In Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, something wicked lurks on the moon. No, it’s neither the Hive, nor the Vex, nor the encroaching Darkness. It’s actually the game’s pinnacle rewards system. The pinnacle rewards, meant for Destiny 2: Shadowkeep players looking to grind the endgame and reach the base power level cap of 960, might just be a broken and frustrating mess.
Note: To understand what I mean, it’s best to check out our main leveling guide as well as our companion piece for leveling from 950 to 960 base power. I’ve explained a few terms and mechanics therein and, although I’ll briefly make note of them in this article, it would be great if you’re already aware of those details beforehand.
Destiny – The casual vs. hardcore disparity
Destiny 2 has often had a push-and-pull relationship between its two types of players. You have the casual players who comprise a majority, and the hardcore hobbyists who comprise a smaller subset. This disparity has often led to issues with the game’s difficulty (or lack thereof) when it comes to progression.
For instance, when Destiny 2 and Curse of Osiris launched, the streamlining of features became very helpful for casual players. But, it also became a detriment to those who wanted a fulfilling endgame grind. In contrast, the launch of Warmind and Black Armory had team-based activities such as the Escalation Protocol and Volundr Forge, both of which were considered too difficult for most players to manage.
Also, as an online looter-shooter with RPG mechanics, both Destiny games have been touted for offering challenging endgame activities such as raids. In fact, if you take a look at statistics such as PlayStation trophies, you’ll realize that only a small portion of the player base was able to complete these activities. So, it goes without saying that endgame progression would often leave a larger part of the player base behind.
That brings us to Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, with its revamped power level and endgame progression system. You’ve got your base power level cap (960), an unlimited means of getting power boosts via the artifact, and your pinnacle rewards through endgame activities. In a way, this was supposed to bridge the gap between both subsets of Destiny 2‘s community. It’s a means for anyone to continue getting more power as long as they played. But, in my view, it’s become problematic for those who are looking to focus solely on the endgame.
Destiny 2: Shadowkeep – Pinnacle rewards and endgame progression
For starters, Destiny 2: Shadowkeep has a base power level cap of 960. Base power level (or item level/gear score as you’d call it in other MMOs) only takes the power value of the gear you have into account. It’s different from your total power level, which adds the bonuses from your artifact (I’ll talk about this more later).
In the past, Destiny would often reward players who completed endgame activities such as raids with power boosts (+5 or +6 power) until they reached the cap. It means that if you’re the type who puts in your time to complete the game’s toughest content, you’re bound to get your rewards.
This has undergone a major change during the Shadowkeep expansion via the pinnacle rewards system. Today, if you’re at 950 base power and you complete the game’s toughest content, you’re only getting +1 drops. Consider the following:
- You have eight slots to fill with 951 gear before you reach 952 base power.
- There’s no duplicate protection or smart loot system; you can end up with items for the slots that you don’t need.
- There’s a very limited number of pinnacle reward sources each reset. There are four sources from the encounters in the Garden of Salvation raid, one from getting 100,000 score in the Nightfall, and more will be added in the coming weeks.
- Destiny 2: Shadowkeep‘s Season of the Undying ends in around eight weeks.
Needless to say, it’s a slog to go from 950 to 960. Even with the Iron Banner event returning next week, which adds four pinnacle sources via bounties, the +1 drops are still too limited and unrewarding.
You can check a quick breakdown from Reddit user Itztherealmojo who outlined the possible pinnacle rewards. In a way, you’re going to need perfect RNG for your drops each and every week for the next eight weeks. By the time you do hit the 960 base power level cap in Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, a new season would commence. Naturally, the power cap is expected to be raised which means everything you’ve worked for will be for naught.
The Artifact system and the power level boosts
Some Destiny 2: Shadowkeep players aren’t so bothered by it. Oftentimes, they’d cite the expansion’s new artifact system as a way of circumventing these limitations. The Gate Lord’s Eye artifact provides you with bonus power after it reaches a certain threshold of experience points. This means that, as long as you keep playing Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, you’re getting bonus power.
The reality is that it’s more of a grind than you think. At +13 power, the artifact will need 1.3 million exp. And at +14 power, it’d need 1.4 million exp. This goes on and on, requiring 1.5 million experience points (or more) for each power boost.
