The road to Destiny's end-game gear may not be as long or difficult as you might think.

(The background in the above image was made by chadtalbot. He has some other really cool Destiny faction-related work as well!)

A common source of confusion in Destiny is its seemingly-erratic loot system. The Legendary Engram parody twitter account highlights many of the strange (and often frustrating) ways Bungie's new online FPSRPG handles loot for players. There is even a group of players that have been farming and tracking the results of loot drops and engram decrypts in Destiny to make sense of it all.

You may have heard about various farming areas in Destiny that supposedly are great ways to quickly obtain high level gear. The problem is, drops in Destiny are so random, and the chances of getting a legendary drop are so rare, that you could spend hours at one of these areas without so much as seeing a single purple orb appear. At best, these areas are great for farming low-level items so that you can discard them for their upgrade parts, but that's about it.

As of writing, I've put around 50 hours into Destiny, and would like to share some thoughts on improving your loot game.

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Join a Faction as Soon as You Can

Factions are Destiny's "guilds" in the MMORPG world. There are three factions available to join once you hit level 20: The Future War Cult, Dead Orbit, and New Monarchy. Two other factions have been teased, but aren't currently available.

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Joining a faction is absolutely essential to obtaining legendary gear as fast as possible. That's not to say that you can't obtain legendary gear without joining a faction, but there's really no reason not to unless you already have ranked your Vanguard or Crucible reputation up to level 2 or higher by the time you hit 20. Even then, you can generally rank up with factions more quickly while earning free gear in the process.

Here are how factions work in Destiny:

  • You need 2,500 glimmer to purchase one of the two available class items to join a faction at level 20.
  • Once you buy the class item and equip it, ALL reputation you gain through Crucible and Vanguard content and bounties will go to the faction. You will not be able to rank up your Crucible or Vanguard vendor reputation while wearing a faction class item. I don't recommend sticking with a faction forever, as leveling up your standard Vanguard and Crucible standing is important. However, as far as getting a temporary boost to get yourself some valuable gear goes, factions are a great option.
  • At the moment, the items available from each faction vendor do not change, so choose the faction that has the gear that will most benefit your play style. For instance, I chose Dead Orbit because they have two pieces of armor that buff auto rifles in addition to a great legendary auto rifle. I like auto rifles. It is also important to consider the stats of faction gear in relation to discipline, strength, and intellect.
  • As with other reputation vendors, you can purchase armor at rep level 2, and weapons at level 3.
  • It takes around 6,000 total reputation to reach level 3, which isn't too bad considering the 12 daily bounties offer between 100 and 150 rep each, patrol missions and crucible matches offer 10 rep each, and strikes and other missions offer around 50-150 rep. If you are willing to mix in Crucible games with your missions, you will rank up quite quickly.
  • After you rank up to level 3, and every level after that, you will receive 1-2 FREE legendary items in the mail. Not legendary engrams, actual legendary items. As in, weapons and armor. This means you are guaranteed to get legendary items on a regular basis by simply playing the game and completing bounties, whether or not you play the Crucible to collect PvP marks.
  • All of the reputation you earn for each faction, as well as Vanguard and Crucible rep (when you aren't wearing a faction class item) is permanent. You can switch from faction to faction at will by paying for and wearing their respective class items without any consequence. For instance, I got to level 3 with Dead Orbit, and am currently not representing any faction because I want to get my Crucible and Vanguard ranks up. However, I do own a class item for Future War Cult, and if I put that on, I'll simply start gaining reputation for them, while my existing rep with everyone else goes untouched.
  • Unlike many other MMORPGs, Crucible (PvP) gear works just fine for Vanguard (PvE) content. The biggest difference comes with the various passive abilities. For instance, Vanguard armor often has passives that activate with non-Guardian kills, while Crucible armor is the opposite. The bottom line is, you still get the damage, defense, and light that make you a lot stronger in story missions, and the effect of passives is generally negligible.

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If you don't like playing Destiny's multiplayer, and don't want to bother with collecting Crucible marks to purchase faction gear, let me restate that you still get 1-2 FREE legendary items every time you gain a faction reputation rank, which can be done completely from playing missions and completing Vanguard bounties. That said, if you are able to at least squeeze in a few easy Crucible bounties, you will rank up much faster in a faction, and will also earn some marks to purchase a piece of gear or two in the process (whether you win or lose, you always earn 2 or 3 marks for completing Crucible games).

When you join a faction, you are essentially leveling up your reputation twice as fast because you are combining all the reputation gained for both Vanguard (PvE) and Crucible (PvP) content into one reputation score. The main advantage of leveling your Vanguard and Crucible rep to level 3 is the fact those vendors have rotating inventory that can better suit your specific guardian's needs. But if you want to get legendary gear as soon as possible, and at a steady pace, the best choice is to join a faction at level 20 and wear their respective class item all the time. You can always focus on leveling up your individual Vanguard and Crucible reputations once you have enough legendary gear to feel confident in completing raids or participating in future Iron Banner PvP events.

UPDATE: The Queen's Wrath reputation gained from the Queen's bounties does not apply to factions, even if you wear a faction's class item while turning them in. The same applies to Iron Banner reputation.

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Equip Non-Maxed Weapons Before Turning In Bounties

Gear in Destiny levels up with gained experience, even after you reach the level 20 "cap." However, experience only applies to weapons and armor that are actively equipped. Chances are that, while you have a number of weapons that have already reached their max level, you still have unused weapons that you would like to improve. Guess what? You don't need to actually use these weapons to level them up.

All you have to do is equip them while you turn in daily bounties.

