Sunday, May 23, 2010

Dark Armor / Energy Melee tank

Jordon Yen, of Jordon's Town, has been bugging me to join in his ongoing contest with a new player guide. So, here's a new character build, and to date, the most expensive one I've made. It's a Dark Armor / Energy Melee tank, made largely to explore the on-paper issues with both sets.

The Major Issues

I've written about Dark Armor before and what I see as the problems with the set. On the surface the set has low resists and aura's that prevent effective tanking. As I played the set, I found there was another issues, endurance consumption. To put this in perspective, an Ice Armor Tank and a Stone Armor tank can stack the following powers:
  • .26 e/s :: Frozen Armor
  • .26 e/s :: Chilling Embrace
  • .26 e/s :: Wet Ice
  • .52 e/s :: Icicles
  • .26 e/s :: Glacial Armor
  • 1.56 end / sec :: Total
  • .26 e/s :: Rock Armor
  • .78 e/s :: Mud Pots
  • .21 e/s :: Rooted
  • .26 e/s :: Brimstone Armor
  • .26 e/s :: Crystal Armor
  • .26 e/s :: Minerals
  • 2.03 end / sec :: Total
Now, Ice gets two Endurance Recovery powers, Energy Absorbtion and Hibernate. Stone Armor gets granite, which produces the following base stackables at high levels.
  • .26 e/s :: Granite
  • .78 e/s :: Mud Pots
  • .21 e/s :: Rooted
  • 1.25 end / sec :: Total
Dark by comparison, with all stackable armors
  • .52 e/s :: Death Shroud
  • .21 e/s :: Dark Embrace
  • .21 e/s :: Murky Cloud
  • .21 e/s :: Obsidian Shield
  • .26 e/s :: Cloak of Darkness
  • .08 e/s :: Oppressive Gloom
  • 1.49 end / sec :: Total
  • 52 e/s :: Cloak of Fear
  • 2.01 end / sec :: Total
Without Cloak of Fear, Dark Armor is nipping right on the heels of Ice's endurance consumption. With Cloak of Fear on, Dark Armor nips right at Stone Armor's heels. This is a set that can't hard-cap resistances, can't soft-cap defenses, has no native endurance recovery, and no native regeneration boosts. Now, Energy Melee is something I haven't addressed before, mostly because I don't really see a problem with the set. One of the factors of CoH development is that all power-set balances are based off of Single Origin enhancements, and on SO's, Energy Melee is one of the best single target damage producers in the game. Still, the CoH forums are filled with players with battle axes to grind on the subject of changes to the Energy Melee set. Terms like nerfed, useless, and pointless, are often used by multiple players. As a tanking set, I'm not really going to argue with some points. Energy Melee's lack of AOE punch simply means tanks need to work their taunt to hold aggro in mob combat.

Overall Power Selection and Design

So, now for the powers I wound up taking. As a note, this character is still incomplete, it's only level 48. However, I already have the enhancements for the final power, so I can tell you what's going to happen with the build.

As I said, this is my most expensive character build to date. Early on my design goal had been to maximise the recharge and make Conserve Power permanent. However, when I actually checked the numbers on Conserve Power, at the recharge cap of 500%, there would still be a down time of 30 seconds between the power's recharges... and as I found out on my Controller Builds, increasing the recharge rate without equally increasing the endurance recovery rate was not a good thing for a sustained combat build. Thus, approaching the practical recharge rate cap was actually going to make endurance consumption problems worse, rather than better.

There was also the additional problem that I needed to spend slots on knockback procs as the Dark Armor lacks any native knockback protection. I also knew from experience that I'd need the Numina and Miracle procs to help offset the load from the Tough and Weave pool powers. With the recharge rate strategy out of the question, and with Physical Perfection looking like a requirement, I went back to the drawing board to rework power choices. I started focusing on sets that offered Endurance Capacity boosts, as boosting the total endurance would also boost endurance recovery. Eventually as I figured that my average Melee attack slot budget was going to be about 4 slots, rather than the 5 slots I had allocated for the Crushing Impact set. So, late in the life of the build, I started looking through power-sets and slots coming up with a new design goal. Of the Melee Damage IO slots, only 3 had buffs I'd actually be interested in for my tank in the pump 4 slot; Crushing Impact with it's accuracy boost; Mako's Bite with it's damage boost, and Kinetic Combat with it's defense boost. The sheer costs of using Kinetic Combat were an instant turn off:
  • The set doesn't drop above level 35, so it was rare and hard to come across.
  • The drop level also meant that the effective power range meant lower damage, higher endurance consumption, higher recharge times, and lower accuracy.
  • The set costs a ton of influence on the market, with recipies commanding 80,000,000+ inf price-points. I'd need 20 IO's, with 4 recipes per melee power, which means that buy them on the market, I'd be looking at over 1,600,000,000 in influence... presuming I was able to win those builds.
As I rose in level though, the problems with Dark Armor became... insurmountable. As a tank set, the usual strategies and franken slotting weren't working. On SO's and affordable IO sets, Dark Armor sucks. Plain and simple. Now, I'll go into some changes that I think need to be made to Dark Armor to bring it up to par with Fire Armor towards the end of this guide.

