Destiny’s “best” aspect is that it’s “addicting” just like a real casino. It even looks like a casino game when the loot pops out at the end of a match, as the two reward spots spin and spin while you wait like Pavlov’s dog to see if this one time you’ll actually get something that doesn’t suck. You keep losing so you keep coming back and maybe, just maybe that next time you’ll get a run of luck and get some good stuff. Congratulations, dear reader, you’ve been ”Game Theoried”. Nothing wrong with using a little Game Theory right back at them to cheat an unfair system that proves another maxim: “the house always wins.” All’s fair in love, war and video games. So find that rock to hide behind where the boss is too stupid to attack you and steal his high level loot!

Despite knowing this insidious design lurks beneath the surface of the game, a devil’s deal set to snare me into endless grinding, I wanted to get better at Destiny simply for the thrill of beating down my fellow man (virtually). I did it for my wounded pride and as “research” for my book. You’ll have to find your own reasons.

Now, back to getting good at PvP. What’s our next move? After making some friends and getting your mind right for learning you’ve reached the next most crucial step, Grasshopper:

Play a bunch of games and lose horribly.

That’s right. Lose a bunch of matches. Get in there and suck. Finish every game, no matter how bad you are doing. Stick with it. There is an old saying in Go: “to get good at Go lose 100 matches quickly.” In other words, get some experience. Realize that you can’t skip this step. It all boils down to practice. You will not step in and dominate on day one, even if you have a lot of experience with other shooters. You can’t learn without losing. As the old Aerosmith line from Dream On goes:

“You’ve got to lose to know how to win.”

Part of understanding strategy involves comprehending the rules of the system you are playing in, whether that system is a real life battlefield or a virtual time-suck. That means you have to look clearly and recognize the truth of what is in front of you. In other words:

See things as they are, not as you want them to be.

If you delude yourself that Destiny is just an innocent little game designed to help you have fun in your free time, you are mistaken. Understand the system and you can find weaknesses in it. To see clearly you must:

Make an honest assessment of your weaknesses.

This is not as easy at it sounds. First of all, it’s hard to admit you are not good at something. Our minds are designed to cover up our faults. We look for excuses, blame others, get mad, quit, walk away, accuse other people of cheating and rationalize that it’s just a stupid game anyway, who cares if I can do that, or that’s so cheap. Repeat this mantra with me a thousands times until it sinks in:

It’s not my controller. It’s me.

There is nothing “cheap” in the game. You’ll hear players complaining about this a lot after getting their asses kicked. Don’t listen. They’re making excuses and you are done with excuses. A better or smarter player is outclassing you. It is as simple as that. Accept it and figure out why. The controller did not suddenly stop responding. The network did not “lag.” Even if it did, it lagged for people on the other side too. Advantages from lag are completely random. A player may appear in front of you suddenly frozen or running into a wall and next time that’s you and the game starts up again and you’re dead. That’s too bad. These types of things are rare. If they’re really happening, then leave matchmaking and then come back to get routed to a different server. But never blame outside forces. Blame yourself.

You are not fast enough. You are not smart enough. So get smarter and get faster.

In other words, the lesson you learned in kindergarten remains true: practice makes perfect. Only practice can make you faster. You get better and better by training, by lining up that head shot again and again until you can pull it off while leaping and twisting around in mid air. I can’t make you faster, but I can help make you get smarter.

That comes through trial and error. If you make a mistake, then try something else. I saw an interview with a professional video game player and he said the key for him was to try different things over and over and over until he found the best one. Insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results. Examine yourself. See what you did wrong when you fail. Do something different.

Most importantly if you find something that works, keep doing it, keep refining it. In other words:

Do whatever works.

There is no glory in dying on the battlefield. You’re just dead. Standing boldly in front of another player shooting it out is not tough. It’s stupid. Instead, fall back, circle around and hit him when he least expects it. Strategy is not about charging over the hill blindly and getting yourself killed because you weren’t looking or forgot to reload in the heat of battle.

Strategy is about understanding the best position and taking it. If I can hide behind a rock while the final monster mindlessly shoots into it, I’ve definitely found the best position to take him out. I’ll use it every time. That’s not cheap, that’s war. Let’s turn to a Sun Tzu maxim that must make any good list:

All warfare is deception.

One of my favorite techniques is to wait around the corner of a wall for someone to come, and then I fall back as soon as I see him, but instead of completely falling back, I rush forward and wait by the wall, so I can melee him. In other words, I want to catch the enemy off guard. I want to know where he is and not let him know where I am. I want to hit him when he least expects it. Hit them where they’re weak, not where they’re strong. A foolish player assaults a well-guarded position solo or with fewer numbers. Instead, see if you can shoot a few shots in and draw a player out, so your teammates can pick him off when he doesn’t have the help of his teammates. Let’s take an old Chinese warfare saying to heart here:

Enemy attacks, retreat. Enemy retreats, attack.

