For the past three weeks, one of the most meaningful relationships in my life has been with a man I’ve never met. I don’t even know his name. But we are united in common cause: the quest for level 30 in Destiny.
That’s trickier than it sounds. The slow grind of XP-gathering gets you only as far as level 20. After that, you need rare armour, which is itself only a vehicle to the armour rarer still you need to crawl over the line from level 29 to level 30. And you need to upgrade it. And the things you need to upgrade it, namely ascendant shards, are hard work to come by. You need other things too. But they’re the bottleneck.
Many activities in Destiny are geared towards gaining these ascendant shards. The game will hand you a few per day for an hour or so’s play, but after that you grind for hours, snatching at the fickle half-chances of random loot drops.
And woe betide the Destiny player who spends too many shards in intermediate armour, not realising that it won’t see you all the way to level 30. To get there need raid gear, which means taking on the Vault of Glass, for now the game’s only raid: a 6-player epic of complexity and time-investment.
You can’t just shoot stuff. You actually have to coordinate plans. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find 6 people on PlayStation Network or Xbox Live capable of doing that? (The raid itself is nothing in comparison, if you have someone in the team who understands the bizarre hoops you have to jump through, that is).
But my friend understands it all, as well as the finer points of shard-aquisition. Why do a daily challenge once, for example, when you can level up two or three extra characters to level 25 to do it multiple times for extra reward? Sure, it’ll cost you 10 hours per character to level them up to the low 20s, but that’s a small price to pay for shards. No really.
Strictly speaking, I’m not a good match for him. He has more time to play than I do. But some of the tougher daily and weekly challenges, particularly Nightfall, benefit from the patience and strategy that comes with an older head on your shoulders. My theory is he likes playing with me because, frankly, I’m not as annoying to listen to as younger male players.
Don’t get me wrong. The PS4 Destiny crowd are a far nicer bunch than the Xbox and Xbox 360 Halo and Call of Duty contingent. I suspect that this being an expensive game on an expensive system shifts the demographics a little. Though, anecdotal evidence alert, I don’t know that PSN isn’t simply a little less a-holeish than Xbox Live. Certainly the lower ratio of headset users doesn’t hurt.
Anyway. Support characters is one area where I fare less well than my friend. My daughter is 6 months old, and incapable of grinding out a replay of the story missions to boost a character into the early level 20s. My friend, in contrast, has two offspring in their teens. This is the new serfdom. And I’m missing out.
The joke of it all is that ascendant shards are only one of two types of ascendant material. The other, ascendant energy, is used to upgrade weapons: useful, but it won’t directly contribute to levelling up.
Of course we don’t refer to ascendant materials, shards or energy, because we’re British and middle-aged, and that would show we had paid some attention to the game’s nonsensical lore. Instead we call them “red ones” (energy) and “white ones” (shards), after the prevailing colours of their respective icons. “Bloody red ones” is a typical refrain.
I have all the shards I need to upgrade the armour I have: three of the four pieces of raid gear I need. But I don’t know if I have the stomach for another run at the Vault of Glass. I may have lost the stomach for the battle. Not my friend, though. He’s made of sterner stuff.
But I think we both know we’ve already put too much time into the game. And we’ve used each other to distract ourselves from the grind. Destiny’s perfectly fun enough to dip into for a few hours a week. But, fun-aside, it won’t be for the shards, or for level 30. It’ll be to check in on my anonymous friend.