Yes. I just said what you think I said. For tanks, Dark Armor is worse than Fire Aura.

Anyways, once I had resigned myself to needing Kinetic Combat to just survive, I started setting aside merits for the recipies and worked out the slots to try and push a softcap to smashing / lethal defense. The following build is the result.

The Build: Primary Powers

Death Shroud
: Death Shroud is the primary taunt aura, and a huge end drain.

The slotting choice paired a 4 set Eradication for it's maximum endurance boost and maximum health boost with a Scirocco Dervish:Damage / Endurance to try and help take the edge off the end drain and boost damage up.

Dark Embrace: Dark Embrace is the primary smashing / lethal resist power for Dark Armor.

I went with the 3 slot Impervium Armor for it's recovery boost and not the 4 boost for increased endurance as....

I needed the fourth slot for the Steadfast resist / def boost, which helped put the build into softcap.

Dark Regeneration: The Dark Armor's party peice. Just two enemies can completely refill a Dark Tank's HP, at a 1000 plus Hit Point heal on a non-ED pressing 92% boost.

The bad news is the endurance consumption. The Accurate Heal sets are low on endurnace IO's, and Dark Regeneration requires a too-hit check. Ergo, the power chomps out nearly 25 endurnace, just about a forth of a players average endurance.

I went with Touch of the Nictus over Theft of Esscence mostly for the higher Maximum Endurance buff.

Obsidian Shield: One of the reasons why you would want a Dark Armor. Obsidian shield offers extremely high resistance to Psionic Damage.

I went with a 4 set of Impervium Armor here for a couple of reasons. First, to get the Psionic Resistance far into ED. Second, for themaxium endurance boost. This meant having to go without another knockback IO, so there are some critters that can knock this particular tank around.

Murky Cloud: The Anti-Mez. Slotted like Dark Embrace...

Only with a Knockback proc.

Cloak of Darkness: One of the powers that wasn't really thought out that well for tanks. Without an additional stealth, such as an IO or Super Speed, Cloak of Darkness's hide bonus isn't enough to not be seen by enemies. As will be shown with the next power, while it's not enough to prevent aggro, it is enough to interefere with aggro.

It is useful as a platform for Luck of the Gambler, and it's defense footing became important later on.

Oppressive Gloom: Another power that just was not thought through went brought to tanks. Okay, I'll get the obvious issue out of the way. The trade-off of health for stunis not an issue. That isn't the problem.

Lets go ahead and get the slotting out of the way. I did go with a 5 slot Razzle Dazzle for the Defense boost.

Here's the problem: The Status Aura's Prevent Tanks from Holding Aggro. Here's my tank fighting a mob of carnies. Note how the carnies are bunched around the tank in a close group. Every one of them is in melee range and the team can utilize their AOE powers to maximum effect.

Stun Off

Now watch what happens as I turn stun on:

Stun On

Here we can see that the carnies are stunned. They start trying to GET AWAY FROM THE TANK.

This is why Oppressive Gloomand Cloak of Fear, which I did not take for this build, ARE ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE FOR TANKS.

Yes, with either power personal survivability increases. An enemy that is not attacking is as good as an enemy that isn't there. However, this now means that with the survivability factor turned up, my tank now has to CHASE DOWN runners. If my tank is keeping a troublesome Archvillain, Ebby, Monster, or other critter in place, a stunned or feared enemy critter will simply leave the area. Once out of melee range, what happens when the critter recovers? They do a perception check. If your tank is running Cloak of Darkness, it's entirely probable that a stunned enemy that wandered off will promptly start firing on your teammates. Then there's the additional problem that both of the status auras are All-Or-Nothing powers. Either the enemy is mezzed, or they aren't. So while I can knock even-con Carnies out of the running pretty easily, Nemesis, Rikti, Devouring Earth, Cimerorans, Malta, and higher con-enemies... not so much. Thing is, these powers are Great on Scrappers. A scrapper doesn't care if an enemy critter wanders the other way, or if a wandered off critter recovers and chooses to pick on the squishy defender, blaster, or controller. I'm not even sure the status aura's are such a bad idea on Brutes. On a tank, it's just bad.

