(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.
Note: In this overview, I’ll be doing things a little differently. I’ll be presenting two builds, rather than one, and so, instead of presenting the concept of the build along with a GT link right at the start as usual, I’ll first introduce what I was trying to do with the build, how I arrived at the first version, how I arrived at the second version, and then I’ll present the performance of both builds in comparison to each other.
When I first set out on my GD journey back in vanilla I wanted to create at least one build for each of the major ARPG archetypes (caster, summoner, shooter, 2h melee, DW melee and so on). For my sword’n’board fighter, I created a Commando. The plan was to go for Phys Cadence, maybe with Blitz for mobility, and just really power up the autoattacks through WPS and the flat damage from Temper. It was, in essence, a recreation of my Conqueror from Titan Quest. It was a bad idea. In base GD there wasn’t really a good second mastery to support Physical, only Occultist with Curse of Frailty and Demo with Temper. And outside of Temper, Demo wasn’t really doing much for the combo. I wasn’t having much fun with that halfassed build and didn’t feel particularly inspired to play it through the difficulties. When Forgotten Gods came out the moment I laid my eyes on Oathkeeper I knew exactly that was what the build needed. I scrapped the idea for the Commando (eventually turning it into one of my alltime best builds through Fire Retal) and I created this Warlord instead.
And this is where the idea for two versions slowly started brewing. When it comes to 1h Phys Cadence, there is surprisingly little gear. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of phys support gear, plenty of gear that puts points into the Cadence line, but very few really major boosters or gamechangers in the form of item skill modifiers. There’s only really Crimson Claws and Aetherwarped Cleaver as the gimmies. So, I slapped those on and then looked for as many pieces as I could find that would support 1h Phys Cadence through % damage and points to the Cadence line. That led me to the Warborn chest. And the shoulders. And the helm. Huh. So, what you’re saying is, I’m just one slot away from completing the set. All I have to do is sacrifice one of the core pieces I wanted to build around. Well, let’s just see what happens when I swap on the full set for a sec…What do you mean I do way better damage without the Cleaver?
Version 1: Warborn
Note: I will not be updating this version post-9.8. Only version 2 will receive updates.
And so the first version was born. Even though the set doesn’t really do anything major for Cadence outside of some extra points, it was a sufficiently good physical generalist set that it outperformed the dedicated weapon for the playstyle. All that was left was to fill in the other item slots. Phys res reduction rings were an easy pick, as were the boots and pants. On the belt slot I would have liked Reforged Chains but their essentially nonexitent resists made that impossible. After that, all that was left was the shield, medal and amulet. On the amulet I wanted +1 to all skills to help bring up the WPS, the War Cry line and cap as much of Cadence as possible (plus there’s so many great passives on Soldier that every point helps). That brought me to Spellscourge, which through the Overguard support aligned with my intention to make the shield a key part of the build. And since Spellscourge was already boosting Overguard, I decided to double down on that on the medal. Nowadays there’s another option in the form of Mark of the Dreadblade to serve as the leech booster, but when I was tuning the build this wasn’t the case. On the shield,I mean… How do you say no to Siegebreaker? Look at that phys res! +1 to Soldier skills. WPS boost. And additional flat Phys damage, which was one of the primary parameters by which I judged the prospective shields. If I wanted to make the shield a major part of combat like on TQ’s Conqueror, then I want the attacks with shield to slap. And Siegebreaker slaps.
This Warborn setup (more or less) was what I took the build to endgame with for the first time. And it felt unstoppable. It had tons of health, tons of armor, ridiculous phys res and permanent DR uptime. That would have probably already been enough to make it one hell of a tank. And then it had a well-supported shield on top of that. And Overguard. And Shield Wall and Cleansing Waters from Devotions. It felt very safe and very defensive. Except it wasn’t defensive. It was an absolute monster in terms of damage too. That is despite the fact I decided to laser-focus on the core of the build on the Soldier side and completely opted out of getting extra phys RR through Guardians of Empyrion. There was so much good stuff to take on the build that I couldn’t make myself sac the points in any of it to climb all the way on the Oathkeeper side. And it didn’t fucking matter. At all. I’ve tested this build twice in the past, before 9.8, before this overview. It crushed and ranked easily among my top builds.