That's right, ALL your equipped weapons receive the XP bonuses while turning in bounties, even if you've never fired a shot with any of them. If you remember to equip your non-maxed weapons before turning in bounties, you will be able to level them up while continuing to use your primary maxed-out weapons for actual game content.

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The same technique applies to armor and your class/subclass abilities!

UPDATE: topgearFTW made a suggestion that takes this idea to the next level. Rather than immediately discarding green items when you pick them up, save them and then equip those before you turn in bounties. You can max out green items without actually spending glimmer to unlock the upgrades, which in turn allows you to discard each item for 3-4 times as many upgrade parts. Brilliant!

Collect as many Upgrade Materials as you Possibly Can

Do you remember wondering what the hell "spinmetal" was while playing the Destiny beta? No we know. Materials like spinmetal are used for equipment upgrades. Endless, expensive, grinding-required equipment upgrades. It may seem tedious (because it is), but you should never run past upgrade materials without collecting them. Ever. Chances are you will need them.

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There are four basic collectable upgrade materials that are scattered around Destiny's PvE environments. Click each material to review its page on the always-helpful Destinypedia.

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You won't use large amounts of these materials to upgrade equipment at early levels, but they are required for upgrading late-game gear, and you will need a lot of them. In addition to the four basic materials, legendary gear requires a fair number of rare materials, such as Ascendant Energy and Ascendant Shards. These materials can't be collected, but rather are found in loot chests, legendary engrams, public event rewards, Crucible rewards, or by dismantling legendary gear. There are also class-specific upgrade materials.

Materials, materials, materials.

You need basic materials from the Earth, Moon, Venus, and Mars to upgrade all levels of weapons, so don't think that you won't need your early-game spinmetal for late game equipment. You will, and you will fly back to that low-level starting area to search for spinmetal at level 26 because you'll need it to upgrade a legendary weapon you don't even really want to use because this is an RPG and you won't feel complete unless you upgrade everything all the way.

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Oh, and also because there is currently no way to buy or trade upgrade materials.

Yep, the only way to obtain upgrade materials is to find them in the environment or loot chests. That said, chests will often provide more than one of the respective material for the area. I once came across a chests that gave me a stack of 10 materials. There were tears of joy.

If you find yourself with a set of fully-upgraded legendary armor, and feel that you have no need to hang onto your excess upgrading materials, you can exchange them, 50 at a time, for reputation and other rewards by talking to either the Vanguard or Crucible quartermaster. I don't recommend doing this, as you never know when you will need them in the future.

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Buy Stuff From That Weird-Looking Guy Every Weekend

After you hit Destiny's level 20 cap, all experience you gain from then on out is turned into "Motes of Light." In addition, you will start collecting "Strange Coins" from legendary engrams or as rewards for weekly strikes and other content. Both of these currencies can be used to purchase "exotic" gear from Xûr, a faceless vendor that only appears on weekends, and may as well greet you with "What'er ya buyin'?!" So far he has been located in the hallway that leads to the class NPCs near the Crucible vendors, and across from the room where The Speaker hangs out. I'm assuming he'll show up at a different area of the Tower each week.

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If you play a good amount of Destiny each week, it should be easy to buy something from Xûr almost every weekend, as his rotating items only cost 13 coins each. You can also use coins and motes of light to buy random exotic engrams, but be weary: these won't necessarily decrypt into items your class can use.

Don't Get Too Mad, Bro

If you're new to MMORPGs, welcome to the madness that is PvE and PvP marks, crafting materials, upgrade trees, factions/guilds, unique currencies, and more! It may be overwhelming at first, but Destiny doesn't fall very far from the MMORPG tree at all. Grinding for materials, collecting copious amounts of secondary currency, and leveling up faction reputation are all pretty par for the course when it comes to these kinds of games. Does that mean it's fun, or that it should be a normal feature? That's a debate for another day. I just hope I can shed a bit more light on what is otherwise a fairly complicated system with little in way of explanation.

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UPDATE: Several readers have requested that I put up a map of where the various faction vendors and Xûr are located in The Tower. I have done this below, but I would like to remind everyone that Bungie has provided a live map of The Tower on their website, as well as in the Destiny app for smartphones. I would highly recommend using either the website or the app while you play, as it lets you view vendor inventory and bounties without needing to actually visit The Tower. Both require a Bungie.net account that is linked to your respective console account, but that is easy to do.

Map updated 9/30/14

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Reader Tips

If you have any other helpful tips to add to those I've already mentioned, feel free to add them to the comments, and I'll round up the best and add them here!

templar_omega on exotic gear:

It's important to note that if you find/buy an exotic weapon/armor DO NOT toss your old stuff. You can only wear one exotic armor and one exotic weapon at a time and if you end up finding something better for another slot you'll want to have something on hand to switch back to.

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doewnskitty on the way to double your material collection rate:

If you rack up 2500 kills on each planet, you will be able to obtain two of their respective materials when picking them up (I sometimes still get just one, but oftentimes I get two spinmetals/helium coils/etc).

KamikazeCactuar gives a fair warning to high-level hunters:

ATTENTION TO ANYONE WHO IS A HUNTER AND ABOUT TO BUY ARMOR FROM THE FUTURE WAR CULT FACTION!!!

This is very important. The gear they sell to you requires Ascendant Motes to upgrade after a certain point and those materials either don't exist (yet) or it is a naming error. According to this thread on reddit a bungie community manager is aware of the issue and they are looking into it but as of right now there still is no fix. You have been warned.

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This issue was just fixed in Destiny's latest patch. Wow Bungie, that was fast!

You can get in touch with Matt "smi1ey" Dunn on Twitter @thesmi1ey.