When you hit level 40 in Destiny: The Taken King — which only takes minutes if you plan for it — and complete the Taken King campaign, the game presents you with an array of choices that may seem bewildering to new or returning casual players.
It doesn't help that Destiny now rewards you in different ways. The Light system, which is the central measure of progression past the level cap, has been completely overhauled, and the way it operates isn't particularly intuitive.
The game also offers you a lot of things to do at the level cap: You can explore the new Dreadnaught patrol area, you can proceed into strikes or you can follow the quest chains the NPCs in the Tower offer you. But it may not be clear what your goal is once you reach max level, or how these different activities help you to progress toward that goal.
Lucky for you, we've got your back. This is a zero-bullshit look at how to get the best gear in the least amount of time.
Here's what you're trying to do in The Taken King
If you're trying to progress in Destiny, the goal is always to get through intermediate content as quickly as possible in order to gear up for the hardest stuff — the raid and the weekly Nightfall strike — which offer the best rewards. That means you want to raise your Light level as high as you can, as fast as you can.
If you are a Crucible player, you're trying to gear up to be competitive in the Iron Banner event or the Trials of Osiris elimination mode. That also means you want to raise your Light level as high as you can.
Even if you're a fairly casual player and you aren't interested in that stuff, your goal should still be to raise your Light. Higher Light levels mean you deal more damage and take less, and that means everything you do gets easier and faster.
So raising your Light level is your top priority, and if your time is limited, you should spend it doing the activities that will raise your Light the fastest.
You also have a secondary goal, which serves the primary goal of raising your Light level: You want to collect Legendary Marks and Strange Coins, the two most important currencies in The Taken King.
Legendary Marks have several uses: You can spend them to buy legendary gear from vendors in the Tower; you can use them at the exotic kiosks to get new Year Two versions of some of the exotic items you collected previously; and you can use them to upgrade your gear with the new infusion system, which we'll explain in a bit.
As was the case in Year One, Strange Coins are for Xur, the weekend vendor who sells exotic items. However, in The Taken King, the sources of these coins have changed, and Xur has an important new item that you can spend them on.
So, let's tackle all this stuff, point by point.
How Light works now
Each piece of armor used to have a Light stat, and collecting enough Light raised your level above the soft cap of 20.
In Destiny 2.0, Light no longer increases your character level; it is a separate stat that is an average of the attack and defense levels on every piece of your gear.
But the function hasn't changed that much; similar to being a level or two lower in vanilla Destiny, you get a modifier reducing the damage you deal and increasing the damage you take when your light level is below the level of the content you're attempting.
The main practical difference is that, in Year One, if you had an exotic item and fewer than three pieces of raid armor, you were simply a level below the cap, and therefore incurred a huge penalty in max-level content. Being 90 percent of the way to level 32 was exactly the same as having the minimum amount of Light to reach level 31, and being short of max level meant you probably couldn't do something like hard-mode Crota's End.
In the new system, having 278 Light is worse than having 280, but it's significantly better than having 270. Each of those points counts in a way they didn't before.
However, Light is still the most important stat in Destiny, and having the highest Light possible needs to take precedence over everything else when you're choosing gear.
Anyone who tells you that you can get away with using your favorite Year One gun in level 40 content because it will "only" bring your Light level down 10 points fundamentally misunderstands how the game works now. I loved my Fatebringer and my Black Hammer and my Gjallarhorn. But that stuff is obsolete now. Your Gjallarhorn not only deals 40 percent less damage to high-level enemies than a high-level gun; it also drags down the performance of your other weapons and the defense of your armor, and reduces the quality of the item drops you get.
In The Taken King, the best Year One gear is capped at 170 Light. Once you finish the campaign and reach level 40, you should be getting green-quality (uncommon) gear that has around 200 Light. All the legendary gear from the vendors in the tower has 280 Light.
Here are the tiers you need to hit to do each form of content:
- 190 Light to do the basic strike playlist
- 240 to do the daily heroic story mission
- 260 to do the heroic strike playlist
- 280 to do the Nightfall
- 290 to do the raid
Your objective is to hit those goals to get to this content, which will give you the best gear. Let's get to work.
How to hit those numbers
This is the most important thing to understand about progression in The Taken King: blue-quality (rare) gear no longer has a lower Light cap than non-raid legendaries (purple gear). This is extremely counterintuitive, because this is not the way blue gear previously worked in Destiny, and it's not the way gear quality usually works in RPGs and MMOs.
