(this section will repeat between my build overviews; you can skip to Build Concept if you’ve read one of my overviews before and are familiar with my rating system and test criteria)
Patch 9.8 brought, among other things, major changes to the Shattered Realm. Given that SR is where I do my endgame build testing, with the release of the patch I decided to redo all the testing for all my builds. And since I’d be putting in the time and noting down all my results anyway, I thought I might as well post the builds and their scores publicly for others. Who knows, maybe you’ve been thinking of trying something similar and are curious if it even works. Or maybe you’re just morbidly curious and like that tickly feeling in your brainhole when you see someone play something utterly stupid.
Now, what exactly does this testing entail? Each character has to do 10 SR75-80 runs (I used to do 5 runs but I’m expanding it to 10 for this second wave). Every run completed within timer counts as a success. It takes 6 successes (over 50 % success rate) for me to consider a build complete. If a build keeps failing to meet that quota, I keep improving it till it works. Ergo, no build I post here will have a lower score than 6/10, because if it doesn’t have over 50 % success rate, I’m not done improving it and it doesn’t get posted.
Three rules were followed to make the results more representative:
- no consumables other than healing and energy elixirs can be used;
- no shrines can be taken; if a build has bad resists, it’ll have to make do with bad resists, Rattosh isn’t gonna be saving its ass;
- no mutator hunting; if I get shitty mutators, I’ll have to succeed with shitty mutators.
Other than that, it doesn’t matter in what manner the runs are completed. If a build takes twice as long to finish a run than others do, that’s perfectly fine as long as it successfully finishes. Doesn’t matter whether the build has to dodge Nemeses in shards like the plague or whether it hunts them for sport, doesn’t matter if it has to kite like crazy or stands its ground with ease, doesn’t matter if it completes the runs deathless or not. Only thing that affects the score is completion within timer. Generally, a weaker build that is slow, fragile, hard to play etc. will end up with a lower score regardless because its shortcomings will affect its reliability across the 10 runs.
Now, two final things before we get to the build itself:
As mentioned in the title, this is a build overview, not a build guide. What’s the difference? Well, a build guide says “this is the way you should build this type of character”. What I’m saying is rather “this is what I did, here’s why I did it this way, here’s how it turned out”. It’s more of a documentary, a post-mortem, rather than an example to be followed. “Wait, that’s just a fancy way of saying you make shit builds,” you might say. No, not exactly. I try to make a strong character without deviating from the concept of the build. But the concept of the build might not necessarily be something one should even be doing in the first place While my build concept and the in-game support will often align to create a reasonably predictable, almost cookie cutter build, just as often I’ll just be doing something abundantly demented for my own reasons. I’ll always endeavour to explain in the Build Concept section why I chose to do a thing a certain way, but I don’t want you to get the impression that what I’m presenting is a thing you should necessarily be doing.
I’m also by no means hyperfocused on optimising the crap out of a build once it’s in a workable state. There will almost always be things to optimise on my characters, but frankly, I prefer spending an hour theorycrafting a new character rather than shuffling an existing character’s devo tree, gear, component and augment setup just to squeeze 5 % more damage out of it. I don’t care that much.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the build itself.
Demolitionist is my favourite mastery by far. And yet, 15 build overviews in and I’ve only really done one truly Demo-focused build. Strange, given that whenever I sit down to do some theorycrafting, I seem to walk away with something like 8 new builds and 12 of them are Demos. Time to fix that injustice. Time to blow shit up.
As is fairly common for my early drafts, the initial concept of the build was far too ambitious and did not match the reality of the game very well. The idea was, Demo = explosives. And if I’m gonna be using the explosives skills (Grenado, Canister Bomb) and therefore using Ulzuin’s Chosen, why not triple dip on the passive and use Stun Jacks as well to use as a spam skill in between the bomb throws? Stun Jacks are Lightning, both Canister Bomb and Grenado have a Lightning transmuter. A match made in heaven. Whatever parts of Canister Bomb and Grenado are left unconverted, I’ll convert with the Barrelsmith set. As for Stun Jacks, there’s a perfect lightning set for those in the form of the Light’s Guardian set, which doesn’t interfere with Barrelsmith at all and it lets me pack another Lightning source in the form of Storm Box to fill my skill rotation. It’s almost too easy.
