Behind the Mask: Throwing stones at their glass houses

This week on Behind the Mask, we're going to take an in-depth look at Champions Online's new Earth powerset. It took me quite a while to review Wind, and Earth is relatively new. Why the time disparity?

The real answer is that I looked at Wind long before last week, but I didn't really find anything fun or exciting at a first look. Earth is a lot different. Earth has a lot of potential for combining powers between the set; it can Stagger enemies and then exploit that Stagger for damage or bonus effects. Because a lot of the Earth tricks eat your Stagger stacks, you have to choose between keeping Stagger on your targets for the debuff or eating it for the bonus power effects. On top of that, it has the first viable Brick archetype heal, making the Mountain the second reliable Archetype tank. Earth is a lot of fun.

A Brick healing power? Impossible!

Fissure, or more accurately, its Reconstruct advantage, provides a pretty sizable heal to its user as long as he stands in the Fissure's AoE. The heal seems pretty small; it's roughly 70 heal per second at level 40 and does not scale with stats. However, because it ticks every second, it's actually pretty significant. Medical Nanites heals roughly 150% of this amount with reasonable superstats (yet another reason to dislike it -- it's beaten by an attack that heals at the same time).

In addition, Fissure is a patch that you place on the ground after a long charge, and it lasts quite a while. This means that you can block while Fissure is hitting to reduce damage to a fraction of what was dealt. That's pretty nice for a power that deals damage and heals at the same time!

If that wasn't enough, taking the Earth block doubles the healing while you block, which lets it outperform Medical Nanites or even un-ramped Regeneration. The Earth block is otherwise pretty useless, so only pick it if you're interested in this interaction. I'm actually not sure whether the Earth block is useless on accident or it's intended to simply cost an extra power pick (plus your block slot) to use the Fissure heal.

Fissure also has a chance to knockdown each second on enemies, which is good and bad. This can make enemies resist stronger knockback powers, but it can also be an effective defense. You can also use it to give your foes lots of KB resist so you can use other knockback attacks without knocking them away. This chance is increased (from 20% to as much as 50%) against Staggered foes, making it a pretty reliable pulsing knock until the enemy gets full resistance.

Other fun stuff I found while playing with dirt

Cave In is Earth's nuke power. It's a short-ranged attack that dumps a bunch of rocks on your target. It's not quite as crazy as Fissure in terms of fun stuff, but it has some nice tricks.

First, Cave In has pretty high base damage; it's a nuke power, after all. It deals similar damage to Defile, but has a shorter range. It also stuns its target if it's Staggered, making it very possible to Cave In your target twice in a row if you have the energy to fire it back to back. Obviously, you'll need to Stagger your target first, but there are plenty of other Earth powers to do that.

Cave In can also let you build Enrage with an advantage by devouring the Stagger debuff. I'm not sure how effective this is compared to normal Enrage generation methods, but it doesn't knock foes around, making it more useful than most of Might's options. It definitely builds more slowly than Cleave or Roomsweeper.

On the subject of Enrage, you can also use Seismic Smash to maintain it. Seismic Smash is a short-ranged 25-foot lunge and must be charged. I think that this is not as good as using Land Slide or another lunge to get to the enemy, then using an Enrage-maintaining power such as Eruption. I really like Seismic Smash as it's a cool, close-range lunge that knocks enemies around, but it's probably not that strong.

Getting Staggered (nothing to do with alcohol, sadly)

Applying Stagger is actually sort of tricky. Most Earth powers do not apply it on tap, forcing you to release quite a few charged powers to build Stagger stacks. The best way to apply it is to Disorient your foe and spam Typhoon; you can use an AoE disorient power such as charged Ego Sleep, Brimstone or Arc of Ruin followed by Typhoon volleys to stagger large groups. None of these is in Earth, humorously.

I had high hopes for Quicksand; it's a nice pulsing AoE that pulls enemies toward you (it's a reverse repel, actually). While it's useful to pull enemies toward you, it doesn't have a chance to apply Stagger on each pulse. The Stagger advantage actually causes Quicksand to push enemies away from you. This would make Quicksand doubly awesome as a tank power, but unfortunately, you cannot move while using Quicksand. This makes the advantaged repel much less useful than the standard power that pulls foes in.

For Earth characters, the basic energy builder advantage that applies Stagger on each hit might be appropriate if you use it a lot. This is sort of a last-ditch option, but aside from getting a Disorient and Typhoon, it might be the best bet.

The best choice for Earth appears to be Onslaught (I am not 100% sure because the tooltip is bugged). My tests seemed to be around 20-33%, although I may have just gotten really unlucky with 50% chances. It seems to stack Stagger better than most Earth powers, but it is limited to melee range.

For those out of melee range, using the Land Slide lunge to close the gap also grants a stack of Stagger.

Eating debuffs

Many of the Earth powers eat Stagger. Earlier, I mentioned Cave In's ability to eat Stagger stacks for Enrage stacks with an advantage. It's really only viable with Typhoon and Disorient, though, and not really great compared to the melee options.

However, other than Cave In, most of the powers that eat Stagger stacks are bad. Don't use these powers to eat your stacks! In almost all cases, getting 6% more damage for your team is much better than getting 15% or 30% more damage on a single attack. If you're solo, these attacks are fine, but in a team, you want the boosted damage!

For the most part, Earth's damage kind of stinks; you won't be topping any damage meters. However, stacking Stagger makes your entire team do more damage, so keep those Stagger stacks on your target!

I like Earth a lot. It's a fun team-playing set with lots of utility. There are some boring powers like in any set, but it's got a lot of fun powers and is really cool overall.

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.