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Worship at the Cathedral of Pain

--- Croatia and Terra Volta under Brutish leadership ---

Tuesday was another pretty good day for progressing through City of Heroes. I once again met up with Flagoon and Saros, and this meant extremely lucrative xp. Saros was at level 31, Flagoon and myself (as the Illusion/Storm controller, Psi-Caster) both at level 28. Saros had accidentally left his missions set on "invincible", and this put his mobs out at about level 33-35ish. I mostly couldn't touch the enemies with my direct-effect attacks, but I did manage to hinder them with my debuffs (which, in Storm Summoning, are auto-hit) and by throwing a Phantom Army out there to distract. Of course, anything which Saros didn't have the attention of flattened me in little time at all. Still, I actually felt useful, as Saros and Flagoon wouldn't have been able to do that alone.

After a Croatia mission, we then moved on to do the Terra Volta trial, again on Invincible, but I felt the need to sidekick up with Saros to get it completed safely. It helped we had a 30th Controller as our fourth to get that Trial done. Despite feeling a little more useful this time, I once again I found my niche as a Controller filled. Last time (see last blog entry) the group was 50% Controllers. Now it was 75%. Saros couldn't have finished the task force without those three Controllers, but my individual contribution still felt unnecessary dead weight the majority of the time.

--- First Encounters with the Cathedral of Pain ---

My lukewarm reunion with Saros and Flagoon (called such because I was making great experience despite feeling generally unneeded) was cut short by a call from my Supergroup to go hit up the Cathedral of Pain. This "Cathedral" turned out to be a quasi-dimensional mess of floating islands. Kingdom of Sky in EQ2 had already killed any mystique that held for me. In any case, it was the reported by many of our level 50 members as being the hardest ever encountered. My own contribution as Psi-caster was pretty weak because they needed more firepower, so I brought the Nanites into it. Unfortunately, the Nanites is really not operating at his proper potential due to lack of Single Origin enhancements and generally screwed up power picks.

In the course of my devotions at the cathedral, I managed to escape with one death worth of debt on Psi-Caster and two deaths worth on Nanites. Full outdoors debt values - ouch! From that alone, my current impressions of the Cathedral of Pain were that it was little more than one big experience debt trap - defeating the mobs didn't even grant any experience points. However, from what I've read, obtaining an artifact of power drops a big experience reward on you, so perhaps it's not as bad as I think. There was no success for our Supergroup Tuesday, and it looks like the CoP is down Wednesday, so I won't get to try again for awhile. After the failed CoP yesterday, I stayed up and got Psi-Caster out of debt, making level 29 in the process.

--- The Nanites and making Spines/Dark Armor work. ---

I've mentioned how I want to get Nanites (my Spines/Dark Armor Scrapper) respecced, but he's proving difficult to make work on paper before the respec is done.

While I'm in favor of a staminaless build, to the point where I made a pretty good discussion of how it works on yesterday's Blog, I have to admit that there's just no way to get that to work comfortably on Spines/Dark Armor. It's mostly a Dark Armor problem, you've got at least five endurance-sucking toggle powers to leave on in order to survive: the Combat Jumping, Acrobatics, three Dark Armor toggle shields are mandatory for a tough engagement. On top of that, there's other stuff like PBAOE damage toggles (Death Shroud, Quills) and Cloak of Darkness (stealth and a +def buff) or the travel power (Super Jump).

Back to yesterday's Stamina analogy, if your natural endurance regeneration is a stream of water pouring into a bucket, and the activation of your powers is ladeling out portions of water in the bucket, then toggle powers are a hole in the bottom of the bucket. Endurance reducers can reduce the size of that hole a bit, but five or six toggle powers is just too big of a hole for a 33% difference in size to be sufficient. Slotting two endurance reducers for a 66% difference might do it, but now it comes at too severe of a cost to the actual potency of the powers. (Also, the powers I end up picking up by avoiding stamina are likely going to be more toggles, widening the hole further!) Stamina solves the issue of insufficient endurance by increasing the amount of water flowing into the bucket.