There was no objective reason to do a different take on this build. This one was absolute greatness. There is, of course, always room to improve, always small little tweaks that can be made. The stat allocation could be tuned a bit to achieve a better balance between survivability and damage. The full Cunning dump does leave the build vulnerable to crits and Military Conditioning makes Physique investment very efficient so getting the DA up shouldn’t be too hard. I could also go a bit less greedy on the medal component and slot in Arcane Spark instead to mitigate the build’s weakness to disrupts from Diseased enemies. I could endure the pain of having to break some parts of the skill allocation to climb all the way to Celestial Presence on Oathkeeper. I could maybe shift some of the devos around to get Turtle, or Ghoul, or maybe Shieldmaiden, were I so inclined. But there was no real reason to try to overhaul the build, not when it worked so well. Except…
OCD. Or, well, “gamer OCD” at least. I’m not using Aetherwarped Cleaver. A weapon specifically created for this type of build, and I’m skipping it for Warborn that has little to do with Cadence and nothing to do with WPS. If this build doesn’t want it then who does? I wanted to find a way to include the weapon.
Secondly, for reasons that would take too long to explain…what am I saying? For me, nothing is too long to explain I’ve historically not been a huge fan of “soldier” classes in RPGs. Not of Soldier in GD, not of Fighters in DnD or cRPGs. Until they finally clicked with me in Pillars of Eternity 2. I never liked soldier/fighter because they seemed dull. Other people were transforming into animals, controlling the elements, teleporting through shadows, moving faster than the eye can see, flying into a frothing rage and tearing people in half with their bare hands, and fighters were just…walking up to a guy and swinging a sword at him till he died. If they wanted to do something extra special, they might stun with the pommel of their weapon first, then swing their sword. Woooo! But then it clicked with me that that’s the whole idea, the whole essence of soldier/fighter. They’re not fancy. They don’t aspire to be fancy. They identify the most straightforward, foolproof way to kill the enemy, perfect it, and then execute it. They don’t give a shit about your fireballs, your backflips, your 18 hit dagger juggling combos. They’ll walk up to you, shrug off whatever measly attacks your backflippin ass can throw at them, and then they take their blunt or sharp implement of choice and persistently push it into your cranium until your legs stop twitching. Their “dullness” is the whole point. They don’t mind being dull, as long as it’s an effective way to kill the hell out of you.
And with that, I became absolutely, maniacally obsessed with the Markovian set. I always dismissed it as the most boring set in the game, but by understanding Soldier, I now understood how goddamn perfect it is for the mastery. And though I already had a Blitz build (a Krieg DK) and had no interest in making another, I knew that I just HAD TO use Markovian on something, even if just for the Markovian’s Advantage bonuses and passives. As it so happens, Markovian leaves the weapon slot open, so it would allow me to use Aetherwarped Cleaver, if this was the build I wanted to use Markovian on. The thing that cemented my decision to try to make this a Markovian build was that in (checks Steam) 5.7k hours of play, one of the things that I have never, ever done is to fully max out a WPS. On every build with WPS, I either stop putting points in the moment my WPS coverage reaches 100 % or when the WPS proc chance stops growing in major increments. Why invest precious skill points, after all, when they’re only about 25 % effective, cause the skill only procs about 25 % of the time at most? I’m better off investing in things I use all the time. With what Markovian does for Markovian’s Advantage, the pull of the set simply became irresistible to me. I knew this might not be the best build for it, but I went for it anyway for this overview. If it flops, oh well. At least I tried it. I still have an outstanding fallback in the Warborn version if this doesn’t pan out.
Version 2: Markovian
1.2 UPDATE: build has received minor buffs, All the WPS do 15 % more weapon damage. Aetherwarped Cleaver now grants extra Deadly Momentum points, yielding 3 % more sheet DPS. That plus whatever gains there have been on the WPS nudges the build’s damage slightly upwards, but it’s not like that was an aspect the build was struggling with. Smashes its way through SR80-81 with ease, could definitely be an 85+ runner.
Since the build was created on the skeleton of the Warborn variant, there aren’t too many major differences. What slots could stay the same stayed the same, with the exception of the medal. If I was planning to go all out on Markovian’s Advantage, might as well do it with feeling. The swap also allowed me to reach the 100 % WPS coverage cap that I had on the Warborn version. With so many points (over)invested in Markovian’s Advantage and the loss of points in the Cadence line through the removal of Warborn, it became quite difficult to get enough points in all the other stuff I wanted: the Soldier passives, the War Cry line, at least 1 point in both Blitz nodes, since I got a set boosting it, the Field Command line, Presence of Virtue, etc. Getting enough points in all of these, and in Cadence and maxing out Markovian left me very starved on skill points for the other WPS. The medal helped tremendously in getting those extra precious points to reach that 100 % cap. Another reason for the medal swap was that without the Spellscourge amulet, the Overguard bonuses from the Voracious One medal weren’t nearly as effective, and the Markovian medal brought in a good batch of flat and % damage, which I was hoping would make up for the points I would be missing on Cadence now.
