Destiny 2 level guide: Power and artifact levels, caps, Battle Pass, tips and more

Guardian with breakdown of the Power Level
(Image credit: Future)

Destiny 2 is a daunting experience. Whether you're jumping into it for the first time or returning after a season or two away, you'll notice one major issue pretty quickly: your Power Level. 

Your access to content will be entirely dictated by this number, so if you want to join your pals for difficult endeavors like Raids - or especially aspirational content like Grandmaster Nightfalls, Master Raids, or Master Dungeons - you're going to need to level that number up. 

That’s only one of the leveling systems in Destiny 2, too. For those of you who buy into the seasonal structure of the game, you'll notice there's also a Battle Pass. How do you level that? Is that important to your overall Power Level? What’s a Soft Cap? What’s a Hard Cap? Where do I even begin? It’s a lot, so let’s break it down, bit by bit. 

Power Levels

What is the Power Level?

Power Level, at its most basic, is how strong you are in Destiny. Currently, in Season of the Lost, the Hard Cap (we'll explain this term in a bit) goes to 1330. You can level past that, but for now, just think of 1330 as the max power. 

Your base Power Level is determined by the accumulation of the levels of all your armor and weapons. Every piece of gear is added together and the general average is your Power Level. Your Power Level will also be affected by your Artifact Level, and we'll discuss that later in the guide.

As mentioned before, your Power Level dictates the kind of content you can take on. Every activity in Destiny 2 has a Power Level associated with it. That being the case, you can go into most activities under-leveled. Generally, if you are within 10 or so levels, you’ll notice getting shot more than your Fireteam, but the content will be doable. If you are 20 levels below, you can still take it on, but it will be like playing the game on Hard mode. 

You can even go into content hundreds of levels below your Power Level, but this'll be hell. You'll die to everything in one hit. Your teammates can pull you (or more accurately, your Ghost) through the activity for rewards at the end, but you’re not exactly going to feel like you've been part of the team effort.  

That said, when it comes to Grandmaster Nightfalls, you won’t even be able to load into the activity. It’s the only activity in Destiny 2 that has a Power Level requirement that will block you out if you fall under the threshold. But then again, if you’re reading this guide on how to level, you’re likely a fair ways away from even attempting a Grandmaster Nightfall, so don't sweat that for now. 

In summary, Power Level acts like a soft key into certain activities, with things becoming easier as you approach and surpass requirements.

How do you increase your Power Level?

Guardian shooting an Enemy and the experience bar going up.

Even killing enemies fills up your experience bar at the bottom of your screen. (Image credit: Future)

If you are just starting out in Destiny 2, you’re in luck. You level up by getting experience and gear. How do you do that? Literally, just play the game. There are quicker ways than others to gain experience and get gear, but the beauty of just starting is that the game will reward you significantly no matter what you do. 

Engrams, which contain various goods including armor and weapons, will always provide more powerful stuff than what you currently possess. This means you can count on a constant stream of gear dropping from any activity. 

As you continue to play, your level will go up past your gear levels too. You will also be getting a second set of levels from your seasonal Artifact. The Artifact level goes up merely by gaining experience. This comes from practically everything, including the completion of activities and missions, exploration, or even just the killing of enemies. However, we promise a deeper dive on Artifact levels below. 

It's important to note that this method of playing whatever you want is only good up to a certain point. Eventually, your gains will begin to slow and even stop altogether. This will be when you hit the Soft Cap. This will likely affect returning players fairly quickly. 

Soft Caps

What is a Soft Cap and what Power Level is it at?

Destiny world map full of Powerful Drops

Every Location with a yellow symbol next to it still has a powerful drop. (Image credit: Future)

So, you’ve been out frolicking around the galaxy, doing whatever you want. Blue engrams rain down on you as you progress; you don't have a care in the world. However, you’ll notice your gains starting to slow. Or maybe, they’ve even stopped altogether. This is due to the Soft Cap. 

In the Season of the Lost, the Soft Cap is at 1270. No gear that drops outside powerful sources will have a level higher than that. The game isn’t great at telling you this is something that happens, but now you know. 

The good news is that you can continue to get higher gear levels. The bad news is that the grind will become a little more focused. From this point and on, you'll only be able to level doing activities that grant Powerful and Pinnacle Engrams. Thankfully, these are fairly plentiful. 

To see if an activity will grant you a piece of powerful gear, go to your Director. If a planet or activity has a yellow symbol coming off of it, there will be a Powerful Engram to earn there. If you click into the map, you should be able to cursor over to the activity and see what it is that would give you powerful gear. You will be able to do each powerful engram once a week. They will reset as part of the weekly reset every Tuesday at 5pm GMT. 

There are a ton of different outlets where you can get Powerful and Pinnacle Engrams so you should be able to chase the activities you love, more or less. But you may be better rewarded by pursuing a more diverse set of activities.

On top of that, Prime Engrams will also still offer more powerful gear, so make sure you pick up any you find. Those will be tremendously helpful. Remember, no blue engrams will go above 1270 on their own; however, these will level with you, meaning you can use them to bring up any gear that is lagging behind.

If you find your gear struggling to gain levels from powerful gear, you are likely approaching the Hard Cap - yet another invisible wall.  

Hard Caps

What is a Hard Cap and what Power Level is it at?

So you’ve been tailoring your experience, doing all the powerful engrams, and decoding all of your Prime Engrams. However, as before, you’re noticing you're getting fewer and fewer gains - or have stopped entirely. You’ve likely hit the Hard Cap, and your game is going to be tailored even further. 

The Hard Cap in Season of the Lost is at 1320. To go above it you will have to complete Pinnacle Challenges. The good news is that the Gear Cap is only 10 levels above the Hard Cap, at 1330. The bad news is that you are limited in the ways you can get Pinnacle Engrams - and now we're wading into the territory of some of the hardest content in the game. 

Pinnacle Gear sources are listed below: 

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Pinnacle SourceWhat to do?Soloable?Easy or Hard?
Crucible Playlist ChallengePlay three games in any Crucible PlaylistYes.Easy. You just need to play three games of Crucible.
Vanguard Playlist ChallengeComplete Strikes using the same subclass as the current weekly elemental burnYesEasy but vaguely annoying. It forces you to use the subclass that is the same as the weekly singe. To see the Weekly Burn, select the activity, and in the bottom left, above where it says Vanguard Strikes, cursor over the first modifier.
Gambit Playlist ChallengePlay three games of GambitYesEasy. Just play three games of Gambit.
Dares of Eternity ChallengeComplete a Dares of Eternity with a score over 250,000UnlikelyFairly difficult. To achieve a score this high, you will almost certainly need to do one on Legend difficulty. This doesn’t matchmake, so you will likely need 4+ players to complete. If you have that number, it shouldn't be too bad. It’s possible to reach this if you do a lot and get a Lightning Round at the end, but even then it would be tight.
Master Empire HuntComplete any Empire Hunt on Master DifficultyUnlikelyEasyish if you have two friends. This doesn’t matchmake though. It’s not bad at all with help. You can solo this too, but that would immediately shoot this up to Very Hard. Not recommended unless you’re a real pro.
Nightfall 100kComplete a Nightfall Strike with a team score above 100,000.DependsMiddling. Some Nightfalls you will be able to achieve the score on Hero difficulty, which is still matchmade. However, if you have two other Guardians, playing a Nightfall on Legend mode will almost certainly get you there
Presage WeeklyComplete quest 'Presage'Very UnlikelyDecently hard. It’s okay with a fireteam who knows what they are doing. Doable on your own, but that would bump it to a Very Hard.
Trials of Osiris WinsWin 7 MatchesYesDepends, but likely Very Hard. Trials is a brutal PvP experience. If you are great at PvP, you’ll be fine. If not, you might find yourself beating your head against the wall for a while.
Trials of Osiris RoundsWin rounds in Trials of Osiris to earn points. Earn an additional point per match win on your ticket. YesHard and will take a while. Again, depends on how good you are at PvP. Regardless, 50 rounds is around 10 games and that’s if you are winning every game, which let’s face it, you probably aren’t. So it’s a bit of a grind.
Vault of GlassComplete the Vault of Glass Raid.NoMiddling to Hard. If you can get six players together, it’s not too bad, especially if some of the team know their way through. If you are new to raiding though, it could be pretty tough. Somewhat depends on the experience of the rest of your team. If everyone is new, it will be tough to figure out. If everyone else is experienced, you should fly through.
Grasp of AvariceComplete Grasp of AvariceVery UnlikelyMiddling to Hard. Like the Raid, the Dungeon will likely be down to how experienced the Fireteam is. If your teammates know what they are doing, it should be a decent but doable challenge. If you are all new to it, it’s great fun, but will likely take you over an hour and a half to two hours.
Exo ChallengeComplete an Exo ChallengeYesEasiest. You can solo this with no problem. Trivial with a fireteam.
HarbingerComplete Harbinger QuestUnlikelyFairly easy to middling. With two friends, even if you are fairly new, you should be able to figure out its encounters without too much trouble. However, you could become stuck if everyone is new. If even one knows what to do though, it should be fine. Some of the bosses (they are on a rotation) are harder than others.
Shattered Realm ChampionsDefeat Champions in the Shattered Realm activity.YesEasy. You only need to defeat four. You should be able to complete this in a run or so of the Shattered Realm. This is even doable solo.

