“You don’t want battlemage for AAR, trust me.” (grey-maybe)
The Battlemage (arcanist, soldier) is a class that has a reputation for being “problematic”. This is especially true for the endgame, recognizable by the fact that there are relatively few top performers listed in the Build Compendium Build Compendium X (Forgotten Gods). The following short guide will show that this does not necessarily apply to the non endgame and a budget Albrecht’s Aether Ray (AAR) battlemage works rather well. Whereby one should rather say an arcanist with soldier as supporting class can work for most of the levelling.
The character starts as arcanist and ends as full faction gear / monster infrequent physical AAR battlemage. However, the currently preferred class for endgame with physical AAR is templar (arcanist, oathkeeper). Stupid_Dragon posted a guide for an AAR templar [188.8.131.52] Beginner's Scorching Ray Templar. Luckily, as the base class in both cases is arcanist, most of the information written there are valid here, too (and there is surely more knowledge about levelling there than you can expect here).
Only self-found equipment and self-found crafting materials were used while levelling. Also, no mandates were transferred, writs were bought as soon as possible. However, all necessary blueprints were already found with earlier characters. Earlier in the levelling process, enchanted flints were used to increase the damage. However, the single most important blueprint for the built is the Seal of Might - it is a key component and required for the physical end version. Blueprints for high level relics might be problematic, so use the best one you currently have at hand. The character was started in 184.108.40.206, patch 220.127.116.11 arrived in ultimate after already reaching level 100. Notable changes are: AAR was slightly nerved, leading to a loss of around 2000 dps (damage per second). This is countered by reduced enemy resistances and increased resistance reduction (RR) on war cry (Break Moral and Terrify node). No notable loss in power after the patch was felt, the impression was more that there was a small power gain.
The attribute bonuses provided by the gear allow to reach the necessary spirit level without investing one point in spirit, so a rather strong cunning dumb (putting as much attribute points as possible in cunning) was possible. Physique is a bit higher than necessary, but I prefer a bit more defense ability and health.
The necessary resistances can be reached without specific pre- or suffixes. Here is a skeleton guy using only pre- and suffix free monster infrequents - with already overcapped resistances (Grimtools).
Note: The character has invested one point in Menhir’s Will, which - well - does not even work for the build (as it requires either a shield or two-hand weapon). Feel free to use the skill point for another skill, e.g. for decorated soldier. (the thank goes to @Ulvar1 for spotting this error)
The full campaign with both expansions was finished in all three difficulties (Veteran, Elite, Ultimate). Monster totems were activated on sight - after cleaning the surrounding area. The first 10 levels were a bit harder, some of the harder fights happened in this phase (I look at you Kyzogg and first Monster Totem), The build becomes later rather tanky, stronger enemies (stronger heroes, later nemesis) or group of heroes require sensible positioning (e.g. do not standing in ground effects all the time). Especially dangerous are arcane heroes with their nullification ability.
Most challenge dungeons can be finished (in ultimate: Ancient Grove in 18.104.22.168, all earlier ones in 22.214.171.124). So far only the Tomb of the Heretic (126.96.36.199) was not successful finished. In the only run so far, Morgoneth proved too strong in the end. Shard 15 was reached in the Shattered Realm in ultimate for the additional skill points. The following nemesis were slain in ultimate: Benn’Jahr (188.8.131.52), Grava’Thul (184.108.40.206), Kaisan (220.127.116.11), Kubacabra (18.104.22.168), Moosilauke (22.214.171.124) and Valdaran (126.96.36.199).
Levelling / Skills
The character starts as arcanist and plays as an AAR arcanist for most of the game. Soldier as supporting class comes rather late and was used at the beginning mostly for the attribute points. All information provided by Stupid_Dragon in the templar guide regarding the arcanist side of the templar are therefore valid for this character, too. The most notable differences between this build and Stupid_Dragons templar are: (1) this build uses AAR also while levelling, (2) has no additional movement damage skill and (3) shows almost a complete disregard for resist reduction abilities for most of the game. Regarding (1), after the AAR changes in 188.8.131.52, using conflagration might be now even more sensible. I did not used it to not become too early blueprint dependent. (2) A movement skill is imperative, therefore a rune was bought after finishing act 1 in veteran. However, this character is a mono damage skill character, and has therefore less skills to activate devotions skills / procs. (3) Using AAR has the advantage that the skill has three different damage types, this and because of the raw damage, there was no real need for strong RR in veteran and elite. That said, the 184.108.40.206 War Cry with Terrify sounds rather intersting for this character and would have been used earlier (investing 4 points around level 50 - 1 in War Cry, 3 in Terrify)
This character was levelled using Fireblast provided by the Searing Ember component early on and than moving as fast as possible to AAR as base attack. In the first 10 levels, the focus was Iskandra’s Elemental Exchange, for the flat damage and the increased energy regeneration and elemental damage. The strongest weapon was used until Searing Ember became available. Afterward, AAR was rushed and kept as base attack for the rest of the game. Additional support skills from the arcanist mastery were added over time. Energy regeneration was a minor problem at the beginning, but there are Elixirs of Spirit.
Investing points in soldier was only started shortly before level 40 was reached, focusing solely on the mastery bar. Field command and Squad Tactics were added shortly before level 60 was reached. The move to physical AAR with the necessary changes was made at level 95. The veteran campaign was finished around level 75, elite was rushed, the focus were quests, equipment farming and reputation farming. At the end of elite level 95 was reached. In ultimate, level 100 was reached before Homestead.
