There seems to be some concern regarding high-level progress in Destiny 2 right now. Some of it has come from players I know, but a deeper delve into the wider internet at large (via a bunch of Reddit threads and posts on the Bungie forums) reveals rather a widespread cry of confusion. It seems that certain Guardians, usually around the level of the mid-260s to mid-270s, feel like they’re hitting a wall, unable to level up any further either through the immediate equipping of new gear, or by Infusing it to raise the level of their favoured kit.
In many cases, these conversations are typified by an early response of ‘Git gud, level better’. And in some cases this brutal truth is, well, a truth. Despite Destiny 2’s radically streamlined, simplified progress system compared to that of the first game - whereby any activity will at the very least deliver universal Token currency as a reward, which can be exchanged for gear drops from Vendors - there are some hidden intricacies when you get to the higher levels. The most important matter, which some players are missing, is the way that Legendary mods affect the Power level of gear.
A matter of mods
A lot of gear has mods attached – say, to increase the recovery rating of a piece of armour, or increase the stability of a gun. Rare (blue) mods aren’t anything to ponder too deeply, but the Legendary (purple) ones add five points to their item’s defense or attack rating. So, if a Legendary mod is attached, then the ‘natural’ level of that bit of gear is actually five points lower than it seems. That’s why modded gear sometimes doesn’t Infuse other items as high as you expect.
But where it really matters is when you consider the theory that the level of your gear drops is decided by your natural Power level, not the modded final number. You might be a 277 Guardian, but if your unmodded Power total comes to 272, you can expect drops to come in around that number until you get enough higher-Power gear to push past the plateau. And that’s throwing some people off.
The high-value targets you need
The issues being reported pertain to Exotic and Milestone rewards dropping at too low a level to be useful. Yes, some of these complaints to seem to miss the significance of mods, and are often resolved when the relationship is explained. But others aren’t. Tests are being run, with modded gear removed to the Vault to get a pure, natural level. Theories abound about bugs that trigger if you have multiple versions of the same character class on your account. Some have uninstalled and reinstalled Destiny 2, but claim to still have the same problem. I myself have hit a serious gear plateau over the last few days, so today I went investigating.
As for how to get that higher-level gear? The biggest single boosts will come from three sources. First of all there are Exotic engram drops. These are available pretty much everywhere, but your chances are greatly increased if you and/or other members of your Fireteam have activated a Fireteam Medallion, which boosts reward quality across the board. Then there are Exotic Quest rewards. There is one of these on every planet, and they drop at a significantly higher level than your current maximum, but you can only get them once per character, due to their connection to story-driven questlines. Finally, you want to look toward weekly Milestones. These reset every Tuesday, and several of them reward with ‘Powerful gear’. Which tends to be pretty bloody powerful.
Obviously you’re best saving these activities for later on, when you really need the Power boosts.
All clear so far? Good. But it’s about to get a bit less clear. You see, the above advice – integrated with knowledge of natural Power levels versus modded – doesn’t seem to be working for everyone.
How I punched through the plateau
For my part, the pain started late last week. With a Power level around the low-270s, I started to get consistent gear drops – from all sources – of no more than 269. I grumbled for a while, but with those invisible mod buffs taken into account, this actually makes sense. Eventually I got a new Exotic from a Crucible match, and lo, my Legendary drops did immediately go up to 272. Again, all very healthy.
But that was three days ago. Until today, I hadn’t had any piece of gear drop, be offered by a vendor, or turn up in a chest, above 272. Every Legendary Engram was coming in at 272. Every one of them decrypted at exactly 272, rather than using my current Power level as a minimum requirement. I opened a Raid chest, and got a Legendary Engram at 272. I was getting worried.
But knowing that there were more complex factors at play than straightforward numbers, today I unequipped all of my Legendarily modded gear, stuck it in the Vault, and went out into the world with my new, natural Power level of 275 – down from 279 – to see what would happen.
My first Public Event – upgraded to the high-reward Heroic status, thanks to a few other nearby Guardians in the know – bestowed an Exotic engram. This is a rare occurrence (for me, anyway), but it was a welcome result. Deciding that Public Events weren’t going to get any better than that any time soon, I headed into the Strike playlist and fired up a Fireteam Medallion.
Along the way, several Legendary engrams dropped. All 272. I also got a grab-bag of Rare and Legendary gear for Strike completion. All of it, still, 272. The plateau remained. My natural 275 Power level was not enticing the purples to do anything useful. But there was another rock to throw into the pond. Along the way I completed the last stage of the MIDA Multi-Tool Exotic Quest which, as mentioned above, should drop really high.
