(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 trying to make something similar. 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: 1) no consumables other than healing and energy elixirs can be used; 2) 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; 3) 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, one final thing 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 the build I set out to create as good as I can 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 in the first place. With that out of the way, let’s get to the build itself.
1.2 UPDATE Dracarris now triggers on attack instead of on kill, which makes it better in the boss room. The downside is, its fire retal number has been cut in half. and, more importantly, it no longer has permanent uptime (which the item’s game version changes section in GrimTools completely glosses over). In light of that, I’d replace it with Pagar’s Betrayal. Unfortunately, that costs the build a thick chunk of OA it was getting from the Flame Touched mod on Dracarris. Also, the gain from Pagar’s Betrayal is partially diminished by the fact that Pagar turns the Fire Retal from Vindictive Flame into Chaos. It’s still a better option than Totally Normal Dawnshard. Other than that, the build has more passive regen and block chance went up 5 %. Despite the unfortunate weapon situation, the build still walks through SR80-81 with ease, multipulls boss rooms and tanks through Sunder if need be, though as the shards go up, the increasing enemy health pools get a bit annoying in the boss room, especially if you roll the monster health mutators.
Where in most cases I will set out to create a build a certain way and then bend over backwards to make that happen without compromise, I landed on this build in a very roundabout way and ended up with something I didn’t even really set out to create in the first place. So this will include a bit of a story. Stay awhile and read (cause I can’t be assed using my vocal cords to make you listen). Or, you know, just skip to Performance, if you so desire.
Still with me? Ok. Back when the rocks were soft and GD had no expansions, I set out to cover all the basic ARPG build archetypes. Mage, summoner, 2h figher, ranged shooter etc. One of these core archetypes is undoubtedly the sword and board fighter. And so, starry-eyed, bushy-tailed, just straight dumb as a brick, I went looking for the right combination of masteries to make that possible. Soldier was a given. In vanilla GD it was the only mastery with direct support for shield use. With it also came a neat package of a basic attack (Cadence) and various phys based CD skills and buffs. With that in mind, and considering I was, at the time, still building primarily around mastery synergies and not specific gear, the choice of the second mastery was narrowed down to just two options that made any semblance of sense for a physical build: the Occultist, with CoF and pretty much nothing else, and the Demolitionist with Temper…and pretty much nothing else. Sure there were some auxiliary boosts to speed such as Solael’s Witchfire or Vindictive Flame respectively, but in terms of physical support, there was very little there to carry that playstyle any further. Given these choices and bearing some nostalgia for my Juggernaut (Earth + Defense) build back in Titan Quest, which didn’t turn out nearly as well as I had hoped, I decided to go for the Demolitionist to perhaps remedy the shortcomings of my efforts in TQ.
My enthusiasm for the build lasted all of about 25 levels. The Soldier side of the build was fine. Cadence was doing its job nicely, Blitz was making engagement with the enemy fast and easy, shield use was very much part of the gameplay. But the Demo side just felt wasted. I wasn’t really playing a fire build to recreate that Juggernaut feel and for the physical aspect Demo just made very little sense. And so after beating Veteran I dove headfirst into making other interesting characters and just kept putting this one off. And so it happened that by the time Forgotten Gods came out I haven’t moved an inch with this build. And FG brought exactly the thing I was looking for: Oathkeeper. It made SO much more sense than Demo it wasn’t even funny. I would finally have that proper SnB character after all and I was actually excited about playing it this time. Which left me with a question. The fuck do I do with this Commando now? I went from a build I wasn’t excited to play to a character I had no idea what to do with. The fire side of the character had little use for Soldier and the physical side cared little for Demo. How do I gel these masteries together? What’s the overlap? Wait a…Vindictive Flame and Blast Shield add flat fire retal, there’s a retal boost on Temper and Soldier has its fair share of retaliation support as well, even though it leans a bit more on the physical side. Can I make a thorns build out of this?
And so my enthusiasm was renewed. I dove into theorycrafting, looked through the gear options, assigned the devos and the skill points, looked through the item modifiers. And my enthusiasm was right back at zero. There was no way to get retaliation damage onto any of the base attacks. No retal Fire Strike or Cadence, no retal Stun Jacks. There’s Turrion’s Reprisal but a) tossing around BWCs doesn’t make the build feel very “thorny” nor does it particularly match the SnB idea, we’re just a caster at that point, b) how do I stay alive when BWC is my main source of damage? there’s no leeching off of it! and c) if we need Turrion to make retal Commando happen then what’s the point of Colossal Fortress? That thing is custom built for Fire retaliation Commando and I’m just gonna gloss over it? No way. There has to be something there and I’m gonna figure it out.