On the devo side, this was an opportunity for another first for me. 40+ builds in and I don’t have a single character using Berserker, because it’s such a narrow constellation and placed on the complete wrong side of the tree (green/red/purple devo on a damage type that wants to be all in on the yellow/purple/blue side of the tree). The inefficiency of taking Berserker cost me a few things. I would no longer have Targo for Shield Wall, so the defensive side would be a bit worse. Worse still because the shortage of skill points forced me to drop a lot of points in Overguard. I also dropped Ulo. While the dispell is universally useful, the main reason I was taking Ulo on the Warborn version was because I really needed the resists it provides and it just so happened to be in the right affinity colours. On this version the resists are no longer needed, so Ulo is less vital. There are also a few spare devo points on the Markovian setup which I couldn’t really find a good place for. I could take Giant’s Blood, or shift points around from Panter into either Ulo or Turtle (though I didn’t really want to lose the OA, since phys builds need it for devo procs on Assassin’s Blade and Oleron). In the end I just plopped them in Jackal and called it a day cause the build has plenty of attack speed vacancies to fill and with the loss of Siegebreaker the phys res is almost cut in half. Jackal helps on both counts but those points really could go anywhere.
One thing I specifically didn’t want to do is make different major “gameplay improvements” between the versions. This would, for instance, take the form of changing the medal component to Arcane Spark to help a bit with the disrupt res since I knew that was an issue I sometimes struggled with on the Warborn version, or deviating from the full Cunning dump I was using on Warborn in favour of a more defensive setup with max Physique. I wanted to get as “pure” a comparison as possible between the two.
DPS for Cadence with permabuffs and Deadly Momentum up. On the Warborn version the set proc is also active as that has 100 % uptime
The builds are surprisingly close to each other in sheet DPS but in reality the builds are fairly different. If I were to summarise the two builds briefly relative to one another, Warborn is more defensive, Markovian is more aggressive.
Let’s start with defense. Warborn may have quite a bit less health, but it also has considerably higher phys res, more base armor, and can spike its armor and block up dramatically through Shield Wall, which Markovian doesn’t have. Admittedly Warborn’s shield use is a fair bit worse than Markovian’s, at least as a baseline. Markovian blocks more damage, has higher chance to block and has faster block recovery. But Warborn pulls ahead again in that department by having way stronger Overguard. Not only will Warborn’s block recovery and block amount spike up much more during Overguard that Markovian’s, Overguard itself will absorb more damage, and while it’s up, Warborn has a whole lot more leech. The damage increase and cooldown of Overguard between the two builds is kinda even, as while Warborn gets extra attack speed during Overguard and has higher CDR for it, Markovian gets flat damage and more % damage and gets to reduce Overguard’s cooldown much more through the Markovian CDR proc. The only departments where Markovian clearly pulls ahead of Warborn in terms of defense, outside of the obvious health pool difference, is that Markovian has more slow res. That’s about it. Warborn has more petrify res than it. And Warborn has better leech through the spikes during Overguard and on Shattering Smash hits. On that front, all Markovian has is a bit more % healing. Then there is War Cry. Warborn has breezy 100 % uptime and 3 % more DR. Markovian struggles to even keep War Cry up permanently. The set CDR proc helps make the DR uptime not entirely terrible, but unless you get absolutely perfect proc timings, there’s going to be around 1.2 seconds where you have no DR. And again, what DR you do have is weaker. The final nail in the coffin is that Warborn also has Cleansing Waters from Ulo, which Markovian drops to get to Berserker.
On offense though, Markovian is clearly ahead. Now, both builds have the same tendency to have their attack speed zip all over the damn place, from anywhere around 170 % all the way to 200 % due to the boots and pants proc, and in the case of Warborn also due to Overguard. Where Markovian cements its damage advantage is that not only is its sheet DPS a bit higher, but the hidden parts of its DPS are better too. Markovian’s WPS are fucking yoked out. That was the whole point after all. Markovian’s Advantage hits multiple targets now, hits waaay harder with a good bit of extra internal trauma to boot and tanks enemy DA way more. It’s like a whole different skill compared to Warborn’s version. Then there’s the AoE proc on block on the Markovian helmet, which Warborn has no equivalent for. And while Warborn may have 5 more flat phys RR through Break Morale and with full uptime, Markovian then trumps it once again by hitting 2 more targets per Cadence swing at a full 360 degree angle. Markovian’s horde DPS just ends up way higher thanks to these advantages, and the stronger Markovian’s Advantage brings in sufficient damage on single target to make up for the 5 % less RR.
Now for the scores. Drumroll please!