If you find yourself needing a fireteam, Bungie offers an official Looking For Team feature on their app and website. While it might seem daunting to play with strangers, especially in content like Raids, try it out. The community is largely friendly and they love helping new Guardians out. 

This portion of the grind is generally slower than others, even though there are only 10 levels to grow. That's because there are only so many activities to do. You will likely do most in a couple days and then have to wait for the next weekly reset. Don't sweat it, though. Just log in every week, do your weeklies and then take a break or play another mode.

Artifact levels

Can you go above the Hard Cap and what is the blue number next to my Power Level?

Guardian with breakdown of the Power Level

Your artifact level is the bonus applied on top of your gear level. (Image credit: Future)

Artifact levels are a complicating modifier to the leveling process that might take you a while to get your head around. Essentially, this acts as ‘additional levels’ to your gear Power Level. If you cursor over your Power Level, you will see your true Power Level based on your gear and a blue number. That blue number is your Artifact level. 

Artifact level comes from your seasonal Artifact and is based entirely on experience. This means it will largely be a passive addition to your Power Level. It is essentially just a way to help you out and get you into higher-tier content. 

Unlike gear levels, the Artifact Level is not capped. As long as you can grind, you can get infinite levels. However, don’t think this will give you a massive advantage. It will largely be useful in getting you to recommended Power Levels earlier than you would have. The Artifact is turned off in Grandmaster Nightfalls - which require you to have all of your gear at the highest level to even play - as well as competitive content like Trials of Osiris and Iron Banner. 

It’s also worth noting that any gains made with your Artifact are temporary. Every season, the Artifact will be reset, bringing all of those Artifact gains you made back down to zero, so only invest in it as much as you feel you need to play the content you want.  

Battle Pass levelling

Does the Battle Pass affect levelling?

Battle pass experience gains

Your Battle Pass can give you a lot more experience (Image credit: Future)

It’s probably more accurate to say leveling affects the Battle Pass, more than the other way around. However, there is a benefit to gaining levels in your Battle Pass.

For the most part, like your Artifact power, the Battle Pass will be a rather passive part of your leveling process. You will gain levels as you gain experience, which you will do by playing and leveling normally. 

However, there is a decent benefit to your Battle Pass the later you get into it. Along the track will be XP bonuses, making your gains more and more. At levels 5, 7, 16, 26, 36, 46, 56, 66, 76, and 86 you will get bumps to your overall experience progression. If you collect all of them, you will be getting a massive 32% boost on all activities. This won’t help your gear level, but it will certainly be appreciated by your Artifact level.

Quick tips

Tips and quirks about your Power Level

Ghost shell with Light mod attacked

The Blinding Light mod on your Ghost is a must (Image credit: Future)

Here are some tips and information to keep in mind that will affect your leveling. It’s a long, weird, complicated process, so here are a couple of things to help with that path. 

  • Use the Blinding Light mod on your Ghost. If you go to your Ghost, you can put mods into various slots. In the first column, there is a selection of mods that affect your experience gain. Always have Blinding Light on. It costs six slots on the Ghost but there’s no other mod comes anywhere close to being that useful. It offers a straight-up 12% experience gain. Your Artifact will thank you for that. 
  • You won’t be one hitting bosses in the content you are hundreds of levels over. Unlike many other MMOs, you can’t return to where you started and start killing once beefy bosses with one hit. Levels generally only affect you if you are below them. Once you are above the recommended Power Level, the difficulty will generally stay where it is. No matter how high your Power Level, that Strike will always be that difficulty. 
  • Power Level only affects top-tier PvP modes like Iron Banner and Trials of Osiris. For a numerical breakdown, check out this Reddit post as to how damage and Power Level interact in PvP. The long and short of it though is that if you are within about 15-20 levels of your opponent, it should barely be noticeable. Now if you are 100 below, then you are going to have a bad time. Thankfully, in any other PvP mode, Power Level is irrelevant and all Guardians are paired to an equal playing field.  

That's about all you need to know to get you started. The path to high-tier content like Grandmaster Nightfalls is long, but it's a great journey to get there. By leveling and chasing Pinnacles, you will get a sense of just about everything Destiny 2 has to offer, while experiencing this massive universe. Remember to not burn yourself out by grinding too much, and have fun out there.

Patrick Dane
Gaming Guides Editor

Patrick Dane is TechRadar Gaming's Guides Editor. With nearly a decade in the games press, he's been a consistent voice in the industry. He's written for a plethora of major publications and travelled the world doing it. He also has a deep passion for games as a service and their potential to tell evolving stories. To wit, he has over 2000 hours in Destiny 2, over 1000 in Overwatch and is now deeply into Valorant.