Brutes in a nutshell
To play a Brute is to play an engine of destruction -- a perfectly self-contained and self-sustaining engine of destruction, at that. Doing damage and taking damage both build up your ability to deal more damage, which in turn leads you to rushing ahead ever faster, trying to hit that perfect mark at which your ever-growing Fury bar maxes out and you reach the apex of your destructive potential.
Brutes are one of the hybrid archetypes introduced with City of Villains, capable of pulling duty as either a tank or a damage dealer depending on circumstance. Unlike Scrappers, who generally make lackluster off-tanks at best, Brutes do quite well at either role. They're fairly hard to kill, and the constant up-scaling via the Fury bar means that taking damage makes them even better at handing out high-threat attacks to enemies. You're no slouch in the damage department either, however -- after all, with a good support character you're essentially going to be unloading over and over and getting stronger each time.
Like other melee-primary archetypes, you have the weakness of no real ranged abilities. You also have a unique weakness in Fury, even though the little glowing bar is one of the strongest elements of the archetype. While a fully powered Brute is a sight to behold, the first few attacks of any fight are pretty useless, and extended downtimes drop your Fury back down to nothing. From a cold start, Tankers will beat you at threat generation and Scrappers or Stalkers will beat you at pure damage pretty reliably, meaning you need a little time to start evening out the scales.
The primary sets of a Brute are designed to deal damage in melee range, and several of them are shared with Scrappers. As such, several of them can be glossed in a similar fashion, although Brutes obviously will get far more mileage out of the taunts of a given set.
Battle Axe: A close cousin to the sword sets for Scrappers, Battle Axe sports the basic templates that are seen in Broad Sword or Katana sets -- cone attack, Build Up, spinning attack, the usual sort. It also has a Knockdown rider attached to most of its attacks, which is fairly useful when running solo. Other than that, it's solid if not extraordinary.
Claws: Claws are virtually identical to the Scrapper set, with the big difference being an added taunt effect. If you want to build your Brute specifically for tanking, this isn't a bad route to go, especially as it has a nice selection of area attacks.
Dark Melee: Absolutely identical to the Scrapper set. A great solo set and a pretty good team set.
Dual Blades: Again, identical to the Scrapper set. A toolbox, fun to play, if not necessarily the best choice for pure damage.
Electrical Melee: Claws might generate slightly more aggro if you want to go tank-mode, but Electrical Melee retains all of its devastating area abilities in the hands of Brutes as well.
Energy Melee: If you use Energy Transfer while tanking, you are just asking for a lucky string of hits to kill you. This should be a known fact. That having been said, it's a good damage set, and the disorient rider is always nice as a means of controlling your enemies. Fun if not optimal.
Fiery Melee: The order of powers is a somewhat rearranged version of the Scrapper set, but the core remains unchanged. A thematic set, neither good nor bad.
Kinetic Melee: Akin to the Scrapper set, yes, but with the added benefit (or drawback) that Power Siphon winds up pulling double duty with Fury. If you like huge swings of potency between being awesome and being a complete slouch, the two do combine nicely.
Stone Melee: A ranged attack! And not one but two AoE knockdowns! If you like mixing up your abilities a bit more than usual, this set is certainly unique among the Brute options. It's probably better suited for tanking or solo play, but it's nice to finally have something to peg runners with.
Super Strength: Another set with some AoE effects and a ranged attack, plus the rather situational Rage. Rage is great when you're topping off Fury, yes, but the crash can be pretty severe. Still, it's not a bad damage set with some use for tanks.
War Mace: Battle Axe part two, in essence, with more variety in its attack riders. There's little to be said other than the fact that it works without being overly flashy.
Secondaries are also similar to Scrapper secondaries, in several cases (as above) being almost identical. Of course, their defensive nature is helped by the fact that Brutes are far more likely to be pulling serious tank duty, thus making some of the otherwise lackluster powers more useful.
Dark Armor, Electric Armor, Fiery Aura, Invulnerability, Shield Defense, and Willpower: Identical to the sets Scrappers get, with the obvious caveat that several of these sets are far better for a tanking Brute (such as Invulnerability), and abilities such as Rise to the Challenge are greatly enhanced when you expect to be getting pounded on from all sides.
Energy Aura: An interesting defensive set with a stealth power and Overload as a panic button, which uses a mechanic I've gone on record as not being terribly fond of. However, it couples that with several innate resistances, which could make for a remarkably unshakable tank if you feel like playing with it.
Stone Armor: Now this is a fun tanking set. Most of your powers will grant you both defense and resistance, making you harder to hit as well as more durable, and Mud Pots is a weird but fun power for tanks when enemies start getting low on health. Granite Armor is a pretty neat marquee power, too, even if it does kind of keep you rooted.
Super Reflexes: Yes, it's functionally identical to the Scrapper set as well, but it's worth pointing to because this is a set that Brutes get that Tankers don't. Super Reflexes might be rough in the lower levels, but anyone will tell you that defense winds up overpowering resistance something fierce, and Super Reflexes is basically an express train to soft-capped defense. In other words, you get hit once a decade, and for tanking that's worth considering.
As for me...
Brutes don't hold the same place in my heart that Scrappers do, but I still like them a lot. The fact that you're being forced to keep moving at all times really keeps you engaged when you're playing one, and it also helps force you to use up your inspirations (something I'm guilty of hoarding). There's a kinetic fury to Brutes that's unmatched by any other class, because the faster you move, the faster the Brute kills things.
As a corollary, I'd like to note that nearly everyone stuck up for his favorite secondary or primary in the comment field, including a few that I had panned, and that's partly my point. While I stand by my opinions, it goes to show how varied the game really is, that one person's set of "eh" can be the set of godlike power for another. (And I'll concede that Lightning Reflexes is pretty sweet.)
Let me know what you think of this week's column via email (firstname.lastname@example.org, you know it) or in the comments field. In other news, we're coming up on the one-year anniversary of the column. (Actually, we just miss an even year, since the first installment went live on the 27th and that's a Thursday in 2011.) If there's anything special you'd like to see for the anniversary column, let me know -- I've got some ideas of my own, but I've always tried to have an open dialogue with everyone reading, and I'll be darned if I'm stopping now.
By day a mild-mannered reporter, Eliot Lefebvre unveils his secret identity in Paragon City and the Rogue Isles every Wednesday. Filled with all the news that's fit to analyze and all the muck that's fit to rake, this look at City of Heroes analyzes everything from the game's connection to its four-color roots to the latest changes in the game's mechanics.