Levelling up in Destiny has always been a complicated process. XP, Light levels, Legendaries, Exotics, numbered level caps that don’t actually cap out your progress in the slightest… All of these things have fuelled confusion, particularly in Year One, before the Taken King expansion, when things were rather more prescriptively arcane than they are now.
As of The Taken King though, things are very different. Friendlier. Destiny wants you to level up, and it wants you to do so in exactly the way you wish. Light levels are still a thing, but they’re now a separate number, made up of the combined power of all of your gear, which adds damage buffs on top of your XP level. You’ll still need good loot if you want to increase your power, but in terms of the specifics of your path, the pressure is off and your options are open. That said, there are still better and worse ways of doing it.
With Destiny’s next expansion, Rise of Iron, coming up in September, you might now be eager to level up fast, so that you’re ready to go on day one. Or maybe you’re a lapsed Destiny player, who dropped out when the XP and Light levelling got too unwieldy, looking for a way back in now that things have improved. Whatever your reason, if you’re looking to catch up fast, here’s how to do it. It’s easy, it’s fun, and it’s relatively quick, but it will be a whole lot moreso if you follow these tips.
If you're coming back to Destiny at the start of The Taken King, you'll have a thing in your inventory call a Spark of Light. It promises an instant level boost to 25 (the minimum requirement to start playing through the expansion's content), but is a single-use item. So you need to ask yourself whether you really want to use it. If you're already at 25 or above, forget it. It has no purpose. If you're lower than that, then it might be tempting, but I'd still persuade you against it. First of all, it's more fun, and more productive, to actually play the game you've bought, and Year Two's XP levelling happens very, very fast on its own. You gain little by boosting with a Spark - particularly when you consider that the XP it provides goes only into your character's level, and does nothing to unlock your class abilities - and you lose a fair bit of the Destiny experience.
The only time it might really be worth it is if you've already played through vanilla Destiny, along with the Dark Below and House of Wolves expansions, and simply want to get an alternate character up to Taken King level. Maybe just save the Spark until you get to that point.
On the other hand, there's another new item that you really do need to pay attention to. You see...
Every weekend, travelling merchant - and master of a million hobbies - Xur, will appear somewhere in one of Destiny’s social areas (check out our Xur reports every Friday to find out where he is and what he’s selling). But whatever Exotic armour and – if you’re lucky – weapons he has with him, you should always stock up on a fresh weekly supply of Three of Coins. He always has them, and thus, so should you. They’re the backbone of your path to greatness.
ToC, you see, boosts your chances of getting an Exotic drop upon defeating the next boss you face. Simply activate one at the start of a mission and plough on. If the Exotic doesn’t drop, just start a new mission, and pop another. Every time you fire one up, the chance of that gleaming yellow delight will increase, the stacking probability buff only resetting once you actually score one. As long as you have enough ToCs in your inventory, you literally cannot lose. Exotics always drop at a decently high Light level, and even if they aren’t what you want, Year Two’s Infusion system – more on that a little later – means that they will be useful for your overall growth.
As for the missions you should be hitting with a bag of Threes in tow, Strikes are where it’s at. They’re the most fun of Destiny’s campaign content, they come with the bonus of match-made co-op help, and they’re all guaranteed to end in a boss fight. And they come with another fundamental bonus. They allow you to…
A brilliant Year Two addition, Strike-streaks ensure that you’ll get progressively better random drops throughout Strike missions as long as you don’t boot back to orbit between completing one and starting the next. If you hop into a dedicated Strike playlist and stay in there – allowing the playlist to keep serving you one Strike after the next – you’ll notice those green Engrams rapidly evolve into blue and then purple. It won’t even take too long. You’ll see the benefits manifest after three or four Strikes in a row, meaning that after just a few hours you’ll be returning to the Cryptarch with dozens of Legendaries just waiting to be popped.
And of course, you should combine this with Three of Coins. A massive pile of purples is a very exciting thing, but a pile of purples with a couple of yellows on top is positively scintillating. Oh, and one more point about Strike-streaks…
An interesting background system that you need to be aware of at all times: As of Year Two, Destiny will always try to give you drops that are at least as good as the gear you currently have equipped. Important point though. This system calculates its output based on the gear you are currently wearing and carrying, right the very second the drop lands, and not the stuff that you have sitting around in your vault or waiting for equip in your inventory. If you’ve got it, flaunt it, and you shall be rewarded.
While most of the drops you get in Strikes will come from Engrams, there’s always a chance of decent end-of-mission rewards – the ones that land during the final score breakdown upon completing a Strike. As such, if you need to, you should re-equip at the start of every Strike during a streak-run, to ensure that you’re always using your highest Light-level gear. It can be an irritation, switching from tried and trusted favourites to new, unknown equipment, but it’s a temporary measure and it will serve you well in the long-run. And on the subject of stacking your odds …
During Year One, Destiny’s Cryptarchs were the purveyors of more legendary bastardry than Legendary gear. They promised to be Santa, but all too often they were Krampus, converting your promising Engrams into low-level pap and dust, and throwing the resulting detritus back into your hopeful, wide-eyed face. But now, it’s time for revenge. You see, Year Two’s Cryptarchs are beholden to the same ‘equal or higher’ drop rules as the rest of Destiny. Which means that it’s time to game them out of their top stuff each and every time you visit.
