by Paul Tassi

The past few days have been a blur of gunfire, alien screams and endless, nonsense sci-fi jargon, but at last I’ve reached the soft level cap in Destiny at 20. It’s where all the best gear and hardest missions are locked away, and after you hit the marker, a different phase of the game begins.

I know a lot of people are wondering exactly what endgame content in Destiny looks like, and since I probably could not have physically played this game more the past three days, I think I can comment reasonably well on what life is like post-story mode and once you hit that level wall, based on my experience so far.

There’s some confusion about whether or not 20 is the cap, and what you’re supposed to do to further your level after that, so let me clear up a few things.

You continue earning XP once you hit twenty, only instead of hitting a new level that way, you earn “Motes of Light,” a currency that can be traded in for Legendary class gear (cosmetic only, from what I can tell). Additionally, by the time you hit 20 you will not be anywhere close to maxing out your skills with either of your class specialties. XP continues to build those up as well, and it seems as if unlocks will continue well into the future, even if your rank doesn’t increase at the same rate. Alternating between my two Hunter specialties, I think I have maybe half to two-thirds of the different perks and upgrades unlocked. And now opening up a new one takes forever.


So, how do you keep leveling? Like absolutely everything in this game, it has to do with “light.” In this case, Light is a new stat that you’ll find attached to your four swappable pieces of armor. The more light an item has, the closer it will push you to level 21, 22 and so on. I think you need 20 Light to hit 21, and rare gear starts off only giving you three or four each. Legendary gear available for sale will be giving you 18 or 19 Light each, so it clearly ramps up over time.

How do you earn this new gear? There seem to be two major ways forward. Certain legendary items can only be bought using Crucible marks, earned from playing competitive multiplayer. Others can only be bought with Vanguard marks, earned from playing Strike playlists. So whichever style of play suits you, aka co-op or competitive, you can start earning better gear that way.

But wait, things are even more complicated than they appear. You can also start earning marks and reputation points for the different factions inside the Tower, each with their own currency and types of gear. You have to buy a piece of their armor and equip it, then you start earning for them instead of the default Vanguard. I’m guessing this will fly over the heads of most players for quite a while, and I only just figured it out as I was writing this piece. Also, earned marks are capped at 100 a week, so play all the Crucible matches and Strikes you want, but it will take you at least two weeks to buy your first legendary weapon.

Additionally, you can find new gear randomly without earning marks or reputation at all just by replaying story missions on harder difficulties, or doing Patrol mode. These aren’t exactly reliable in terms of rewards, but I have gotten some good items from both from time to time (though I have never had a legendary drop in the wild yet). But more on Patrol mode in particular later.

After hitting 20, players will find themselves caught in a sort of purgatory when it comes to the endgame. The much talked about friends-only raids are still nowhere to be found, presumably locked away until you reach a much higher Light level. But gaining Light is often purely based on luck. I’ve done more than a few Strikes where my reward hasn’t gotten me a single new point of Light on my armor, so you’re at the mercy of drops and end-of-mission rewards.


The problem with this “middle end game” is that to hit 20 in the first place, you pretty much have done everything already. Each story mission, each Strike, each Patrol mode and maybe a few multiplayer games. And once you’re at the cap, you’re simply repeating all of this content, except on a more challenging setting.

Strike playlists are a good length, usually about 25-40 minutes depending on the IQ of my fireteam. But the problem is that there are only six Strikes in the game right now, and that can lead to annoying scenarios like when I was forced to play the same Strike three times in a row. Bad luck maybe, but it’s clear all of these will get a little repetitive quickly anyway. Almost every Strike is structured the same, beginning with A) random assorted enemies  then B) a respawn free zone with yellow health bar enemies and finally C) a boss fight that has you hiding behind pillars from massive weapon blasts while trying to whittle down their comically enormous health bar.

(Update: Hold on a second. Unless I have the worst luck ever, it seems Strike matchmaking is segregated by level. As in, each tier is not picking from all six Strikes. Rather, level 18 is either the moon or Earth, level 20 is only the two Venus missions while 22 is Mars. That means if you’re choosing the proper Strike playlist for your level, you’re only coinflipping between two different Strikes, which explains why I’ve played the Venus “kill the Archon before it gets its soul” one about seven times now. If you do the level 18 one, you get garbage gear, if you do 22 before you’re ready, you will get demolished. I have absolutely no idea why each of these playlists doesn’t choose randomly between all six strikes and just adjust the level accordingly. It’s like the game is going out of its way to be repetitive.)

