Behind the Mask: Fixing the glass cannons

There's a sharp divide between the Champions Online that I play and the Champions Online played by the majority of the readers here at Massively. I play the heavily customized, freeform game -- and even among freeform players, I am aggressive in my builds. I avoid T0 blasts like the plague (although Two-Gun Mojo is pretty good), and I pick my powers with the sole intention of avoiding waste.

Most of you guys play F2P now, and there's nothing wrong with that at all. All of the Archetypes are viable, especially in team situations. In general, they can't quite compete with a polished freeform character, but they're not dead spots in a lair, and they work surprisingly well when teamed up with freeform supermen (and women).

Solo, it's a slightly different story. Of the current 10 Archetypes, most solo wonderfully, easily meeting the challenges present in the Normal difficulty game. That leaves three... and all share one similarity: They use the Avenger role. The Silver Avengers (not to be confused with the in-game organization of the same name) are very capable Archetypes. I've mentioned in the past that Inferno is one of the strongest, and to wit, all three Avengers absolutely roll through most content, especially on teams. Outside of teams, the three Avengers are so squishy that they suffer a bit when taking on the big baddies -- Master Villains and Super Villains. This week, I sought to find out the answer: Can Silver Avengers solo?

If we look at the skill builds for each of the three Avengers, we'll notice some similarities. All have good energy management, and the Avenger role helps a lot with that. All pick up a secondary energy unlock midway through for superior energy management. All of them spam crits like crazy, preferring to overwhelm foes with large volumes of attacks.

None of them has self healing.

When you combine no heals with low hit points and few benefits from blocking (Avenger gets no energy from blocks), you get a glass cannon. How can you mitigate this?

Make your own heal

Consumables are readily available from the C-Store, sure; the heal items are pretty good, but they're not something sustainable. It's nice to have a panic 100% heal for an elite run of Therakiel's Temple, but carrying around C-Store heals for bosses in the normal game? That seems like a bit of a waste.

For normal situations, we have a few options. The first, stims, are available for sale in Millennium City's Ren Center. Look for the Westside Store on your map. The low-level MARS Stim heals for a massive 950 HP, while the MARS Shield heals for a bit less but gives you a huge chunk of bonus HP for a short time. Both are on two-minute base recharges, but this is reduced by INT. You can start using these stims as soon as level 11, and they are very inexpensive to purchase. I recommend having a few stacks of stims at all time as an Avenger, unless you are a freeform Avenger and laden with self heals. As you level, new stims become available at various other stores such as the City Center store in MC and various other stores throughout the world.

The benefit of stims cannot really be understated -- 950 HP is a lot of health even at level 30. At level 11, it's practically a full heal! Stims and shields share the same cooldown, so you may want to just stick with one type. Also, the healing amount may differ depending on your Presence; I had very low PRE when I tested, so you may get 1000+ health just by putting some gear or allocating talent points toward raising PRE.

There are also craftable heals. In fact, the consumables should be one of the main reasons you choose a crafting profession (the other is unlockable costume pieces).

Arms crafting is probably the best overall aid for survival. It fills the gaps created by stims; in fact, you can use Arms stims as early as level 5. If you're having trouble with the pre-11 bosses, consider learning one of the Arms styles to get heals right from the get-go. The best part: They cost only components rather than cash, and you've probably got a lot of extra components lying around. I highly advise Silver players to make an Arms crafter first, even if getting Fighting Styles or Alien Metabolism doesn't quite fit your theme. The ability to make low-level heals that you can then mail to your alts is a big advantage when playing an Avenger.

Note: You do need an Arms skill of at least 45 to start making stims, and that may take a little time to build. They also share the same cooldown as the MARS stims in the store, so once you've crested level 11, the Arms consumables aren't quite as good (although they only cost cheap components, a definite plus). I think this is sort of unfortunate; I'd love to see the Arms stims have a separate cooldown from the MARS ones just to give crafters an added benefit.