If a player comes at you strong, fall back. If he’s retreating, now is the time to attack, so get reloaded and get that grenade ready to make him suffer for running away. That’s war and that’s Destiny. Oh, you found a little spot nobody seems to have discovered for sniping? Great. Take it. That’s the whole point. It’s yours. Have fun blasting away at people who can barely shoot back at you. Un-level the playing field. That’s fun of the game. So do it.

When it really comes down to it, the fact is:

All strategy is finding exploits.

Military strategy is hacking life’s rules. Flanking people means hitting them from the side or from behind. Not exactly fair, but certainly effective. There is no “fair” in war. We can’t see out of the backs of our heads so it makes sense to attack people there. That’s exploiting a weakness in our own bio-design. Alexander the Great exploited the Persian’s traditional warfare style in the ancient world. Knowing that armies always lined up and fought it out toe-to-toe, he set his army up on a hill, so the Persians could see it and then he did not attack. He let them stay awake all night while he gave his troops a good night’s sleep and then he assaulted them the next night when they were exhausted. Playing by everyone else’s rules will get you killed. Finding creative ways to change the rules sets you on the path to victory.

Now let’s dig into some specific tactics that will make you a much better player. To start with, you can’t win if you don’t:

Use all of your tools.

What do I mean by this? Use your HUD. It’s filled with useful information, not available in real life. When you get killed, a banner in the upper right hand corner will tell you two things: Who killed you and what weapon they used. These are crucial pieces of information. If you keep getting killed by the same guy over and over, he’s probably good, so watch where he goes when he spawns on your team the next round or two. Send him a friend request. He might just accept and that will give you an opportunity to learn even more as you tag along and watch him up close.

That gun info is essential too. You will see the same guns show up over and over again. Those are the weapons you want. Any others are probably worthless in the Crucible or people would already use them. Yield to that hierarchy. Go for one of those guns. Use the wrong weapons and get killed. The best guns for story mode are not the best guns for Crucible.

Know your weapons.

“My rifle is my best friend. There are many like it, but this one is mine.” Know them inside and out. Examine all of their perks. Understand them. Love them. Change them and change them again until you find the perfect combination of speed, strength and stability.

Perks matter. Don’t just assume that picking the next perk you unlocked is the best one. It’s not always. For example, for me, if a perk compromises stability I don’t want it. Some people deal well with recoil. I don’t. So get rid of perks that mess with your play style.

People love to go in there with their guns blazing and stand toe-to-toe with their foes. It’s fun to do that sometimes. Key word there: “sometimes.” But you don’t always need to go toe-to-toe. Instead, look to catch people at a disadvantage. Get the jump on them. In other words, do something we mentioned earlier that deserves its own maxim:

Flank people.

Flanking is when you circle back around and hit someone from the side or the from behind. You want to hit them from the side or the back. In fact, let’s get to an old Chinese military bandit leader saying here:

Almost all you need to know about warfare is “circling around.”

If you can shoot at someone who has an unprotected flank you have to take it. If you can work with your teammates, one or two can run an assault while others flank the enemy. This brutal fun almost always results in an awesome kill. In fact, it’s so exciting that you need to watch your breathing so you don’t shoot your gun wildly with excitement and miss, like I did on a number of occasions. Don’t be like I was. Flank people as often as possible.

When you find a strategic spot on the board, do your best to get there fast and take control of it early and often. It’s a major advantage. I can tell you that almost always, that spot will be the high ground. That brings us the next maxim:

Always take the high ground.

This tactic goes back to ancient times and still matters today. From the high ground you can see the field better and you can take people out faster. They have the disadvantage of shooting up at you, an awkward position. The high ground is almost always the good ground. Not always, but almost always. Find the best high ground on every board. That brings us to an important point:

Learn the maps.

You can’t play well without learning the maps. Once you’ve played them a lot you will know all their best spots. Understand what points are closest. Understand where the high ground stands and get to it early and often.

In Control and Iron Banner matches work to control the two closest points. Some articles I read suggested you might need to grab all three points regularly to win due to Bungie redesigns of this classic capture the flag update. It’s just not true.

In Control: you should either be defending your home point or assaulting the middle point.

If you are doing anything else: camping somewhere random or sneaking around, checking every direction, you are doing it wrong. Flood to the central point or defend your home point. The game wants you to constantly get to a spot where exciting battles ensue. That’s a good thing. So get to the fight quickly. Use your speeder to get there faster and take the best attack point. But before you rush off headlong in a fit of battle madness, remember this:

Stay with your team.

Aka always have a wingman. Stick to the herd. This gives you an essential advantage that goes back to antiquity:

Look to outnumber your opponent.