In that sense it’s almost more appealing to re-do one of the game’s 25-odd story missions, though those don’t come with the promise of a rare item at the end, nor Vanguard marks from what I can tell. You may have a daily mission quest that gives you some of that currency, but after that, there’s little reason to do story mode.

But what I’m most disappointed about is how much Patrol mode is lacking. It’s the fastest way to level up your Vanguard rank, but it’s painfully dull and frustrating at present.

Some missions take two seconds (kill 10 enemies) and some will have you trekking across the entire length of the map for an “exploration” or “scan” mission, and then strand you in the middle of nowhere forcing you to hike miles to an area where you can get more missions. Often times it’s easier to simply return to orbit and go back down to the planet again than make the arduous journey. Also, in 20+ hours of gameplay I’ve seen exactly one world event, and I had to complete it by myself. So all there really is to do is the same four or five sub-missions on repeat.

That’s not strictly true, as there’s still good old actual “exploration” to be done as you try to crawl down every crevice in a map. But to me, this is the most frustrating aspect of Patrol mode. You know those areas where you ran across “??” high level enemies before? Well, you can go back to them now, kill everyone, and be rewarded with….nothing.

This is so odd I almost think it’s a bug. In the Cosmodrome alone, I’ve found three areas with high level enemies, and one named boss that took me probably ten minutes to kill even though he was two levels lower than me, and there was simply no reward for doing so. In another instance, I stumbled upon a tunnel formerly filled with ?? enemies, and expected some sort of elaborate secret dungeon. Instead I killed six enemies and found it simply led to another part of the map I’d already been. You get your 25 glimmer for killing a yellow health bar enemy, but I haven’t had one drop an item yet, and I’ve found no chests lurking nearby. There’s just nothing at all, and no reason to try and find these hidden alcoves of high level enemies from what I can tell. This seems like either an outright error, or an enormous missed opportunity. Or maybe I have to kill these same clusters on repeat until they finally give something up. But right now, Patrol feels like a never-ending series of dead-ends.


The problem with Destiny’s endgame content right now is that you’ve experienced all of it by the time you finish the game. As I said, I was hoping there were new, dangerous areas of each worldmap to explore, or maybe harder high level Strikes, but it’s usually the game just making old content harder.

I suppose this is why raids are looming once everyone slowly inches up their Light meter to reach higher levels. I don’t know what those will be like, but I have to imagine they’ll use the same maps and feature the same enemies, but will just be harder and longer. And even though fans are banding together to try and form raiding parties via third party websites (due to an utter lack of in-game communication), I know I’m not going to have the effort to consistently play friends-only raids. I may do one if I can coordinate with five friends or random internet strangers, but is that really going to be worth it? And if so, is that even feasible to do on a consistent basis? I can pick up a Strike any play it whenever, but a 6-man friends-only raid is going to require more coordination than I have patience.

I think Destiny’s endgame has potential, but I’m a little worried about it from what I’ve seen so far. The Strike playlist is fun, there just needs to be more of them (DLC incoming). Patrol mode needs a complete overhaul and areas that spawn dangerous enemies and actually give you a reward for killing them. The Crucible is the Crucible, and if competitive multiplayer is your thing, that’s probably the easiest overall way to consistently get new stuff.

It feels like the level 20 cap is going to confuse a lot people, as it’s not very clearly explained and I still don’t understand many aspects of it. I have three types of rare currency in my stash I have no idea what to do with, and I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of saving up marks (two more forms of currency) for Legendary gear to be bought at the Tower store. Bungie said item trading didn’t exist in the game because they wanted to ensure that you had “an epic story for each piece of gear.” I don’t really think “I played 50 Strikes to earn enough marks to buy these boots” is a terribly epic story.

Again, these are all technically just first impressions of the endgame, and I realize there’s still an end-ier game on the horizon in the form of raids. But in its current form, I think some may grow weary of the grind and cease playing Destiny earlier than Bungie and Activision want them to.

If you’ve hit 20, what do you make of the initial endgame so far? Leave your answer below.

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