(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.
This build marked the start of a new era in my character building. Up to this point, I had been building from the bottom up. I would look at a skill I find interesting, see what damage types it deals, find a mastery that synergises with that, put the two together and play. I’d only start deciding on endgame gear once that became relevant. This led to some interesting creations such as my Black Scorch Witch Hunter or Dreeg Cabalist, some pretty standard stuff where the mastery combinations and gear aligned, like my Belgo Blademaster or Trozan Druid, and some builds that just ran facefirst into a brick wall due to lack of gear support, like my 2H Ranged Pyromancer. As each expansion released, I would expand my collection of builds as I explored the newly added masteries. But with my initial exploration of Oathkeeper now concluded after my last build, I had to figure out what to do next. The mastery combinations and skills that stood out to me immediately at first glance were all explored now, and I knew I wanted to keep playing. But since I now knew that GD is a game where you can realistically plan around endgame gear and know you’ll find it eventually (unlike something like D2 or TQ, which were some of my formative ARPGs), I decided to abandon the bottom-up character design I had been using and switch to designing top-down. Look up what gear I find interesting and make something around that.
This was my first attempt at that approach. Going from the top in terms of mastery order, I looked at Soldier to see what skills I have not used yet. The only ones left were Blitz (which I’ll cover soon in another Overview) and Blade Arc. I used CD Blade Arc briefly in a very early version of my Forcewave Tactician but it was so superfluous I dropped it before level 20. And as it so happened, Blade Arc had the perfect item to get started on building top-down. If there’s a type of gear you can be damn sure you’ll be able to get your hands on to support an endgame playstyle, it’s craftable gear from faction blueprints. Blade Arc had just the thing: Howl of the Wendigo. This item was going to be my first ever build-around in GD. That was certainly…one of the choices I made of all time.
PSA: If you’re of a generally sunny disposition, you might want to avert your eyes and just skip to the GT link, ere I ruin your day with all the vitriol I’m about to unleash in this Overview. Cause I’m gonna be venting a bit about this damn build. Be advised, there’s a lot to talk about before I get to the final build.
Since I was starting this build with a GT theorycraft I already had an idea of what the build’s main problem is going to be. Howl of the Wendigo is the only piece of gear explicitly supporting Vitality Blade Arc. If I was going to amp up my Blade Arc to usable levels, I was gonna need a teeny bit more than just one damn item to work with. Thankfully, there was at least quite a number of items that could bring in flat Phys to BA which Howl of the Wendigo would then convert to Vitality for me, but getting the % damage high enough was clearly going to be an issue without dedicated Vit BA items.
The other issue obvious from the get-go was that I was going for Vitality damage on Soldier. So I was gonna be one RR mastery down on the most resisted damage type in the game. The amount of flat damage I was going to need to make this thing work was going to be truly astronomical. Since we’re on the topic of masteries, why did I choose Occultist as my second, you might ask. After all, Howl of the Wendigo explicitly synergises with Necromancer. Well, it does. Now. Back when I created this character, all it had was the -1 s CDR and bleed damage to Siphon Souls. There was no RR on it to sell me on going for Necro. And so, my thought was, if I’m going to be stuck with this horrendous damage type on a single RR class, I’m gonna have to juice the fuck out of my attacks. Occultist seemed like the preferrable choice because of what it brings to the table on AA damage output through Solael’s Witchfire, with all its % vit damage, flat damage and attack speed. Plus, it brought in a more interesting exclusive skill, which would cover the otherwise absent % absorb.
Now, the question was, how exactly to go about getting all that flat damage I was after. My thought was, it was very likely that I was going to be missing out % Vitality damage on my gear one way or another. I might as well just accept that fact and absolutely crank BA to the stratosphere to compensate. And so I chose to go for the Spellscourge set. Yes, there is not a smidge of Vitality support on those 4 pieces of gear. Yes, Occultist doesn’t get shit from it. But BA gets enormous bonuses. The 100 % WD is a massive amount of damage, as is the flat damage mod on the shield. Those are far greater damage modifiers than what I would be getting from individual non-set items. The set also builds flat RR into the skill, more than I can get on the devotion tree, which means that not only do I somewhat compensate for lack of RR on Soldier, I also free up points on the devotion tree to get more Vitality damage going. The support for Overguard also improves the build’s survivability while also increasing the damage output through % attack speed.