Except it isn’t. Because the reality of the in-game support is this: if I have Barrelsmith occupying the weapon slots, I’m denied access to every single option to get %WD or lifesteal on either of the three Demo skills*. Ulzuin’s set, Adversary, Korvaak’s Storm-Blade, Spark of Ultos, Scion of Celestial Portents, Crescent Moon, Flamewarder Rifle. Several of these items didn’t even exist or do what they do now when I created this build back in AoM and all of them are blocked by Barrelsmith regardless. That means no sustain on the spam, no sustain on the CD skills, none on Storm Box either. There’s also hardly any CDR to be had except for the 10 % on Barrelsmith so heal proc devotions aren’t gonna be stellar. Still, I tried. I really did. I tried full devo heal setups, I tried squeezing Bat in there with some conversions, but it just wasn’t working. I mean, it made it through the campaign no problem but when I tried it in endgame in FG it was clear this was not feasible. The kill speed in endgame was good, but that was about it. The build was fairly middling in terms of survivability, as there wasn’t much phys res, the health wasn’t particularly high and there was no %absorb. Trying to focus on so many skills left the build very starved on skill points to spend on useful survivability options like Blast Shield or WoR. With very average survivability, also having bad sustain was just a recipe for disaster. Things needed to change and sacrifices needed to be made. So I stuck to the core of the build. Grenado, Canister Bomb, in Lightning since I was already there. Drop Stun Jacks, drop Light’s Guardian, drop Storm Box and just really focus on keeping the build alive. Since I was already in Purifier due to the previous Light’s Guardian setup, and Barrelsmith was a pistol set with some WPS focus mixed in, I decided to explore the gunslinging route available there.
*(As a side note, with 9.8 came a change that does now make it possible to get leech on Stun Jacks without an open weapon slot. However, the addition of 4% leech from Ulraprax’s Sting seems like far too little for a build with such flimsy defenses, so I didn’t go back to the old setup with Light’s Guardian to test it.)
1.2 UPDATE: the build has received some minor upgrades. The WPS from the pistols now leech for longer, so just one proc will bring in more Energy if it doesn’t proc frequently enough to keep refreshing. Other than that, Ghoulish Hunger now amplifies healing and improves cast speed, so when shit really hits the fan, the build is more resilient. Beyond that, the only change is that the Barrelsmith set now gives total speed instead of attack speed, yielding the build some 18 % extra cast speed. The new meta also makes the kitable playstyle a bit better, as the build loses very little damage while dodging Sunders, and Evade makes kiting easier. Build is SR80-81 viable, haven’t tried 85+.
With the removal of Light’s Guardian the build could really hone in on the core skills and try to squeeze as much out of them as possible. Hence the inclusion of the 4pc Ulzuin set, which goes a long way towards hardcapping the Canister Bomb and Grenado lines, plus the amulet brings in a touch of survivability the build was so desperate for. The medal and gloves bring in what item modifiers are available for the skills, while the rest of the gear works on developing the RR skills or bringing in additional survivability (leech pants). On the devo side, I still stayed fairly close to the original setup, with Behemoth, Chariot, Ghoul and Dryad bringing in whatever sustain I could get to make up for the fact that, while the build is now leeching off of auto attacks in between casts, the AA aspect of the build is so minimalistic it would be generous to even call it secondary. If the AA DPS is going to be anemic and that’s what’s supposed to be bringing in the sustain, it’s going to need help from the devos for it to be enough. Especially since, despite a change in the majority of the gear, the survivability/effective HP situation didn’t particularly improve and remained fairly middling.
Despite that, I specifically decided to not even bother with Inquisitor Seal on this build. The reasoning was twofold. Firstly, there are barely any bonuses to the Inquisitor tree on the gear. Without skill bonuses, Inquisitor Seal isn’t going to be doing that much to improve the survivability. That’s not necessarily always an issue; as long as the base survivability/sustain is decent even that little bump from Seal can help. But on this build, base survivability and sustain were both problematic, so camping in a low level Seal wouldn’t be safe. Secondly, while the build does have a minor AA aspect to it, the goal of the AA is not really to deliver meaningful damage, but to provide at least some source of reliable sustain. The damage duties are all on Grenado and Canister Bomb, and those work just as well regardless of whether I stand or run. As long as I’m pressing the button on cooldown, they’ll do their job. If the sustain situation is iffy, why not take an active role in deciding what damage I take and what damage I avoid? %DR, tons of armor, flat and % absorb and all that are nice ways to mitigate damage but there’s no substitute to just not taking damage you don’t need to take. Kiting alleviates a lot of the stress put on a build’s sustain and survivability, and Seal runs counter to that playstyle. And unlike Seal, kiting doesn’t cost skill points, which is a plus.
