Behind the Mask: The Force Unleashed

Patrick Mackey
P. Mackey|12.23.11

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Behind the Mask: The Force Unleashed
Now that The Old Republic has hit the shelves, it seems like everyone has something to say about it. Cryptic seems to acknowledge it in its own unusual way: by lampshading it.

Enter the Unleashed, Champions Online's newest free archetype. No, you're not misreading me here; the Unleashed is not a gold archetype. If you make an account right now, you can play the Unleashed from the moment you enter the character select screen, without spending a dime. Since it's the ninth free archetype, you'd think that he'd be a stable, bread-and-butter class. However, the Unleashed is nothing but. His wackiness approaches the Impulse, but where the Impulse is kind of ineffectual, the Unleashed is deadly efficient.

Interested in a sword-wielding knight who slings force blasts? Hit the jump and we'll see what Cryptic's take on a Jedi can do.

Archetypes have changed

Over the last year of F2P, we've seen a lot of changes come to Champions Online's new archetype design. If you look at the first 10 archetypes designed (the old free archetypes plus the Savage and Specialist), you can tell a lot of things about the designers at that time. Those ATs are very sloppy, random assortments of "cool" powers, and they don't have any rhyme or reason to them. The Behemoth, touted as a tank, has no AoE taunts or self-heals. The Marksman, considered to be a ranged DPS, deals poor DPS compared to the Void, who is considered a generalist. As I've mentioned in a previous article, the Mind is accidentally good. In fact, all of the strong design elements in those first 10 archetypes feel like accidents.

As we fast-forward through the new archetypes, we see a lot of changes. The Void is a little squishy to be a generalist, but she has a lot of fun mechanics like pets, life drains, and nasty single-target damage. Everything about her is intentional; even her innate passive (Spirit Reverberation) was tweaked to make her more viable pre-launch.

The other new archetypes have also been cool and interesting. The Inventor, despite his horrible passive, has a lot of fun stuff and is quite difficult to kill if he's played correctly. The Impulse lacks really powerful abilities, but his kit is so wild that he has almost freeform-like levels of flexibility. The Tempest, while not that much different overall from the Inferno, has the right stats to fuel her SEU.

The Unleashed reflects that new design mindset. Rather than being a random slipshod selection of powers, everything in his kit is chosen for a reason. The Unleashed is the first archetype I looked at and said, "I really understand what the designers are doing here." I understand them, sure -- but do I agree with them? Well, not really.

So you wanted to play a Jedi

The Unleashed is a sustainable melee DPS with some crowd control tools. The majority of his damage comes from his dual swords. Because he's in the Brawler role, the damage on his force blasts are reduced. He also lacks a gap closing ability such as a lunge, so you will have to make up that difference with skill.

What the Unleashed does extremely well is sustained DPS. Due to his passive, Force Shield, and the Focus/Rush mechanic, he should have no problems with energy at any point in the game. His DPS is reasonably good until he hits level 32. At level 32, his damage becomes explosively powerful, since he gets Dragon's Wrath, which I've mentioned enough in my column for you guys to know how powerful it is.

The Unleashed's first energy mechanic comes from his passive, Unstoppable. Unstoppable is an interesting choice for a martial arts fighter, since it is a Might passive. However, it makes sense: It returns energy whenever the Unleashed knocks an enemy around. If he uses his bread-and-butter Force Snap frequently, it will help to fuel his other attacks. Force Snap serves as the Unleashed's gap closer; it knocks an enemy toward him. It's not as reliable as a lunge, but sometimes you have to make do, and it encourages you to get the most out of your passive.

The other reason Unstoppable is interesting is that Way of the Warrior would allow the Unleashed to stack dodge, letting him fuel Resurgent Reiki and making him into a pseudo-tank. Because I think the devs are afraid of this interaction, they obviously left it out. I think a similar mentality governed the choice of Force Shield rather than Parry; Parry's advantage can also be used to stack dodge for Reiki.

The good news is that Force Shield is still a pretty good choice. Its Force Sheathe advantage lets the Unleashed build energy while being attacked, even when he's not blocking. The energy returns are quite significant, especially in solo play. As soon as the Unleashed gets his block, all of his energy issues should vanish (as long as you keep the Sheathe up).

Jedi Guardian or Consular?

Most archetypes have a choice between two powers at some point in their progression. Almost all of these choices are non-choices, meaning there's a clear best option. The Unleashed has several reasonable choices, but as with most Archetypes, making one decision is usually worse than the other.

The first choice he will have to make is between Force Eruption and Eye of the Storm at level 17. For PvE, Eye of the Storm is the clear winner in most circumstances. It fills a needed role in the Unleashed's power selections, since he has weaker-than-average AoE damage without it. It also makes him very survivable in solo encounters.

Force Eruption is also a reasonable choice. It gives a lot of energy back from Unstoppable and it can be used to give the Polarity buff, giving the Unleashed a damage bonus for a while. The AoE damage of Force Eruption is poor, however, and charging it also scatters mobs. The best value of FE is in PvP, since it can be activated while held to knock melee threats away.

The second choice is between Bountiful Chi Resurgence and Intensity. BCR is by far the superior option. Although the devs don't want you to stack dodge, you can still get some dodge by equipping dodge gear, making Resurgent Reiki somewhat useful. Even without Reiki, BCR provides some much-needed sustain in solo PvE and takes some of the heat off of healers in team PvE. In PvP, heals mean the difference between a win and a loss in 1v1 combat.

Intensity isn't a worthless choice, as it provides a huge burst of damage for a short time and can break you free of holds. It's nice, but I wouldn't recommend it unless you play only with friends.

The final choice at level 40 is a non-choice. Containment Field is a decent power in a small number of PvE circumstances and is virtually worthless otherwise. Compared to Force Geyser, which can be used in the same circumstances to similar effect but is much better as a whole, there's really no comparison.

Force Geyser is a quick-activating single-target knockup that has a pretty high magnitude. It's a very FOTM PvP power for a reason, and it has quite a few uses in PvP. It can be used to launch dangerous Master Villains or Super Villains into the air, it fuels energy for Unstoppable, and most importantly, doesn't need to be charged. By combining chains of Force Geyser and Force Snap, the Unleashed can knock-loop difficult foes long enough to be easily killed by his twin swords.

Unfortunately, the Unleashed does not get any option to select Ego Choke or Lightning Storm. I suspect this is a developer oversight.

Modifying your lightsabers

The Unleashed is pretty cut and dried as far as advantages go. As I mentioned before, you'll want Force Sheathe for your block to fuel your relentless attacks. You'll probably also want to rank up BCR if you take it or get Reiki if you decide to use dodge gear. I'm fairly certain that R1 BCR with Reiki and a dodge primary will out-survive R3 with a CON or PRE primary. Keep that in mind.

The essentials for the Unleashed are to rank up Dragon's Wrath to R2 and Unstoppable to R3. You should also pick up the Tiger's Courage advantage for DW, at least until the devs nerf it. If you get Eye of the Storm, you should also rank it up to R3. Force Eruption, on the other hand, can be safely left at R1 with the Polarity advantage.

Because the Unleashed lacks a lunge, I highly advise taking Acrobatics with the Versatility advantage as your first travel power. If you do not, I recommend getting a Dark Speed device as soon as possible (they cost around 1000g, though, above the money cap for Silver players). If you pick Fly or Teleport as your first travel power, you will probably regret it as closing to melee range without a lunge is a pain.

The Unleashed combines better melee DPS than any archetype that has come before him with sustainability and crowd control. Is he the best free AT? Well... not really.

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.
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