But the end result of committing to this path was that where Warlords would be merrily applying their retal to every attack and essentially playing like a normal fighting character, at least on the surface, with scaling off of attack speed and leeching like normal from attacks…what were my options? I had no basic attack. Enemies could hit themselves silly on me, sure. But every hit I take sticks cause I can’t leech off of my retal. And what about the rest? How am I applying my retal to casters and shooters? Sure, a scrap of retal can be applied through Grenado’s third node, but it’s on a lengthy cooldown and again offers no sustain. There’s Canister Bomb if I take Mask of Infernal Truth. But same problem, no sustain, long cooldown. The mask provides Flame Breath, with a good bit of retal on it and % WD so I could leech off of that. Every 2.5 seconds. How in the world am I staying alive and what am I doing with my time? Just standing around, throwing a Grenado, Canister Bomb or Flame Breath on cooldown and that’s it? There’s no way that does significant enough damage, I mean look at the retal percentages, the cooldowns. And how am I staying alive damnit? There’s just no way. Has someone done anything like this? So I looked around. I found @AdamNavel having played something very much in that vein. And he was killing celestials with it? No way. I looked back at my theorycrafted build. It looked very similar to Adam’s. How can this pile of garbo even stay alive, let alone do significant enough damage to kill Celestials?
And so I kept putting it off, and putting it off, until eventually, all that was left for me to level and try at endgame was this, and about a dozen builds that, somehow, looked even iffier than this one (I got into some real memes with my later builds, what can I say). And so I gritted my teeth and surrendered myself to the disaster to come. I had no idea how what I’ve put together would keep me alive, or how it would deliver damage at a pace that doesn’t make snails develop narcolepsy. But there’s no substitute for hands-on experience. Let the suffering begin…I guess.
Performance and Setup
Hoe. Lee. Fuck! I guess I don’t know shit about retal cause…JEEBUS! That staying alive problem? What problem? What’s healthbars? Any time anything hits us, it procs Counter Strike. Counter Strike applies 15 % retaliation damage and comes bundled with a whopping 76 % WD thanks to the shield. So they hit, we Counter Strike and probably leech back more than they hit us for. But what if they’re not alone? What if we’re outnumbered and overwhelmed? Good! More shit to leech from! The melee ones all take Counter Strike damage, the ranged ones get zapped by Ulzuin’s Wrath. Which applies even more of our retal damage, at shorter cooldown, and brings in 22 % lifesteal natively.
I have never seen anything look this shit on paper and work this well in practice. This build WADES through hordes of enemies and spends its time wondering whether that’ll be enough to finish the shard or whether it should go pull some more. It kills Mogdrogen and Callagadra without pharma. While the Callagadra fight isn’t a straight up tank and spank deal and does require some kiting, it’s comfy, it’s relaxed and it doesn’t take 20+ minutes. The build has a comfortable 80 % lightning res overcap so Mogdrogen is just a matter of “do I have time to go make tea or not”. In SR there are exactly two things that can kill the build: 1) getting hit by an Arcane dispell and not reapplying Counter Strike and Vindictive Flame fast enough and 2) getting too ambitious and doing a 3-pull in the SR boss room where a 2-pull would be more advised. That’s it. Even if you biff it in a high shard, chances are there’s like 10 or 11 minutes on the clock so you can still easily recover. Nothing can oppose you. The best they can do is slightly slow you down. And the funny thing is, this build was BUFFED for SR this patch. It was already fast and virtually unstoppable when I tested it last in 9.6, and now Shattered Souls give % total retal damage so it’s even faster It didn’t need help but…sure? Thanks?
Now that we know the build is a fucking animal, I guess I should discuss some of the choices I made. Firstly, I must note that 8 out of the 10 runs were done using the Honor relic, not Ulzuin’s Pyroclasm. While Honor is an Oathkeeper relic, it was the only relic with Fire retal on it before 9.8. and came bundled with a granted skill with additional hefty % rata. Given that the build’s missing a spammable skill, having another ability to fill out the rotation was quite desirable. Pyroclasm received flat retal damage and % rata in 9.8 and I kinda forgot that I wanted to swap it out until I was 8 runs in already. Compared to Honor there’s no block chance on Ulzuin, or damage to humans, which is helpful cause two of the fire resistant nemeses are human. It also has no % all retal. But what Ulzuin does have is the skill bonuses, and higher net damage on the skill because of the lower cooldown (although the net % WD is lower which means slightly less leech). It’s worth noting that Pyroclasm only procs on crit so if you’re fighting an enemy with very high DA, like, say Callagadra, Honor may still be preferrable. However, after testing Pyroclasm in the remaining two runs in SR, it performs just as comfortably there, gives you one less cooldown to think about and deals higher net damage on the proc.