The Build: Secondary Powers
Okay, to rehash from before, Energy Melee is heavy on the single target damage. For Purposes of leveling guide, there's also a pool power in here.

Barrage: the basic 1-2 punch of the EM set.

Kinetic Combat. To reiterate, getting these sets took several months of work. However, no other damage set offers the defense or max health bonus's.

Bone Smasher: Not much to write about. Another melee attack with Kinetic Combat. Did I mention the ludicrous amount of effort that went into getting these sets?

Boxing: As mentioned in the design section, I went through several different possible builds trying to fit in the powers I needed to handle the sheer endurance drain of the Dark Armor set. In most builds I simply toss a stun boost on Boxing and leave it alone. For this build, after looking at the numbers, I decided the best power to drop was Energy Punch.

While Energy Punch's DPA @ 50 was better than Boxing; 53.60dpa vs. 31.60dpa, the Damage Per Cast Cycle was in Boxing's Favor; 9.47dpcc versus 9.21dpcc. This freed up a power letting me take Physical Perfection later on, and Boxing was taken early in the respec chain.

Whirling Hands: The only PbAOE the EM set gets.

As with Death Shroud, a Scirocco Dervish damage-endurance IO takes the ting off the low levels of the Eradication Set.

: Every tank needs this. Period. If you ever run into a tank that says they can tank without taunt, laugh. Loudly.

Perfect Zinger
was chosen for the defense buffs. It's +psidamage proc is fun to use as well.

Stun: One of the reasons EM combines well with dark is that the stuns can stack.

As with Oppressive Gloom, theRazzle Dazzle set is leveraged for it's defensive Boost.

Energy Transfer: The party peice of the EM set. Energy transferoffers an extremly high damage count for a bit of health. Worth it.

Total Focus: the tier 9 attack power. Massive damage.

The Energy Melee Power Controversy

To be fair, I do need to address thatthere is a bit of controversy over the last two powers; Energy Transfer and Total Focus. The animation on Energy Transfer used to be much shorter, and requests to un-nerf the power are frequent on the City of Heroes forums, as a thread from this month indicates. Total Focus also animates like a PbAOE attack. Many players feel that the damage output does not match the animation times, and to be fair, there is a fair bit of point on this matter. In the case of Total Focus, it's a tier 9 Single Target attack. Here's how it's Damage per Activation / Damage per Cast Cycle stacks up against the other Tier 9 single target attacks @ level on tanks:
  • Greater Fire Sword: 56.86 / 9.24
  • Seismic Smash: 105.59 / 7.37
  • Total Focus: 47.99 / 6.80
So, compared to it's revivals, it actually is weaker. The same cannot be said for Energy Transfer:
  • Incinerate: 66.60 / 9.53
  • Greater Ice Sword: 37.42 / 7.07
  • Energy Transfer: 138.46 / 16.31
Which, brings me to something a lot of players don't understand. Sets are balanced against what the entire set does, not what other sets do. In some aspects Energy Melee is weaker than other melee sets with weaker average attacks, and a lack of an AOE punch. As an entire set on Tanks, I'm not entirely convinced that Energy Melee is out of line for what it is described to do.

The Pool Powers

Now we get to the edging powers, and for this build, also known as proc city.

Combat Jumping: I took combat jumping to help stack up the defense. It's a minor amount, but every bit helps this build. I also used it as a proc point.

Knockback IO: Another 4 points of Knockback protection

Luck of the Gambler 7.5: I didn't entirely give up on increasing the recharge rate.

Kismet Accuracy: This power should actually be named Kismet: To Hit buff. One of the issues with this particular build is that there's a lack of decent accuracy boosts, and against con-higher enemies, missing with attacks gets to be a bit of a pain. As dark doesn't have a passive defense power, I wound up putting the buff on Combat Jumping and when I need to renew it, just swap back and forth between CJ and Super Jump.

Super Jump: if this was an SO build, this would be the path taken to get acrobatics. Since I wanted a anther Def buff slot to host a LoTG 7.5, it was either jump or fly... and fly's a little slow for a tank.

Blessing of the Zephyr: taken mostly for the extra knockback protection.

Swift: how do you make swift sound interesting?

: More expensive procs.

Miracle set
: I wound up 3 slotting with the Miracle set for the health boost and IO recovery boost.