Blue gear in vanilla Destiny was locked to a low Light level and became useless very quickly, but these items are much more important in The Taken King. You can hit every single one of the Light thresholds listed above without ever equipping a single piece of legendary gear. I've seen blue pieces drop with 297 Light.
If your goal is to hit those tiers in Light levels to unlock the most interesting content, the days of sneering at rare drops is over.
Legendary items have more powerful perks than blue stuff, and you can upgrade their Light with the new infusion system, so, ultimately, you're going to want to try to build a set of high-Light legendaries that are optimized with that in mind. But the fact is, you'll perform better in blue gear that gives you a Light level of 290 than you will with legendaries that give you 285.
Blue engrams also seem to have a much higher chance of decoding into legendary items when your character has a high Light level. So you should hang onto any well-rolled legendaries you find, but you should always use whatever has the highest Light level until you have exhausted all potential for Light progression outside the raid. Once you have multiple blue items above 295 Light level for a slot, you can think about infusing some of them into a legendary.
When a piece of blue gear drops or when you decrypt an engram, the Light level on the piece of gear you get will fall within a range that's determined by the Light level of the gear you have equipped.
You will get blue engrams from pretty much anything you do in Destiny, so no matter how you play, your Light level will incrementally creep up over time. But if you want to raise your Light level quickly, the best way to do that is to participate in the activities that give you the most blue items and engrams.
Even if you like other gear better, always be sure to equip the gear that will give you the highest Light level before you decrypt any engrams. What we've learned so far is that blue-quality gear will get your Light level up quickly, and if it has higher Light than legendary items, it is worth more to you, at least for now.
So how do you maximize blue drops?
Believe it or not, you should grind the strike playlist
In vanilla Destiny, the Vanguard strike playlist was a waste of time. It provided only a trickle of reputation, blue engrams that didn't matter and a very low chance at giving you legendary engrams, which weren't that good anyway. Now, the chance of getting legendary engrams is at least moderately higher, and the blue drops are key to your progression for at least the first several dozen hours of play after you hit level 40.
The final boss of each strike now drops two blue items, and you'll typically get two or three blue engrams during the course of a strike as well. When you first hit level 40, the playlist strikes will be kind of difficult and the enemies will seem like bullet sponges, but as your Light starts to increase, you'll build up a pretty substantial advantage over the enemies in the strikes.
It can feel like a slog, but progression will be continuous. If you do the strike playlist, you will get better gear, which will raise your Light level, which will make the strikes easier. It's a grindable path to where you need to be, and it's doable at 190 Light.
Destiny's matchmaking places you with teammates whose Light level is similar to yours, so when you're a beginner, you'll be matched with other new players. But as you gear past Light level 240 or so, you'll get more experienced, better-geared teammates, and you should be able to complete five or six strikes in about an hour of play.
When you run multiple playlist strikes in a row without returning to orbit, you now also get a "streak" bonus, which improves your Vanguard reputation gains and increases your chance of getting legendary engrams from strike bosses. The game knows you're grinding, and it approves of this strategy. Your gear will improve.
There is also a heroic strike playlist at a recommended Light level of 260 that raises the level of the enemies you face and adds the Heroic modifier to the strikes, meaning you fight more enemies and more of them are shielded majors. This playlist replaces vanilla Destiny's weekly heroic strike.
The first completion of the week on each character guarantees a legendary engram, and the first three completions per week, account-wide, award you 10 Legendary Marks each.
Beyond these rewards, there doesn't seem to be any reason to grind the heroic playlist. Some players believe the heroic strikes have a higher chance to drop legendary engrams, but there's no evidence that this is true. Generally, engram drop rates in Destiny are the same across all enemies in Destiny, which is why loot caves used to be a thing.
So the basic strategy here is simple: Do the heroic strike playlists three times for the guaranteed legendary engram and the Legendary Marks, and then leave them.
Even if legendary drops really are more common in the heroic strikes, the heroic playlist is still less efficient than the Vanguard strikes because the heroics take much longer to complete. This means they yield fewer blue drops per hour of play, and therefore result in a slower rate of Light progression.
So the basic strategy here is simple: Do the heroic strike playlists three times for the guaranteed legendary engram and the legendary marks, and then leave them.
The difficulty of heroics also tends to strain the capabilities of random groups that aren't on voice chat, and it's very common for someone to abandon a heroic strike group. Destiny's matchmaker doesn't usually replace players who leave strikes, and it's hard to finish these heroics without a full group, so it's much more difficult to maintain a streak bonus on the heroic playlist.