Going back to the Tower, I started decrypting. Purples remained a non-event, and Vendor rewards remained advertised at my least-favourite number. Upon decrypting and claiming the Exotics though, things started to change. The engram gave me a set of gauntlets in the 280s. Definitely the right result. And the MIDA was handed over at a massive 292, because Banshee is the goddamn best. I quickly decided to see if anything had changed with the Tower Vendors, starting with Zavalla.
All of them have started offering 273 rewards, which seems a paltry increase, but so far – as tested by giving Banshee a load of weapon parts – the results have come in a fair degree higher, with 273 seeming like the minimum possible level of the gear I’m going to get. So the plateau is over, right? Exotics seem to be functioning as they should as a primary means of significantly levelling up, and they seem to have kickstarted Vendor loyalty rewards again. All of this is good and right. Though it does leave me with a couple of questions.
Have I really solved the problem?
The thing is, all of the new Exotics and Legendaries that have set me back on the track to levelling up have partly achieved their high Power ratings with attached Legendary mods which, if the matter of natural Power levels is as important to drops as some think, could conceivably lead to another plateau in the near future. And that’s a situation possibly exacerbated by the fact that the post-280 game is heavily built around the use of player-assembled Legendary mods. Right now, I have a good sense of progress, in that I’m back to the 279 level I started at, but with a better load-out and a MIDA Multi-Tool with which to more efficiently school people in the Crucible. But I’m not sure how all of this is going to play out long term.
It will depend on a few factors. If the newly invigorated Vendor rewards start delivering high, natural Legendary Power, then I have little to consider. Ditto the new Milestones, that I’m going to hit this evening. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. All of this is anecdotal, if course, but things now look more promising than they did last night.
Anecdotally though, not everyone is as happy as me. James is currently craving gear that will get him past 289 like a kid craves Christmas in late October. Leon and Lou are feeling similarly stranded. And plenty of other Guardians are claiming that even their high-level rewards aren’t doing anything for them. Clearly, there’s a lot still to unpack here, figuratively, and with the help of the Cryptarchs.
As for me? As of last night, I'm well and truly past the 272 plateau, having jumped up to 284 in an evening. The secret? More Exotics, and the newly reset Milestones. It seems the high-level game is indeed intended to be most heavily fuelled with these. Normal Legendaries are now dropping at 274, which, while distinctly lower than my max, is helping to maintain my weaker, neglected gear, albeit modestly. And with more Exotics and 'special' Legendaries in my collection - or Infused into existing favourites - I'm getting more options for genuinely good, high-level load-outs as well. The big numbers might be coming through more slowly now, but they are steadily spreading across my collection. Whether normal and Vendor drops will stay low when I have all of my gear up to at least 274 though, remains to be seen. Either way, I'll be putting all of these findings together into a more granular guide soon.
So is all of this a deliberate levelling bottleneck, designed into the late game to stop Guardians from hitting the level cap too soon? It’s entirely possible. Probable, in fact. The first game had a fair few plateau stages, though their severity was significantly lessened as the game evolved over the course of its three years. It’s also possible that there's maybe some more nuance to the high-level systems than we're currently aware of. Destiny 2 has, after all, only been out for a couple of weeks, and we might yet still have more to learn.
There’s also the (entirely unconfirmed) possibility that there’s a bug in play in extreme cases, a theory understandably espoused by frustrated Guardians who feel stuck and entirely unable to unstick themselves. Or, if not a bug, then perhaps a bit of fine-tuning might be required to Destiny 2's random drop algorithms. Everyone assumes a slow-down as they reach the upper heights of a levelling system, but some seem to be suffering more than they were expecting.
There’s also a sense that a handful of weekly Milestones isn’t enough for top-level Guardians to be getting on with, if Vendor rewards stop being consistently useful. And those Exotic Quests aren't going to help players who complete them early, and find themselves wanting the Power later. But again, it's the earliest of early days. The more open, player-driven gear modding system of the highest levels is yet to be fully explored, and new events and ways of playing are bound to be incoming.
Regardless, I’ll be playing Destiny 2 in my every spare waking minute, so I’ll have more to report soon. In the meantime, let me know how things are going with you. Is your Guardian levelling nicely, or are you dealing with a different kind of wall than the one usually associated with the Vanguard?