Numina Proc
: Strange that this and the LoTG 7.5's are not the most expensive IO's in the build...

Stamina: I ran out of slots, or this would have 3 crafted level 50 IO's.

Conserve Power: Takes forever to come back, but if I have to lay on the self-heal power, it's still very much needed.

Physical Perfection: A newer pool power, this boosts Regeneration and Recovery at half the rate of health and stamina. Slotted for Endurance Recovery.

: given the sheer end-drain this build pulls down, Tough and Weave would be the final powers taken after Physical Perfection.

4 slotted with Impervium Armorto push resists into ED and gain another max endurance boost.

Weave: not pictured.

Weave is the reason there arefour more LoTG IO's sitting at the bottom of the enhancement screen. So, yes, this build will get another 7.85% defense, 7.5% recharge,1.13% hp cap boost, 10% regeneration boost, and an accuracy boost.

Power Performance

So, there's the slotting, now here's how it looks with Accolades. Due to a bug in the power source display*, I turned them off to just show the base stats.

And now, for the payoff:

With 38.05% defense to Smashing / Lethal, the additional 7.85% from Weave will place total Smash / Lethal defense at around 45.9%... over softcap. Melee defense will approach 37%. In practice, as is, the existing defense tends to hold up well enough in average combat.*For those interested in knowing what that bug is, the power sources flicker on and off, shifting the list up and down, making it difficult to read.


Fixing the Dark Armor Set

As indicated at the start of the build guide, I do have some furtherrefinements to the idea to fix the Dark Armor power set against SO's.When I originally advocated changes I looked mostly at changing or removing the status effects that didn't fit with the tanking objectives, and increasing effective defense. I expressed somereservations about the suggested changes as they might not fit within the cottage rules, and thus not be considered. To reiterate the issues,as I have played them:
  • Extreme Endurance cost does not match defensive performance ofthe set
  • Native Mez Powers interfere with ability to hold aggro
  • Resists are low
  • No way to maintain moderate levels of defense
Extreme Endurance Usage and Low Resists

Dark Regeneration Modification:Energy Absorbtion / Heat Loss / Eclipse hybrid

Lets deal with the endurance question first. One of the other Extreme Endurance Sets is Ice, which getsEnergy Absorbtion. Each affected enemy returns 15 endurance points base, and when capped into ED, an Ice tank recover around 30 endurance per enemy. Energy Absorbtion also boosts Defense. A fully saturated unslotted EA swipe will give around 5%~8% defense. The conceptual idea then is this:
Implement EA as a Dark Miasma Resist
Part of the work has already been done. The WarShade Epic Hero Archtype gets a power called Eclipse which already does a stacking Resist bonus based on enemies. For the Dark tank, scale that back to something like 1.2% resistance non-buffable for 10 targets max. the Result is that in Mob Combat Dark Tanks will be able to press 80% resistance to smashing / lethal and be within slotting distance of hard-cap Psionic resistance. Now, since we don't want a straight rip off of EA, convert the straight endurance recovery into an average 2.5% per target, max 10 target, recovery rate bonus. The conceptual idea is this:
Activating Dark Regeneration gives the player 50% of base Secondary Speed Boost recovery, or 25% recovery rate
If the player chooses to slot recovery IO's over health IO's, they'll be able to produce a recovery effect equivelent to getting hit by an unslotted speed boost. Now, while i would prefer that the actual heal component on Dark Regeneration be unchanged since this is supposed to be about bringing Dark Armor into parity with the realistic play performance of other tanking power sets, adding in a resistance bonus and a recovery bonus might neccessitate dropping the total heal component.

Anti Status Effect

Counter the counter-intuitive Mez Effect Powers: Combine Mud Pots and Death Shroud.

A potential solution to the enemies that wander off when stunned or feared could be found in the Stone Armor set. The power Mud Pots contains a 2 magnitude immobilize component. Implement this Immobilize component into Death Shroud on the Dark Armor set. Poof, stunned or feared enemies have a lower chance of walking around and getting lost from the aggro. Considering that just about every other dark set in the game has an immobilize of some sort, the idea certainly fits.

Defense Debuff Resistance

Add a Defense Debuff Resistance Component: Empower Cloak of Darkness

As the Dark armor set is primarily a Resistance based power set, it doesn't get any sort of Defense Debuff Resistance even though it contains a native Defense Power. Adding in a minor Defense Debuff Resistance Component to Cloak of Darkness would help Dark Tanks retain what defense they could naturally obtain.
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