I crossed 290 Light doing nothing but strikes, and most people who got their Light high enough to do raids and Nightfalls in the first week after The Taken King launched probably did the same thing. It may feel like a grind, and it is, but I never promised this was going to be pretty.
This new currency replaces Vanguard and Crucible marks in The Taken King. Your supply of these is somewhat limited: You get 15 per day for doing the daily heroic story mission, another 15 for playing one match per day in the daily Crucible playlist and 10 for each of the first three heroic strikes you complete each week. You used to have to do these activities on each character to get all the rewards, but now they are account-wide events that you only do once per day, and your pool of legendary marks is account-wide, so your Titan can buy gear with marks you earned on your Warlock.
You also get three marks per legendary item you dismantle, and you can get four to five if you pump experience into the item before breaking it down. Finally, some of the quests that unlock after you finish the campaign award 25 Legendary Marks each. You can only do these once per character, but they're a pretty significant source of this currency early on.
You can use these marks to buy 280 Light weapons and armor at a cost of 75-125 marks per piece of armor, and 150 marks per weapon. If you collected exotic items in Year One, you can use your marks to buy the new Year Two versions of those items, at a cost of 125 marks per armor piece and 150 per weapon. Give or take a few marks you might get from breaking down unwanted legendaries, or a few marks you might spend infusing something, you can get a new vendor weapon or an upgraded Year One exotic every five days. Unlike most other facets of Destiny, there's no reliable way to grind for more marks.
Buying a great piece of gear doesn't just mean you have it, it also means it won't get dropped
Finally, each time you infuse a legendary or exotic item, you have to spend three legendary marks, in addition to some weapon components, Glimmer and Motes of Light.
Here's how the infusion system works: If you have a legendary or exotic with a low Light level, and you get a blue with a higher Light level, you can select the infuse option on the upgrade screen for the item you want to boost. This allows you to dismantle the high-Light blue to raise the Light level of the legendary or exotic.
If the Light spread between the items is only a couple of points, you can get all of it; when I infused my 294 Jade Rabbit exotic scout rifle with a 296 blue primary, it raised my gun's Light to 296. But if there's a larger gap, you will lose a chunk of the difference, so infusing a 275 legendary with a 295 blue may only get you to 290 Light.
That's why it's better to just wear the blues until you have enough high-level blue drops that you're sure you won't wind up lowering your Light level by dismantling some of your blue gear to infuse your legendaries.
If you are an exotic collector, buying exotics with your marks is a pretty good idea, because The Taken King has a new "smart" loot system in place, which means you are more likely to get exotics you don't already have.
So in addition to adding updated versions of excellent guns like Hawkmoon to your collection, buying exotics from the kiosk has the added benefit of removing them from your rewards pool, increasing your odds of getting new Year Two exotics like the Zhalo Supercell from Nightfalls and raids. Buying a great piece of gear doesn't just mean you have it; it also means it won't get dropped, so your chances of finding something new in the wild increase.
If you're grinding strikes, your blue drops will blow past the 280 quality of the vendor gear, but if you're progressing at a slower pace, you might want to spend some of your marks to raise your Light level a little faster. If you opt to do this, you may want to take a look at the Vanguard ghost shell, since shells are rarer than other kinds of drops.
Marks are also good for upgrading your alts, so you don't have to grind as much on your other classes. You can buy legendaries for your other characters with your marks, and then infuse them with drops you find on your most progressed character, so you won't have to repeat the grind for each class.
While Destiny has made its daily heroic story and Crucible rewards account-wide, you still get a nightfall and a raid for each character, so it's still advisable to have three characters. If they're all the same class, you only have to gear up once, so you can get the maximum endgame progression rewards with the least effort that way, though you don't get to play with the other classes.
If you have enough marks to upgrade a low-light item that is slowing down your light progression, you should buy it. Otherwise, depending on your priorities, you should either use your marks to build out your exotic collection, or use them to buy upgradable legendary gear for your alts.
In vanilla Destiny, you could get nine Strange Coins per week on each character from the weekly heroic strike, and you could sometimes get a pile of them as a Nightfall reward, too. They also dropped occasionally from other activities, but not predictably enough to make it viable to farm for them.
In The Taken King, the heroic strike playlist replaces the weekly strike, and there are no longer Strange Coin rewards for this activity. However, you now get five Strange Coins each time you get a rank-up package from any faction, including Vanguard, Crucible, the various Tower factions, Eris Morn and the Cryptarch.
You also now have a much higher chance of getting one to three Strange Coins when turning in bounties, finishing Crucible matches or running strikes.