Now this surprised me. When I tested this setup in the past I got a 3/5 out of it and it felt appropriate. Because it’s pretty clear the build has weaknesses. Though the Stun Jacks spam is no longer there the damage output is still excellent. But the survivability and sustain remain a weak point. Now, the autoattack aspect plus heal devos are doing work. This definitely doesn’t feel like an absolute glass canon that keels over the moment an enemy starts having mean opinions about it. It can stand and facetank a lot of stuff. As you’ll see in the footage below, the vast majority of the time it can just stand and DPS. But in specific encounters it does require attention and kiting, not to a heart-attack inducing level, but just, you need to be a bit careful with it at times. So a success rate that reflects that level of unpredictability was the expected outcome. And yet, I’m honestly a bit baffled how I didn’t walk away with a 10/10 with how the build felt to play this time around. Before I get to that unfortunate situation, I feel like I keep alluding to the build’s performance throughout this overview without really just stopping and breaking it all down, so let’s do that first.
The damage. It’s amazing. I’ve got to applaud the devs, cause they nailed it. When one of your bombs goes off, you really feel it. Wherever you’re throwing, a few moments later that part of the map just fucking disappears. And the enemies that stood on that former part of the map geometry go with it. It’s great at AoE and it’s great at single target. It’s fast in real time and it’s fast on SR timer too. You can roll a bad chunk early, like Seeker of the Damned, and by the time you’re entering the boss room you’re scratching your head trying to recall whether that Seeker chunk was in this shard or the previous one, cause somehow there’s 9 minutes on the clock and that just doesn’t seem right. All enemies, resistant or otherwise, die at a very, very nice pace and the more the better, cause the AoE coverage is so great. The only “weak point” in damage output, if it could even be called that, is that the build has next to no crit damage. The only crit damage sources are on Grenado and on Duelist from the pistols. At the same time, the build’s OA isn’t particularly high (effectively somewhere around 2950 with Flashbang and Seal of Annihilation) so what crit damage there is the build doesn’t capitalise on that much. That hardly matters, however, as the base damage is so high crits aren’t required to bring it up.
The survivability isn’t nearly as shabby as I remembered from last testing. The build can stand its ground against the vast majority of enemies despite the lack of any source of % or flat absorb (outside of intermittent procs like Blast Shield, Arcane Barrier or Wyrmscale). The health pool isn’t particularly high but it’s not bad either. Same for the phys res. The resistance overcaps are good enough, cc res is solid except for a bit of missing trap, but who cares when all trapping enemies die to your first bomb throw. Not even from the impact, just the sight of all that potential damage soaring through the air. The DA is great, and Flashbang’s fumble helps make up for absence of dodge.
And the sustain, which one might expect to be an absolute shitshow, is actually kinda fine. Though 17-ish % leech isn’t massive, and the AA DPS is low (hard to tell how high/low cause of 100 % WPS proc rate that’s not reflected on sheet) between it and the heal procs and circuit breakers it’s enough to keep the build fairly healthy through the majority of facetanked encounters. A big hit will definitely take a brief moment to recover from, but between WoR, the heal on Blast Shield through the amulet and the various proc heals on devos, the build can pop right back up to full surprisingly often, though unreliably because of the cooldowns and % proc rates. Pretty much the only fights where I’ve found the survivability + sustain combination sufficiently shaky that I’ve had to resort to regular kiting, or, at least, stutter stepping between the enemy’s swings, are Iron Maiden (frequent stutter stepping), Fabius (occasional stutter stepping), Kuba (kiting after a big hit or to avoid breath attack). Grava (dodging the big cleaving swings; the pools, normal hits and wingflaps are tankable), Korvaak (dodging the three hit combo, avoiding spiral projectiles at close range) and Theodin (phase 2 RR is a bit too dangerous for facetanking, phase 1 is tankable until the RR vortexes are summoned). Beyond these the build plays like any other, just standing and delivering damage. It may occasionally die by taking a series of surprise big hits from hero groups, but that is so infrequent and the build’s clear speed is so high that as long as it doesn’t happen twice in one shard, you’ll easily have enough time in the boss room to finish with timer to spare.