Outnumbering your opponent is always an advantage, even though it sometimes doesn’t work out. Two or three people storming an objective generally will win a battle against fewer opponents. It’s pure math. A single gun can only put out so much damage. If two or three come to bear on you, then you go down that much faster. To stay with your team you need to communicate and that makes the following true for this game and others:

Voice communication is king.

Stay in constant contact. The only people you can talk to in Destiny (as of now) are players you’re friends with currently. So link up with them by creating a fire team and you will stay on the same squad during matchmaking. The advantages of talking with even just one other player on your team so you can coordinate your actions are massive. If you can rustle up three to six players, then that is even better. Now you have a six-player team that can almost always dominate in Destiny PvP because even good players playing a pickup match where they can’t talk to their teammates are at a serious disadvantage. Use chat. Talk to your friends. “Need help at B. Three at B. I’m rushing A. Sniper on the roof across the alley.” This is how soldiers do it in real life and you should too.

Now it’s not that you can’t ever have solo objectives, but it’s not generally a good idea. However, sometimes you might just want to do it for the sheer fun of it. Ok. Here’s how. Make sure all of your weapons are stocked. Full clip, full grenade and full super, if possible and unload them all. This brings us to one of the worst mistakes you can make: forgetting to reload before engaging in a second firefight. This will get you killed almost every time, unless you stumbled across some other idiot who forgot to reload or take cover when injured.

Always remember to reload.

I can’t tell you how many times I forgot to reload. That’s such a rookie mistake. Embarrassing. I would take out one or two people and in a fit of battle madness rush to my next fight, without reloading. If you have to reload when the other guy is shooting at you in the open field you are dead.

Some movements will interrupt loading. Learn them and don’t do them. If you interrupt your reload, you’ll rush to an objective and get smoked like a newbie. Now if you get hurt, it’s time to get out of there.

If you are injured, then take cover.

If you are hurt, then fall back if you can. This is not always possible but try to do something anyway: leap; get behind a wall; get out of there. Just move. If you are caught in the open field, with no cover, better for you to unload and let it play out. Either both of you will die or one will kill the other. So unload on that punk with all you got. This is the fun of it.

So what weapons work best in Destiny? Currently, the following maxims are true though they may change as Bungie rebalances the game:

Autorifles are king in Destiny PvP. *

Ignore this maxim at your own peril. The best players will always discover the weapons with the most advantages. Yield to it and get good at them. Only go into the Crucible with your most maxed weapons, not the cool legendary you picked up cold on a new mission. You need time with your gun to learn its timing. You need to pick your perks carefully to fit your play style.

* Based on the Oct 14 2014 hotfix this still appears to be the case, even though they reduced the effectiveness of the auto rifles. When Bungie changes things, sometimes your strategy goes right out the window and you have to adjust.

There is one corollary to that above rule:

Shotguns are the second kings of Destiny PvP.

Sniper rifles follow this, but those are a specialized skill, best left to learning last unless you have lots of sniping experience in other games. If you see a Titan coming at you with full shields and a shotty, it is time to run. That’s one shot, one kill territory, my friend. Again, this may change when Bungie tweaks balancing, but I doubt it will change all that much. This rock, paper, scissors dynamic was around long before Destiny.

By the way, your quest for loot is holding you back in the crucible. Let go of purple fever. In fact, let’s make a rule out of this as well:

The best guns are not always purple or gold.

Purple is the color of legendary items and every top player wants purple or gold exotics, myself included. I saw one player describe why he kept hunting that loot by saying “right now I have two blue armors and it disgusts me. I’ve got to make them all purple.” Forget that. Look for the right stats. I can tell you that as of right now, one of the best guns in PvP is the Shingen-E, a lowly blue or “rare” rifle. I have this gun as one of my primaries. Also, can I just say, how great is that? A hidden gem of a blue gun should reward dedicated players who understand the mechanics of the game better than others.

You know what the worst part is? I had the Shingen-E for weeks, using it in PvE and leveling it up, because it was the best I had. I hated the gun and kept thinking, if I can only get that shiny new purple, all will be right with the world and I will really kick ass. Overlooking what you have for something in the future is the worst kind of blindness and one encouraged by Bungie’s casino system. The best gun might be right under your nose if you just have the eyes to see.

Don’t blindly look for the flashiest new thing. Examine the stats. Some purples have horrible modifiers. They’re worthless. You have fool’s gold. Put it in storage or dump it for parts and move on.