Equip your best gear – whether it’s part of your regular load-out or not – when you start the decryption process, and back out to equip anything better that turns up, whenever it turns up, before you continue. It’s always tempting – especially if you’ve accrued a huge stack of Engrams using the methods above – to hammer the button to burn through the whole pile and enjoy a delightful firework display of hot, sparking profit. Believe me, I know it is. It feels great. But once the magic treasure-dust settles, you’ll find you’ve scored much better results if you’ve taken a more methodical approach.
You should also decrypt your Engrams in the right order. Blue first, then purple, then yellow. Gear Light levels are far less tied to Rare, Legendary, and Exotic status in Year Two, meaning that it’s entirely possible to find blues with higher numbers than the supposedly more prestigious stuff. Use your more common Engrams to elevate the strength of the incoming purples and yellows, using the method above, and you’ll tend to find that when the really good stuff does drop, it drops with numbers to match its perks. As a side-note, while not as important as the above, it’s also never a bad idea to…
If you’re finding that you’ve hit a bit of a plateau, where the Destiny random number generator isn’t giving you much in the way of significant boosts to your gear, stash your higher-level Engrams in your vault for a bit and come back to them later. Once you’ve got a few decent, random drops, equip that stuff and repeat the process above. Behold, your Legendaries have now fermented in the cool, dark cellar of your stash-box, and should come out at a noticeably higher proof than you were getting before.
And once you’ve got a decent collection of big-numbered gear, it’s time to…
The Infusion system is great. Where in Year One you’ll have spent a huge amount of time decrypting and then instinctively rapid-fire junking the majority of your Engrams, now – with gear of all colours capable of good Light numbers – far, far more of your rewards can matter. That’s because an unwanted weapon or piece of armour can be burned into a preferred bit of kit to bring the favoured item up to its level. So do this. You no longer need new gear to upgrade your Light level. Feel free to get attached, safe in the knowledge that you can now focus on long-term, strategic class-builds without having to mess them up for the sake of more Light, and that those Light boosts are going to come all the more frequently.
The usual logic applies here. Use all of the above strategies to maximise the quality of your decryptions and drops, then use all that delicious, high-level Light fuel to boost your favourites into the middle of next week.
Light no longer simply comes from weapons and armour. Now, your Ghost shells, class items, and artefacts all contribute to your Light level. Make sure you keep that stuff up to date too. With three extra factors to consider, there’s a whole lot of new scope, not to mention plenty of extra potential for customising and buffing your build abilities, given that all three also come with Intelligence, Strength, and Discipline ratings.
Got multiple characters you’re trying to get up to the same level? Then there’s another boost you can use, at least for weapons and Ghost shells. Just pass your lower-level characters’ Engrams over to your high-flyer, by way of the vault, and get Mr. or Mrs. Bigshot to decrypt them – with their own highest-level gear equipped, naturally. Then just pass the resulting items back through the vault and deal with them as you will.
When you’re ready to start properly exploring the Dreadnaught, the Court of Oryx is a particularly useful spot. There, you’ll use the various runes you find around the ship to summon high-level bosses into the Court’s arena, with fat, tasty loot chests as rewards for victory. These fights can be mighty tough, and are all specced for co-op play, though it’s worth remembering that their difficulty – and the respective rewards – scale up with the rarity of the runes you use to initiate the fight.
Fortunately, you’ll usually find a small queue of Guardians lined up to take them on, meaning that you’ll rarely be short of (decently high-levelled) help. Just remember Court etiquette. Wait your turn before loading up a rune of your own, and always stick around for a while to help out others once you’ve bagged your own rewards. Only the rune-user gets access to the loot chest, so if you take your own prizes and then don’t assist others in getting theirs, well, you’re a bit of a jerk, really.
Oft-overlooked, this, but it’s dynamite, especially if you’re still trying to boost through to level 40. Bounties will rattle up your XP, as well as your Reputation with the Tower’s Vanguard and Crucible representatives – the Reputation bonuses furnishing free Legendary gear every time you hit a new milestone – and if you constantly play with a full set equipped, will see you hit the 40-cap in a matter of hours. The best news is that, with Year Two’s massive expansion of the Bounty storage limit to 12, you can pretty much carry one for every occasion, meaning that almost whatever you’re doing, you’ll pick up XP without even trying. The system near enough does the work for you.
Once you cap out at 40, you want to start thinking about Faction loyalty. There are three special vendors in the Tower, representing Dead Orbit, Future War Cult, and New Monarchy, respectively. Pledge allegiance to any of these guys at their stalls, and the Reputation you gain from Bounties will be poured into Rep increases with that Faction. As you level up here, you’ll gain access to higher-level gear purchases, and also, on each spin around the clock, a freebie.
Again, equip this stuff if you like it, Infuse if it’s not powerful enough, or use it to charge up gear you do like. The important thing is to pick a Faction that blends well with your play-style. Each vends – and gifts – gear with a particular focused combination of Intelligence, Strength, and Discipline stats, so make sure you’re loyal to one whose wares fit your character build and playstyle.