The other item choices are all geared towards either maximising our flat fire retal or getting more ways to apply our retal to enemies to make up for our lack of a spammable attack. Hence I’m using the Ignaffar pants rather than Thornhides, cause getting better retal on enemy death isn’t an issue already, given that we output our best damage against massive hordes, Shattered Souls improve our retal output and we use the Judicator Seals so that our OA skyrockets when there’s fodder around. Ignaffar pants help us apply our retal where we need it most, which is single combat. Similarly, I went through the effort to get the Ulzuin’s Flame affix on the gloves to get that fire retal, but Blacksteel Gauntlets will do just as fine if you don’t want to break the bank. The chest is a bit of a sad tale cause there’s a seemigly perfect piece in the form of Dawnshard Hauberk with its high fire retal, % all retal damage and proc Except it then has global fire to lightning conversion to crap all over our hard-earned fire retal damage. Not sure wtf is going on there, why put fire retal on an item that converts away from it? So the slightly less desirable Divinesteel will have to do.
The only other noteworthy piece is the weapon, cause that’s a weird one. So, in my opinion, there’s only really five choices worth considering. Let’s go over them.
Pagar’s Betrayal - Gets us slightly lower CD on Vindictive Flame which carries over to Ulzuin’s Wrath, comes with both very high flat and solid % retal and has cast speed. A very nice option. Not quite clear on how the Fire to Chaos conversion on it interacts with the flat fire retal granted by Vindictive Flame. Would it turn to Chaos? For this comparison I’m gonna assume no cause I’m too fucking lazy to go check.
Totally Normal Dawnshard - Flat fire retal but no % all retal. % block chance to up the proc chance of our on-block devos. +1 to Demo. 10 % rata on the proc. Some cdr. No cast speed, however and no modifiers to anything.
Scion of Burning Vengeance - Flat fire retal but considerably lower than the above two options, particularly in the case of Pagar. % fire retal, 30 % rata mod for Grenado. Some cdr. But, no cast speed. The conversion from Fire to Lightning on Grenado somewhat diminishes the effectiveness of the % rata it provides to the skill, since it won’t take advantage of fire rr. Also not sure why the hell an item with the words Burning Vengeance on it converts to lightning. Like, tf?
Judgment of the Three - +1 Soldier skills, 6 % rata to Counter Strike. This was the option used by @AdamNavel, but at the time the item was quite different. Its % rata is now half of what it used to be and it lacks % all retal, making the skill bonus and rata the only attractive aspect. No flat retal, no % retal, no cast speed.
Dracarris - my personal choice. Probably not optimal but fuck is it funny to use what’s meant to be a summoner item and wrecking house with it in retal. It has neither % all retal or flat retal on it baseline. It provides cast speed, which helps since we cycle through a few skills, but so did Pagar (none of the others did, though). So why use this thing? Well, our OA is anemic to say the least. Even though we have Flashbang to remedy that somewhat, getting an extra 4 % OA on a buff we use anyway is certainly helpful, particularly if we’re using Ulzuin’s Pyroclasm. The % phys res is enjoyable as well but we’re well covered on that front. It gives +1 to demo which is the majority of our tree, something Pagar doesn’t do, plus boosts Temper for some more % all retal damage. But above all, look at that flat fire retal on the proc. That’s like two item slots’ worth of fire retal. And it has full uptime as long as shit is dying. Plus an extra 10 % total speed on top of the cast speed the item already has. This, this right here combined with Judicator’s Seals takes what would already be an unstoppable Juggernaut (I got there!) in SR shards and brings it up to abhorrent levels of filth. Suddenly, OA out the wazoo and more retal than god. For the whole shard. If we’re fighting a boss in SR that has any semblance of summons, this is always up. If you have a boss that doesn’t summon…well, just aggro them along with a boss that does This actually rewards you for multipulling, which is something you might have wanted to do anyway, cause more enemies = more Counter Strike and Ulzuin’s Wrath procs = more damage. And now, you also get the benefits of the on-death triggers to carry over into the boss room. Delicious.
This was such a pleasant surprise I actually shudder to think what it must be like to play a retal build that looks good on paper. When I get around to making a phys retal Warlord I don’t think I’ll be able to unsee the cosmic truths it will reveal to me. In the meantime, for your daily dose of nausea, I’ll leave you with these snippets of two of my runs.
Run with Honor:
Run with Ulzuin’s Pyroclasm: