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The Best Defense - Beginner's Advice for IOs, Builds, and Survivability

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I see these kinds of questions brought up a lot in help chat in-game, so I figured I would give kind of a basic idea here and compile a rough list of what IO sets give what bonuses, and a little advice and personal opinion on goals for putting together an IO build.


So BIG DISCLAIMER that I'm by no means an expert, just someone who's trying to give a little bit of a primer for people completely new to IOs and putting together characters. ALSO SECOND BIG DISCLAIMER that most of my experience (as will become abundantly clear) is in building for survivability, mostly because my personal philosophy is that your personal survivability is probably the most important part of your character. Most of my build experience is in putting together scrappers, stalkers, brutes, and blasters - but most of the stuff below applies just as well to most other ATs. I admit I am basically clueless when it comes to a few ATs (Mastermind and kheldians mostly), though, so if you mostly play those take the advice below with a grain of salt.


I'm not aiming this at any particular level of wealth... cost of optimized builds will vary widely, so I'm just talking about the game as it is, under the assumption you can afford pretty much whatever you want. If you can't.. well, there're guides for that too. xP


So, what do I build for?


This is a personal choice; however, in my opinion given how IO set bonuses work, the IOs and powers available to us and my personal feelings about how useful it is to have a self-sufficient character, I think the most important priorities generally are to search out ways to maximize set bonuses for defense, resistance and/or recharge. These are usually my priorities when I'm building, though they might come in different orders depending on precisely which powersets a particular character is using. For the absolute beginner, though, it's useful to know a few other things.


Defense softcap


In City of Heroes your defenses are percentage-based chances to avoid enemy attacks. Avoided attacks deal NO damage, so in my opinion this is for most characters your first priority - putting together sets and set bonuses and power choices that boost up your defenses. There's some complicated math-y equations about how often stuff hits you, but distilling that all down, your defensive softcap value is 45%. At 45%, you'll have reduced the chance mobs have to hit you by as much as the game allows you to.


A few notes to start with -

  • There's a difference between 'typed' and 'positional' defenses. All attacks have both a 'type' (sometimes more than one) and a 'position'. For example, the Claws power Slash is a melee (position) attack that deals lethal (type) damage. When a mob uses an attack on you, the game uses your best defense of the attack's typed and positional properties to determine if it hits, meaning you only need to worry about maxing out EITHER your positional OR your typed defense, not both. Super Reflexes, Shield Defense and Ninjitsu rely on positional (Melee, Ranged, AOE) defenses for mitigation, while most other defense-based powers and sets rely on typed. Some powers (like maneuvers, weave and hover) provide bonuses to ALL defenses, so are useful to positional AND typed defensive sets.
  • There's a thing called 'streak breaker' in the game which basically boils down to, enemies can only miss you so many times in a row before they're guaranteed to score a hit. This means defense is not a perfect stat, because eventually those defenses will crumple under streak breaker and you'll take a big spike of damage. If you don't have resistance to back it up, you're toast.
  • Lots of enemies use powers that provide them with defense debuffs. A lot of sets that rely purely on defense provide you with a toggle or passive that gives you some resistance to Def debuffs, but if you don't have that resistance, fighting enemies with lots of -def powers is a nightmare without some resistance or active mitigation to back it up.
  • The amount of defense you need for incarnate content to achieve the 'cap' is higher than in normal content. I don't usually find this to be an issue, but that's because I don't generally play tanks. If you're playing a dedicated tanker and you do a lot of incarnate stuff, you might want to build for even higher defense than 45%. (I think that's how that works, anyway.)
  • ATs that don't have a defensive set to back them up can achieve some defensive numbers through the use of pool powers - the Fighting and Leadership pools have such powers - and often they'll have defensive toggles or cooldowns as patron/ancillary pool options. I usually take either Scorpion Shield or the Cold Mastery pools on my blasters, for example, as they have powers that provide a good baseline Smashing/Lethal defense value. Dominators can achieve perma-Link Minds to achieve some defense too. VEATs have a beefed-up version of maneuvers that serves the same purpose.
  • In IO set bonuses, and with most powers, typed defenses are lumped into pairs; for set bonuses, they're also lumped together with one of the 3 positional defenses, so that every set works well for both positional and typed characters. The three categories you'll see are smashing/lethal/melee; energy/negative/ranged, and fire/cold/AOE. For example, the 3-piece set bonus for the Aegis resistance set is 3.13% defense (fire, cold) and 1.56% defense (AOE). Some sets give higher positional bonuses; some give higher typed bonuses, something to keep in mind depending on what defensive abilities you're using.
  • Psionic and Toxic: these damage types are weird; psionic defense is not lumped into the other categories but stands on its own, and defense against it in set bonuses is rather rare and costly (slot-wise). Toxic damage as far as I can tell has no associated defense. I don't know if that means all toxic attacks are auto-hit or not, but regardless, the best way to 'defend' against toxic is through toxic resistance... but even then, honestly, it's not a big deal. Toxic damage seems rare enough, and to come in small enough quantities (usually DoTs) that I've never noticed my characters dying because I didn't build to cover toxic resistance. Psi, on the other hand, CAN be pretty deadly if you don't have a way of covering for it, especially if you're fighting one of the (regrettably several) enemy groups that seem to love psionic attacks. Something to keep in mind if you're planning on playing a tanker for a group; you might want to cover psionic defenses somehow.


