Destiny gets difficult after level 20. We lay out precisely what you need to do to get yourself through the troughs before level 30.
Destiny: how to get to level 30 with Light, Legendary Exotic and Ascendent gear
Destiny employs a somewhat complicated system of levelling once you hit the XP cap of level 20.
Many players are confused about why levels matters, what they need to do to get to level 30, and the best method of doing so. Let's talk it through.
Why do I need to grow past level 20?
The answer isn't just "because it's there". While you can easily complete Destiny's story campaign at level 20 (or before, if you're skilled), most endgame content is aimed at higher levels. The harder Strike Playlists, for example, cater to level 22 and 24 players; Weekly Strikes are level 24; and the Weekly Heroic is really aimed at level 28 players and above.
Levels really make a difference in Destiny. You won't notice it so much if you're punching below your weight, because damage to lower-levelled enemies is capped, but wander into a level 28 mission at level 26 and below and you'll see how little damage you do to your foes - and how much they do to you.
This isn't an insurmountable barrier and players with good weapons and better skills will manage, but levelling makes it all a lot more fair. If you were planning to keep playing Destiny for weeks or months rather than days, you'll want to get into endgame content.
So, how do I get past level 20?
You still earn XP after you hit the level 20 cap, but it's used to unlock weapon and armour upgrades and earn Motes of Light, a currency you can trade with the Speaker for Legendary vanity items.
Level is gear-dependent after level 20, rather than experience dependent. What level you are, post-20, depend on how much Light your gear collectively holds.
To increase your effective level - upping your damage and survivability, and unlocking higher-level content - you'll have to find and equip armour with Light. Rare (blue) armour has a chance to carry Light, while all Legendary and Exotic items do.
Except for Exotics (more on that later), how much Light a piece of armour has is randomly generated, and depends on its quality. You may find a pair of Rare gloves with 2 Light one day, or you may find one with 6 Light. Obviously, if you're planning to increase your level, you want the latter - but you may need to take a hit to defence.
Your chance of finding better quality items increases as your level does, so absolutely equip low-Light items for a single level boost - it's worth it for the bonuses alone, but it will also make it much more likely that you'll find an even better piece.
In general, Legendary items will carry more Light than Rare. All Exotic items have the maximum possible amount of Light once upgraded.
The amount of Light on a piece of armour can be increased with upgrades. You should be familiar with upgrading weapons and armour by level 20, but there are a few caveats to bear in mind.
Sometimes, a fully-upgraded Rare armour piece will have more Light than a piece you've just picked up, but the second piece may have the potential to hold more total Light once upgraded. If you are wearing a fully-upgraded helmet with Light 8, and you pick up a brand new one with Light 7, the second helmet is the better choice; you'll drop one Light now (and maybe a level!) but later on you'll have a higher total Light.
To upgrade Legendary armour, you'll need Ascendent Shards as well as Glimmer, class-specific armour components and materials harvested from the environment. Shards are very rare, so think carefully before upgrading a Legendary fully; if you find a piece of equipment with a better base Light stat, you'll be livid at having spent the Shards now. Get as high level as you can without over-committing.
If you find an Exotic that suits your play style, then upgrade away - all Exotics hold the maximum amount of Light. An Exotic makes a great base for your build; fully upgraded, it alone will bump you a few levels. You can only equip one piece of Exotic armour at a time, but one fully upgraded Exotic and some decent Legendaries with a few upgrades each can get you to level 28.
But how do I get to level 30?
So you have a full set of Legendary gear, it's fully upgraded, but you still can't get past level 28. Why?
The answer is that there's a sort of secret tier of equipment. If you really want to reach level 30 you'll need Raid quality gear - armour found in chests or dropped by the bosses in the Vault of Glass. Raid quality gear and Exotics are the only pieces of armour which, when fully upgraded and worn as a full set, will net enough Light to get you to level 30.
You really need to be at least level 26 to be any use at all on the Raid, and if you really want to contribute rather than have a group carry you through the later stages, aiming for level 27 or 28 is necessary. If you can get a group to carry you, finding a piece of Raid quality gear before you've invested too many Ascendent Shards in other Legendaries will give you a decent head start on your level 30 build.
Now that you know the theory, head to the next page to find out how to make it actually happen.
Okay. So where do I find Legendaries?
This is the million dollar question. Ask a lot of people and they'll tell you to shoot into a cave at endless spawns and hope random fate rewards you. If you want to do that, or try other methods of brute forcing lots of loot drops, we have gathered several Destiny farming methods.
But honestly: farming isn't as lucrative as just playing the damn game (and in my opinion not as much fun, but that's just me). You may get more drops per hour than just doing missions aimlessly, but you'll end up with fewer Legendary items through farming than if you play the game as it is intended to be played. Bungie, bless it, hasn't done the best job communicating the self-directed play available after the campaign is complete.
