Each archetype has two paths they can go down, with new primary and secondary powersets to go along with it and "fill in" the remainder of your character's abilities. However, once you've picked a path, you're stuck with it -- there's no picking and choosing from each track. You do retain access to your original powers as well as your new track, but the first choice in either direction locks you on that route.
Well, until you respec. Or change builds. But work with me here.
The charming thing is that there's still a lot of wiggle room inside of each power set. The Crab Spider track, for instance, can be used in conjunction with the initial Arachnos Soldier powers to create an entirely ranged character if you so desire. It's also where playing an epic archetype becomes most confusing, as there are a whole lot of powers and no clear picture of how they all fit together. So let's take a look at each sub-archetype, if you will.
The biggest advantage to becoming a Crab Spider is that stylish backpack. Yes, there is a color-customizable version. Yes, it works just fine with capes, assuming you can ignore the slight clipping issues involved. Yes, it looks most "normal" on top of the archetype-specific Crab Spider armor, but it's a lovely addition to any outfit.
A crab's primary powers largely mirror the "base" powerset with a few alterations. You gain three ascending ranks of ranged attacks, two single-target and one conical. You gain access to both Venom Grenade and Frag Grenade powers, and can only take either the basic soldier power or the crab spider version. The biggest changes early on are the addition of Arm Lash (a cone-area melee attack), Slice for Defense reduction instead of Pummel's Disorient, and Aim instead of Wide-Area Web Grenade. Later on, you also pick up Frenzy (a point-blank AoE melee strike) and Omega Maneuver (a bomb that disorients nearby enemies before detonation).
The secondary side is fairly unchanged. You gain an upgrade to your armor's resistances (which can co-exist with your Wolf Spider Armor for some high durability), a health buff via Serum, and a tank toggle for more resistances. You can also summon Spiderlings at the end, which should prove amusing for those who can't get enough of spiders.
Crabs don't suffer from a dearth of options. You can go down the route of becoming an ersatz tank via your toggles, resistances, and Serum. (Provoke would be a good call here.) You could also focus on a durable melee build with your armor and a blend of the various melee powers, or the same thing with range (especially with the addition of Aim). If there's one overarching theme, it's probably pushing you toward heavy AoE damage and the durability to survive anything that decides to yank on to you. Slice is largely worthless, Venom Grenade remains excellent, and Omega Maneuver is a decent panic button.
It's much rarer to see a Bane Spider, and I blame that darn backpack that Crab Spiders get. Even my own spiders aren't immune to its siren song. The darn thing has four gunswords on manipulating arms that are controlled by your thoughts! Come on! I went through two drafts where the prior writeup was just talking about how cool it was.
Assuming you can resist the backpack, Bane Spiders compensate via a mace awesome enough to shoot lasers. They also have certain parallels with the basic powerset, but the comparisons aren't quite as clear. Their ranged abilities are tagged with knockbacks, and their first melee attack with the mace adds a disorient and a DoT. It's a close parallel to the usual War Mace powerset in many ways, with the addition of ranged pressure. You also get Build Up and Placate, as well as a Cloaking Device toggle and some bonus health in your armor upgrade. And then there's Web Cocoon, which is a full-on hold to complement your control of the field.
Unlike crabs, banes focus a little more on keeping the battlefield managed. Solo, you can do well for yourself via creative use of Web Cocoon, Placate, Cloaking Device, and the basic Wide-Area Web Grenade. There are a lot of tools for keeping foes off-balance. In a group, you're far more locked into single-target damage, but you can handle yourself quite well in a melee. Where crabs have to choose a direction overall, banes are stuck deciding whether they want to focus on control or pure damage capacity. And the option to launch Crowd Control out of Hide is just plain nasty.
In general terms, you can go for a Stalker-type build with a heavy emphasis on Placate, Cloaking Device, and high-damage melee abilities. You could also go for a more brawler-style build, with Build Up and a selection of the best melee tricks from both the Bane Spider and core Soldier powerset. Or you can trick out and focus on control and your ranged knockbacks, which isn't typical but certainly mixes things up.
It wasn't hard to find people willing to dub Stalkers the Rogues of City of Heroes. Night Widows seem to have made their lifetime goal to show up Stalkers, up to and including showing up at their birthday party and stomping on their birthday cake. (On the other hand, at least that would mean someone showed up to their party. Poor Terry.) Their list of "new" powers down the Night Widow path is a bit on the short side, but it's just long enough.
So what do they get? In addition to the ranged and melee powers in their base powerset, they gain access to their own version of Hide and a couple of new excellent melee attacks. Two psionic attacks are added to the ranged plate, though neither one is really anything stunning. They also get Mental Training (which is excellent as a passive power recharge acceleration), Smoke Grenade, and Placate. Oh, and a couple of clickable buffs to either the team or themselves, fairly standard and not really specific to the Widows.
While Bane Spiders aren't forced into using Cloaking Device, Night Widows are pretty strongly pushed toward Mask Presence and Placate in order to keep running around like they have before. Despite having Confront in their basic powerset, they don't get the insane levels of defense a la Super Reflexes to really justify acting in a tank capacity. Your best and most reliable bet is to play them akin to a Stalker with group buffs and smoke bombs. Lunge and Eviscerate both work wonders as openers, and there are several cone and area abilities available to help keep multiple targets taking damage.
Your alternative, if you want to be trickier, is to focus on the ranged powers from both sets, nab Build Up, and run a variety of group buffs. It doesn't promise to be the most successful run ever, but it might trip up people who were expecting a standard Night Widow. If that's really your thing, there you go.
While Night Widows were ruining the birthdays of Stalkers the world over, Fortunatas were doing the same thing to Controllers. This produced far less strife, as they weren't expecting to like each other in the first place. To be fair, Fortunatas don't get quite the spectrum of control that the hero archetype gets, nor do they get all of the charming healing and defensive buff spells... but they're no slouch in party enhancement, and they can deal good ranged damage in addition to their controlling side.
The primary powerset grants access to a single-target and an area hold, as well as a single-target disorient and a point-blank area disorient. (The aforementioned power also does a great deal of damage and slows the attack rate of all afflicted, just as a bonus.) Meanwhile, you pick up Aim and several nice knockback ranged abilities to help facilitate sniping. The secondary set still includes stealth, as well as Confusion in both single-target and area versions. In short, you get ranged damage in both a targeted and AoE capacity, plenty of hold and immobilize skills, and the same great group buffs you've always had.
Unlike Night Widows, there are a few more notes to hit as a Fortunata. You can obviously focus in on the various control powers and take a few of the ranged powers to flavor. There's also the option of taking the ranged powers from the original and secondary tracks and making yourself a sniper with a healthy dose of stealth. Or, as ever, you can focus on splitting your attention between ranged powers and control abilities. If you do go that route, I'd recommend the holds over the confuse abilities, but it's up to each player.
Many flavors of spider
So where should you go with all of this information? Clearly, there's no shortage of different routes to take with any given spider, as they have at least four or five different builds to choose between. The biggest thing to keep in mind that you should still pick up your Tactical Training buffs -- they're massively helpful, and they're part of what make you so desirable in a group. Past that, your best bet is probably a hybrid build to maximize all of your options. But the whole point of this article is the breadth of options available once you hit that beautiful level 24.
Next week, we're going back to the leveling path -- which involves a slight trip back in time, but that's not so horrible, is it? As usual, comments, questions, and suggestions can be sent along to Eliot at Massively dot com. And yes, suggestions on specific builds are welcome.