That was my first take on the build. Howl of the Wendigo, Spellscourge, Grasp of Unchained Might on the gloves, Balthazar’s Crest on the medal, Void-Forged Battle Plate on the chest. Blade Arc was the sole source of damage, with Overguard and War Cry performing the defensive duties. I took it to endgame way back when and…it worked. That’s about the best I can say about it. It was horrendously slow. A death in SR meant game over because there was just absolutely no way the build could recover timer. It was bleeding timer on the most mundane of encounters. At least it was tanky though, so its slowness wasn’t a complete disaster. But if it encountered a threatening pack, there was just no way the build could nuke down priority targets quickly, no way to cut down the incoming damage. Healer packs were just a no-go. The build took its damn time to get anything done and so, despite its tankiness, it was prone to getting overwhelmed. At the time (honestly can’t tell you which patch it was under, this was years ago) the score I achieved with the build was 3/5 and even that was hard work. And I want to emphasise, with this much of a time gap, I still remember the build felt horribly slow. Given what time does to the mind, nostalgia, rose-tinted glasses, all that, if I have the vague recollection the build was horribly slow now, I can only imagine how bad it actually was at the time.
So when I came back to the build for this Overview, I knew I wanted to do better. I already knew that the build I was coming back to only barely scraped its way to over 50 % success rate and was just ass in every way. And I prefer not to present my ass in public like this if I can help it. Spellscourge was not the only option I had to get the Blade Arc support I was after, so I tried an alternate route. I ditched the Spellscourge set and replaced it with Kalis’Ka’s Harvest, Mogara’s Fangs, Korvan Casque and a pair of Benn’Jahr shoulders. Despite excruciating amounts of farming (at least from my perspective as a non-enjoyer of farming) I was not able to get a Vitality affix on the shield and the amulet. Regardless, the damage seemed to go up, from the set version’s 161k DPS to 174k. The issue was, I was now missing the flat RR from Spellscourge so I had to make do with RR from the devo tree, which was both lower and cost me points. The damage gain didn’t seem sufficient, and early testing more than proved that. It was still glacially slow and just really, really uncomfortable to play, despite the fact that it was now even tankier than before, sporting over 50 % phys res. So I tweaked and I tweaked. I finally dropped Serenity (which I was using since there was no Soldier relic for Vit damage) and accepted the loss of skill points for more raw damage through Necrosis (I even briefly toyed around with the idea of taking Sacrifice). I moved around devotions, back and forth between Scales and Revenant, added and removed Ulo, Turtle, all sorts of things. I even did something I normally avoid like the plague and tanked my DA massively by moving points from Physique to Spirit just to squeeze every bit of damage out of the build. Days went by and still I toiled. Eventually, it seemed I was finally there. My DA has gone down from the previous iterations by about 200, but my phys res was strong, my resists solid, and my damage went from the measly 174k to 193k, while my OA went up as well. This was the peak of the damage I could afford to get out of the build. I still had Physique points to spare, but dipping any lower would have catastrophic consequences to my already bad DA. I braced myself, crafted my 10 Waystones and went to work.
AND IT WAS ABSOLUTELY ABYSMAL!! Words cannot quite express how excruciatingly bad the build still was, but I’m going to try anyway. I have now done as much as I could to juice the damage of BA, to the point that I was threatening to break the one thing the build had going for it: its tankiness. It was still survivable enough that it could withstand high SR without fear of one-shots, without having to kite every pack into tiny little groups. but it was a lot less safe than it was before through loss of HP and DA. And all that work, all that sacrifice, for NOTHING. I have now increased the damage output of the build by nearly 20 % on just pure DPS, not counting OA benefits. And killing anything with it was an absolute chore. You could name any single thing and the build was bad at it. Fighting big groups? Terrible! While Blade Arc has a very high max target limit and a good arc, it also has another thing. Knockdown that tosses all that AoE in the dumpster. After two or three swings the whole dense pack you intended to clear is spread out all over the screen and you’re chasing each and every one of those bastards one by one. And when you get to them? Swing, swing, swing, swing, swing, swing, swing, swing. Ok, that’s one down. Now repeat 12 times and we can move on. How about fighting heroes that can’t be knocked down? Swing, swing, swing, swing, swing, swing, swing, swing, swing, swing, swing, swing. Ok, they’re at 80% health now. Hope there’s no healers in there! Non-resistant, non-treatening bosses? About a minute to kill. Kubacabra? Hope you got your afternoon free. If I wasn’t entering the boss room with 4 minutes on the clock, Kubacabra was threatening to run the build out of timer. Speaking of 4 minutes on the clock…that’s about what the build was getting into the boss room with without timer waster chunks, without deaths, with just one or two slower fights along the way. It was just THAT slow on EVERYTHING despite me specifically slicing off massive chunks of the build just to fix the DPS.
