So what exactly does it mean to be level 27?

Update 9/22/15 – The Taken King & Light Levels:
With the launch of The Taken King (TTK) they have completely revamped the level system. Most of what’s listed below has been retooled to fit the new Light Level (LL) system created for TTK. Thanks to a post over on Reddit we have updated information on how damage is calculated. I haven’t tested / verified this personally, but it seems to be legit. In short, raising your LL is the quintessential stat now for encounters. The key data is as follows:

  • Being one character level below the enemy reduces your damage output by 5%
  • Being two character levels below the enemy reduces your damage output by 28%

On top of that penalty there is a penalty that stacks on top if that comes from the LL differential

  • If the enemy is recommended at 40 LL or more over you they are immune to your attacks
  • If the enemy is recommended at 39 LL over you’ll incur a 50% damage output reduction
  • This penalty scales down through to where at being below the LL by 1 you will incur a 3% damage output reduction.

Some examples to put this into perspective, using a level 40 Guardian with 240 LL as the base.

  • versus a L41 enemy w/240 LL recommendation takes a 5% penalty
  • versus a L42 enemy w/290 LL recommendation would do no damage
  • versus a L40 enemy w/260 LL recommendation would take ~ 25% penalty
  • versus a L42 enemy w/241 LL recommendation would take ~ 31% penalty
  • versus a L40 enemy w/220 LL recommendation would take a 0% penalty

So far data suggests there is NO BENEFIT to exceeding the recommended LL / character level. In the event you are either 13 levels over the enemy even with them, you will only do 100% damage to them. Matching their character level and having 40 LL over their recommendation will still only do the same damage as if you matched their LL. Personally I want to do further testing on this but as it stands this seems to still be the case as Year1 Destiny.


Update 5/29/15: Since the posting of this article two expansions have released, The Dark Below and House of Wolves. Both of these raised the level cap by 2 each time. Testing levels 30-34 over the past week have confirmed that the damage continues to adhere to the same system for post-30 levels. So being 33 in the Level 34 Prison of Elders raid will reduce your damage by 33%. Coincidentally, guns going from 300 to 331 damage increases the output by about 15% for most weapons, and 331 to 365 increases it by another 15%. So when looking to spend an etheric light on either raising a gun from 300 to 365 or that final piece of armor to reach level 34 seems like a wash for damage output. The damage you receive though will still be higher at 33 and significantly reduce your survivability. Not to mention the damage increase of 33% from the level gain will carry across ALL your weapons, not just the individual weapon you raised from 300. If the gun was 331 you’ll only see a 15% raise either way. 

So long story short, Guardians? Reaching level 34 should take precedent over leveling any guns. Trust me, it’s painful to know you could get that Fatebringer or Vision of Confluence to 365 and be topped out for the first time since December. Stay strong though, and work up those levels. It’ll make clearing out content significantly easier and in the end you’ll reach where you want to be. Also I’d not recommend going into PoE 35 without a 365 primary/secondary/exotic, as that closes the damage gap by a noticeable margin.

So I’ve been playing a healthy amount of Destiny. By healthy I mean way beyond healthy. At the time of this post it’s 3 days, 2 hours, 19 minutes, and 53 seconds of playtime. In the traditional MMO sense, a day is 24 hours, putting me around 74 hours of play time. Keep in mind though this doesn’t count load times or any time spent “in orbit” deciding what to do. I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t continue playing because the design of the game prohibits me from earning the materials I need to upgrade my gear… Which is how you level. So floating around at level 27 and thinking of the absurdity of being able to unequip my level by changing gear I found a new way to kill time in game. Analytics!

For starters though, I’m slightly at a loss that I never noticed that I was doing the same damage set without any variance. Everything I hit was for 190 for a hit, or 570 for a crit. Anywhere I go or regardless of what I was killing, 190’s and 570’s were popping out. I love numbers. Which is why I was flabergasted that I didn’t see the same numbers popping up all day while I was playing. Never a point of damage above or below those two numbers. After some extensive testing on damage output by changing my levels from 20 through 27, I found some interesting elements on how Destiny handles it’s damage output. I’ll start off with the meat and potatoes and get down in it with some examples and finer details after.

  • All enemies take the same damage, based on your and their level. Exceptions for elemental weakness and critical hits. So Fallen Vandals to Hive Wizards to Vex Hobgoblins. There is no variance per type.
  • If the enemy has more than 3 levels over you, it is immune to any weapon damage. However, melee and grenades still do minimal damage.
  • There is no weapon damage advantage in being higher level than an enemy.
  • Melee and Grenades do the same damage regardless of what level the enemy is, provided you at least match their level. Meaning damage dealt will scale with you, and not be locked to the enemy level.
  • Critical hits on majors (yellow health) enemies do half the normal critical damage… So 1.5x the damage of a regular hit.
  • Update 10/13/14 – With a hotfix update from Bungie, assault rifles now only do 1.25x damage for precision hits.
  • Weapons that provide bonus damage (such as Thorn‘s final shot) seem to provide an additional 25% more damage per hit.

