Behind the Mask: You're fired

At the time this episode of Behind the Mask was written, neither Hideouts nor Aftershock had been released. I could run a hype post about hideouts, but they are not on PTS (or at least, we can't access them), which is worrying. In fact, the recent patches have been extremely frustrating for a lot of Champions Online's veteran players. Last week, the huge patch that integrated Vivox voice chat also broke the snot out of the game; it ruined everything from team chat to mission doors to certain parts of the in-game C-Store. It even broke the difficulty slider! I haven't even played CO in the last week due to the bugs. It's pretty frustrating.

Combined, these things make me really mad. Hideouts haven't been tested by players at all, and they were intended to roll out on Wednesday. The Vivox patch was pushed full of game-breaking bugs that players knew about in advance. Remember the kitchen sink patch? I thought the sloppy, impulsive, not-listening-to-players mentality that Cryptic had back then was dead. It needs to stay dead.

I will not, however, be roped into writing a gigantic, mega-DOOM column this week. We can save those types of columns for EVE Online. Instead, I'm going to rant about something familiar and relevant to everyone: archetypes, and specifically, how the current archetypes are bad. I've already covered this ground, but I'm rearmed with research and rage. This week, we're throwing the Inferno archetype under the bus. He's not terrible by any means, but... to be honest, we can do better. A lot better.

The Inferno is the highest-DPS ranged-damage-dealing archetype in Champions Online. He is deliberately squishy but pushes out a lot of damage in either single or AoE varieties. He's especially good at single-target damage, especially compared to his cousin the Tempest. She's the queen of AoE, but Inferno is good at that too. Quite frankly, he's better in every way except in PvP. Here is our list of goals going into this makeover:
  • Has a "fire" theme
  • Huge DPS, especially single-target, but should not lose AoE functionality
  • Energy-efficient
  • Kind of squishy; too much effort should not be spent making him live longer
  • Somewhat team-reliant; should not have a lot of support powers
  • Doesn't sacrifice PvE power for PvP
The issues with Inferno are very small in number. He has only a few wasted powers and some of his key essentials (Thermal Reverberation, Flashfire) are not accessible early on. He also has to choose between utility powers (Fire Snake and Heat Wave) rather than selecting both at once. He also has no self-survival skills.

The old Inferno is also hamstrung by a rule that makes no sense for him: he has a block power. Avengers don't benefit much from blocking, and the current version of Fire Shield is bugged. Normally, fire debuffs (specifically Clinging Flames) trigger Thermal Reverberation, which gives a shot of energy for each debuff in play. Fire Shield does apply Clinging Flames to enemies, but its version of Clinging Flames doesn't trigger Thermal Reverberation. I've tried to get a dev response to various Thermal Reverberation issues for months. Unfortunately, the devs did respond to one of my issues (Brimstone in particular), so I can only suspect that the other Clinging Flames bugs (such as the ones with Fire Snake, Conflagration and Ritual of Ebon Summoning) are working as designed. This makes Fire Shield garbage and unsuitable to any character, and because it doesn't apply Clinging Flames, it has no value on the Inferno.

In fact, a block power doesn't even make sense on an aggressive, offensively minded terror like the Inferno. He is constantly active and aggressive! If he wanted to apply Clinging Flames, he would do so by attacking, not by blocking. There are immediate click powers that trigger Thermal Reverb and accomplish something aggressively. The Inferno needs less active defense; he needs something that doesn't interrupt his attacking.

Unfortunately, Bountiful Chi Resurgence is not appropriate, since it has a damage debuff. In fact, no heal is appropriate unless one of the Inferno's stats is changed. Fortunately, swapping Super Recovery for Super Presence is a common-sense decision. The Inferno doesn't need REC; he has Thermal Reverberation to fuel his powers. Thermal Reverberation scales to PRE, and REC does almost nothing for the Inferno. It's a pretty easy decision. Super END is nice, since the Inferno can easily cap out his energy bar with some lucky procs -- making that energy bar longer to accommodate for that situation is a good idea.

The Inferno's fluff powers are small in number. He has three AoE attacks (Fireball, Conflagration, and either Pyre or Fire Breath), but Fireball is a key debuff, making only one redundant. He has a useless T0 blast (Fire Strike), which is one of the worst powers in the entire game. He does need a T1 attack to replace it in the tutorial, but that can easily accomplished since Fireball was pushed to T1.