In my personal builds defense is usually my first priority if I think I can get certain defenses to the softcap. Defensive sets that primarily rely on +defensive toggles or abilities allow you to softcap most or all defenses pretty easily. If you can't softcap all of them, my priority is usually smashing/lethal > fire/cold > energy/negative. This is my priority because S/L are (at least, I'm pretty sure) the most common sources of typed damage, and because, with winter IOs (if you can afford them), fire/cold is pretty easy to cap, even for a character without a dedicated F/C defensive toggle.


So how do I do that??

Well, I'm here to try to help you with that, by giving you a list of which IO sets give you bonuses to which types of defense!


Choosing powers, IO set categories, etc.

It's important to consider there's a bit of strategy that comes into play when choosing your powers. You want to think about not just whether the power is itself good, but which IO sets you can slot into that power - and thus, which set bonuses you get out of those IOs. This is why you'll sometimes hear folks talk about 'set mules' - that is, powers that are just there not to actually use in play, but to carry an IO set that can only be slotted into that type of power.


Every power in the game belongs to one or a number of categories, dependent on what it does. These categories determine which enhancements you can put in the power - and, for IOs, which sets can be slotted into the power. For example, the power Slash from the Claws set is a single target melee attack with a defense debuff component - that means it can be slotted to enhance its accuracy, recharge time, endurance cost, damage, and the value of its defense debuff. For IOs, that means it can be slotted with sets in the Single Target Melee, Defense Debuff, and Accurate Defense Debuff categories. There are a lot of categories, and every power has different categories depending on what it does and how it does it. This will just take some time looking at in Mids, but here's a brief description of each category and what sort of powers you'll find attached to those categories:


  • Melee Damage: Melee attacks whose main function is hitting a single opponent. Examples include most T1s from most melee damage sets, like Swipe from Claws.
  • Ranged Damage: Covers both dedicated ranged attacks like the T1 of most Blast sets, as well as holds, slows, etc. that have a damage component like Soul Storm in the Soul Mastery pool.
  • PBAoE Damage: Attacks where the damage originates on you and goes outwards; attacks like Hail of Bullets from Dual Pistols.
  • Targeted AOE Damage: Attacks where either you choose a target and damage radiates out from that target, like Bullet Rain from Dual Pistols; or, powers where you choose a spot on the ground to set down the AOE, like Rain of Arrows from Archery. Also covers cone-shaped attacks like Flamethrower from Assault Rifle.
  • Sniper Attacks: Special ranged attacks that take a long time to wind up (out of combat) but deal huge damage, like Sniper Rifle from Assault Rifle.
  • Pets: Powers that summon permanent pets, like any of the Mastermind's core summon powers.
  • Recharge Intensive Pets: Generally, these sets cover any other power that summons any sort of temporary pet, like Illusion Control's Phantom Army. However, these sets also apply more broadly; MM summons will take them, as will a number of abilities that don't summon actual 'pets', but instead summon pseudopets and minions (Storm Summoning's Tornado is considered a 'pet' for this purpose). The distinction is that moooost powers that summon an entity will accept Recharge Intensive Pets IOs, whereas the Pets category is more limited.
  • Defense: Powers that increase a character's defenses, like Weave from the Fighting pool.
  • Resistance: Powers that increase a character's resistances, like Tough from the Fighting pool.
  • Heal: Powers that restore HP to either the user, allies or allied pets, like O2 Boost from Storm Summoning. Also includes powers that increase Regeneration rates, like Fast Healing from Regeneration, powers that boost Max HP, like Shield Defense's True Grit, and absorb powers like Bio Armor's Parasitic Aura.
  • Accurate Heal: Powers that heal the user or allies, but require an accuracy check against an enemy to do so; ie, powers where you actually target enemies to execute the heal. Examples include Dehydrate from Water Blast, Transfusion from Kinetics and Dark Regeneration from Dark Armor.
  • Endurance Modification: Powers that either restore Endurance to the user, like Seishinteki Kyoyo from Ninjitsu (scrapper), powers that drain endurance from enemies, like most of Electric Blast; and powers that do both at the same time, like Power Sink from Electric Armor. Also includes powers that increase Recovery rates, like Stamina from the Fitness pool, and powers that increase maximum Endurance, like Superior Conditioning from Body Mastery (stalker).
  • Hold: Powers that have hold effects on enemies, like Soul Storm from Soul Mastery.
  • Stun: Powers with stun effects on enemies, like Stun from Energy Melee.
  • Immobilize: Powers that immobilize enemies, like most controller T1s.
  • Slow Movement: Powers that slow enemies, like Infrigidate from Cold Domination.
  • Sleep: Powers that put enemies to sleep, like Salt Crystals from Earth Control.
  • Fear: Powers that inflict fear, like Touch of Fear from Dark Melee.
  • Confuse: Powers that confuse enemies (see a pattern? :D ) like Confuse from Mind Control.
  • Flight: Powers that grant flight, like, well, Fly, from the Flying pool.
  • Jump: Self-explanatory right? Like Combat Jumping from the Jumping pool.
  • Run: Powers that give super-speed! Like Super Speed.
  • Teleport: Powers that let you teleport. This includes both the Teleport power pool powers, AND the damage-dealing teleport powers, like Burst of Speed, Savage Leap, Shield Charge and Lightning Rod, if you had a need to slot those with teleport IOs for some reason.
  • Generic Travel: these IOs can be slotted into any 'travel' power.
  • Defense Debuff: Powers that reduce the defenses of enemies. This includes attacks that have a -def component to them, like most Katana powers.
  • Accurate Defense Debuff: Like accurate heal, these powers reduce enemy defenses, but require an accuracy check to do so, like Melt Armor from Thermal Radiation.
  • To-Hit Buff: Powers that give the user a to-hit buff, like most melee sets' Build Up, and most Blast sets' Aim.
  • To-Hit Debuff: Powers that reduce enemies' chance to hit, like Darkest Night from Dark Miasma.
  • Accurate To-Hit Debuff: like the other 'accurate' categories, these are -tohit powers that require an accuracy check to land successfully. This includes most Dark Melee powers.
  • Taunt: Powers that taunt the enemy to attack the user, like most melee sets' Taunt or Confront.
  • Knockback: Powers that cause knockback on the enemy, like most of Energy Melee's attacks.
  • Universal Damage: the Overwhelming Force set can be slotted into any attack that deals damage, so it's in its own category.


There are also Archetype Origin Enhancements (ATOs), which fit weirdly into the above categories. Basically, every archetype has a set of 2 enhancements that can only be slotted by that archetype, and which provide a special, unique AT-only bonus in some capacity. Which power you can slot these in to depends on the AT in question - for most ATs, any damage-dealing power can accept an ATO set - with the exception of Controllers and Dominators, whose ATO sets slot into any power with a control component (immobilize, slow, hold, sleep, fear, confuse), and Masterminds, whose ATO sets slot into their Pet powers.


So, where do all those categories fit into the strategy of picking powers?


Well, imagine you have a scrapper. You take three single-target melee attacks as a part of that scrapper's attack chain. As all those attacks are single-target melee attacks, that limits you to only accessing a few of the categories of sets above - and, subsequently, you can only use the sets (and bonuses) those categories allow. That might be okay if, for example, you want lots of Smashing/Lethal defense, since you can get a lot of S/L set bonuses with Melee Damage IO sets like Superior Blistering Cold and Kinetic Combat.




Your build might need more Energy/Negative defense. Or you might need more +recharge, and so you want more room to slot purple sets. In those cases, you might want to pick powers that have access to categories with set bonuses that do those things. For example, if my scrapper took one PBAoE Damage power, she would now have access to, say, the Superior Avalanche set, which she can 6-slot for more S/L defense and also a boost to Fire/Cold defense. Or maybe she decides she doesn't need all the S/L defense and takes a Targeted AOE Damage power instead for Superior Frozen Blast's whopping 7.5% 6-piece set bonus to Fire/Cold defense.


See where I'm going here?


Basically, the more of the above categories your power selection gives you, the more diverse a number of sets you can slot - and thus, you'll have access to a much broader set of set bonuses, which give you the ability to cover up more of your weaknesses. With some time spent in Mids you'll learn which categories of powers give access to which sets, and which sets give the bonuses you're searching for.


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Little things to note...

Capped set bonuses

To prevent too much crazy stacking of set bonuses, you can only have 5 of each unique set bonus across your build. If you slot yourself so that you have more than 5, that set bonus won't work and is wasted. Note that I said unique. It's not that you can only have 5 recharge bonuses across an entire build - you can only have, say, 5 +10% recharge bonuses across your entire build. This is because set bonuses are considered unique, passive powers that are active on you at all times when you have the set slotted. If you open up the Character Info window on somebody, switch to the Powers tab, and see all those things like "Huge Recharge Bonus x5" on there? That's what that means.

I don't usually run into a problem with going over the set bonus cap when slotting for defense, but you can sometimes run into it when slotting for resistance and recharge. For example, a VERY

high-end recharge-focused build will want to mix-and-match different +x% recharge bonuses so as to squeeze out a +recharge on every power. 5 purple 5-piece sets, for example, will yield 5 +10% recharge bonuses; however, slotting a sixth purple +10% recharge set would be a waste, because that's above the cap. Instead you want to opt for other sets with smaller, different bonuses - like the preventive medicine 6-piece +8.25% bonus, for example, or the Panacea 5-piece +7.5% recharge bonus.

This also applies to the Luck of the Gambler global recharge bonus IOs - you can slot 5 of those across your build for the bonus, but the 6th won't give you the +recharge bonus. A lot of people take or slot defensive powers like Maneuvers, Vengeance, etc. just to act as 'mules' because the LotG bonuses are really good if you want the +recharge.

Mids keeps track of this in the 'View Totals' window, which is pretty handy. If you open it, it will give you a nice message in red telling you if you're over the cap on one of your set bonuses.


Unique enhancements

Pretty simple - some enhancements can only be used once across an entire build. This includes all purple sets, as well as ATOs and Winter IOs. This means one of each enhancement - you can have as many purple sets as you can afford in your build, but only one of each Hecatomb enhancement, for example. On that note...


+3% enhancements - Gladiator's Armor, Steadfast Protection

There are two IOs from two Resistance sets, Gladiator's Armor and Steadfast Protection, that when slotted give you +3% to ALL defenses, each, for a total of 6% to all defenses if you slot both of them. These are incredibly good for any defensive build and there's pretty much no reason you should ever not take them. 6% defense for two slots is insanely great.


How many slots do I put in [power x]?

Well, that really depends. The easiest answer is 'as many as you need to get the set bonus you want.' However, if the power is actually important to your performance, you'll want to slot it well. For example, a scrapper probably wants to 6-slot the main attacks in their attack chain, because those are the things doing the damage. From there you can decide what set you want to put in the power, slot that set, and then, with the leftover slots, add procs or other enhancements that shore up the power so it hits hard, fast, and accurate.

For non-attacks, the same logic applies - if you want a set bonus that's important, slot it as many times as you need to get the set bonus. Otherwise, slot it so you can enhance it until you hit diminishing returns. Basically, the more you slot a power for one of it's components - higher defense, more damage, etc. - the smaller the returns. Putting a generic defense IO in weave will give you a 2% boost to defense, let's say, while the second one will only give you a 1% boost. That's diminishing returns in action. Mids tracks this by helpfully displaying a big red number if you mouse over the power and you're slotting way past your diminishing returns. That means you don't need to slot for that component of the power anymore.

I'm terrible at explaining this, but basically you want to slot just enough that the power is useful, but not so much that you're losing out on a good set or better bonuses if you took those extra slots and put them on another power. Something like that.


Your Power Should Still Be Useful:


When choosing which IO sets to slot into the power, remember that you still want the power to be good at what it's supposed to do. For example, you can slot every single Katana attack with -def IO sets... but then that power wouldn't hit very hard, would it?


Basically, it's important to remember that you're not just slotting for set bonuses, you're slotting your character's powers to be effective. If Siphon Life is a central part of your attack chain, you still need it to do damage, so you probably shouldn't fill it with healing IOs. Consider what the power is actually going to be doing when you use it, when you choose which set to slot it with. (If the power's just a mule power, and you don't plan on using it much, then, obviously, this isn't as important.)


This also comes into play when choosing which particular sets inside of a category to use - the lower-level sets are generally worse at enhancing an individual power's performance than the higher-level ones. Kinetic Combat isn't going to make your power hit like a Hecatomb set will.




You might hear people talk about 'franken-slotting powers'. What does that mean? Well, one of the advantages of set IOs is that they allow you to enhance multiple aspects of a power with a single enhancement slot - that is, a single IO might have +Damage/Accuracy/Recharge on it, instead of just +Damage like a generic IO or SO would have. Thus, 'franken-slotting' is using set IOs to buff up multiple aspects of a power without concern for getting the sets' set bonuses. For example, the Bio Armor power Parasitic Aura requires both accuracy (because it has to hit enemies to heal you) and +heal (so the power gives you a good absorb shield). You might choose to franken-slot this power with different set IOs that give Acc/Heal in order to max out both the power's accuracy and healing.

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With that bit of explanation out of the way, I'm going to help you figure out how to slot your character for the most commonly-sought set bonuses! Like I mentioned above, I prefer to build for defense softcap, but below that i'll have a little section explaining resistance-based sets/builds, and +recharge-based builds.




If your goal is to build for defense softcap, you'll want to have your character's 'totals' tab open in Mids while you slot away. Once those numbers reach 45%, you want to stop.


The following sets give bonuses to Smashing, Lethal and Melee defense:

  • Melee Damage: Smashing Haymaker (4-piece), Kinetic Combat (4-piece), Touch of Death (6-piece), (Superior) Blistering Cold (5-piece)
  • PBAoE Damage: Multi-strike (6 piece), Obliteration (6-piece), (Superior) Avalanche (5-piece)
  • Sniper Attacks: Extreme Measures (6-piece)
  • Pets: Sovereign Right (6-piece)
  • Resistance: Reactive Armor (4-piece), Titanium Coating (6-piece), Unbreakable Guard (4-piece)
  • Hold: Neuronic Shutdown (6-piece)
  • Stun: Razzle Dazzle (5-piece)
  • Immobilize: Enfeebled Operation (4 and 6-piece)
  • Slow Movement: Curtail Speed (4-piece), Impeded Swiftness (6-set)
  • Sleep: Induced Coma (6-piece), Lethargic Repose (4-piece)
  • Defense Debuff: Exploited Vulnerability (3-piece)
  • Accurate Defense Debuff: Shield Breaker (6-piece)
  • To-Hit Buff: Rectified Reticle (2-piece), Gaussian's Synchronized Fire Control (6-piece)
  • To-Hit Debuff: Discouraging Words (3-piece)
  • Accurate To-Hit Debuff: Siphon Insight (5-piece)
  • Taunt: Annoyance (3-piece), Triumphant Insult (3-piece), Mocking Beratement (4-piece), Perfect Zinger (6-piece)
  • ATOs: Scrapper's Strike (3-piece), Gauntleted Fist (5-piece), Essence Transfer (6-piece), Brute's Fury (3-piece), Unrelenting Fury (5-piece), Mark of Supremacy (4-piece), Stalker's Guile (3-piece), Spider's Bite (4-piece)


So from the list we can see a few patterns. Taunts are great for lugging S/L defense bonuses around, but outside of a tanker, I don't see much use for that; I wouldn't take a taunt power JUST for the defense set bonuses, personally. Melee attacks, PBAoEs and resistance sets are generally good sources for S/L bonuses. There's lots of little bonuses outside of there that you can pick up if you slot for them.


The following sets give bonuses to Fire, Cold, and AOE defense:

  • Melee Damage: (Superior) Blistering Cold (6-piece)
  • Ranged Damage: Maelstrom's Fury (3-piece), Ruin (6-piece), (Superior) Winter's Bite (6-piece)
  • PBAoE Damage: Eradication (6-piece), Multi-Strike (5-piece), Scirocco's Dervish (5-piece), (Superior) Avalanche (6-piece)
  • Targeted AOE Damage: Detonation (5-piece), Annihilation (6-piece), (Superior) Frozen Blast (5- and 6-piece)
  • Sniper Attacks: Exploit Weakness (3-piece), Extreme Measures (5-piece)
  • Pets: Commanding Presence (5-piece), Blood Mandate (5-piece)
  • Recharge Intensive Pets: Call to Arms (6-piece)
  • Resistance: Reactive Armor (5-piece), Aegis (3- and 5-piece)
  • Heal: Harmonized Healing (5-piece), Miracle (5-piece)
  • Endurance Modification: Performance Shifter (6-piece)
  • Hold: Lockdown (5-piece), Gladiator's Net (6-piece), (Superior) Entomb (6-piece)
  • Stun: Stagger (3-piece), Razzle Dazzle (6-piece)
  • Immobilize: Debilitative Action (5-piece)
  • Sleep: Lethargic Repose (5-piece)
  • Confuse: Cacophony (5-piece), Perplex (5-piece)
  • Generic Travel: Blessing of the Zephyr (3-piece)
  • Defense Debuff: Achilles' Heel (3-piece), Undermined Defenses (6-piece)
  • Accurate Defense Debuff: Shield Breaker (4-piece)
  • To-Hit Buff: Guassian's Synchronized Fire Control (6-piece)
  • Accurate Defense Debuff: Siphon Insight (6-piece)
  • Taunt: Mocking Beratement (5-piece)
  • Knockback: Force Feedback (6-piece)
  • ATOs: Vigilant Assault (6-piece), Critical Strikes (4-piece), Scourging Blast (6-piece), Assassin's Mark (4-piece)


I generally find Fire/Cold to be the easiest defenses to cap without having a dedicated toggle. This is because, if you can afford them, the winter IOs give you gobs of F/C defense, and a lot of other sets have F/C defenses bonuses tacked on as well. Most sets are gonna have at last 1 power you can slot to get an F/C defense bonus.


The following sets grant bonuses to Energy, Negative and Ranged defense:

  • Melee Damage: Pulverizing Fisticuffs (3-piece), Pounding Slugfest (3-piece), Mako's Bite (6-piece)
  • Ranged Damage: Thunderstrike (3- and 6-piece), (Superior) Winter's Bite (5-piece)
  • PBAoE Damage: Cleaving Blow (3-piece), Eradication (3-piece)
  • Sniper Attacks: Calibrated Accuracy (3- and 6-piece), Executioner's Contract (6-piece), Sting of the Manticore (3-piece)
  • Pets: Blood Mandate (6-piece)
  • Recharge Intensive Pets: Expedient Reinforcement (6-piece)
  • Defense: Red Fortune (6-piece
  • Resistance: Reactive Armor (3-piece), Gladiator's Armor (6-piece)
  • Heal: Numina's Convalescence (6-piece)
  • Hold: Basilisk's Gaze (2-piece), Essence of Curare (6-piece), Lockdown (6-piece), (Superior) Entomb (5-piece)
  • Stun: Stupefy (6-piece)
  • Immobilize: Trap of the Hunter (6-piece)
  • Slow Movement: Tempered Readiness (6-piece), Pacing of the Turtle (6-piece)
  • Sleep: Lethargic Repose (3-piece)
  • Fear: Nightmare (3-piece)
  • Confuse: Cacophony (6-piece), Malaise's Illusions (6-piece), Coercive Persuasion (6-piece)
  • Generic Travel: Blessing of the Zephyr (2-piece)
  • To-Hit Buff: Gaussian's Synchronized Fire Control (6-piece)
  • Accurate To-Hit Debuff: Cloud Senses (6-piece)
  • Knockback: Explosive Strike (3-piece)
  • Universal Damage: Overwhelming Force (5-piece)
  • ATOs: Blaster's Wrath (6-piece), Defiant Barrage (6-piece), Will of the Controller (6-piece), Overpowering Presence (6-piece), Defender's Bastion (5-piece), Essence Transfer (4-piece), Malice of the Corruptor (5-piece), Ascendancy of the Dominator (6-piece), Dominating Grasp (6-piece)


E/N/ranged defenses are obviously going to be a bit easier to build up on the more ranged-oriented ATs, as the best sources of these defenses are mez abilities, ranged attacks, and ATOs. If I have room in my build, I often take a ranged attack, a hold, or both from an anciliary/patron pool on melee characters to slot an E/N/ranged defense set, and the Overwhelming Force set is also useful for this purpose.


Hopefully those lists start to give you an idea of what sets to go after and what powers to slot to beef up your defenses. All of this is in Mids, obviously - but I thought I would simplify and condense the defense bonuses so people could have a list to try to familiarize themselves with which sets to look for to shore up their defenses.


Remember, again, you only need to get to 45% to have your defense 'softcapped' against regular content. Any more than that is pretty much a waste - if you go over by a little bit, that's okay, but if you can trim back the excess in exchange for an extra slot in a more useful power, then you should!


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Other building perspectives


So I mentioned earlier that two other useful options for increasing your character's efficacy is to slot for resistance or recharge. In reality, you can actually slot for all of them! When I approach a build, I like to set priorities -


  • Which powers do I want to take?
  • What's the first, second, and third most important things I want to shoot for on this build?
  • Which IO sets can I slot into each of those powers in order to meet my priorities?


So, for example, If my first priority on, say, slotting my newest blaster, is to cap defenses, then I look at all my powers and see which of them allow me to slot for defenses. Then, I decide, what's my second priority? Not every power is gonna give me the option to slot it for defensive set bonuses.


That's why it's good to have a second, and even a third, priority to look for in set bonuses. And for me, my second priority on most builds is almost always either +recharge, or resistance.


Resistance builds

While the defense stat lets you completely avoid enemy attacks, the resistance stat allows you to reduce the amount of damage done by attacks that do hit you. As I mentioned above, it's inevitable that you're going to get hit by some attacks, so it's useful to have at least a little bit of resistance to back up your defense.