So what went into this? A lot of running through the same scenario at various levels and difficulty settings. Dropping a lot of information into a spreadsheet and looking at the data. Just know all of this is tested at level 20+, but there’s a good possibility that the same rule sets are in place sub-20. I tested this all with primarily a scout rifle, but found the same results of constant numbers with pulse rifles and sniper rifles. Obviously with burst spray weapons (shotgun, fusion rifle) it’s a little more tricky since not every round that leaves your weapon hits the enemy. I’m sure the damage caps are still in place though.

For the sake of simplicity let’s just say equal level is 100% your damage output. So if you’re level 27, and the enemy is 27 you hit for 100% of your damage. You can never exceed that 100%.

  • 4 levels or more under the enemy deals 0% damage, they are immune to weapon damage.
  • 3 levels under the enemy deals approx 48% max damage.
  • 2 levels under the enemy deals approx 55% max damage.
  • 1 level under the enemy deals approx 67% max damage.
  • Even level or greater than the enemy deals 100% your max damage, and you can never exceed that.
  • As stated before, a critical hit on a major or ultra enemy (yellow health bar) will only be half the maximum crit. All other damage is unchanged. Normal hits, grenades, melee.
  • Critical hits will always deal 3x the damage of your standard hit (except sniper rifles, which deal 5x the normal damage).
  • The range of the weapon creates a drop off point for damage. If you are outside the range of the weapon, increased distance does less damage… To the point of potentially reducing damage to 1 point (evident with shotguns)

All of this is just explaining the damage you do as a player, and unfortunately I have no way to test the damage dealt to the player based on their level / armor rating. I can just comfortably say that there is a huge difference between being level 25 against a 28 and being a level 27. As long as you meet the enemy’s level though you should be good for the encounter. There is very little benefit offensively about overleveling the content you’re facing. Good example of how this keeps the game in check is go and try to hunt a level 2 enemy at any level. You will always hit for the maximum damage as if you were even. So at level 2 (if you could use the same weapon) you will hit the mob for it’s max damage of say 60 damage… Then at level 27 with that same weapon you will still deal the max damage of that weapon for 60 damage.

So what is this useful for? I’m not sure, but I’m putting it out there for you folks. Like I said, I have a thing for numbers. I’d love to find a way to calculate the damage expected per hit based off of the weapon type and damage, but the Impact stat also modifies the damage output maximum. They only provide a bar though and no numeric value to it so it would be guesswork at best to try and figure it out. Just know the higher the impact, the more damage you do per individual shot fired. The damage rating is kind of like your overall damage per second, while impact is your damage per shot. Meaning regardless of Impact, if you’re shooting as fast as the gun allows and are connecting each hit a 300 damage weapon will always be better than say a 282 damage weapon. The opposite of that is having two weapons with a 300 damage and one has a significantly larger Impact, each shot landed will show a noticeable damage advantage. Between reload times, clip size, max inventory count, and other perks… You really should just be picking a weapon type that fits your play style though. Scout rifles let me pop in a solid chunk of damage a few times before taking cover to reload. Shotguns are great if you’re in the mix punching enemies and using your abilities a lot. No damage amount will be more effective than matching your play style.

One last thing I want to note that was odd. Grenade and rocket damage have a second damage set for enemy majors. So if a grenade normally does 500 damage to at level 25, it will deal that 500 damage AND a second at 2.15x the damage of the first. So sticking with our 500 damage, a second hit will deal 1075 damage alongside it for a combined total of 1575 damage, or just over 3x the damage that is dealt to normal enemies. For some reason this second hit doesn’t exist for standard enemies, just the majors.

Happy hunting, everyone.


  • This explains why, as a level 24, missions that were level 28 were listed as impossible. Missions rated at the same level as my character are hard or very hard, depending on the modifiers. I recall reading somewhere that you deal 20% more damage for every level you gain, but that sounds slightly inaccurate compared to your observations. I finally managed to purchase armor and reach 25 last night. It’ll be interesting to take a second look at those ‘very hard’ missions and see if the difficulty says different since I gained some ground.

    • The strange thing with the “very hard” listing for missions is it doesn’t seem to update. Level 3 missions are still listed as “hard”, despite me being level 27. It’s information solely based on the modifiers activated for the mission. So it’s not hard for you versus your level, but is a “hard” version of that mission… If that makes sense. The obvious exception to that is listing a mission as impossible when you are unable to hit enemies, that seems character dependent.

  • Very nice analysis. It makes so much sense. I’d really interesting if you can devise a way to look at the damage dealt to players by enemies above and below your level. I know enemies that are 3+ levels above you will 1-hit you easily, but I find it interesting that as a level 32 you’re still not invulnerable against level 2 enemies in patrol. They can actually kill you as quickly as, say, a level 25 enemy can. This leads me to speculate that your defense is down-scale to the enemy as well. What do you think?

    • Yeah, it’s hard to test since you never see the damage you receive during play – But I imagine there is a downscale for the enemies as well. My guess is your armor effective rate caps around 150%, which is why is you can still die to low levels. They don’t hit nearly as hard as equal leveled enemies (or ones a few below you)… so if I had to guess based off their current system, probably enemies three levels or more below you do like 48% their max damage… Then two levels below 55%, one level below 66%. Just makes sense to use the same system both ways. Granted your armor rating effects it as well, but calculating off their max damage.

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