Thursday, January 23, 2014

Path of Desync

So I come to it at last. Level 75 of, at least for the moment, the only other class I really had any interest in playing in Path of Exile. The Duelist. Having taken what I learnt from my Marauder and applied it to a more offensive class, I feel I have stumbled upon something that could almost be described as broken. A literal killing machine when rolling, the build I theorized being possible only truly came into affect around level 30. Funnily enough this is about the same level I changed to Spectral Throw on my Marauder. This level of epiphany is probably a combination of getting access to higher level gear (read: more gem slots), higher level gems and generally having more points to throw around your skill tree.

Anyway, I was originally planning on using Cyclone, Path of Exile's equivalent to Whirlwind from Diablo 2. While it wasn't ranged, it was both AOE and mobile. However, while attempting to become accustomed to the ability, I realised very quickly it was terrible. A huge mana cost coupled with adverse scaling with movement speed meant it would never be an ideal ability for most situations. Forcibly dropping Cyclone for something else was, however, problematic. Without resorting to a ranged/AOE ability for ... well ranged or AOE circumstances meant that viable ability options were rather limited. My experiences with my Marauder showed that using purely melee abilities in dangerous circumstances (outnumbered, mobs that charge/shock, bosses etc) was a death wish unless you were geared to the teeth.

So, I returned to the drawing board. It is probably no surprise I was drawn to the ability Flicker Strike, which, provided you are within a short range, teleports you to a chosen/random enemy and attacks them for small amount of damage. While this addressed the mobility issue, it did nothing for AOE purposes and unfortunately had a habit of putting you right in the middle of large packs of enemies. Additionally, it has a cooldown of 2 seconds, preventing it from innately being spammed. Why would anyone want to make such a crappy, unreliable ability the focus of their build?

Without going in to too much detail, the answer is quite simple: frenzy charges. More specifically, its keeping frenzy charges generating constantly. While Frenzy, a single target ability capable of generating frenzy charges is used in the build, it really only acts as the keys to the engine. Why frenzy charges are necessary is because they can be consumed to bypass Flicker Strike's cooldown. While you could continuously generate frenzy charges with Frenzy and burn them all with Flicker Strike, the process would be laborious, inefficient and dangerous in melee. Generating frenzy charges without needing to constantly Frenzy would be ideal.

Blood Rage allows you to do this, but has a negative side effect of killing you slowly, removing 4% of maximum health per second. In Normal difficulty, this self-induced damage is laughable. In Merciless however, without Chaos resistance, it becomes incredibly taxing. You can counter this Chaos damage by either getting some Chaos resistance (hard to get) or stacking life regen passively. Ideally you would do both. Additionally, you can improve the efficiency of Flicker Strike by combining it with both Multi-strike (3 Flicker strikes per Frenzy charge) and Melee Splash Damage, allowing the ability to do some decent AOE damage. Unfortunately these gem combinations make this ability chew mana ridiculously, with no feasible amount of regen, mana leech or pot chugging able to keep up with it.

While unnecessary, uniques such as this one can enhance the build further
Using Bloodmagic gems or the Bloodmagic Keystone will unlock your healthpool as a resource for casting abilities. Considering your health is already decaying from Blood Rage, significant Life Leech is necessary to retain any health at all, especially in combat. As you are of course melee and because Flicker Strike doesn't make you untargettable, you will still take damage and often considerable amounts of it. Having a high effective health sustain through regen and leech, achieved through high armour and elemental resists but not not so high on actual hit points makes this more effective and further negates the %health damage caused by Blood Rage. Finally, using the Warlord's Mark curse will give you additional life leech and a chance to gain endurance charges, further adding to your finely tuned effective health pool. Throw in Whirling Blades for defensive mobility, a couple of CWDT combinations, some extra single target Frenzy damage and some minor Life Leech gear and you can pretty much handle any situation. The end results are as follows:

Recommend watching in 1080p.

I have to say, the build is quite strong and a bit better at farming than my Marauder currently is. While it took some extensive theorycrafting and attention to detail regarding specific gems and stats, the end result is worth it. This is not to say the build isn't without its weaknesses. Running out of Frenzy charges still occurs, albeit infrequently, but has the habit of putting you in some ghastly situations. Most significantly though, the build is incredibly susceptible to desyncs and is usually the reason for the former problem. The speed and frenetic damage output of the build seems to tie up a busy server more than normal. However, it is something I have grown accustomed to and built my character to handle. Deaths are infrequent and far, far apart, if at all. Death dealing, however, is brutal and surprisingly fun. However, the satisfaction comes more from the visual result of the build and the conscious effort taken to get it working and less from the execution of the build itself.

In any case, the Diablo III expansion Reaper of Souls is on the horizon, so it is likely I will return to it in preparation. After soloing 180 levels (75 Marauder, 75 Duelist, 33 Scion) and just as many hours in Path of Exile, I think a decent break from it is in order.

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