For important skills in the arcanist mastery, see Stupid_Dragon Templar guide, I however prefer a stronger focus on Iskandra’s Elemental Exchange for the energy regeneration and the elemental damage bonus. In the soldier mastery, Field Command (offense and defense ability, armor) and Squad Tactics (casting speed and damage bonus) are important, as well War Cry (damage reduction, 12/12) and Terrify (for the pre physical version 3/3). For the physical version, maxing Break Moral instead of Terrify is imperative. The elemental version used as exclusive skill Reckless Power, the physical one Oleron’ Rage. Other passive skills in the soldier mastery were selected to increase stats. Not all skills are min-maxed for ideal perfomance in the current final build, see e.g. the odd number of points invested in Inner Focus (15/12).
Faction-wise, I sided with the Order of Death’s Vigil (this decision is not that important) and stayed friendly with Barrowholm. It is important to increase the reputation with key factions for the core gear as fast as possible. Revered was reached for the important factions at the end of Elite with the help of writs and a bit of reputation farming. Helpful is that two pieces of key gear can be found in the Forgotten Gods campaign and farming this gear also helps to increase the reputation with these key factions.
level 10: https://www.grimtools.com/calc/lNkwanlN
level 20: https://www.grimtools.com/calc/nZoOEedZ
level 30: https://www.grimtools.com/calc/RZR8YDO2
level 40: https://www.grimtools.com/calc/O2G0b5LV
level 50: https://www.grimtools.com/calc/1NXA81X2
level 60: https://www.grimtools.com/calc/eZPjkpj2
level 70: https://www.grimtools.com/calc/q2Mo0x1Z
level 80: https://www.grimtools.com/calc/YNn3BA82
level 90: https://www.grimtools.com/calc/lV7bXoO2
level 91: https://www.grimtools.com/calc/RVvwj9zZ (level 90 faction gear update)
level 95: https://www.grimtools.com/calc/bVAbenBZ (going physical)
level 100: https://www.grimtools.com/calc/YZeAlXkZ (reaching level 100)
level 100: https://www.grimtools.com/calc/D2pwkMaN (current status)
Scholar’s light: to get some energy regeneration and elemental damage
Bat: to have at least some kind of Adcth (Twin Fangs), but as this build has non of its damage converted, it is not that powerfull
Viper: offensive ability, reduced targets elemental resistances
Sailor’s Guide and Eel: defense and movement speed (and blue affinity)
Solemn Watcher: defense
Spider and Lizard: stat bonuses, getting blue and green affinities
Korvaak: offensive abilties, damage
Lion: yellow affinity
Dryad: stats, Dryad’s blessing (healing on War Cry)
Scales of Ulcama: stats, energy regeneration, healing
Obelisk of Menhir: defense, armor
Assassin’s Blade: one point for later usage
Eel, Solemn Watcher, Dryad, Scales of Ulcama stay
Assassin’s Blade: RR
Hammer: physical damage, affinity points
Owl: affinity points
Empty Throne: defense
Havestman’s Scythe: stats, defense, energy regeneration
Azrakaa: physical damage
Oleron: physical damage
Dire Bear: physical damage, stats
The damage can be increased by using Mythical Legionnaire’s Triumph as belt. The loss of +1 to all skills in Arcanist is countered by increased aether to physical damage conversion. A very good belt can increase the dps by 4 to 5 percents.
Viper Sandspitter: Elemental to physical damage conversion, having a high percentage (close to the max) is important, increased casting speed is helpful to reach 200% casting speed
Korvan Spaulders: Elemental to physical damage conversion, having a high percentage (close to the max) is important
Pulsing Shard: Attack damage converted to health (Adcth) for AAR, casting speed is helpful to reach 200% casting speed
Fleshwarped Casque: War Cry and Iskandra’s Elemental Exchange mode
Dreeg-Sect Legguards: Mostly for the resistances and the offensive abilities, but other good pants will also work
Elite Malmouth Aetherblaze Vestment: energy regeneration and AAR bonus
Hearth of Malmouth: +1 to all skills in Arcanist
Bysmiel Mark of Storms: physical damage and armor bonus
Coven Storm Seals: physical damage, defense ability and Field Command bonus
Elite Rhowari Handguards: casting speed
Elite Harvest Greaves: resistences
Vile Girdle: offensive ability, +1 to all skills in Arcanist
Serenity: +1 to all skills and resistences
Seal of Might: Aether to physical damage conversion, resistances
Mark of Illusion: defense ability, sprit and energy regeneration
Arcane Spark: energy leech and skill disruption, offensive ability is a nice bonus
Bysmiel’s Shroud: physical damage and offensive ability
Arcanum Dust: defense ability, energy regeneration, increased damage
Note: Viper Sandspitter and Korvan Spaulders should have together at least 90% elemental to physical damage conversion. Also, check the vendors repeatedly for the buyable faction gear, having maxed gear in the relevant statistics is a cheap bonus for every character. For some gear slots lower level version are just fine. This is especially true for the Pulsing Shard, as the primary reason for this off-hand is the AAR modifier. Lower level gear has the advantage that it has also lower physique / spirit requirements - which allows to invest more points in cunning.
What Else / What Now
Go Farming: The character is able to farm totems, most challenge dungeons, nemesis and low shards in the Shattered Realm in ultimate. It can be used to farm the endgame set for this class, Krieg’s Armament .
The current list of endgame builds can be found in the Build Compendium Build Compendium X (Forgotten Gods). Keep in mind that the changes in 220.127.116.11 might have increased the relative strength of battlemages and have made them more endgame viable.
Retal_Abuser provided below a build as end game reference for a physical AAR battlemage.