Now this is not to say you shouldn’t hunt for better gear. You should. Just don’t get blinded by it. And hunt smart. Farm new loot caves. Exploit never ending chest re-spawns. Use force multipliers to level faster. For example: use multiple characters to farm coins. You can share them between characters. Equip your best gun and max it as you farm. The game is designed to give you lots of coins at first and then slow down, like Bitcoin mining. So level up a few newbie characters by running the easy first ten levels and them dump them and give the coins to your primary character, so you can buy high level exotic armor from Xur of the Nine. Buy from that guy as often as you can. He shows up on GMT only a few days a week, so know his schedule. And yes, it is GMT, not PST or EST or some other places on the interwebs mistakenly reported in various forums. GMT.

Here are a couple of specifics for Control matches, my personal favorite and Bungie’s too since they made the limited time Iron Banner event a Control tournament.

Defend with strength. Attack with speed and stealth.

Here’s how to defend your home point. Make sure all of your attacks are filled. Lead with a grenade and when multiple people enter, hit them with your super. Finish the rest with your auto rifle. That’s defending.

When your rifle, grenade and super attack are filled, you can decide to camp at a control point. When you rush a cluster of enemies at a contested control point that is how to attack. Speed kills. Get in, hit them hard and get out. Both attack and defense have different characteristics that you have to get right or you’ll fail.

Oh, one quick note. In life we are trying not to die. I recommend you continue with this approach. In video games forget it. Dying is nothing in video games. So die often. In video games you should not use your player like he is a finite life form. He is not. He can die repeatedly. So don’t be afraid to go toe-to-toe sometime, when you dual it out to see who has the best aim. If you die, hurl a grenade just before you hit zero on your health and take him out with a post mortem. That leads to our next and one of my favorite maxims:

If you have to die, always take someone with you.

If I die, you die. If my health is low, I look to drop a grenade at the last second to take that bastard with me. See you in Hell, Guardian. The timing on this is tricky, but you’ll get it down.

Now I promised a big reward for those who made it to the end. That was a little game theory too. The promise of a big reward hooks the reader and keeps him going. Maybe you game “theoried” me and took advantage of the linear nature of prose and jumped right to the end? Good for you. You found an exploit, aka a strategy.

Here is the biggest lesson you need to learn in Destiny PvP. If you take nothing else from this article, take this:

There are two types of players: Ones who know how to use their motion trackers and ones who don’t.

If you don’t know how to use your motion tracker you do not know how to play Destiny. It is as simple as that. Without it, you absolutely cannot win at PvP. Period. No chance. You will die, over and over and over, like I did. Once you understand it, your KD ratio should shoot up in days.

The motion tracker will change warfare if it’s ever actually invented. It’s a staple of SF movies like Alien that found its way into books and video games. Its effect is dramatic.

Your motion tracker ALWAYS tells you where to aim.

Ignore it at your own peril. Ignore it and get killed over and over and over. With other more realistic shooters you may have to sneak around everywhere, paranoid you’ll get shot from any angle, just like in real life. Not in Destiny. You never have to worry about someone sneaking up on you if you pay attention to your motion tracker HUD at all times. Nobody can sneak up on you.

Here’s how to use it: you’re looking for the red mark on the motion tracker. It indicates an enemy and his general direction. Turn immediately to that direction and get your gun up where the intruder will most likely appear. It should be obvious, an open door or big entrance point or staircase. Get ready. Set you sights at neck or chest level, so your recoil will kick up towards the enemy’s head finishing him with a devastating headshot. As soon as he shows up, blast his ass.

One key point: Do NOT look down your sight all the time. It disables the motion tracker. Unless you have a perk that changes this fact, as some sniper rifles do, do not constantly look down your sight. When you have the gun lowered, the tracker remains in the upper left hand corner. You should spend nearly all of your time watching the motion tracker in the game. Do that and watch your game improve real fast. Mine did.

I’ll share a little story with you. It’s almost hilarious how I discovered the motion tracker. I kept thinking, why the hell do these damn people always seem to know where to shoot? It’s like they have a sixth sense. I shrugged it off to younger kids with faster reflexes. I spent the whole game creeping around, checking every angle and getting ambushed. Then I saw that little blinking thing up in the corner of my screen: my beloved motion tracker. Knowing how to use it changed everything.

The game is designed to funnel you to an objective. So do it. You even win a medal for it called Objectively Correct, a title that is not coincidental, which is designed to reinforce your desire, which is, you guessed it, more game theory. It rewards you for getting to the control points and killing the most enemies. The motion tracker aids in the funneling process. They want you to fight it out constantly, not sit back and camp. Get to it and get more points.

Bungie knows exactly what they are doing. They know how to make a good game. Their mechanics did not. Destiny may not revolutionize game play, like it was supposed to do, and the story might suck as numerous early reviews pointed out, but the mechanics of PvP are simply incredible. This is a finely tuned killing machine. And any game that can support this level of analysis is a highly advanced engine for fun and excitement. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and fight.

Play to win, Guardian.