Next comes the problem of actually having power slots to spare with a Spines/Dark Armor Build. If I'm stuck with six power pool powers (to get Stamina and Acrobatics) and a bare minimum of three defensive powers. These are not optional, they're all vital to survival. I'd have 14 power slots by level 24 when I respec, subtract the 9 I just talked about, and I've only five left before I've picked my first Spines move. "Build Up" is another mandatory, it temporarily doubles the damage done, so now I'm looking at only four powers to spare for attacks by level 24. In this way, taking all of those pool powers is harsh. It doesn't help that Spines and Dark Armor are both sets with many seemingly necessary powers - I want to take them all. Well, maybe not Cloak of Fear, which would conflict with the three available PBAOE attacks.

The problem becomes that I need to find powers I can sacrifice in order to make room for the necessary pool powers, defensive powers, and attack powers, and travel powers (fortunately included in Acrobatics prerequisites) but I am coming up two short. The solution, I've decided, is to take less AOE attacks.

In my current (in need of respeccing out) build, I've got Death Shroud (toggle PBAOE damage), Quills (toggle PBAOE damage + slow), and Spine Burst (PBAOE attack + slow). Looking ahead at higher levels, I see that (at higher levels) the Spines power set gains has powerful two cone attacks: Ripper and Throw Spines. Those two cone attacks alone would would likely eliminate all the minions in a group, leaving only a few bosses and/or lieutenants which are waste for PBAOE attacks in terms of endurance expenditure. Suddenly Death Shroud, Spines, and Spine Burst are completely unnecessary. Those same powers are also all available at lower levels (under level 20), which is ideal for the very pool powers I need to slot for.

The result is more than a Spines/Dark Miasma build that can spare the powers to take both Stamina and Acrobatics. Here's how a level 38 build looks on Joe Chott's Hero Planner:

01 : Dark Embrace, 01 : Barb Swipe, 02 : Lunge, 04 : Murky Cloud, 06 : Combat Jumping, 08 : Build Up, 10 : Impale, 12 : Swift...
14 : Health <-- Alternately, Super Jump here, but it pushes back Stamina. 16 : Dark Regeneration, 18 : Obsidian Shield, 20 : Stamina, 22 : Super Jump, 24 : Acrobatics, 26 : Ripper, 28 : Cloak of Darkness... 30 : Cloak of Fear <--- Alternately, Spine Burst, Death Shroud, or Quills. 32 : Throw Spines, 35 : Oppressive Gloom, 38 : Soul Transfer

It's a late maturing set. I'll only have three single target attacks from 10 until 25. (Granted, those three will probably be all you have time for with the long animation time on Barb Swipe.) Starting at level 26, the AOE finally starts to apply. As of 32, all the AOE the build would ever need is there. After level 40, you get into Ancillary Pools - for Scrappers, that's mostly extra attacks. That might be a good point for a second (or, in my case, third) respec - swapping out Barb Swipe for something else (like Hasten) since there would now be enough attacks to make make the time-spacer attack that Barb Swipe is unnecessary.

You'll note I've some options at level 30. Either a PBAOE attack or Cloak of Fear. Why not get both? Because the fear effect is offset by taking damage, and so would render Cloak of Fear pointless. The cloak of fear option (which I favor) offers a third functionality to this versatile single or AOE damaging Scrapper, that of mob control. Most of the emphasis of the powers of this set, however, are in simply maintaining a powerful basis of survival.

So, that's it then, Psi-Caster is to be co-opted by the Nanites? Bleh, I wish I could say I made such a clear decision. I'm still thinking about it. The immediate barrier with the Nanites is just getting him to 24 so he can take the Terra Volta trial. It's a very daunting barrier because the Nanites current power sets have him performing poorly and traveling without the benefit of a power. It's quite probable that the end result would be inferior to Psi-Caster, and so I wonder if perhaps my efforts would be better spent swallowing my pride and just playing Psi-Caster to 50 as originally planned. Or, at least until 32 when I can see just how damaging Phantasm is for myself.


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