Behind the Mask: Practical indestructibility

Champions Online screenshot
It's not very commonplace to showcase a single build on Behind the Mask. In fact, aside from the Archetypes, I've never directly addressed any of the millions of build options in Champions Online. However, one build in particular has garnered a lot of attention lately. It's infamous for its incredible survivability, and many people consider it the benchmark of all builds. The main permutation of the build is Invul/dodge, but the core idea is using layered defenses to ramp up survivability to ridiculous levels.

This week, we'll cover what Invul/dodge is, how it works, and some popular variants. We'll also discuss its limitations and counters. While Invul/dodge is probably the most situationally durable build in the game, it has its weaknesses. Some players might delude you into thinking that Invul/dodge is good at everything, but that couldn't be further from the truth.

How the build works

Invul/dodge is creatively named because it combines two very powerful defensive layers: Invulnerability and dodging. Invulnerability is a good overall defense that combines moderate amounts of damage resistance with strong levels of direct damage reduction. In practice, Invulnerability's resists lower the damage of light- and medium-powered attacks to manageable levels, then subtracts chunks of damage from the reduced number. The end result is that Invulnerability is very strong against light, rapid attacks and moderately effective against stronger attacks.

Dodging, on the other hand, is strongest against longer activation attacks rather than rapid attacks. While it is difficult to get high amounts of dodge and avoidance without using Lightning Reflexes, it is not impossible. The most common methods are to use a Primary Defense item that gives dodge rating to use as a base, then add in The Elusive Monk and Evasive Maneuvers. It is also popular to use Eye of the Storm to reduce damage further. The Elusive Monk gives dodge and avoidance while performing melee attacks, and spinning around with Eye of the Storm slashing nearby enemies gives extra damage protection and counts as using melee attacks.

On their own, they would not be enough. Dodging synergizes extremely well with the Resurgent Reiki advantage, making Bountiful Chi Resurgence a mandatory piece of the puzzle. Reiki gives healing every time a character dodges, and with Invulnerability reducing damage from everything, dodges are frequent enough to sustain the hero's health easily.

The last big cherry on top is Inertial Dampening Field. It really needs no further explanation.

Why it's not the best choice ever

Adding all these layers together makes for a very tough character, but it also limits your character in a big way -- your character has very few picks left to flesh it out. In fact, the bare bones skeleton I provided above leaves out powers like Masterful Dodge and Form of the Master, both important elements to improve performance.

The build includes a single attack -- Eye of the Storm -- which is a decent AoE attack, but other, more powerful attacks are additional opportunity costs. Worse yet, the build is limited to melee attacks in order to maintain Parry's dodge benefits. This means that while the build is excellent at soaking damage, several of the best AoE taunts (such as Lead Tempest and SMG Burst) can't be used without sacrificing the dodge benefits of Parry. This forces the character into a weaker AoE tanking role. He can still use Defensive Combo for excellent single-target aggro generation.

Being limited to melee has all the usual problems common to melee characters. In PvP, it means being kited is a problem. In fact, the Invul/dodge hero has so much invested in defense that he is likely to be ignored in group PvP. Because he cannot enter the Brawler role, he is easy to kite and deals only moderate damage at best. In duels, he's very unlikely to beat freeform characters above a certain skill threshold, although he may stalemate often. My personal dueling experience with my tank (an LR dodge tank and very similar) reflects that stalemates are extremely common and even offensive powers like Dragon's Wrath don't guarantee a win.

Invul/dodge is also limited to being super DEX (since The Elusive Monk scales to DEX), which somewhat limits superstat choices. Being forced to run a dodge primary defense also makes superstatting CON or PRE hard, which are the prime tanking stats.

Lastly, Invulnerability is not the best in good teams, which often have Aura of Radiant Protection and stacked IDF. I personally prefer LR builds for this reason (and the reasons above); I have friends who run quality AoRP healers, making Invulnerability less useful. Also, LR builds are more mobile and have more flexibility in power selection since they are not required to use melee attacks.

Champions Online screenshot
Variant builds

The first variations come with superstat selection. DEX/CON is quite common, since CON raises maximum life, which is great for tanking. DEX/INT reduces the cooldown of BCR and other cooldown powers, especially Masterful Dodge. It also helps with energy management. DEX/EGO allows for a more offensive build with higher critical damage. DEX/PRE improves the base heal of BCR, empowers other heals, and improves threat generation. DEX/CON and DEX/PRE require high-quality adventure pack gear to be really effective, though.

Parry can be swapped for Energy Shield, and the infamous Laser Knight advantage has been making abusive tank builds since before the game launched. This is a pretty major change, since lowering your hero's dodge chance also lowers his healing. Adding Support Drones and/or Bionic Shielding or even replacing dodging entirely is a possibility. Laser Knight works better with pure dodge builds than it does with Invul. However, it provides much more overall protection than The Elusive Monk before the Reiki healing ticks are considered.

Another popular option is swapping the passive. The most common option is Defiance because Defiance has a reputation for being very hard to kill. However, I think that Defiance is a bad idea. You're forced to run DEX/CON (since Defiance requires CON), and it's very hard to stat lots of CON with a dodge primary defense. Defiance also likes CON totals over 200, unlike other passives that let you run 180-220 points and stop. Getting 250+ CON is basically impossible with a dodge primary defense. Overall, Invul/dodge is a much better choice than Defiance/dodge.

Champions Online screenshotWhat it all means

Overall, Invul/dodge is an extremely durable, high-performing tank within its limited parameters. When it is brought outside its comfort zone, it is somewhat inflexible. Building for Invul/dodge is hard, and it takes many power selections before it becomes viable. It is not really plausible to have a functioning build before the late 20s; this is in stark comparison to other builds that can be fully functional as early as level 14 or even level 8.

In PvP, Invul/dodge is not very threatening. Kite it and you will not have problems. In general, melee tanks are only threatening if you stand still and get hit by repeated Dragon's Wrath charges and Invul/dodge is no different in that respect. For an Invul/dodge tank, it is often easy to get attention on you simply by lunging at people and being annoying, but better players will simply ignore you and kill easier prey.

Overall, Invul/dodge is probably too good at what it does, but there's no real way to balance it without ruining other perfectly legitimate builds. It's a consequence of a very flexible, open system and an interesting thing to analyze. However, it is not so dominating that there is no reason to play anything else, even from a tank perspective. It is one of the most popular builds right now, but that is as much hype as it is anything else. Like any build with a narrow focus, it's very good at a small number of things and not that great at other things.

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.