At this point I was about ready to have an absolute hissy fit and smash the nearest thing I know I wasn’t going to be missing later (so I guess I still had some control left in me). I simply could not think of any other avenue I could take to make Blade Arc any better. This was as good as I could get it, with all the item slots dedicated solely to increasing % vit damage, adding flat damage to Blade Arc, getting Blade Arc points or reducing enemy vit resistance. And it was pure, distilled, unadulterated torture to play. Maybe, if I promised C’thon he could have all of my blood, and the blood of my living relatives, I could maybe generate enough good RNG to get the build to the 60 % success rate I was after. But god fucking damnit if this is as good as Vitality Blade Arc gets after all that effort, I might as well throw this thing in the bin and save myself the 46 hours it’s going to take me to do 10 runs with it.
And so I did the only sensible thing I could that would let me retain my sanity. I gave Blade Arc a big, stiff middle finger. If this is as good as Vitality Blade Arc gets with all this support then it’s clear Vitality Blade Arc simply cannot be the build’s sole source of damage. I took a look at the Soldier skill tree once more. What else can I use to complement Blade Arc in the same damage type? I ain’t switching to Cadence when I’m spamming BAs, I don’t think Vitality Forcewave is even a thing. But Vitality Counterstrike IS a thing. So fuck Mogara’s Fangs, fuck Korvan Casque, fuck this build in general, I’m putting on Blood Knight. (Funnily enough, the answer had been staring me in the face the whole time The build’s working name in my build doc has been Blood Knight since its inception cause he was supposed to be a cannibalistic, Wendigo-worshipping warrior and I was running around with Blood Knight shoulders illusion the whole time ).
1.2 UPDATE: While Howl of the Wendigo has gained some 60 flat damage to Blade Arc, the DPS has only moved by around 4k. That’s basically nothing. What isn’t nothing (negatives!) is Blade Arc lost its knockdown, meaning it can finally do its job and AoE stuff to death rather than just knock it all over the map. This has improved the feel of the build MASSIVELY. The build has also gained some cast speed on the weapon so casting CoF and Necrosis doesn’t dip the DPS as much. And enemy Vitality res has gone down globally. And the build has gained around 150 DA and 30 OA, plus 5% phys res. Definitely much better than before. Haven’t measured its speed but it does 80-81 quite comfortably and the improved DA should make its reliability considerably better than what the score below indicates. Haven’t tried going to above 81 but I think the build could do it.
Oh thank god! It’s over! The pain is OVER!
I don’t even care that I only got a 7 out of it when it could have easily been an 8, possibly even a 9 with some better luck. I’m done, bye, fuck this character!
When you haven’t gone through the concentrated suffering that is playing the full Blade Arc versions of the build, you can’t quite appreciate how absolutely lifechanging it is to play this build now. Cause by the standards of my other builds, it’s not particularly special in performance. It’s good enough, definitely, but doesn’t really stand out among the competition. But take my word for it. Blood Knight changed EVERYTHING.
The sheet DPS for Blade Arc may be back to where it was on the old Spellscourge version, but there’s now so many other sources of damage that it feels like Blade Arc is doing twice the amount of damage it did before. Part of that is, of course, that there’s also extra RR on the build now through the summon from the set bonus, so Blade Arc is actually just doing a lot more damage even if it’s not showing on paper. There’s also the OA, which has gone up by around 250-300, so the build now capitalises more on the crit damage from Laceration. But above all, by not trusting in Blade Arc to do all the work, the build can finally shed the crippling downside of the knockback. Sure, Blade Arc is still a melee skill that actively works against its own design by knocking targets out of its reach. But since there are now Blood Knight pets hammering enemies and Counterstrikes going loose every 0.7 seconds or so, even if Blade Arc knocks a thing out of range that thing will often die without any further pursuit. By shedding the reliance on Blade Arc, the feel of the build’s damage has completely transformed, and not just on AoE. The single target has gotten dramatically better. Everything related to damage has. The build now enters boss rooms with reasonable, often even good timer left (like 7-8 minutes), it kills both resistant and non-resistant enemies quickly and just generally feels like it’s a completely different build despite the fact its main damage source is still the same skill. Oh and there’s more Aether to Vitality conversion on the build now than there was before so the Rattosh devo and Revenant summons get to do more damage too, in addition to the build having higher % damage than it used to.