The one run I did fail with the build I’m honestly having a hard time wrapping my head around. The first death in the shard was at SR77 in chunk 1 to a group of Associates of Riggs. Oh well, what can you do. Also, fuck those guys. With a cactus. No problem, 3 minutes left on the clock, easily recoverable. Cleared that chunk and the two after no problem. Then I get to the boss room. Easy bosses, should be smooth sailing. And then, after a bit of fighting, I somehow die to just a regular swing from The Steward of all things. From full health to dead, with no damage increases on the enemy end. H-how? This build has survived a run with Cruel, Brutal, Marked (-DA), -10 % TDM and increased enemy elemental resist (the run I’m posting below), and faced Korvaak FOUR times across these 10 runs (2 of which were in the Cruel, Brutal, Marked run below) without dying and then Steward onetaps it with a normal swing? I don’t even think I’ve died to The Steward in SR in the last two years and now he onetaps me in a shard I’ve just so happened to already die in once. Not sure how to explain that one, other than, maybe he rolled Relentless of Fervor on his halberd a rolled both flat phys damage procs at the same time? That’s the best I’ve got.
Beyond this inexplicable failure, the build sailed through these runs very smoothly and with surprising ease. You would think a kiting build would be a nightmare to play and require a ton of attention at all times but this one really doesn’t feel like it. It just stands and tanks the majority of the time, partly because it reduces incoming damage very swiftly by blowing most enemies half to hell in the blink of an eye. It’s also possible that I’m a bit desensitised to the playstyle from just how many hours I’ve got in the game and also due to my enjoyment of RTS. But if I were to say one truly negative thing about the build, it’s not that it requires a bit of micro or that it may sometimes die if you’re not careful (or apparently if you get unlucky with Stewards item rolls ffs), cause it will carry you through to SR80 regardless the vast, vast majority of time and won’t have the slightest issue in the SR75-76 farming range. No, the one downside to it is, unfortunately, one borne entirely out of the very first thing I set out to create the build around. Playing a CDR caster requires a bit of button mashing if you’re not used to the cooldown rotation, but once you get used to the pace at which you’re supposed to cast your skills, you can turn it into a fairly relaxed experience. Ulzuin’s Chosen throws that all out of the window. You start an engagement, you place mines, throw Grenado, throw Canister Bomb and you hear that ring sound of Ulzuin’s Chosen proccing. Cool, which skill got reset? Either you have to look down at your skill bar every time that happens, or you just press both buttons again. And then it procs again. So you press them again. Did it proc? Hard to say in all that noise and on-screen mess. You can’t rely on your cooldown rotation anymore cause one or both of the skills have been reset several times by Ulzuin’s Chosen. So the end result is you’re just spamming the Grenado/Bomb buttons the whole way through. It’s easier that way than staring at your skillbar the whole time and not looking at the combat encounter at all. Well, it’s easier mentally and it’s better for your character’s safety. It’s not better for your hand. There’s definitely going to be some muscle fatigue setting in if you play this build in high demand, timed content like SR for an extended period of time. You can take things easy in campaign and waltz through the game for hours on end without issue. But if you’re just chaining fights back to back without pause, especially fights where you need to output your highest DPS as much as possible, you’ll probably want to set this build aside for a bit after a 60 or 90 minute session. From that perspective, I guess my one wish for improvement to the build would be to make Ulzuin’s Wrath not reset the cooldown and instead multicast the skill, cause that would ease the strain a lot.
Beyond that one downside, I have to say this build really delivers on all fronts. It captures that Demo flavour I was after, it’s effective, its gameplay corresponds with its nature, with big bombs delivering big spikes of damage as they should. And it’s visually very pleasing as well, especially after the change to the Skyfire Grenado visual, don’t even know when that one snuck in but it wasn’t there when I tested the build last.
As promised, here’s the SR75-76 and SR80 parts of the aforementioned run with nightmarish mutators. The build completed this mess deathless (and then died to the fucking Steward?! sorry can’t let it go), though the Reaper encounter at the end of SR80 was a bit closer to a death than I would have liked. Still, it was with awful mutators and that was the closest Reaper ever got to killing the build in these 10 runs. Not too shabby.