In summary, we're going to:
  • Remove Fire Strike and use Fireball as a starting power
  • Switch around the choices so characters can choose both Heat Wave and Fire Snake, or pick Fire Breath and Pyre if they so choose
  • Move Thermal Reverberation and Flashfire earlier in the power progression
  • Swap the useless Fire Shield for a self-heal
  • Swap Super REC for Super PRE; move Super END to be the first superstat
These changes make the Inferno a little more robust in the late game (he'll have slightly better defense, better energy recovery, and better choices), but the bigger changes are early. Instead of making you wade through a sea of slow levels, literally every power in the early game will have an explosive impact on the way the Inferno does business.

The old Inferno looks like this:
  • Level 1: Throw Fire
  • Level 1: Fire Strike
  • Level 6: Super REC
  • Level 6: Fireball
  • Level 8: Fiery Form
  • Level 11: Fire Breath or Pyre
  • Level 13: Super END
  • Level 14: Fire Shield
  • Level 17: Conflagration
  • Level 22: Thermal Reverberation
  • Level 27: Immolation
  • Level 32: Heat Wave or Fire Snake
  • Level 40: Flashfire
The new, leaner, updated, awesome Inferno looks like this:
  • Level 1: Throw Fire
  • Level 1: Fireball
  • Level 6: Super END
  • Level 6: Fiery Form
  • Level 8: Thermal Reverberation
  • Level 11: Fire Breath or Heat Wave
  • Level 13: Super PRE
  • Level 14: Conflagration
  • Level 17: Flashfire
  • Level 22: Conviction
  • Level 27: Immolation
  • Level 32: Pyre or Fire Snake
  • Level 40: A secret!
Even without a level 40 power, this build is dramatically better. Also, I chose Conviction as the defensive power; it has no activation time and heals better over time than Bountiful Chi Resurgence. It costs a lot, but the new and improved Inferno should never have energy problems now that he has Super PRE and earlier Thermal Reverb. I also like it because it can be given an AoE heal advantage to heal allies. It's pretty cool in my book.

Even with these benefits, Conviction is a stylistic choice. I like it a lot, but not everyone will appreciate having to hit the heal button every few seconds. Giving an Avenger a targeted heal isn't really appropriate, but many people prefer Bountiful Chi Resurgence, and assuming that Infernos get a red version, the aura effect fits with the character. Because I put off the heal until level 22, either power works just fine in the build.

The final power at level 40 is a big decision. There is no real "right" answer because the Inferno is only missing one thing in his build at this point -- an active defense. I think the best answer is to give him Palliate; even though it's a targeted heal, it scales to PRE and is better than Resurgence for any healing purposes. It also scales up as allies get more HP if you use it for team healing. Even better, it also has the incredible Absolve advantage, which gives the Inferno a threat wipe! It fits all the bases pretty well.

Other options include Field Surge, Masterful Dodge, or Unbreakable, but these are far less appropriate for the Inferno thematically. They fit the "lone hotshot" character pretty well, but because Fire and PRE go together, I don't feel this is actually a good look for the Inferno. Fire is not really a lone wolf kind of set; by its nature, Fire works best with others.

Another option is Rebirth (or better yet, a fiery reskin of Rebirth). It suits the "phoenix rising from the ashes" type of character well. Also, because the Inferno lacks defense (even with Conviction), death is a pretty common occurrence for him. Rebirth's zombie advantage isn't really appropriate, so a reskin of the power with a different advantage would be cool.

Other options? Almost any power could go into this slot. Mindful Reinforcement scales to PRE, isn't prorated by the Avenger debuff, and is ridiculously good, but it's already owned by the Mind archetype and doesn't entirely fit the fire theme. It's so insanely good, though, that it deserves mentioning. Likewise, a targeted heal such as Vala's Light or Empathic Healing would do nicely. Adding in Redemption would give the Inferno a rez. The sky's really the limit.

Actually, the best answer is just to give him Inertial Dampening Field. That's the real answer to any character with a free power pick.

As you can see, just a little tweaking makes the Inferno incredible. I totally feel that archetypes are terribly designed and paced; this design is much more solid in both solo and group play. He doesn't fall into the "master of all trades" rut; he's a very focused character who has real weaknesses. His weaknesses are a little less glaring and he's much better at killing stuff.

He also has IDF, which no character should be without.

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.