Science has similar consumables to Arms, except they aren't as universally good. They share the same cooldown, heal for about the same (but over time), and the shields give temporary forcefields instead of healing your hero. Science has other advantages, such as the +offense consumables, but if you're an Avenger, it's a slightly inferior choice.

Mysticism is not well-suited to giving heals. All the Mysticism heals damage you after a certain period, making them awful choices for Avengers. Mysticism has a great selection of bonus attack powers, however. If you're looking for ways to make your other heroes more robust, Mysticism is great, but Arms is king when it comes to healing items.

Don't feel like this should preclude you from picking other crafting choices. Arms is especially great in the lower levels, but once you're higher-level, the MARS stims work just fine too. For a silver player, though, it's really important to level crafting in general; you don't have the flexibility of freeform heroes, but crafting (especially consumables) helps a lot with that.

Gear makes the hero

Alongside consumables, good gear choices make a big difference in survivability. Make sure you've got some CON, particularly in primary defense items and secondary utility items. It's worth having lower superstats to have more defense, and having more HP is a good way to help your hero last longer in a fight. PRE and INT also help by improving the power and cooldown of your consumables, and the Marksman Archetype even has INT as a superstat. PRE is not super essential, but getting a little bit here and there doesn't hurt, especially with talents like Jack of All Trades that give little boosts to everything.

One thing I've been hearing a lot in zone chat lately is advice on crafting your own gear, which is usually wrong. Don't choose a crafting profession based on making your own items. It is a bad idea because your skill doesn't generally raise fast enough for you to get gear before it's obsoleted by quest items. Consumables, costume pieces, and crafted travel powers should be your main goals with crafting; making crafted gear is just not efficient compared to doing missions or adventure packs.

Don't throw caution to the wind

Even with consumables, you won't get far as a glass cannon if you don't play smart.

If a boss is giving you trouble, kill his henchmen first. Every bit of health you lose from their tearing you up is going to hurt you while fighting the boss. A few henchmen are fine, since killed henchmen can drop Boosts that can heal or buff you. However, an Avenger should be able to easily take a Super Villain solo, especially with a stim on hand, so the extra boosts aren't really needed. Don't be afraid to fight a losing battle just to clear the boss room, then come back and fight the boss.

Escape powers such as Smoke Grenade and Evasive Maneuvers are also very good at letting you reset a battle. Kill all the henchmen, smoke grenade the boss (with the Escape Artist advantage), and run away! You can resume the fight at full health without losing a star. If all else fails, Teleport is also good at letting you get away to reset a boss battle without dying.

In the actual battle, you'll want to block and kite often to keep enemies at bay and reduce the damage you take. Most bosses in CO have powerful attacks at close range; you don't want to be there as an Avenger. If you have Super Speed, Light Speed, or Acrobatics, you can actually retreat fairly quickly while blocking to reduce damage. Remember that while you block, your stims are recharging, so use blocking for more than just to stop those high-power attacks -- use it to buy some time.

Again, each boss fight is very different. Some bosses have a lot of DPS in close, and you should block and retreat as soon as they get into range. As soon as you're out of the 10-foot death zone, run to a safe distance (ideally with your travel power) while resuming the attack or using your stim. If you've got an escape power (like Smoke Grenade and Evasive Maneuvers), you can use them to make a momentary retreat as well. While in a mid-air leaping retreat, you can actually activate powers that forcibly root you; you'll retain your midair momentum even though the power should force your hero to hold still.

The first and last resort

Team up! Probably the easiest way to get through tough bosses is to recruit some allies. Bosses themselves don't scale up in difficulty with team size, so any teammate will do just fine. Of course, getting a Mind or Grimoire virtually ensures success for you, as will a freeform hero with a support or tanking focus.

Is that everything? Not really, but it's all the time we have! Next week, I'll cover the Soldier Archetype in detail, as well as some of the changes to hit the Munitions framework during the F2P launch.

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.