Behind the Mask: From the shadows, I come

There have been a lot of updates to Champions Online recently. The dev team has really focused on putting out small bits of content at a rapid pace, including a new costume pack, the Light Speed travel power, and two big updates to the Darkness and Gadgeteering frameworks.

The Void, the first of CO's premium archetypes, basks in the twilight and wields the power of darkness. She came with a big update to the Darkness framework as a whole, and we'll cover all the changes to her sexy powers this week in Behind the Mask.

Darkness descends

The Void is a dark sort of character with a solid power progression. Although she's not an Avenger, she shares many characteristics with Avenger-type characters, including good damage and lower survivability. She has super Constitution and passively gets small amounts of health back (from Shadow Form), so her survivability is probably a bit better than the Inferno's or Soldier's.

The Void gets most of her good powers early instead of having to wait. She gets Shadow Embrace very early and graduates to either Void Horror or Ebon Rift early on. Although she has to wait a bit for Spirit Reverberation, she is pretty much a complete character when she gets it at level 22. This is in stark contrast to most of the other Archetypes, who tend to have to wait until the post-30 levels (often level 40) to get their set-defining powers. The only comparison is the Soldier, who gets his key attacks early and can ride all the way to 40 with his Assault Rifle and SMG.

Fear is an illusion

The key component of the Darkness revamp is Spirit Reverberation. The Void gets it at level 22, but it's a tier 1 power, so a Free-Form hero can pick it up as early as level 5, if he wants. Spirit Reverberation returns energy to your hero whenever she strikes a Feared enemy with Dimensional damage. This energy return can only happen once every few seconds, but it generates quite a bit. The energy benefit scales with Constitution and Recovery, so raising those stats will increase the return.

There are two elements in this puzzle: Fear and Dimensional damage. While Spirit Reverberation doesn't work with other types of damage (sadly, not even other Paranormal damage), it works with all types of Dimensional damage, including the Dimensional damage present in Celestial, Darkness' "good half." This means that a hero can hit Feared enemies with Celestial Conduit chains and get the energy return from Spirit Reverberation. All of the attacks in Darkness use Dimensional damage, so it's fairly simple to get the energy return if you use Darkness attacks.

The other component of Spirit Reverberation is Fear. Fear is a pretty uneventful -10% damage debuff that is mostly useless but has a large number of interactions. It's applied by a lot of powers, from Howl and Havoc Stomp to Eldritch Shield's interaction with the Ebon aura. Darkness players benefit the most from Fear; many power advantages in Darkness grant special effects if they hit Feared enemies. Likewise, many Darkness powers apply Fear. The Void has little problem with terrifying her opponents, but a Free-Form hero needs to make sure to get powers that can keep enemies Feared in order to get the maximum benefits.

The darkness writhes

The most important attack for the majority of Darkness characters is Shadow Embrace. Shadow Embrace is one of the best attacks in the game; it has a very strong synergy with Spirit Reverberation since it deals Dimensional damage and applies Fear at the same time. It deals very good damage, and even though it is a maintained cone AoE, the Void can move freely while using it.

The combination of near-unlimited energy, good AoE damage, and flexibility of movement is incredibly powerful, and those are the main reasons that Gigabolt is placed on the pedestal it is. Shadow Embrace is no different; it's low-tier as well, so low-level characters can pick it up and use it as a crutch to get to higher levels.

Shadow Embrace's special advantage, Fatal Allure, can be a bit annoying, so I don't recommend most players select it. Fatal Allure knocks enemies toward you and often past you, which is useful for dragging foes into sigil traps and pets or flinging them off of buildings. However, it tends to throw enemies out of the cone or redirect your cone away from the enemies you're attacking, so you should only use it if you're planning on dragging enemies around.

Because Shadow Embrace is so good, it can seem to obsolete the other powers in Darkness.

Cold is the void

While Shadow Embrace steals the show, the other Darkness attacks do have some use.

Ebon Rift is considered the weakest; it is a maintained AoE vortex that sucks enemies into it, hitting them repeatedly for good damage as long as they stay inside the rift. It also snares enemies to help prevent them from getting out. While it isn't bad, it's more expensive than Shadow Embrace, it doesn't apply Fear, and it doesn't let you move around. The damage is better than Shadow Embrace on the average, but considering Rift has a 15-second cooldown, I feel it's of somewhat limited value.

Darkness' nuke power, on the other hand, is very well-liked. Ebon Ruin is a chargable, single-target blast that packs a tremendous punch. It even has a one-point advantage to give it more damage to Feared enemies, and it lowers the amount of healing the victim can receive. It's slow, powerful, and incredibly deadly. It has some use in PvE, mainly for taking down bosses and pulling enemies at long range. It is very frightening in PvP, though like nukes in most ranged builds, it requires a fair bit of work to exploit to the fullest.

Life Drain is a strange Darkness power. Because it relies on Presence for healing, it takes a strange build to maximize its use. As you can with Shadow Embrace, you can move while firing Life Drain, which makes it great for kiting. It's not very good for the Void since she has super CON and no super PRE. It's much better in Seraphim builds that boost healing and Paranormal damage.

We are one with the shadows

Darkness also has a pair of pet powers. The Void must choose between pets and attacks, and the pets are probably a better route to go for her.

The Void Horror is the Darkness "permanent" pet. He deals fairly good damage, especially to Feared enemies. He's relatively boring, as he doesn't have any real tricks, but his damage is high, and he deals it hands-free. He's a great choice for the Void or for any hero who uses Fear (darkness-oriented or not).

Summon Shadows are similar to the Void Horror; they're boring, high DPS temporary pets. You summon three of them, and their damage is comparable to the Void Horror's, so they are quite scary. The Devouring Darkness advantage also lets them heal you, and the healing is quite strong.

The void claims its own

For Silver players, I think the Void is a pretty worthwhile expenditure if you're considering buying an Archetype, as I believe she's dramatically more useful and interesting than the other Gold Archetypes. Functionally, she provides something new: She deals high damage, has pets, and isn't as team-focused as the Grimoire.

For Free-Form players, Darkness is very strange. Much like it was before the Void's update, Darkness is a cherry-pick set. You can do very well with just a couple of powers. When you go with a lot of powers, you have to pick and choose which ones are most useful, because some, like Life Drain, don't work as well with the rest of Darkness. Also, there is some conflict with Seraphim, which works overall better with Paranormal damage dealers than Shadow Form does. On the whole, Darkness is a strange set, and Free-Form players would do well to experiment with many different ways of using it.

When he's not touring the streets of Millennium City or rolling mooks in Vibora Bay, Patrick Mackey goes Behind the Mask to bring you the nitty-gritty of the superhero world every Thursday. Whether it's expert analysis of Champions Online's game mechanics or his chronicled hatred of roleplaying vampires, Patrick holds nothing back.
This article was originally published on Massively.