If you’re a Destiny veteran, this guide is not for you; please read the red veteran note at the very bottom.
Instead of rambling all of the reasoning behind why, here is the “just do these things” basics guide to raising your power level in Destiny 2.
1. Go into your inventory and look at all of the items in one single slot, such as your helmets. Hold one of the triggers down so you can see all of the power levels of each item at once.
2. Find the item in that slot that has the highest number in the upper right corner of the icon. In the above example, the highest number is 634. Ignore the numbers on items with a yellow background.
3. Click the thumbstick to Lock the item with the highest power number, which ISN’T an exotic/yellow.
4. Do the same for all other slots (chest, boots, primary weapons, etc). Lock each piece of equipment that has the highest number, even if you don’t plan to ever use it.
5. After doing that for each slot, go complete some kind of activity that offers a “powerful” reward.
6. Once one is completed, you’ll see it appear on the screen.
7. Go into your inventory and locate the new item. Is the power number of that item higher than any non-exotic in that slot?
8. If the new item has a higher number than any other non-exotic item, LOCK IT. You may now unlock the old item, and move that old item elsewhere if you wish.
9. Complete additional activities that offer powerful rewards.
10. Each time you get a new powerful reward, evaluate whether it is the highest number in that slot, and KEEP IT if it is the highest, even if you don’t plan to use it or don’t like it. Move/delete/infuse an item ONLY AFTER there is another item of a HIGHER level, and ALWAYS keep the highest powered one.
Keep repeating these steps, and your power level will increase gradually.
If you’re interested in simple explanations of the why’s-and-how’s, I’ve tried to boil it down to the most basic way possible:
(a) Your big-number power level (circled in red below) is the average power level across all of the gear you are wearing right now (green circles), including the guns you can quickly switch between in battle.
(b) Without telling you directly, the game pretends to equip every possible combination of gear you have, in order to find out which combination makes the highest possible power level, which we’ll call this your best level.
(c) By locking all of your higher-power items you receive when you get them, to make sure they don’t get deleted or infused, you’re helping the game to find out higher-and-higher “best” levels you could possibly achieve.
(d) Each time you are awarded “powerful” gear, the game uses your current “best” level in mind and adds a few to it.
(e) Remember though, that the powerful item’s higher level is based on the average, not “best in that slot” number, so you may get an powerful reward that is a lower number than the highest level in that slot, if the current highest in that slot is already higher than your best average. It is total luck on which slot the powerful reward will drop into.
(f) Many people are tempted to infuse the new powerful rewards into gear they like the most, but that is a rookie move that might actually reduce your average best power level.
(g) If you have a piece of gear you don’t want, which has a higher power level, that you want to put into a piece of gear you do like, it is best to wait until you get another piece of gear that is higher than that one (which by this guide lets you unlock it) before using it to infuse, to ensure that your best possible power level remains intact.
(h) The reason I’m saying to ignore the power level of exotics, is because you’re only allowed to equip one clothing exotic, and one weapon exotic at a time. The game also knows this, and does include that fact into part of its best calculation, but it is far easier to just ignore those numbers and let the game factor that in on its own. The guide is an attempt to create the easiest way to raise levels, by ensuring you don’t lose any gains you do make.
Note to Destiny veterans: This guide is not designed for you.
It’s not designed to offer new insight on faster ways to level up. I am on several Destiny forums, and there are lots of players who post asking how to raise their power level despite already having decent levels who just stumbled their way there, or who just can’t seem to “get” how the level increases. This guide, at its simplest form, prevents the gains one does make, from being lost by rookie goofs so that the numbers will always be improving gradually.