Destiny's new XP levelling seems huge, but what does it really change?

Numbers, eh? Who needs 'em? Well, we do, apparently, as without the carefully ordained digits atop our Guardians heads, however shall we know just who can join the elite Level Cap Club? Such was the reasoning behind the levelling systems of vanilla Destiny. Getting your Guardian to max level, while predominantly ordained by random loot drops and constant repetition until said drops fell in your favour, was intended to be a badge of honour. Instead we saw the birth of an entire "Forever 29" meme dedicated to just how irksome such number hunting was.

And so we have changes implemented in The Taken King and its pre-emptive 2.0 update. Now each and every Guardian will be able to reach the level cap of 40 (providing they've bought TKK) just by playing. In fact, reaching level cap is an absolute doddle. I managed to top off my level 34 Awoken Hunter within about four hours of playing, just by riding through the main story and polishing off the new strikes.

Of course, this isn't the end of the matter. Now each Guardian has a Light level, a three digit figure that determines just how powerful their attack and defence stats will be. Everything, from guns and armour, to your Ghost and the new artefact item, boosts your Light level and therefore your overall effectiveness. Besides the extra bells and whistles, it kinda sounds like the post-20 Light-based levelling before, right?

Well, no. It’s not that, actually.

This all feeds back into Bungie's conscious effort to put a lot more power into players' hands when it comes to beefing up your Guardian's juicy numbers. Exotics are now by and large tied to quest lines rather than random Nightfall/Raid drops, and there's an active process, in the weekly Armsday weapon testing activity, by which you can work towards new Legendary weapons, too. With Light level separate from your actual level, you're freed from the shackles of just having the biggest number floating above your head, and able to focus more intently on the deals struck in your inventory menus. Crucially, with your character's gear now released from the overall levelling process, customising your Guardian's ability set-up should now be a process driven by creative agency rather than necessity. At least once you've hit the Light requirement to unlock The Taken King's Raid, anyway.

Mechanically, this might sound like a small difference overall, or at least just a case of fixing a glaring, long-term issue that has troubled high-level play for too long. But there's also a more important, and tangible difference between having your level split thusly. It's one that's all in your mind, but it's also one that will heavily change the way you experience the game.

Because players can see your level, right? It's right there above your head, a banner of your badass-ness at 34 and a fog horn of shame at 33. With everyone hitting level 40 by about week two more or less, there’s much less call for abandoning friends by the wayside should they not be at your level.

Of course there is still the matter of Light level determining your effectiveness within any given Nightfall/Strike/Raid (Light level effectively gates off higher level content much like regular Level did back in Year One), but then, that's buried underneath the most noticeable aspect when judging one another's effectiveness. When you see a big ol' '40' strapped to someone's forehead, you know that they know their way around the Solar System. Beyond that it's all just loot, right?

While a ton of people were playing Destiny back at launch, many of them dropped away once they hit level 20. Beyond that figure it was very possible to a) be utterly confused as to just how you are supposed to level up further, b) be dissuaded from play due to the reliance of random loot drops, c) spend hours a night grinding away only to find you've progressed not a jot and d) snap your disc in twain with frustration. With play-based level progression, all the way to the cap, this is much less of an issue. Now even when you play beyond cap you'll see an experience bar telling you how close you are to earning a Mote Of Light, the reward for earning EXP beyond the cap. There's always something to tangible work towards and a more immediate reward for doing so.

The crux of all this is that the big number you sell your Guardian with when posting on Destinylfg and its ilk is irrelevant now. Sure, people will spout their Light levels, but at that point we're already two rungs down the rabbit hole. The differences between incremental Light levels are less severe, too. Before, you could kiss goodbye to your spot on a Prison Of Elders fireteam if you weren't level 34. It's much harder to complain about being forever 270 when 280 isn't all that big a jump away.

So while it might seem at first glance to be a shifting around of numbers rather than a wholesale change, the tweaks to Destiny's levelling system work to ensure that more Guardians stick around for longer. It makes the big numbers that are in your face all the time less of a determining factor in whether or not you can partake in higher end activities with buds, and makes actually playing the game a much more enjoyable and in many cases just much more feasible experience.

Matthew Gilman
When he's not busy being Editor of Official Xbox Magazine, you'll find Matt mainlining Overwatch. Current hero of choice: D.Va. No wait, it's Hanzo. No, no, it's Tracer. Actually it's... *forcibly removed from the internet*