Where things have taken a turn for the worse, though, is survivability. Sustain is still great, as even though the build no longer has as much damage on BA and is no longer getting extra leech on it from Korvan Casque, Blood Knight takes up that mantle through the leech on Counterstrike and the main pet. But, in order to even get Counterstrike on the build, I had to slice a few things off, namely War Cry. War Cry has been present on every version of the build prior to this one. Even though War Cry never had full uptime on any of the builds, it was still very valuable. In a lot of situations the extra survivability isn’t required all the time anyway. There are spikes of threat that then subside. Bosses have certain attacks and phases that are more dangerous than others, encounters with packs have their early stage where the most damage is coming in, then the enemies get cc-ed or killed and damage goes down. But on the Blood Knight version I simply had to find the points somewhere. I couldn’t take them from the RR, or the exclusive skill, or Blade Arc, or the Soldier passives. I could scrounge a few from Blood of Dreeg maybe, but still not enough, and frankly, BoD has been quite crucial for its heal over the 10 runs, so I’m not sure whether the gain would be worth the loss. There’s also significantly less health on the build now. The previous versions were sitting at around 20k, the non-set version even went as high as 22k. Now it’s down to 17.5k. With the loss of War Cry also came the loss of the skill disrupt, which makes some fights such as Reaper a bit more dangerous. The reason I considered this sacrifice acceptable was that, firstly, the tankiness has always been the character’s strength, often the only strength. So taking some hits on it, even after the hits it took on DA as I shifted towards Spirit on the previous versions, still seemed bearable, if it meant fixing the goddamn damage problem. Secondly, after the switch to Blood Knight the build now boasted even more damn physical resistance. 60 %!! I think this is the most phys res I’ve had on a build up to this point. My Beastcaller Conjurer got close, though. With such an insane amount of phys res and solid armor, I thought the build might be able to tank through those high-threat moments such as Reaper wraiths that War Cry was previously addressing.
With the damage and survivability put together, the build ends up somewhere in the middle. Its damage is no longer a problem but it’s still working off of a single RR mastery, so it’s not spectacular either. In terms of survivability, it still sports a ridiculous amount of phys res, it still has % absorb and decent armor, but its shield isn’t really a major part of its defense, even more so because Overguard has tanked dramatically compared to the Spellscourge version as a major Oh Shit button, and now there’s no more War Cry. Now, that thankfully doesn’t leave the build entirely without DR, as there’s still the proc from the boots, which has been there on all versions. But War Cry was bolstering that DR when it was most needed, while now the build has to trust in a weaker, unreliable, short-duration, low AoE proc as its only source. It’s not squishy because of the above-mentioned resilience against physical, but mounting ground effects or non-physical damage ticks can definitely fuck the build up (Hungering Void doesn’t help the matter none). Barrages of non-physical projectiles also make the absence of War Cry much more felt. You’ll see in the video below how horrifying the Gazer Prime encounter can be. One of the runs I’ve failed was because of that chunk. Also notable is that the build can be a real bastard in the boss room in terms of managing aggro. Between Hungering Void making adds run all over the boss arena, and summoned pets from Blood Knight and Reventant popping up all over the place, the build can sometimes pull a neighbouring boss if you’re not careful, and sometimes even if you are. That cost me another run: in an SR80 boss room, I diligently cleared the bosses in bottom and top right, moved back down to pull Dravis in the bottom left and the moment I engaged I noticed that Moosilauke has been slowly moving towards me already for the past few seconds; apparently one of my minions or debuffs aggroed him after I killed the boss in the top right and now I had to fight both and died.
But at the very least, the build is no longer aggressively painful to play, and there’s no shame in taking it out for a spin. And funnily enough, if anyone were ever interested in recreating it, I think taking the path of the Witchblade might still actually be the right choice. When I did it I chose Occultist because Howl of the Wendigo lacked meaningful Necro support and Blood Knight wasn’t even remotely a part of the plan. But looking at what the build is getting from Occultist, I can’t imagine how I would achieve the same through Necromancer. To begin with, solving the Acid resistance would be a monumental task. Even with Aspect of the Guardian I still had to take an Acid augment to make sure the Acid res is good enough. Without Aspect the majority of the build’s augment setup would have to revolve entirely around Acid res and then all the other resistances would suffer massively. Then there’s the matter of disruption resistance. This build already has an issue with mounting ground effects but if every Diseased was now a potential threat of disruption I can’t imagine how much shakier the build would feel in chunks. Similarly, without % absorb from Possession the survivability would take a noticable hit, though there would admittedly be Ill Omen to make up for that. In terms of damage, the build would have an extra bit of RR through the Siphon Souls mod, but the Necro side would have a hard time imitating Solael’s Witchfire. The flat damage would be made up for and exceeded by Soul Harvest and Harbinger of Souls, but the attack speed would be missing completely. So, wierdly, I think Witchblade might still be a good option, if for nothing else than for the Acid and disruption res, which would be a major headache for a Death Knight to solve.
Here are the usual SR75-76 and SR80 parts of one of my runs. If the times look a bit on the slower side, keep in mind this is a run with two mutators messing with the build’s attack speed and I was playing like an absolute coward a lot of the time to make sure I don’t throw any runs so that I can finally get away from this damn character. Rest assured, if this looks slow to you, that’s cause you haven’t seen the absolute tragedy that was the Spellscourge and MI version of the build. This might as well be moving at light speed compared to those.