All defensive sets have at least a little resistance to back them up, though some are lacking in this area (looking at you, Super Reflexes). Some defensive sets focus almost exclusively on resistances as their main form of mitigation. These include Dark Armor, Electric Armor, and Fire Aura.


Note that even on these sets, I still think it's useful to pick up as much defense as you can - it's extra mitigation, right? If you choose not to, it's possible to max out your resistance against everything if you slot correctly - however, this might not be as good as it sounds.


Most ATs have a maximum of 75% resistance to any one type of damage. That means that, even with capped resistances, you're still going to be taking 1/4 of the damage from every attack that lands. Defense is starting to sound more useful, right? The exception to this is Tanks and Brutes, who have a resistance cap of 90% - meaning with maxed resistance that 1/4 becomes 1/10, a MUCH bigger improvement - and Epic ATs, who have max resistances of 85%, which is not as good but still very good.


What this means in practical terms is that resistance-heavy sets like Dark Armor and Elec, and resistance toggles like those from anciliary and patron pools, are overall better on tank ATs than on other ATs. On tank ATs, it's probably worth it to squeeze out every bit of resistance from set bonuses - while on other ATs, not so much.


Resistance, though, is still very useful to have on any AT. I'm not going to go through all the sets and categories like I did above for resistance bonuses, for a few reasons - one, this post is already getting really long; two, the resistance set bonuses are much more spread out and numerous; and three, resistance set bonuses overall are less valuable because they're significantly smaller in the absolute terms of how much mitigation they provide, compared to defense set bonuses. For example, the most powerful IO sets give 5% defense - that's a whopping 1/8th of the total amount needed to hit defense softcap! Whereas the largest resistance bonuses are around 6% for the very powerful purple IO sets - 6% is less than 1/10th of the amount you need to cap your resistance on even the weaker ATs.


My personal philosophy is not to look at stretching your set bonuses to cap resistances unless you're a tank AT with a resistance-heavy set who only needs a few strong +resistance set bonuses to put you over the limit. In these cases, most of the heavy lifting in capping your resistances is coming from your toggles themselves - not from the set bonuses, which are just there to fill in the gaps. Or, alternatively, you might want to look at capping fire/cold resistance if your character is a dedicated fire farmer and you don't intend to use him/her for anything else - in that case, foregoing, say, Smashing/Lethal defense for more fire resistance would ultimately be a good thing to consider.


Does this mean you shouldn't play resistance sets as a scrapper or stalker? No! If it fits your theme and you have fun with it, feel free! For most content, if you set yourself up to cap or close-to-cap most resistances, you'll do fine, and Incarnate powers let you fix any gap in your build, realistically. You'll still be more durable than most, but like I said above - it might help to still pick up as much defense as you can along the way.


For non-melee ATs, it's significantly harder and less useful to cap resistances given the nature of the rather incremental set bonuses. For blasters and others, I suggest using the Rune of Protection pool power from Sorcery, basically as often as you can get your build to allow it; this helps covers both your naturally low resistances, and your lack of mez protection. When used alongside incarnate powers that shore up resistances, defenses and mez protection, you'll be quite durable - but it takes longer to get there.


Recharge builds


Global recharge bonuses decrease the recharge time of ALL powers. These come from sources like Hasten, the Quickness power from Super Reflexes, and IOs - both set bonuses and the Luck of the Gambler IOs (which I mentioned above).


Thanks both to the abundance of +recharge set bonuses and hasten, recharge is a pretty popular thing to prioritize when building. I tend to place it second, after defense, in what I look for set bonus-wise, and I like to take hasten in basically every build I do.


Why is recharge so popular?


Aside from the fact that it allows you to consistently punch, blast, buff and heal without interruption thanks to reduced time on your most commonly-used powers, it also increases your survivability indirectly - a little less for some builds than for others, but some sets and ATs are heavily reliant on recharge to unlock their true power.


Many defensive sets have what's called active mitigation abilities, or 'clicks', powers that you can hit if you find yourself suddenly taking damage and in trouble. Some of these are long-cooldown, situational emergency abilities (AGAIN, SIDE-EYEING YOU SUPER REFLEXES), while others are on shorter cooldowns and are good for healing you should the worst happen and both your defenses and resistances fail to save you. Some sets have less of this than others - Bio Armor, for example, is a very durable powerset because its powers give you defense, resistance AND three strong active mitigation powers, whereas other sets like Willpower have very weak active mitigation but make up for it with better upfront defenses and regeneration bonuses. And, of course, if you're playing a non-melee AT, you're probably relying on a cooldown to keep you alive in the fray - something like Link Minds and/or Rune of Protection.