So let us help you out: if you want lots of Legendaries quickly, you need to understand Destiny's reputation systems. There are three Factions and three vendors who will all offer you goodies as you increase your reputation with them. (In fact, as part of the Queen's Wrath event, there's yet another vendor to schmooze, if you like - and a way to earn Legendaries.)
By default, when you complete certain PvE tasks - bounties, Patrol Missions, Strikes, daily and weekly events - you earn Vanguard reputation. The Vanguard is the group of three mentors in the tower, but they also have a second retail point, with different gear, near the Shipwright.
By default, when you complete PvP tasks - Crucible matches and Bounties - you earn Crucible Reputation. There are two Crucible vendors very close to the Vanguard's room - Lord Shaxx and his robot assistant.
You have to opt into the Faction Reputation systems by purchasing a Legendary class item from one of the three Faction vendors around the tower for 2,500 Glimmer. When you equip this item, you'll earn reputation points for that particular faction.
Increasing your reputation level with any of these factions will allow you to purchase better quality items from them (Vanguard and Crucible Vendors only accept their own Marks as currency; you earn these most efficiently in Strike Playlists or Crucible events, and rarely through other activities in the appropriate sphere of PvE or PvP.) You can put together a great level 28 build by choosing piece of equipment that buff the stats you're most interested in, and upgrading them.
Additionally, every time you increase your Reputation rank from the third level, you'll receive free Legendary items (or Ascendent materials)in the mail. This is true of all standard Reputation systems - Vanguard, Crucible, and all three Factions.
Finally, the Cryptarch will also send you Legendary engrams when you increase your Reputation level with him from third level onwards. You can increase your Cryptarch Reputation by turning in engrams for decryption and buying engrams. You probably do at least one of those things quite a lot already.
Where do I get Ascendent Shards (and Energy) to upgrade my Legendary gear?
There are multiple ways to earn Ascendent Shards and Energy. We've listed all the ones we know of below:
- At level 24, Daily Heroic Missions offer on Ascendent Material. At level 28, they offer two. Change the difficulty in the Navigator pane before hitting launch.
- You'll receive at least one Ascendent material in the mail as a reward for your first Gold Tier Public Event of the day.
- Breaking down Legendary equipment returns Ascendent Materials. This does not apply to Legendaries earned on Queen's Wrath Kill Orders.
- Ascendent Materials are sometimes awarded for Reputation level increases rather than Legendary weapons or armour.
- Legendary engrams sometimes decrypt as Ascendent materials.
- Ascendent Materials are sometimes awarded instantly for Gold Tier Public Events.
- Ascendent Materials are sometimes awarded for Crucible matches.
- Possible Vault of Glass rewards include Ascendent materials.
- Loot chests very, very rarely contain Ascendent materials.
- The Weekly Nightfall Strike will award you a pile of loot, which is likely to include Ascendent materials. It's super hard, though; leave this for the 28 to 30 journey.
But you said Exotics were great to build around. Where do I find Exotics?
There are multiple ways to obtain Exotic weapons and armour:
- Legendary Engrams will sometimes decrypt as Exotics (subject to change in the next patch).
- Exotics are a very rare drop as Crucible and PvE rewards.
- Exotics are a very rare chest drop.
- Exotics can be purchased from Xur, a vendor who only appears on weekends, in exchange for Strange Coins, which you can gather as mission rewards, or by decrypting engrams.
- Xur also sells Exotic engrams, but until the next patch, they may decrypt as Legendaries, or as items for another class, so be wary with your limited funds.
Please note that at present, the only Exotic bounties offered lead to weapons, not armour - so they won't help you level up.
Putting it all together
If you make the most of the Reputation systems and rewards offered through regular activities, you can kit yourself out in full Legendary gear (with an Exotic or two) with just a few hours effort each day over the course of perhaps two weeks. Work diligently to earn Ascendent materials, and you'll be able to upgrade this gear and hit level 28 shortly thereafter. You'll then be ready to tackle the Vault of Glass, run it enough times to score a full set of Raid gear, and work on upgrading it to hit level 30.
It takes time and a plan of action, but unless you hate playing Crucible matches, doing bounties, completing strikes and challenging yourself with difficult missions, it's not actually hard or time consuming to reach level 30, and requires no grinding. If you do hate all those things, I'm not sure why you want to play Destiny anyway.
Bungie is constantly updating and refining Destiny, and has promised to make changes to the loot system to make it feel more fair and rewarding. Most of the information in this guide is likely to hold true regardless of future patches, as it concerns the basic systems at the heart of the game; we'll update if anything significant changes. It's possible Bungie may make the climb from 20 to 30 a little less vertical and easy to understand - but farming, on the other hand, is only going to become less and less lucrative. Know the systems, Guardian, and use them to your advantage; the Darkness isn't going to fight itself.