SR is going to SR so take these numbers with a grain of salt. RNG plays a big role and on another set of runs the numbers could be reversed, or, more likely, both builds would just end up with 10/10. I already knew that the Warborn version was absolutely feral, cause as I mentioned I’ve already tested it twice in past patches, with some minor differences. It performed to 5/5 and 4/5 back then. The fact that Markovian performed just as well was a delight to see though, cause on that one I had no idea how it was gonna go and I feared the lower survivability might tank its chances. In the end, it was Warborn that failed a run, but were the Markovian version thrown in the same circumstances, it would have failed too. Both builds have died a few times across these runs, sometimes because the opposition was just that overwhelming, sometimes because I overestimated the build’s power and hung around in ground effects longer than I should have. Warborn ended up being the one that succumbed to RNG, by getting a Seeker of the Damned on a Time-Warped mutator after a death (caused by a simply horrendous group of heroes, not by overconfidence). A situation pretty much any build would fail in. Rather than conclude that Markovian is simply strictly better based on a number, let’s look at the actual performance.
Both builds are savages. They’re physical builds, and even for a physical build they’re bloody fast. Enemies aren’t particularly resistant to physical so despite skipping GoEs the damage is outstanding and both builds absolutely blaze through enemies. There is not a boss or Nemesis that gives either of these builds pause. Well, except for Grava, sometimes, depending on your fumble RNG. Cause if you hit both of your Cadence charge-ups and then consistently miss your actual Cadence hit…well, there goes your damage. Cadence in particular can get pretty fucked by fumble. It’s not disastrous by any means, Grava still gets clapped, but how quickly and easily you dispatch him can vary massively based entirely on fumble luck. On the Hero side, both builds have the same weakness to disruption through Diseased, which can end in some pretty sweaty situations, as both builds otherwise have no issue packing on a dense horde of enemies and swiftly wiping the floor with them. Getting disrupted in those types of surrounds can be a bit horrifying and has resulted in a few deaths. Otherwise, Markovian is weaker to petrify, Warborn weaker to slow, so some specific heroes or monster types (basilisks, timewarped etc.) will give a bit more trouble to one or the other. Whatever problematic enemies you do end up running into though won’t get the chance to cause issues as long as you identify them early. Cause pretty much everything dies to these two builds in like 3 swings.
Between the two builds, I would say Warborn is actually the one I ended up dying more with. And funnily enough, it was specifically because it’s tankier. When you can carve your way through SR80 with complete ease, stand in the worst of it and feel nothing, and eat an Aleksander meteor to the face and lose barely 20 % of your health, it’s easy to get the feeling you’re unstoppable. Because for the most part, you are. You enter a room brimming with enemies and you can just park in the middle and swing away until you’re standing on a pile of corpses. It feels easy, it feels great, it feels like nothing can oppose you. Except for the few times when you’re wrong. There’s a Diseased you didn’t notice and now you’re stuck in the middle of a battalion of enemies and permanently Disrupted. There’s an Arcane and you don’t have the room to dodge or are entrapped/too slowed down by various CCs to be able to DPS them in time. Or sometimes you just suddenly wind up with two rows of debuffs on you and twelve ground effects under your feet within the first few seconds of the fight and your health suddenly starts disappearing way faster than you ever expected. Because the Warborn version feels so much sturdier, it’s so much easier to get into a truly horrifying fight and not realise just how much you’re overstepping until it’s too late. On Markovian I was much more aware of the weaknesses, primarily due to the weaker Overguard, impermanent DR and massively reduced phys res that I naturally played more carefully and kited murderous groups of heroes to a more manageable size, where with Warborn I would be more likely to stand and fight. And in most cases, I would have been right and actually wiped the group no problem. But not always. With Markovian being a more aggressive and more “vulnerable” build (it’s still a damn tank compared to most builds), it felt easier to play safer because the build felt like I should be playing it safer. Sometimes being insanely powerful can be a bit of a trap.
If you want to play something that makes you feel a little dirty inside, I can heartily recommend both of these builds. When I started these overviews I already had the Warborn build pegged as a candidate for the top 3 characters I have, second only to my Beastcaller Conjurer and the aforementioned Fire Retal Commando. The Warlord might not quite be at the same level of absurd OPness as those two, but it’s very, very close, closer than any other build I’ve overviewed so far. And while in the end the Warborn version landed on a 9/10 and some other builds I consider less powerful ended up with a 10/10, the numbers aren’t everything. By the feel of the build, the Warborn version is a damn house and Markovian is much the same. If there are any changes that I would make to these two builds in retrospect to shore up the weaknesses I found across these 20 runs, I’d say I would go less greedy on the medal component and dropped in Arcane Spark instead to mitigate the weakness to Diseased enemies. And I would reconsider the Cunning dump, to maybe get the DA to at least 2700. Cause throughout the runs, and as you can see in the videos above, the incoming crits were much more frequent than what I’m used to.