See where this is going? :D


The higher your build's recharge, the quicker these active mitigation abilities are off of cooldown - which means you use them more often, which means they'll be available to save your butt more often.


Some special cases regarding recharge builds that I can think of, and other odds and ends -


  • Perma-(whatever): You'll sometimes hear people talk about 'perma-(something)' builds; what this means is that your goal is to buff your +recharge enough that it reduces the cooldown of a power - usually a strong one, with a long cooldown - to shorter than that power's duration, meaning that the effect essentially becomes a permanently-active toggle (since you use it as soon as its duration expires to renew it). The most popular instances I can think of are perma-dom builds; basically, dominators who stack +recharge so that their Domination ability is permanent, allowing them to gain its benefits almost continously. 'Perma-hasten' works similarly, where you stack enough recharge that hasten is up permanently to constantly give you its recharge bonus.
  • Titan Weapons: The gimmick of the Titan Weapons set is that your first attack is veeery slow; however, after that, all your attacks are very, very fast... except when you use TW's version of Build Up, Build Momentum, which makes all your attacks afterwards execute using the very fast animation. Naturally, the goal then for TW recharge builds is to get the Build Momentum Cooldown down low enough that it's accessible almost continuously, allowing every attack you throw out to use the very fast animation. This means you'll be doing LOTS of damage, but generally you sacrifice survivability to do so. Nonetheless, recharge builds seem to be pretty important to people who enjoy optimizing TW characters.
  • Regeneration: I don't really have a whole lot of experience with this set; it seems super-squishy to me, but I know that a strategy I've heard people put forward is to maximize regen characters for +recharge so that your Dull Pain is permanent and your click heal is up constantly. I'm not sure how well this works, but I seem to recall some people having VERY durable katana/regen builds, so I guess if done right it's pretty strong.


A few good sources for big +recharge bonuses!

  • Luck of the Gambler +7.5% Global Recharge IOs - just get them, will you? :>
  • Purple sets generally give a big +10% recharge bonus as a 5-piece set bonus. This is why recharge builds are often quite expensive. Some Superior ATO sets also give +10%.
  • Preventive Medicine 6-piece and Panacea 5-piece recharge bonuses are both pretty big, and also pretty rare (8.75% and 7.5%) which means there's usually little overlap between these and other powers, so you won't have to worry about the 5 set bonus cap. (Remember that? :>)
  • Basilisk's Gaze set for Hold powers gives a 7.5% bonus for 4 pieces, one of the cheapest recharge bonuses slot-wise.
  • Hasten: Mentioned above - it's a big recharge bonus I like to put in most of my builds.
  • Force Feedback: This IO can be slotted into Knockback powers to give them a chance to trigger a HUGE temporary +recharge bonus. I haven't played around with this much so I don't know overall how useful it is, but I've seen some people swear it's a great thing to have so I thought I'd mention it.


I like recharge, and I tend to always set it as a second (or sometimes first!) priority when building a character.


I know that most of this has come from the perspective of someone who plays using defensive sets and melee ATs (hey, I admitted it in the opening!), but a lot of these same tips apply to other ATs, especially regarding recharge. Recharge is very useful for pretty much everybody, since it means you don't have downtime waiting for stuff to recharge.. and if you don't have downtime, you're doing a better job of helping your team, and yourself. The biggest pain in dealing with content without a character having built-in mez protection is, honestly, building that character to the point where it doesn't matter (because you have Rune of Protection, Clarion, etc... to help cover for it). Mezzes are annoying, and they're a big reason why I prefer to play melee ATs. With some clever playing and control powers, you can cut back on the amount of mezzing you experience... but I prefer to streamline the experience by just putting together a build that compensates by getting powers that give me mez protection and stacking recharge to reduce the CD. :P




Woo. That got really long, didn't it? Anyway, I really hope that helps a little bit! It seems really complicated and I know the thought of it terrified me - I used to coerce friends into making builds for me. << But when I decided to just sit down, open up Mids and experiment, I got the hang of it over time and, now, aside from RPing, making builds and seeing them perform is probably my favorite part of City of Heroes.


I believe to the best of my ability all of this is true. A typo or somesuch may have snuck in there somewhere, or some missing or misunderstood facts, so please feel free to message me with any corrections. If you have any questions let me know! My global in-game is @Cheli. I'm on the Everlasting server.


Good luck out there! <3

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This is an absolute amazing write up and I just wanted you to know it helped me immensely! You put a tremendous amount of time and effort and it has not gone unnoticed! Thank you!!!!!

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This is a wonderful guide. Even with the knowledge that I have from years on live I believe this is something I will look at frequently and will be invaluable to those starting out. 


Thanks bunches. 

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