To some, this isn’t an issue. That’s because Destiny 2: Shadowkeep lets you repurchase bounties and just farm experience points at your leisure. You’ll be doing bounties such as:
- Kill 20 enemies with a bow during a strike.
- Defeat 25 enemies with a grenade.
- Clear the lost sector on the moon.
- Bank 75 motes during Gambit matches.
- Use finishers on 10 enemies.
Point being, the exp grind is time-consuming, but easy. It also goes against the disposition of someone who wants to focus on the endgame. If you’re someone who plans on raiding to defeat several bosses, you can bet that’s what you’re setting out to do as opposed to mindlessly killing dregs and thralls.
The power problem
The problem in Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, at the moment, is that its own endgame progression system has become tremendously unrewarding. When you’re getting only +1 pinnacle drops from what the game touts as its “most challenging content,” you should expect to get your just desserts. These come in the form of actual power level increases that allow you to reach the cap, not getting stuck waiting for next week so you can finally get to 952.
Let’s say you spent a lot of time grinding during the previous days. Now, you only have a few hours to play. You’ve beaten the raid before and you want to spend an hour of your time for a quick run this weekly reset. Guess what? You’re not likely to get anything that’d help your character’s progression.
In fact, you’re more likely to end up putting in the extra hours for the “easy mode” bounties that were designed as a catch-up mechanic for casual players. Why? Because a more reliable means of increasing power, even in the endgame, is by killing the aforementioned dregs and thralls until you get millions of experience points for your artifact.
It just makes no sense. Consider this comparison to World of Warcraft:
- Question: What’s the best way for us to gear up and be ready for Icecrown Citadel 25 heroic? Is it by progressing normally through Naxxramas, Ulduar, Trial of the Crusader, and then ICC 10/25 normal?
- Answer: No, it’s actually by killing Hogger several times, and maybe killing a few mobs in the Barrens as well.
The idea, which I thought Bungie had learned in the past, was that players wanted the “power fantasy” — the feeling that their Guardians were stronger and can beat down powerful foes. The idea, which had been in place, was that if you’re farming endgame content, you’d have a better shot of doing even tougher content down the road.
That’s what makes Destiny 2: Shadowkeep‘s endgame progression and pinnacle rewards system mind-boggling, to say the least. This is especially true once you consider that there are activities such as the 980 Master Nightfall and the upcoming Master Nightmare Hunts (likely to be at 980 power as well). When you’re stuck roughly 20 points below these activities, even though you’ve been doing the “most challenging content” in the game, it makes you question the design philosophy behind these decisions.
A suggestion: increase the power level of pinnacle rewards to +2 or +3. At the very least, even if players end up getting duplicates from limited sources, the extra boosts can help them reach 952, and then 953 and so on. Players will be able to reach the 960 base power level cap at a more realistic time frame. This, combined with the artifact bonus, will make 980 content quite manageable. Why not? You’re one of the Guardians clearing the toughest content each week. Why should your power climb be slowed down to a crawl?
At the very least, Destiny 2: Shadowkeep players who are engaged in the endgame progression won’t have a similar experience:
- Spend an hour on each character completing the Garden of Salvation raid and 100K Nightfall, only to realize that you’re still stuck at 950 base power even after two weeks because none of the drops helped.
- Realize that you’ll have to spend extra hours doing bounties instead just for exp gains on your artifact.
- Wait for next week’s Iron Banner to get +1 drops again and be disappointed.
- Go back to doing bounties and killing dregs and thralls for hours.
- Lather, rinse, and repeat, until the next season when you’ll start all over again from the bottom.
Make no mistake: criticizing the “catch up” progression system in Destiny 2: Shadowkeep is not a knock against casual players. The artifact exp system is a great way for all players to progress and do tougher content down the line.
This is simply to emphasize that players who are grinding endgame pinnacle drops should feel that it’s a rewarding experience. Endgame rewards and endgame progression shouldn’t be afterthoughts that’d make you just want to “go back to the basics of doing bounties.”
Right now, it feels like Bungie changed the progression system so that it rewards those who put in more hours into playing Destiny 2: Shadowkeep. Sadly, it’s also regardless of the difficulty of the content.
Destiny 2: Shadowkeep is available on Steam. For more information, you can check out our guides and features hub.