These changes make it much harder for the five-hours-a-week player to maintain a steady income of Strange Coins, but the new rules award more coins to players who run a lot of strikes, play a lot of Crucible or do a lot of bounties.
The removal of legendary upgrade materials and the consolidation of Legendary Marks has made some aspects of the game a bit more streamlined for more casual players, but it seems like the changes to Strange Coins strongly favor players who spend a lot of time with Destiny — running bounties, doing strikes and playing Crucible — who will likely earn 50 or more coins each week. But if you don't want to bother with this stuff and you didn't save up a bunch of coins in Year One, you may not have the currency to partake in Xur's weekly extravaganza.
And Xur has a new way for players to spend their Strange Coins: the Three of Coins consumable. This item sells in stacks of five for seven coins, or about 1.4 coins per consumable. Using it gives you a chance — probably about 20 percent — for the next ultra enemy you kill to drop an exotic engram.
This allows players with a lot of coins to spend them all and get a bunch of exotics without being beholden to the whims of Xur's weekly stock. You're rolling the dice, but if you buy these items regularly, you're going to see a fair amount of exotics.
A couple of caveats: First, this item may be nerfed soon, since Destiny players found a way to repeatedly kill an ultra boss from a low-level mission very quickly burn through a lot of coins and get a lot of engrams.
Second, either Bungie's smart loot system isn't working properly or it doesn't govern the results of these engrams, because people currently get a lot of duplicate exotic items from them.
But if you've got 50 coins and you want a Zhalo Supercell, and Xur isn't selling it, this is your chance to get it. And let's be realistic — everyone wants a Zhalo Supercell, and that means Xur is probably never going to sell it.
If you're mostly a PvE player and you don't really like PvP, but you like Strange Coins and the things you can buy with them, you should consider adding Crucible bounties to your list of daily activities. The Year One Crucible bounties demanded very difficult feats, like getting five three-kill streaks with a shotgun. But the Year Two bounties are much easier — things like getting three kills while your team is leading, getting one kill with a melee attack, or getting a single heavy ammo pickup in a rumble match. These award a lot of experience and reputation (which now gets you coins), and you can get coins when you turn in your bounties.
There are also bounties that are simple, but require you to be in a fireteam to complete. Find a few friends to help with these; such relationships are mutually beneficial. The comments on this article may be a good place to start.
Quests and the Crucible
Most of the quests that characters offer after you finish the campaign lead to rewards of marks, reputation, experience points and legendary upgrades. But a few yield exotic rewards:
- "The Taken War: Petra" starts with Petra Venj in the Reef, and rewards the Boolean Gemini exotic scout rifle.
- "Jolly Holliday" starts with the shipwright in the Tower, and awards Chaperone, an exotic shotgun. You will have to maintain a positive kill-to-death ratio in the Crucible with The Last Word equipped in order to complete this.
- "Shattered Past" starts at Eris Morn and awards the Touch of Malice scout rifle. You'll have to complete the raid and collect all the calcified fragments on the Dreadnaught to get this.
- "A Broken Will" starts at Lord Shaxx and awards you a legendary sword that can be used as your heavy weapon. A subsequent quest line allows you to upgrade this to an exotic.
There is also a new set of weekly Crucible bounties that you can unlock, and completing them each week will award Nightfall-level rewards. Unfortunately, the quest chain is intense, even by Destiny standards, and will likely require you to play around 100 Crucible matches across every gametype. And you'll need to do that on three characters if you want to collect three rewards per week. Godspeed if you want to accomplish these feats, but it's going to be outside the realm of the manageable for all but the most dedicated PvP players.
Exotics are the most significant Nightfall rewards, and with the Three of Coins and the new smart loot system, you may not feel you need to bother with these bounties in order to complete your collection; opening this up is a lot harder than doing Nightfalls. But if you like PvP, this offers a new avenue for high-end rewards.
Eyes up, Guardian
This is all really complicated, right? It wouldn't be Destiny if it weren't. The path to great gear is a bit more open, but doing it quickly and reliably results requires a system. This guide will get you started.
Of course, if you don't want to think about this stuff, you can do whatever you want, and you'll still progress. If you infuse your best blues into some legendaries and wind up dropping your Light rating by a few points, you'll eventually make it up. If you prefer to get your blue drops from the Court of Oryx rather than the strike playlist, you'll still get upgrades, even though strikes tend to drop more loot per hour. There is no shame in playing whatever you like; Destiny will do a much better job of rewarding you now.
But if you like to do things the efficient way, we can boil it down very simply: Strike playlist to Light level 295. Then? Raid.